The Assassination of Caesar

Duncan Grey, Dickson College 2009


The assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar was one of the climactic events of the late Roman Republic. His assassination divided the Roman world and caused civil war. The conspirators in his murder came from all sides and factions of the Roman Senate, and had different motives for their actions. The senators were all however bound by one goal, and that was to rid Rome of Caesar’s dictatorship.

Julius Caesar was assassinated on the 15th of March 44BC in the Forum Magnum in Rome (Willard Crompton, 1999, p.17). He was assassinated by a group of approximately sixty members of the Roman Senate (Suetonius, 1997, pp. 50-51). However the exact number of conspirators is not known as are many of the names of the minor players in the assassination (Meier, 1995, p.479). The senators involved in the plot represented an extremely diverse group that would not have normally been seen together in Roman Republican politics. The group of assassins were made up of members of all of the existing political factions of Rome at the time many of whom had deep seated rivalries with each other. They included “among their number were former Pompeian’s and Caesareans” (Meier, 1995, pp.479-480). Therefore they were made up of not only traditional enemies of Caesar including followers of his now deceased enemy Pompey but many from his own political faction.

Although Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of around sixty senators, there were three main conspirators who formed and led the plot against Caesar. These men were the senators Gaius Cassius, Marcus Junius Brutus and Decimus Junius Brutus (Suetonius, 1997, p.51).All three of these men were held in high regard by Caesar and all were considered as being loyal to him. They had all received powerful political positions in the Republican government under Caesar’s rule. Decimus Brutus had been appointed as consul by Caesar, (Meier, 1995, p.480) and was one of the heirs to Caesar’s estate listed in his last will (Suetonius, 1997, p.53). Marcus Brutus and Cassius had been pardoned by Caesar and returned to their positions of high standing, after they had sided with his defeated enemy Pompey in the civil war (Grant, 1960, p.26). Both Cassius and Marcus Brutus could look forward to promotion under Caesar “as Caesar probably intended that M. Brutus and C. Cassius should be consuls in 41BC” (Syme, 1989, p.95). All three conspirators owed much of their power to the benevolence shown to them by Caesar yet this did not stop them in their orchestration of the plot to murder him.

There are many factors that led to the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar. The most obvious of these was his increased power within the Roman world. In 45BC Caesar had defeated the last of his enemy Pompey’s forces and had secured his position as dictator of Rome, which he had nominally held for the previous four years, and he promptly made himself dictator for life (Grant, 1960, pp.26-27). Caesar’s taking of this role effectively made him the ruler and most powerful man in the whole Roman world. Although no one at the time was powerful enough to openly oppose him, there was a lot of resentment against Caesar especially in the upper classes and among the senators of Rome. He was particularly daunting to the senators as he was held in great admiration by most of the citizens of Rome, and also had the undivided loyalty of the army which was under the command of Caesar’s ally Marcus Aemilius Lepidus who was Master of the Horse (Suetonius, 1997, pp.53-55). Many of the army’s veterans had a deep personal loyalty to Caesar and were likely to seek vengeance were he to be killed (Meier, 1995, p.481). With these factors under his control, Caesar had the ability to crush the power of the Senate in its job of running the Roman Republic. Many of the senators who joined the plot against Caesar thought that he would cut their power and rule Rome independent of them. They also thought that upon his death the Republic would be automatically restored under the rule of the Senate and free of dictatorship (Meier, 1995, 479-481). After Caesar’s civil war against Pompey ended in 45BC many of Pompey’s former supporters remained in the Roman Senate. Although they were in no direct danger from Caesar many of them felt great animosity against him (Syme, 1989, p.95-96). For this reason they joined the conspiracy against him. The former supporters of Pompey were all much more conservative in terms of their politics and were inclined to oppose the views of Caesar because of lingering resentment at Pompey’s death (Grant, 1960, pp.25-26). There was also a minority faction who resented Caesar on a personal level. These were mainly men who thought that that they had been snubbed by Caesar “Sulpicius Galba alleged personal resentment: he had not been made consul” (Syme, 1989, p.95).

Among the conspirators a chief concern that was shared by most was that Caesar was paving the way for a return to monarchy for Rome. The city of Rome had not had a king since 510BC when Lucius Junius Brutus had led a revolt that expelled the last king Tarquin the Proud.[1] Since then Rome had been a Republic. Many among the Senate already believed that Caesar had become too powerful. In the months before his assassination there was an increasing fear among the senators that Caesar was to be made Rex (king), and this movement was known to be supported by Caesar’s strongest ally Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) who publicly offered Caesar the crown, which he refused (Meier, 1995, pp. 475-476). The idea of a king of Rome was originally an intolerable thought to most Romans especially the Senate, who thought that Caesar would soon accept this title.[2] The movement to make Caesar king was also growing among the general populace where “bystanders greeted him as ‘Rex’ ” (Meier, 1995, p.476). This was again particularly alarming for the Senate, as the common people of Rome usually reviled the idea of a King of Rome.

The assassination of Julius Caesar by members of the Roman Senate spelled the end of the Roman Republic. Caesar’s assassination by a group of Senators from different political backgrounds shows how his increased power and possible ascension as king was feared by the Roman upper classes. Although the senators killed Caesar to remove his dictatorship and so “that the Republic would come into its own again when once the tyrant had been murdered” (Meier, 1995, p.481) they caused the exact opposite as once the civil wars that followed Caesar’s death were over the Republic was gone and Rome was reborn as an Empire.

Bibliography

Books:
Willard Crompton, Samuel, 1999, 100 Military leaders who Shaped World
History, Bluewood Books, U.S.A
Grant, Michael, 1960, The World of Rome, Cardinal Books, Great Britain
Meier, Christian, 1995, Caesar A Biography, Harper Collins, United Kingdom
Suetonius, 1997, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Translated by H.M Bird,
Wordsworth Classics, Great Britain
Syme, Ronald, 1989, The Roman Revolution, Oxford University Press, Hong Kong
Websites:
No author listed, The Late Roman Republic, the Murder of Caesar,
http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/laterep-index.html , sighted 8/6/2009
No author listed, The Early Roman Republic, the Revolt Against king
Tarquin, http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/earlyrepublic.html, sighted
8/6/2009

References


  1. ^ The Early Roman Republic, the Revolt Against king Tarquin, http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/earlyrepublic.html,sighted 8/6/2009)
  2. ^ (The Late Roman Republic, The Murder of Caesar, http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/laterep-index.html, sighted 8/6/2009)