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Gaius Julius Caesar remains one of the most important figures for his prolific conquests that he made during his life as an emperor and probably his untimely-preplanned death. This was a genius in making, combating with not only the minute Egypt but also with world giants like Germany, Gaul, and Britain (Appian 1949, 115).
Nevertheless, his ingenuity did not save him from death in the hands of his enemies in disguise as friends, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinu, when they descended on him on Ides of March. These two men, in company of a pack of others, carefully designed the death of Caesar behind his back. However, why would they want to kill their friend?
It is important to note that, Caesar’s leadership or tyrannical rule policies had nothing to do with his death. Despite his leadership skills, all seemed to be well with Romans. All the indicators of a thriving economy were prevalent in Rome.
From creation of thousands of employment opportunities to economic stimulation through export and import, confidence levels amongst Romans were rising by the day and every one seemed to be happy save for some leadership flaws here and there, which are common in any leadership. These leadership flaws could not move anyone to rebel against and plot assassination of the emperor.
Even though there are many schools of thought giving different reasons as to why Caesar was assassinated, the most compelling school of thought is the one stating that, Caesar was assassinated because his assassins wanted power. All other malicious claims directed to Caesar were only to cover the truth. Brutus and Cassius were formerly enemies to Caesar and after he defeated Pompey, they swore allegiance to him but their initial rebellion did not go away and this is evident from the assassination they carried out.
The fact that the men that assassinated Caesar wanted some grounds to accuse him and justify their assassination, implies that they had to plot how to win other people’s hearts and allegiance. Unfortunately, Caesar made many gullible mistakes exposing him to the wiles of these assassins. Many a times he failed to read signs that would signify impeding danger. In the opinion of the writer of this paper, nothing Caesar would say or do that would avert his inevitable death.
Brutus and Cicero were very much aware of the damage they would cause to Caesar once they managed to brand him a tyrant (Yavetz 1983, 186). Therefore, the only thing that these two men needed was to come up with a strategy that would subject Caesar to public ridicule and then attack him after gaining enough support. To do this, they had to convince other senators to get into their scheme; fortunately, they got huge backing from senators, who joined them for different reasons.
According to Nicholas of Damascus (1964), the chief principals of this plot were men who knew for sure that if Caesar were dead, then they would gain power to run the nation. This persuaded many senators to consent to the plot of killing their emperor. Other people agreed to the plot because they were still angry because of losing their relatives and friends in the civil war. Therefore, to end such impunity, they wanted to be led through democracy, not despotism.
However, Nicholas of Damascus (1964) notes that these were mere cover-ups, the fact is that these people were hypnotized by the promise of ascending to power and they would find any excuse to assent to the plot. Moreover, some people joined the plot not because they had anything against Caesar, but because they loved the pioneers of the plot. Interestingly, men who had been genuine friends to Caesar also took part in the plot. How did this happen?
After Caesar forgave the likes of Brutus and Cassius who had been his enemies and gave them powers in his authority, the men who had remained loyal felt betrayed. They could not understand this form of kindness. When Cassius approached them to take part in the plot, they gave in easily for they wanted to revenge what Caesar had done to them.
It is unfortunate that these loyal Caesar friends could not enjoy the good reaps from the war and by joining the plot; they knew they would access power and finally enjoy what they had labored for all that long. Finally, after spurring people from all lifestyles into rebellion, Brutus and Cassius had to fool Caesar into stupid acts that would leave him exposed (Taylor 1949, 173). This opens up the next element of this conspiracy; that is, the plot.
In the Greek culture, no man was to become a king as long as he lived (Yavetz 1983, 193). Wittingly, these assassins painted Caesar as a king by offering him several honors. Unfortunately, Caesar gave in to the ill plans of these brutes and as time went on, he started acting against the law, something that would cost him life.
The disregard for the law would give the assassins a foothold to censure him. The conspirators started by voting on how Caesar would appear in public. According to the vote passed, Caesar was to appear in all public places wearing exultant attire and sit in the chair of state. The aim of this vote was to make bring him close to people who would easily fault him as he mingled with them often.
Additionally, they bestowed on him the power and right to “offer the so-called spolia opima at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, as if he had slain some hostile general with his own hand. To have lectors that always carried the laurel and after the Feriae Latinae, to ride from Albanum to the city mounted on a charger” (Cassius Dio 1949, 12). This meant that his status was elevated almost to a state of a king. This was just but the beginning of the honors Caesar received.
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To hypnotize Caesar completely, the conspirators named him the father of the nation. This was followed by inscribing his image in all the coins used in Rome around that time. Additionally, they passed a vote that Caesar’s birthday was to be celebrated by offering public sacrifice and his statue was to stand in all cities.
Two of Caesar’s statues were to stand in all temples one signifying him as a savior of people and the other as a savoir of the city under siege. A temple was to be built in his honor to symbolize peace. To cap it all, they appointed him the high priest and conferred powers to censure life to him alone.
Mistakenly, Caesar accepted all these accolades with unfathomed gullibility. This saw the passing of the law that required prayers be made to him and he accepted the garbs worn by kings. Finally, after a series of honors that Caesar accepted readily, they “addressed him outright as Julian Jupiter and ordered a temple to be consecrated to him and to his Clemency” (Cassius Dio 1949, 16).
The motive behind all these awards was to paint Caesar as a king or a god, something that would attract disapproval readily, hence justifying their assassination.
Actions of these people spoke loudly and it was evident that they did not have any good faith in what they were doing. “Others, and the majority, followed the courses mentioned because they wished to make him envied and disliked as quickly as possible, that he might the sooner perish” (Renard 1987, 568). This explains clearly the motive behind these accolades. However, this was not the only reason why these senators gave Caesar all these honors.
Going back to Caesar’s life as an emperor, he was always under the watch of a guard. This meant that the senators could not meet him whatsoever; hence, they would not get chance to carry out the assassination. After receiving many honors, Caesar was convinced that these people would never try to eliminate him (Taylor 1949, 175).
Therefore, he let his guard leave for he was now comfortable in the presence of the senators, who had apparently become his friends. As time went by, he dismissed all other guards and now he would remain under the watch of knights and senators. Caesar’s gullibility continued to portray itself as he consistently became mesmerized by the “kindness” of his subjects. However, it did not take long for these power-hungry assassinators to find a loophole in what they would easily exploit at the expense of this gullible emperor.
One evening these conspirators approached Caesar to explain why they would carry some of the house businesses in his absence to show that they worked involuntarily as opposed to compulsory duty (Suetonius 1913, 77). However, Caesar did not wake up from his seat and this dismayed many of them. Sympathizers of Caesar tried to explain that he could not walk because he had a bout of diarrhea; nevertheless, they could not justify these claims because he eventually stood up and walked without support.
These assassins pretended to be dismayed by this act of pride; however, this is all they wanted from the beginning; a foothold to accuse Caesar. Well, they got it fully later when Caesar accepted to be made a dictator for life. Nevertheless, the end was yet to come. Some of the people still supported Caesar and the conspirators had to look for a way to embitter them. The next course of action was well plotted.
As aforementioned, among the Romans, there could not be a king for this was outright scorn to the tribunes. Then the time came, and the senators tried to brand Caesar a king but he refused vehemently. However, after scrutinizing the events, it appears that Caesar wanted the title. Firstly, it would be expected of him to rebuke such people, put them into prison, or worse kill them (Adcock 1951, 693). However, he did not do anything to them.
This showed that he was pleased by the title; something that caused many people to disdain him. To cover up his behavior, Caesar told people that he was not a king but only a Caesar. Even though he took some actions against the first people to call him a king, the measures were not severe as expected for he only relieved them of their duties as tribunes and banned them from public speaking. He went ahead to rub their names from tribune-ship; however, this did not quell the mounting disapproval among citizens. Did he really dissent the title?
The answer to this question is no! If Caesar were totally, against the title, he would come out clearly and refuse it. However;
Antony with his fellow priests saluted him as king and surrounding his brows with a diadem said: “The people give this to you through my hands.” He answered that Jupiter alone was king of the Romans and sent the diadem to him to the Capitol, yet he was not angry and caused it to be inscribed in the records that the royalty presented to him by the people through the consul he had refused to receive.
It was accordingly suspected that this had been done by some prearranged plan and that he was anxious for the name but wished to be somehow compelled to take it, and the consequent hatred against him was intense (Cassius Dio 1949, 17).
This shows that he somehow accepted the title “king”; hence, making him a tyrant. Thus, the assassination would not be branded as such, but it would be called tyrannicide. However, Caesar was still popular amongst middle and lower classes and they vowed to fight Brutus and his team. The fact that Brutus went to organize troops in Greece to topple Antony is a clear indication that all he wanted was power.
Despite his ingenuity in conquering his enemies, Caesar could not deal with his closest enemies who disguised as friends. They led him into believing that they liked and honored him by awarding him with several accolades until they won his trust. First, they had to win his trust to a point of him letting go of his guards.
This would ensure that the senators gained access to Caesar and have the opportunity to kill him. Luckily, this worked well for them as they accomplished it. Secondly, they had to paint Caesar as a tyrant in the eyes of the citizens to justify their assassination, which in effect it would be termed as tyrannicide. They also accomplished this by branding him a ‘king”, a title that he was not supposed to hold. Their craftiness was aided in part by Caesar’s gullibility and failure to read the two sided of the coin.
There is clear indication that Caesar wanted to be called a king and this was the biggest mistake that he made. However, this assassination was inevitable and nothing he would have done to prevent it. It was a political attack where the assassinators were power hungry and the only way they could gain it was through assassination. However, they failed in their bid to rule Rome as opposition mounted against them leading to a series of wars.
Adcock, F. 1951. Caesar’s Dictatorship. Cook, S. & Charlesworth, P. Ed. The
Cambridge Ancient History, New York: Cambridge University Press 9(2): 691-740.
Appian. 1949. The Civil Wars. 111-117
Cassius Dio. 1944. “The Accounts of Dio.” 1-11
Nicolaus of Damascus. 1984. Life of Augustus. Bellemore, Jane. Bristol Classical Press, 26-50.
Renard, Marcel. 1987. Caesar’s Personal Enemies on the Ides of March. 568-573
Suetonius, Tranquillus. 1913. Life of Caesar. New York: Loeb Classical Library, 76-79.
Taylor, Lily R. 1949. Party Politics in the Age of Caesar. Berkeley: University of California Press. 172-179.
Yavetz, Z. 1983. Julius Caesar and his Public Image. London: Thames and Hudson.