Ides of March
The day Julius Caesar
committed suicide by stepping back onto a knife 23 times!Today
44 BC - Julius Caesar, Dictator of the Roman Republic, is stabbed to death by Marcus Junius Brutus, Decimus Junius Brutus and several other Roman senators on the Ides of March.
The Roman Republic have produced a great many figures who stand out - Cato the Elder, Scipio Africanus, Scipio Aemilianus, The Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Cicero are just a few I mention here but one ancient Roman who does stand out is Julius Caesar, forever immortalised by Shakespeare's play, a military and political genius who had lots of ambition.
Caesar came from a patrician family (gens Julia), who claimed they could trace there ancestry all the way back to Venus, by Caesars time they had fallen on hard times politically.
When Sulla marched on Rome for the second time and was proclaimed dictator, Casear was in a percarious position because his father-in-law was Cinna
a supporter of Marius, Sulla was busy putting up proscription lists of his enemies and taking his revenge on Marius' supporters. Caesar refused Sulla's request to divorce Cinna's daughter Cornelia and wisely chose to leave Rome and hide.
Sulla eventually pardoned Caesar, according to Suetonius he said "Very well then, you win! Take him! But never forget that the man whom you want me to spare will one day prove the ruin of the party which you and I have so long defended. There are many Mariuses in this in this fellow Caesar"
Caesar saw his first military service in the east, he spent time in the provinces of Asia and Cilicia. When Sulla died in 78 BC, he began his career as a advocate, which required his oratory skills.
On his way to Rhodes to see the famous teacher Apollonius Molo, Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates. According to Plutarch when Caeasar's ransome was paid, he gathered a fleet and captured the pirates. He was unhappy with they way their trial was going and personally went to their cells, took out the pirates and crucified them.
In 70 BC Caesar was elected quaestor so gaining a foothold on the cursus honorum. This position brought him memembership of the senate. Caesar's second wife was Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla, he would eventually divorce her over the Bona Dea incident where Clodius, a republican thug had disguised himself as a woman in order to infiltrate the all female ceremony, this caused great scandal in Rome, Caesar divorced Pompeia because his wife had to be 'above suspicion'.
Caesar largely stayed in the background during the ongoing rivarly between Crassus and Pompey. Crassus was jealous of Pompey's military glory, despite his enourmous wealth and political influence, the victor of Colline gate and the hero who crushed Spartacus's slave rebellion was being overshaowded by Pompey's militry triumps in the east, he took advantage of Pompey's absence from Rome to build up his own political power based, Caesar lent him his support for his intrigues but was more friendly to Pompey but he saw Crassus as a key stepping stone to political advancement, the Optimates (led by men such as Catalus, the Metelli, the two Luculli and Hortensius) were wary of Pompey's return however they did not make any overtures to Crassus or Caesar.
In 65 BC Caesar became Aedile and with the finacial backing of Crassus managed to secure the aquittal of Catiline who had been brought before the court for what he got up to during Sulla's proscriptions.
Caesar formed the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus where they effecitly they ran the Roman Republic covertly, Caesar was able to get a comission to go to Gaul, he knew to truly become a powerful figure in politics he needed military glory and Gaul provided this.
Crassus death at the hands of the Parthians removed a buffer between Caesar and Pompey who began to see each other as rivals.
Caesar began to be seen as a rival by Pompey and the Optimates were frightened of his ambition and the wealth he was reaping from his Gallic campaigns. His final break with Pompey was the death of his daughter Juila who had married him, Pompey rejected Caesar offer of a wife from his own family and instead chose to accept the hand of Cornelia Metella, daughter of Metellus Scipio an enemy of Caesar.
The Senate under the leadership of Pompey demmaned Caesar return home and disband his army. They forbid him to to stand for a second consulship in absentia
. Caesar felt his Dignitas
dearer than life itself and felt insulted by the senate who wanted to brand him a victiorious military general a criminal. He took the decision to cross the Rubicon and march on Rome to restore his honour, he was prepared to plunge the Later Roman Republic into another civil war over the insult to his Dignitas
Caesar would emerge the winner in this bout of civil war, Pompey was defeated in Greece at the The Battle of Pharsalus
in 48 BC, hd fled to Egypt where he was beheaded on the orders of the three counselors of the boy-king Ptolemy XIII, they wanted to curry favour with the Roman Republic and hoped decapitating Pompey would please Caesar, how wrong they were, he was angry so he deposed Ptolemy XIII, executed his regent Pothinus and established Ptolemy sister Cleopatra as the ruler of Egypt. After spending many a pleasurable months in Egypt he realised there were still a few lose ends to deal with, he defeated the remaining elements of Pompey's army and returned to Rome triumphant.
He was made dictator for life and embarked on a busy period of reform of the Roman political instutions and various building projects. His total power worried both his friends and his enemies who saw him as a threat to his position. Caesar unlike Sulla chose to pardon his defeated enemies, one of which was Brutus. On the Ides of March 44 BC Caesar was assassinated and stabbed 23 times, his assassians had hoped that with the tyrants death the whole of Rome would rise up and the old order restored sadly they misjudged the mood of the mob who were whipped up into a furious rage by Caesar's friend Mark Antony
who read out Caesars very generous will. They were chased out of the city and fled to Greece pursued by the combined armies of Mark-Athony and Caesar's great nephew Octavian.
All Caesar's death did was plunge the Roman Republic into another bout of civil war which brought an final end to the Roman Republic. Ocatvian would defeat with the help of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Anthony and Cleopatra at the naval Battle of Actium
in 31 BC.
Octavian founded the principate and by the time he died there was nobody left who could imagine a time without a Roman emperor.Further reading
Suetonius - The Twele Caesars
H.H. Scullard - From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68
Plutarch - Roman Lives
Caesar - Conquest of Gaul
Ronald Syme - The Roman Revolution
H.H. Scullard and M. Cary - A History of Rome
Appian - The Civil Wars