The great Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15, 44 B.C. There are many versions of his murder, but one of the the most repuable is by Julius Caesar’s biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. By the time of his death, the Caesar had become a hated figure all over Rome. His policies and administration had led to widespread discontent among the general masses. Most of the senators and higher authorities also went against him as foreign powers (namely Cleopatra) were gaining power, and this harmed their interests.
There had been many plots hatched against him in the past, but this time around two or three groups of powerful men came together to mastermind his assassination. According to the ancient writings, there were more than sixty members involved in the conspiracy and they were led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius and Decimus. Many plans had been fixed by the conspiring parties to murder Julius Caesar in public, but when Caesar called for the Ides of March in the Hall of Pompey, all the conspirators decided on making this the place to carry out their plans.
According to historians, there were many signs that gave warning to Julius Caesar. A few months before his death a tomb with great antiquity was demolished in Capua, the Roman workmen ravaged the site. From the site, a tablet with Greek inscription was found with the quotation: “Whenever the bones of Capys shall be discovered, it will come to pass that a descendant of his shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy.” Even Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife warned him of an impending danger after having a bad dream seeing her husband bathed in blood.
But Julius Caesar paid no heed to such warnings and attended the Ides of March. When he was seated conspirators gathered around him. Suddenly Tillius Cimber caught Caesar’s toga and one of the Cascas stabbed him below the throat. This was followed by multiple stabs. Though Julius Caesar struggled for some time, but when he saw that resistance was useless he covered his face with the robe so that no one could see his face. There were as many as 23 stabs on his body. Quite contradictory to Shakespeare’s description of Caesar’s murder he never uttered any word; only groans were heard with each stab.
But how could such a well informed and wily long-term political survivor fall for a trap to be killed in front of hundreds on witnesses? Julius Caesar was well informed at all times by his informers and even died with a warning note clutched in his hand. He was guarded at all times by a large group of guards, even in his most notable victories he had a group of guards beside him. So why did he disband the guards knowing of the impending threats? According to Julius Caesar’s physician Antistius, out of the 23 only one wound found on Caesar’s body was fatal. His funeral was done in haste as if to cover up something.
Coin Bearing Julius Caesar's Image
In the years leading to his assassination Julius Caesar had become a figure of public hatred. His decision to imprint his image on the Roman coins was shocking for the general populace. They were not habituated to seeing images of living persons on the coins and this led to protests. There were rumors that the illegitimate son of Julius Caesar and his mistress Cleopatra would become the next Emperor of Rome and this harmed the interests of the aristocrats. He behaved rudely to the Senators and they condemned him time and again. Julius Caesar always wanted to be the ideal emperor but his fall from popularity caused concern over his own dignity and image. He was also facing many medical ailments during his last years including temporal lobe influenced loss of memory, increasing epileptic fits and diarrhea. He knew he would have to die sooner rather than later. Assassination would provide Julius Caesar with a grand exit and make his name glorious in history books.
Another fact that points towards Julius Caesar’s planned murder is that the Caesar changed his will and named a new successor just six months from his murder and left enough money for all citizens to live on for at least 3 months. He clearly knew that people would be left in a state of public mourning for some months after his death. In fact had Julius Caesar not been murdered he would be considered as great dictator and no more. So this was the greatest escape plan in the history books!
1. Consider what happens in Shakespeare’s play. How is actual history different from plot points we talked about in class?
2. How is the actual history of Caesar similar to what we’ve read about so far in Shakespeare’s play?
3. Why does the author refer to Caesar’s assassination as “the greatest escape plan in the history books”?