Roman History: Julius Caesar’s Assassination by Liberators

“Crossing the Rubicon” this statement belongs to Julius Caesar, the great Roman general and political leader whose dictatorship was central in Rome’s transition from Republic to the empire. In Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, it was written, “To the genius of divine Julius, father of his country, whom the senate and people of Rome have added to the number of the gods”. On March 15, 44 B.C., the outstanding Triumphator of Rome crossed the Rubicon of his own life and was treacherously killed by a group of senators, including Gaius Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus. A lot of scholars and historians of ancient and modern times have debated the question of why he was assassinated. Still, the can’t say whether the “liberators” acted out of fear, idealism or jealousy.

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This paper will argue with one view and will support some scholars if they find their arguments persuasive. Also, according to all analyzed material, the paper will include a rather interesting view of the writer with his own argument with convincing evidence. Julius Caesar’s family was a prestigious one and held power in Roman politics for more than a century. That is why after Caesar studied rhetoric with great orator Cicero, he became a very persuasive speaker and started his political career. Due to his family ties and his personal trades, especially quick and witty mind, Julius had been elected to the pontificate, a very important college of Roman priests2. During the 60th B.C., the political dominance in Rome was in the hands of Pompey the Great, a Roman general, and Crassus, a wealthy aristocrat. Crassus was Pompey’s jealous rival. So he detected the brilliance of Caesar and fostered an alliance with him. Julius took into account all the benefits and agreed to work on Crassus’s behalf (Carson, 1957). In 69 BC, Caesar was elected quaestor, i.e., magistrate, and was appointed aedile. From that time, he was responsible for public works. Borrowing money from the rich, Crassus Caesar sponsored the lavish gladiatorial games in such a way, gaining great popularity among people. Being a clever person, Caesar used Crassus’s loans and won the election of pontifex Maximus, i.e., high priest of the Roman religion3. After his second marriage, Caesar left Rome for one year and served as governor of Sapin. When he returned to Rome, he made a three-way alliance, joining the forces of Crassus and Pompey. The alliance later was known as the First Triumvirate. Caesar’s aim was to gain a major military command. Being a very clever politician, he gave his daughter Julia to Pompey in marriage and, due to it, cemented the relationship further. Immediately after that, Caesar was elected consul and then appointed the governor of three Roman provinces for five years (Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Caul, Illyricum). Many political men of Rome were not satisfied with such events. They envied Caesar’s power and feared to have such a rapidly rising ruler. During the Gallic Wars, Caesar approved to himself and to the whole Roman world that he was a soldier of genius. Moreover, from those years, he managed to become an immensely wealthy man and extremely powerful with a great army at his command. The conquest of Gaul was the most spectacular military achievement of Caesar4. In 53 B.C., Crassus was killed at Carrhae. From that time, Pompey became Caesar’s first enemy and prevention to the autocracy. Without Crassus, Pompey was made sole consul. He combined with his other powers and got a formidable position. Also jealous of his younger rival, Pompey decided to break Caesar’s power. He ordered Caesar to come back to Rome from Gaul without his forces. Protecting himself, Caesar proposed to Pompey that they both simultaneously lay down their commands.

But Pompey didn’t agree. He influenced the Senate to call upon Caesar to refuse his command and disband his army. Another way he would be announced a public enemy5. In 49 BC Julius Caesar broke the law and with his legions crossed the Rubicon, a narrow stream dividing Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. Though he illegally brought the army into Italy. After crossing the Rubicon, the Civil War began. It lasted four years. Caesar’s genius victory later was associated with his phrase “Veni, Vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). At last, the triumphator returned to Rome6. In 45 B.C., he was appointed dictator for life. Also, he was made consul for ten years. Honoring Caesar’s glory, a statue to him was placed in the oldest temple of Rome. As well, he remained in total command of the armies, which formed the backbone of his power. As a ruler, he carried out various reforms. Caesar put out a highly corrupt tax system in provinces, supported colonies of veterans, and expanded Roman citizenship. In Rome, he arranged an appropriate settlement of the large debts due to moneylenders. Also, Caesar renovated the courts and increased the number of senators. His reform of the Roman calendar gave the state less confusing ways of recording time. The month of January 44 B.C. brought on the final 2 1/2 months of Caesar’s life. At this point, it seems there was not yet a conspiracy against him. But of course, he was under the greatest suspicion. Clearly, the remainder of the aristocrats wanted to see just how far Caesar would go. One interesting honor that Caesar received was the immunity that was only given to the Tribunes. At games, he was allowed to sit with them. If Caesar was insulted, the guilty would be outlawed.

However, many senatorial families were convinced that Caesar threatened their position. Caesar’s powers and great honors made them fear that he would be a rex. Republicans believed that a republic was the best form of government. So, they hated the title of the king, especially if it belonged to Caesar. According to historical facts, the senator’s fear of Rome becoming an empire caused Caesar’s assassination. The senator Popilius Laenas said to Brutus and Cassius: “My wishes are with you, that you may accomplish what you design, and I advise you to make no delay, for the thing is now no secret.”

Great philosopher Plutarch, in his work “Life of Caesar,” wrote that Caesar died at the age of 56, surviving Pompey by not much more than four years. The great genius that had watched over him all his life followed him after death as an avenger of his murder, driving and tracking down his slayers over land and sea till no one of them was left, and pursuing any who had had a hand in the deed or participated in the plot.

J.P.V.D. Balsdon analyzed the events that happened in the last two years of Caesar’s life and the circumstances of his death. He considered that the murder of Julius was not a tragedy from the point of view of world history. Real facts showed that Julius foresaw the death, but he was a fearless person. Balsdon gave two lessons learned from Caesar’s murder. The first one was that republicanism was not dead after all. Caesar considered republicanism dead too easily, but “republicanism still is helped to its grave by that kind of violence which was abhorrent to Caesar, but had not been abhorrent to Marius and Cinna, and would not be abhorrent to Caesar’s youthful heir. There was still need of a blood-bath, of more proscriptions”. The second lesson was that “if an authoritarian government was to be established successfully in the Republic’s place, it must not be, like Caesar’s, and inconsiderate, careless, frank authoritarianism; it must wear a republican mask, however false.” The American historian John H. Collins expressed his own opinion concerning Caesar’s assassination. In the last months of his life, the old Caesar – a generous, compassionate Caesar – had been replaced by a different Caesar, a man drunk with power, a tyrant such as Greek philosophers had described earlier and Lord Acton was to describe later, a man whom absolute power corrupted absolutely. Unfortunately, Collins suggested weak arguments and drew so little support from contemporary evidence.

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A lot of difficulties stood in the way of the final judgments of Caesar. Cicero gave a lot of information about great triumph. Octavius Augustus, who became Caesar’s successor and the first emperor of the Roman Empire, had his own facts about Caesar. Livy wrote the standard history of Rome as a republic and, being the supporter of Pompey, described Caesar, not in a very good way. Let us deeply analyze Cicero’s attitude towards Caesar. In his Letters to Friends, he wrote, “Our tyrant deserved his death for having made an exception of the one thing that was the blackest crime of all. Why do we gather instances of perry crime – legacies criminally obtained and fraudulent buying and selling? Behold, here you have a man who was ambitious to be king of the Roman people and master of the whole world, and he achieved it! The man who maintains that such an ambition is morally right is a madman, for he justifies the destruction of law and liberty and things their hideous and detestable suppression glorious”.

Also, he continued, “Nor will I do anything to give offense, except that I do grieve at the hard fate of one who was to me the dearest of friends and withal the most illustrious of men. I undertook the management of the games celebrated by the young Caesar in honor of the elder Caesar’s victory!”. As we can observe, Cicero really sympathized with young Caesar. But later, their political views did not coincide. Cicero liked Caesar because he was a very clever person, and he hates him for the destruction of the Roman Republic. During Caesar’s life, Brutus was his loyal senator. But under the friendly mask, deep hatred and fear were hidden. In his letter to Cicero, Brutus showed his deep patriotism like an excuse of assassination, “I will try every expedient, every plan: and I will never desist from the attempt to rescue our country from slavery”. It leads to the conclusion that Caesar’s assassination was in the name of Rome, the Republic. And how Brutus was disappointed when after the death of Caesar, much popular feeling was aroused against them, and the removal of the dictator didn’t automatically restore the Republic. So opinions of Caesar and his assassination were divided. For some of them, he was a heartless tyrant with a constant lust for power. They blamed him for the destruction of the Roman Republic, and had died. Others insisted that the Republic had already been destroyed, and Caesar was killed because of jealousy. Some scholars supported Caesar’s political views cause he managed to save the Roman world from chaos and created a new type of government. His reforms stabilize the Mediterranean world. In this paper, a lot of material has been thoroughly read and examined. There were given a lot of arguments and counter-arguments in it. But there was one fact that nobody could deny – Caesar, unlike most conquerors, even among those who have changed the world was a great man; he probably stood above many of the prejudices of the time, he tried to stand above party, class, or race; he certainly stood far above all his associates, none of whom seem to have influenced him, generous as he was to their requests.

The evidence of it was the books with thousands of pages written about him, the debates around his death, different opinions concerning him as a person, the great political leader and triumphator of Rome. But Cicero, who wasn’t always fair to him, was right to say, at the beginning of the Civil War, that he didn’t put “the safety and honor of his country” above his own advantage. To our mind, Caesar just got absorbed in playing wars and earning glory and power. Maybe it was high time for him to die in zenith. He just crossed his own Rubicon. We absolutely agree with the opinion of modern scholar Rudolph H. Storch who, in his work “Relative Deprivation and the Ides of March: motive for murder,” wrote, “When Caesar made himself responsible for all important decisions, he fostered a dangerous atmosphere in which those whom he disappointed, frustrated because of an inability to better their position by constitutional means, could easily focus their anger directly upon Caesar; and it was Caesar’s friends, nurturing the highest expectations who felt this relative deprivation most keenly. Although times were uncertain and lives were at stake, men placed much emphasis on their own advancement at the nod of Caesar. To achieve their goals, individuals fell over themselves in a gushing forth of self-seeking flattery recorded by ancient writers as occurring primarily after the death of Pompey, during Caesar’s visit to Rome after Thapsus, and, most especially, during Caesar’s final stay in Rome when there were no limits to his power”. Julius Caesar was killed by power-seekers for their lost expectations. They were angry because the numerous benefits which they received at the hands of Caesar did not address their growing needs. In sum, the only Caesar’s fault was that he was not able to eliminate resentment by meeting the needs of all the power-seekers. And his friends expected much and then felt the deprivation deeply on March 15 in 44 B.C., when Julius Caesar entered the Senate.

References

Balsdon, J. P. V. D. (1958). The Ides of March. Historia 7, 80-94.

Cassius Dio Roman History Bk. 44 sect. 1-19.

Carson R.A.G. (1957). Caesar and the Monarchy. Greece and Rome IV, 46-53.

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Cicero. (1917). Letters to Brutus, 1.16, Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. London: G. Bell and Sons, Vol.4.

Naphali Lewis. (1985). The Ides of March. Sanibel and Toronto. Chapter 7, 58 – 87.

Rawson, E. (1994). Caesar the Dictator. C.A.H. Vol IX pp. 458-467.

Storch, R. H. (1995). Relative Deprivation and the Ides of March: Motive for Murder. Ancient History Bulletin 9.1, 45-52.

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NerdyRoo. "Roman History: Julius Caesar’s Assassination by Liberators." October 27, 2021. https://nerdyroo.com/roman-history-julius-caesars-assassination-by-liberators/.

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NerdyRoo. 2021. "Roman History: Julius Caesar’s Assassination by Liberators." October 27, 2021. https://nerdyroo.com/roman-history-julius-caesars-assassination-by-liberators/.

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NerdyRoo. (2021) 'Roman History: Julius Caesar’s Assassination by Liberators'. 27 October.

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