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Assassination of Julius Caesar

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The leader of Caesar’s opponents was Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. Longinus had previously been supporting Pompey, but after the defeat at Pharssalos he yielded, but he kept expressing his reluctance. It was the same with Brutus – what more, Caesar had an affair with his mother, Servila.

Marcus Junius Brutus allied with Cassius after Caesar’s death, with whom he became the head of the Republicans and led the fight against the triumvirs. After the defeat at the battle of Philippi in 42 BCE with the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian, Brutus committed suicide.

Caesar was warned about the possibility of being killed. However, he did not worry about it much, claiming that he would live all the time in fear if the bodyguards surrounded him. At the same time, he was sure that no one would dare to do the assassination because it would trigger another civil war. To top it off, he planned an expedition to the East, which was due to start on 18 March 44 BCE. On a critical day, however, Caesar almost thwarted the assassination plans. His wife begged him to stay at home, because nightmares were tormenting her that night. Caesar reluctantly wanted to accept her requests, but the visiting envoy of the assassins persuaded him to go.

As Caesar arrived at the Senate on 15 March 44 BCE (Ides of March), he took his place in a gold-plated chair at the Theatre of Pompey, named Curia Pompeia, the hall for Senate meetings. Tillius Cimber came up to him, asking for grace for his exiled brother, and other initiators began to follow him. Caesar, irritated by this insistence, tried to get up, but then Cimber took his toga, which was to be an agreed sign for all to attack. The first thrust was made by Casca, but it was too weak. Caesar stabbed him with a stylus on his shoulder, but then they fell on him, according to Plutarch, 23 stabs given with daggers (which would point to a close group of conspirators). The last blow, inflicted by the hand of Brutus, whom Caesar considered a friend, turned out to be deadly. Julius Caesar, seeing Brutus, had to shout in Greek: “And you, child?”, Which could be either a threat or a regret. A commonly known version: “And you, Brutus?” (Et tu, Brute?) Is a figment of Shakespeare.

After these words, Ceasar fell covered with his own toga at the foot of the statue of Pompey, his former supporter and enemy. We know the names of nineteen conspirators. They are:
Gaius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Servilius Casca, Publius Casca, Lucius Tillius Cimber, Gaius Trebonius (he stopped Mark Antony when he wanted to enter the Senate), Lucius Minucius Basilus, Rubrius Ruga, Marcus Favonius, Marcus Spurius, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, Servius Sulpicius Galba, Quintus Ligarius, Lucius Pella, Sextius Naso, Pontius Aquila, Turullius, Hortentsius and Bucolianus.

Fear and uncertainty overtook Rome. Assassins scattered in panic. The people at first hesitated in assessing Caesar’s death, but Mark Antony’s moving and funeral speech had convinced the audience and turned the blade of anger against the assassins. An order to prosecute criminals was issued. Within a few months, all of them died, either in battle or on their own. None of the attackers died of natural causes.

Caesar did not have time to complete the plans for the conquest of Dacians and Parthians. In his will, Caesar established his heir, Octavian, the grandson of his sister, Julia – the future first emperor of Rome.

The death of Julius Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini

The account of Nicolaus of Damascus

The conspirators never met openly, but always in small groups in the house of one of them. There were many suggestions and discussions, as you can suspect, during which they explored how and where to implement the plan. Some suggested that they should make an attempt when Julius Caesar would follow the path of Via Sacra, which was one of his favorites. Another idea was to do this during the election, during which he had to cross the bridge to appoint judges at Campus Martius; they were supposed to draw lots, whether they should push him off the bridge, or run up and kill him. The third plan was to wait for the upcoming gladiatorial show. The advantage of this was that because of the show, no one would be suspicious when seeing a weapon prepared for the assassination. But the overwhelming majority pleaded for killing him when he sat in the Senate, where non-Senators are not allowed in, and many conspirators can hide daggers under the togas. The plan was accepted.

Before he entered the room, the priests offered sacrifices to the gods. The signs were extremely unfavorable. After the unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests repeated it to see if something more successful would appear than what they had just seen. In the end, they said that they did not see clearly the divine intentions, as the invisible malicious spirit was hidden in the victims. Caesar was angry and left the priests, though they continued with all their might.

Murder of Caesar, Karl Theodor von Piloty

Another bad sign was that Caesar’s wife had a dream, exactly the night before the murder, that he was lying dead on the ground. She begged him not to go to the Senate that day, to which Caesar agreed. But later he decided to go when he told a member of the Senate to inform others that he would not come, the envoy replied: “Do you want me to say that Caesar will not meet with them, because his wife had a bad dream?” The murderers were happy for his Caesar. However, he postponed the meeting with the Senate at the request of his friends, who were concerned about the prophecy. But several messengers arrived, calling for him and saying that the Senate had already gathered.

He looked at his friends, but Brutus approached him and said: “Come, good lord, do not pay attention to the talk of these people and do not put off what Caesar planned in his great power. Let your courage be auspicious sign. ” He persuaded Caesar with these words, seized his right hand and led him to the Senate, who was nearby. Caesar walked without saying anything. He aroused great respect for the Senators when he appeared. Those who took part in the census stood next to him. Tilius Cimber was next to him, whose brother Caesar had previously banished from Rome. Under the pretext of a modest request in connection with his brother, Cimber approached him.

At this point, the conspirators began to act. Everyone quickly drew their daggers and they went to him. Servilius Casca stabbed him first with his blade on his left shoulder, slightly above his collarbone. He aimed somewhere else, but he did not manage because of stress.

Caesar rose to defend himself. In the uproar Casca called his brother in Greek. He heard this and drove his sword to the victim’s ribs. After a moment Cassius stabbed Caesar in his face, and Decimus Brutus slammed sideways. When Cassius Longinus also tried to stab him, he missed and hit Brutus in the palm of his hand. It was the battle of one man against everyone else.
With countless wounds, he fell in front of Pompey’s statue. Everyone wanted to have their share in the murder and there was nobody who did not hit him. According to Nicolaus of Damascus, 80 people took part in the conspiracy, but Suetonius claims that there were sixty of them.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Bocheński Jacek, Boski Juliusz, Warszawa 2009
  • Gallo Max, Cezar, Poznań 2004
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Gajusz Juliusz Cezar, Warszawa 1972
  • Zieliński Tadeusz, Rzeczpospolita rzymska, Katowice 1989

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