Julius Caesar 's death

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Julius Caesar Death

The death of Julius Caesar is surrounded with a huge aura made of virtually every ingredient imaginable: a will which would change the history of the western world, military gambles, political intrigue, supernatural events, compassion for those who turned out to be his own assassins, his relationship with Cleopatra and so on.

Military greatness: Caesar's military genius is undisputed. At the time of his death Caesar was preparing a huge military campaign against the Parthian empire in the East. As was customary the Sibilline books had been consulted and the response had been that the campaign would only be won by a king. An ideal answer in terms of Caesar's personal ambitions but surely a contributing factor to the hate the Republicans had for him.

Political intrigue: Caesar had all but put an end to civil war by defeating Pompey (who represented the conservative senatorial class) and granting pardons and positions of prestige to those who had hitherto been his antagonists. His assassination left a vacuum at first followed by a great deal of turmoil as the republicans attempted to re-establish the old order, Mark Anthony gained strength and rivalry developed with the new entrant Octavian. With Cleopatra and other powers attempting to influence things from the sidelines.

Supernatural events: a variety of so-called supernatural events surrounded Caesar's death and Octavian's entry into the scene (they were clearly part of the political propaganda).

The death of Caesar was a moment of great consternation: the events which led up to it were on the face of it very normal: preparation for a military campaign, regular attendance of the Senate, passing legislation. Dinner with friends the night before. It is said that on the day itself, the famous "ides of March" (ie the 15th of the month), Caesar wasn't feeling in top form and in two minds about whether or not to make his way to the day's meeting. It took a masterful stroke of betrayal on the part of Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus (who was so close to him as to be mentioned in his will even!) who actually went to his home to fetch him and bring him to his morning meeting with the Senators.

It is said that on the way there he had more than one warning of the impending danger but that in the midst of the hubbub and noise he failed to heed it: a well known seer had warned him of the Ides of March and reminded him that they were not yet over. Another handed him a scroll detailing what was about to happen but with so many scrolls and petitions he didn't read it. As Caesar entered the building and took his place a number of Senators gathered about him as if to make some petition but essentially cordoning him off from the rest of the Senate. Cimbrus Tillius was amongst them and repeated a petition that his brother might be brought back from exile: when Caesar repeated his disagreement Cimbrus reached out for Caesar's purple cloak and the others saw the sign: the assassination took place. It was the year 44BC.

Suetonius gives us the description of events in his "De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius", Chapter 82:

As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, "Why, this is violence!" one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, "You too, my child?" (Et tu Brute! ed.) All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, and finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had intended after slaying him to drag his body to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke his decrees; but they forebore through fear of Marcus Antonius the consul, and Lepidus, the master of horse.

His body was taken back to his home at the Forum where his wife Calpurnia awaited. Caesar's "partner" Cleopatra was also in town, undoubtedly in a state of shock and fear for her own life and for that of her son with Caesar, Caesarion. The city was in a state of shock.

Five days after the event, Caesar's body was taken in procession from his home through to the Campus Martius where a great funeral pyre and state funeral had been prepared. As was customary in ancient Roman funerals, an area had been set out for people to make speeches in commemoration of the deceased. Mark Anthony made his speech to the people so popular thanks to Shakespeare's interpretation of the event: "Friends, Romans, Countrymen...." He showed Caesar's torn robe, spoke words which turned Caesar into a martyr and the Republican "saviours" into assassins. He called for a change of plan and for Caesar's body to be cremated at the Forum itself.

Julius Caesar's Will:

Mark Anthony had Caesar's will in his posession and he made use of it in the wake of his assassination by reading it to the Senate, shaming the assassins and drawing the crowds around Caesar's greatness and largesse (and consequently to himself given his close alignment with Caesar). Perhaps he hadn't counted on Octavian's ability to ride the wake and steal the show for himself.

The contents of the will added much in favour of the Caesar camp and against the Republican conspirators:

i) The conspirators claimed to be doing it for the good and freedom of the people. This was undermined by the will's generosity for the people, each and every one of them in clear monetary terms.

ii) The will had a clear eye of regard for D.Junius Brutus Albinus: one of the conspirators and hence himself turned into an utter traitor to someone who was increasingly considered a divinity and martyr for the people.

The aftermath of Julius Caesar's Death

Utter chaos. The conspirators had failed to give due thought to the aftermath and failed to take their brief opportunity to establish a new order (or rather reestablish the old). Mark Anthony was quick to move in, doubtless aided by his politically savvy wife Fulvia and his current position as Consul. The will had however thrown a spanner in the works: Octavian. Octavian was young, a mere 18 or 19 years old and relatively unknown but Caesar had had a good eye: he proved to be politically shrewd and endlessly ambitious to the point of (eventually) driving the famed Mark Anthony and his lover Cleopatra to suicide.

The fourteen years between 44BC (Caesar's assassination) and 30BC  (Anthony and Cleopatra's suicide) saw a crescendo of civil war, political intrigue and meddling. A period of political balance was achieved with the Second Triumvirate which in any case was everything but peaceful: ruthless proscription lists had the likes of Cicero put to death. The only constant was Octavian's advancement to ultimate power in Rome. He finally made himself Imperator and took absolute power. Only then was a degree of peace and stability reached in Rome which would hence be remembered as a golden age.

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You might also have a look at what it was to be emperor or "imperator". A list of roman emperors.  A general look at famous romans such as scaevola "the left handed".

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"Julius Caesar Death" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments