Understanding Julius Caesar

Part two of Rome.

(If you haven’t already, please check out my earlier article on the Roman Republic to understand Rome’s beginnings and the Catiline Conspiracy)

The Catiline Conspiracy was far more than a simple battle of ambitions. Ostensibly, as with other mundane political rivalries, the incumbent consul Cicero was simply getting rid of his enemy Catiline, who came in second in the run for office. However, whether they knew it or not, the competing ideals they represented made visible a growing schism between the echelons of Roman society.

While Cicero championed status quo — maintaining the Republic and her patriarch-plebeian divide (a so-called “Optimate”), Catiline was a populist who embraced extreme egalitarianism and reforms that would see the rich re-distributing their land to the poor (a so-called Populare”).

Cicero Denouncing Catiline by Cesare Maccari

Unsurprisingly, most of the Roman Senate supported Cicero. Together with his persuasive rhetoric dubbed the “Catiline Orations”, Cicero outmanoeuvred and defeated Catiline, expelling him from Rome and eventually leading to his death.


Gaius Julius Caesar

biography.com

One of the rumoured co-conspirators that got away scot-free was the famous Gaius Julius Caesar — Catiline’s friend, and the only man who rose to oppose Catiline’s execution sentence in 63 BCE. But he wisely prevaricated about his loyalties, emphatically disavowing Catiline when it was clear that the movement had fallen through. Although he never actually shed his Populare beliefs completely, this allowed him to slip through the cracks of Cicero’s prosecution.

Caesar is said to have blue blood — born to a patrician family and even claiming descent from the goddess Venus and the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas. Like Rome’s legendary founders Romulus and Remus, his family line also originated in the kingdom of Alba Longa.

Perhaps it was this prestigious heritage that led to his blinding self-confidence and arrogance. In one story, he was kidnapped by pirates on his way across the Aegean Sea. They demanded a ransom of 20 talents of silver, but Caesar insisted that he was worth much more than that and asked that they demanded 50 talents instead. After being paid, the pirates released Caesar, who then raised a fleet to capture his kidnappers and cut their throats off.

But unlike other phony arrogant men, Caesar had good talent to back up his talk. He was an excellent military man, and consequently a rising star in politics. Caesar joined the army after his father died; but perhaps he had no choice, for he was stripped of his inheritance at an early age. The poor boy served under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia, and showed a good military mind. He boasted many victories, earning himself a Civic Crown (a prestigious award) for the Siege of Mytilene.

Wikipedia

In Ancient Rome, being a good military general was almost always a desideratum for any decent political career. Following his stint in the army, Caesar was elected to the military tribune and served as quaestor in 69 BCE (a public official dealing with financial matters for the consuls). In 63 BCE (the time of the Catiline Conspiracy), it was no surprise that Caesar was elected to the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman state religion. The final appointments he held before running for consul was praetor (military commander) in 62 BCE and governor of Hispania in 61 BCE.

Caesar’s impressive early career culminated in a successful election to consulship in 59 BCE.


The Gang

To recap, at the time the Senate (and the Roman people in general) were divided between two main movements: the populists like Catiline and Caesar who were more egalitarian/socialistic, dubbed the Populares, and the conservatives like Cicero who wanted to hold power in the aristocracy, dubbed the Optimates. Unsurprisingly most of the Senate who came from wealthy patrician families were Optimates.

But owing to his rags-to-riches background, Caesar was different from his senatorial peers. He quietly supported his friend, Catiline, along with reforms to the system and a series of land redistribution acts from the rich to the poor.

Caesar, Crassus and Pompey — Wikipedia

Realising that his position in the Senate was compromised after Catiline’s prosecution, Caesar decided to form an alliance in 59 BCE with two other political heavyweights of the time— Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey), a general, and Marcus Licinius Crassus (Crassus), the richest man in Rome. These men were Optimates, but Caesar had no other choice as he needed a strong backing to make up for his controversial political line.

Together, the trio were known as the First Triumvirate (or, the Gang of Three), who had the money, power, and influence, to control Rome’s political scene. Unfortunately, this alliance would not last long — the self-serving political ambitions of these heavyweights pitted them against each other, and this was made worse by their contradicting ideologies.

(Interestingly enough, the Triumvirate was rumoured to have invited Cicero to join in their alliance, but Cicero saw this as an erosion of Republican ideals and declined.)


A Foreign Expedition

In 58 BCE, after stepping down from consulship, Caesar became a military governor and was given the regions that bordered Gaul (southern France) to govern for ten years.

Ancient Rome and her neighbours — MrDonn

Sensing an opportunity for even greater military achievement, Caesar mustered two new legions and used his position to expand deeper into Gaul. But honour wasn’t Caesar’s only motivation. Some suggest that Caesar’s military adventurism could be explained by his mounting debt — for there was always money to be made in foreign lands, by extortion or otherwise.

Gallic Wars , Legionnaires vs Tribesmen— Pinterest

Regardless of one man’s intentions, Rome fought in the Gallic Wars, which saw 300 over disunited Gallic tribes being pitted against the fearsome Roman legions. Needless to say, in 52 BCE, the tribes lost the decisive Battle of Alesia to Caesar, and in 51 BCE, Caesar officially annexed Gaul for Rome. Subsequently, Caesar even invaded Britain without permission from the Senate.

A Gallic Surrender — Lionel Royer. Musée Crozatier, Le Puy-en-Velay

Meanwhile as Caesar was occupied in Gaul, Crassus led a force against the Parthians in 53 BCE but met his unfortunate end there. Though Crassus had been the richest man in Rome, historians generally considered his part in the Triumvirate as immaterial. After his death, the group was formally reduced to two — Pompey and Caesar, making their differences much more striking.

At this point, as Caesar is scoring multiple Roman victories, earning a reputation as a military hero and champion of the people, the Senate began to feel increasingly threatened by his newfound dominance. His Populare viewpoint didn’t exactly reassure the Senate of their place in a Rome ruled by Caesar either.

Pompey thus capitalised on Caesar’s absence in Rome and formally allies himself with the senatorial aristocracy, who elect him as sole consul in 52 BCE, bringing the notorious Gang of Three to an end.

In 50 BCE, upon the expiry of Caesar’s military governor term, the Pompey-led Senate orders his return to Rome. Fearing that he would campaign for power upon his return, the Senate also demands that Caesar relinquish command of his battle-hardened legions.

But Caesar was no foolish man. He realised that doing so would leave him vulnerable to senatorial prosecution and risk being a nonfactor in Roman politics. Caesar’s beliefs were confirmed by the expulsion of his loyalists, Mark Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus, from the Senate.

The Capricorn — Wikipedia

Thus, he disobeyed the Senate’s orders, and was subsequently accused of insubordination and treason by Pompey. In response, Caesar marches the Legio XIII Gemina, a battle hardened group of warriors that fought and won in the Gallic Wars, back home. But they weren’t planning on being received with celebrations and festivities typical of victorious contingents coming home. Instead, they intended to stage a historical uprising against Pompey, the Optimates, the Senate, and Rome herself.


The War

On January 10, 49 BCE, Julius Caesar embarked on a path of no return — one that would either propel him into the books of history as a great man, or condemn him as just another failed rebel. He crossed the Rubicon.

The Rubicon is a river that marked the boundary of Gaul and Italy proper. Crossing the Rubicon is taken today to mean “an irrevocable step that commits one to a specific course” — actually it is referring to this event that happened two thousand years ago, as Caesar crossed the boundary thereby declaring war against the aristocracy.

Caesar pausing at the banks of the Rubicon — Wikipedia

Pausing at the bank of the Rubicon, Caesar famously commented “Alea iacta est” (‘the die is cast’). And indeed it was. Caesar understood that by disobeying orders from the Senate to revoke his military command, he would be branded a traitor of his beloved Rome. The same Rome that he valiantly fought for all his life. Without a doubt, the stakes were high and he had to win.

In a stroke of fortune for the rebel, back in Rome, Pompey was under the wrong impression that Caesar commanded a large force — for who would dare invade Rome unprepared? Pompey also respected Caesar’s string of victories in Gaul and deferred to his military prowess. This made the worried consul flee from Rome upon news of Caesar’s long march.

Pompey brought along with him many of his Optimate allies and two legions to Brundisium (further down on the Italian Peninsula). He leaves general Domitius in charge of slowing Caesar’s advances, but predictably, that headless army loses the will to fight and surrenders to Caesar.

Rome to Brundisium — Google Sites

Meanwhile in Brundisium, several more of the aristocrats including Cato the Younger join Pompey. There, they await sea transport to bring the ‘incumbents’ away from the Italian Peninsula to Epirus, Greece, which was then one of the Republic’s eastern Greek provinces.

Unwilling to let them escape, Caesar pursues Pompey to Brundisium. He repeatedly calls Pompey to lay down their weapons but Pompey stubbornly insists that Caesar’s campaign was illegal — that he was an enemy of the Senate and the People, and that it was Caesar who should be surrendering.

Without reaching a consensus, Caesar attacks his former ally with full force, but Pompey and his allies manage to escape across the Adriatic Sea to Greece without suffering casualties.

Caesar does not give chase. Instead, exploiting Pompey’s absence from Italy, he embarked on a 27-day fast march westward all the way to Spain in June 49 BCE, engaging the rest of the demoralised Pompeian Republican Army in the Battle of Illerda. Caesar claims victory here, expending only seventy men versus the two hundred Pompeians.

Caesar then returns to an unguarded Rome in December that same year where he is appointed Dictator for eleven days and is subsequently formally re-elected as consul. Mark Antony, Caesar’s right hand man, is also rewarded, becoming Caesar’s Magister equitum (Master of the Horse), his lieutenant.

In Rome, Caesar enjoyed the support of the people as he was one of their rare champions, but he was not content. There was a lingering worry that left alone, Pompey and his allied aristocrats in Greece would eventually fester into a legitimate concern just like he did himself, back in Gaul. Thus, the Dictator decided sail to Greece to end this war once and for all.

In July 48 BCE, Caesar brings seven available legions across the Adriatic into Greece. However, he doesn’t manage to muster enough ships to carry reinforcements, so the troop transport ships were sent back to Italy to carry supplies and more soldiers.

Pompey’s naval commander, Bibulus, realises this, and sets up a naval blockade in response to prevent reinforcements from reaching Caesar. This worried Caesar, who was only at half strength and had no way out of the Greek Peninsula (the Greeks supported Pompey). Caesar again tried to make peace with Pompey, this time in a position of weakness rather than strength, but Pompey declined.

Marc Antony — Ancient History Encyclopedia

Eventually his lieutenant Marc Antony in command of four legions manages to evade the naval blockade, albeit after several attempts, and beaches the Peninsula at Nympheum, away from Caesar’s camp. Realising that the Caesarians were split up, Pompey marches his army to engage Antony without allowing them to regroup with the main force. But Caesar catches up with Pompey’s strategy and gives chase. He did not lag far behind, forcing Pompey to give up this opportunity for a quick victory to prevent being sandwiched by Caesar and Antony.

Pompey retreats again, this time to Dyrrhachium — a strong defensive position with their backs facing the sea and fronts covered by hills. Though Caesar’s army hemmed Pompey’s camp in, he knew that a direct assault would be impossible without catching the Pompeians off guard.

Battle at Dyrrahacium — Wikipedia

Thus, Caesar decides to build a wall to pin Pompey down and deprive him of supplies. Pompey responds with a defensive wall of his own, leaving a space between the two camps similar to WW1’s No Man’s Land between the trenches.

But Pompey’s position was unsustainable. He had limited land to grow food for the horses and men and a depleting fresh water supply. Fortunately, two mercenaries default from Caesar’s camp and falls in Pompey’s hands. They give away tactical information about the Caesarian legions and expose a weakness in Caesar’s defence — an uncompleted section of the wall that was a viable point of entry.

Sensing an opportunity for success, Pompey embarks on the offensive, sending troops to break through Caesar’s fortifications. They outnumber Caesar’s legions and manage to cause significant damage, but Caesar retaliates by going on the counter-offensive and attacking Pompey instead. This was a disastrous move as even there, Pompeians outnumbered Caesarians 2:1, even managing to spare a infantry force to outflank Caesar’s right wing.

Pompey defeats Caesar in the Battle of Dyrrhachium, forcing Caesar to retreat. One would’ve expected Pompey to give chase and end Caesar once and for all, but he was afraid of Caesar’s notorious reputation of feinting, trickery and leaving traps behind. Once again, Pompey’s cowardice leads to a disappointing outcome. Caesar later remarked on that decision saying, “Today the victory had been the enemy’s, had there been any one among them to gain it.”


Defeat

A month after Pompey’s ‘victory’, pressure from his camp forces him to finally meet Caesar in a direct confrontation at Pharsalus, Greece (Aug 48 BCE).

Once again, Caesar was heavily outnumbered by Pompey’s forces. He had with him veterans from the Gallic Wars (most notably the famous X Equestris legion) and other Italian legionnaires, but they suffered great losses at the Battle of Dyrrhachium. Caesar’s army totaled 22 000 men. On the other hand, Pompey commanded a 11 legion strong force, consisting of over 45 000 men; outnumbering Caesar at a 2:1 ratio. The odds were stacked in Pompey’s favour.

The two armies met head on at the Pharsalian Plain like an old Mexican stand-off, each side waiting for the other to make the first move. Their forces were deployed in three main lines; but while Pompey’s lines were made of 10 men per column, Caesar’s had only six to make up for a smaller size.

Wikipedia

Caesar left Marc Antony in charge of the main infantry at their left flank, himself commanding the right flank of cavalry and one hidden fourth line of infantry troopers. Opposite Caesar was Labienus, Pompey’s brilliant cavalry commander.

However, uncharacteristic of the larger force, Pompey decides to hold his position and wait for Caesar to attack him instead. In the aftermath of the battle, Caesar would question this decision of Pompey’s, as a direct frontal assault by a larger army usually gives the dominating power an upper hand.

Nevertheless, Caesar was not one to back down, marching his smaller army across the plains. He engaged Pompey’s right and centre flanks, but left his third line behind and gave them specific orders not to engage until Caesar gave the order. Pompey’s army held, but the focal point of the battle was the clash of the cavalries.

It turned out, Caesar’s strategy of a hidden fourth infantry line was extremely effective in dealing with Pompey’s much larger cavalry. The troopers used their pila (javelins) to stab the horses instead of throwing them. This sent Pompey’s entire cavalry into a frenzy, and it is there that Caesar ordered his third line, containing his most skillful and tough warriors, to join in to finish off Pompey’s left flank.

With his cavalry more of less destroyed and the left flank exposed, Pompey realises that Caesar was en route to claiming total victory. He feared for his life, retreating to Egypt. Needless to say, the rest of the Pompeian camp were not inspired by this act of cowardice, surrendering to Caesar.


Egypt

At the time of the Caesarian conflict, Ptolemaic Egypt was ruled by King Ptolemy XIII, a fourteen year old child. He had succeeded his father King Ptolemy XII who died in 51 BCE. But he was merely a co-ruler, cohabiting the throne with his older sister (who was also his wife) — the famous Cleopatra VII.

Alexander the Great — Mr Dowling

Some background is necessary to understand the term Ptolemaic Egypt and this proud succession of pharaohs. About three hundred years prior, Alexander the Great’s (click on the link for another historical epic!) conquered Egypt during his fabled Asian expedition. But after his death, his massive empire running all the way to the Indus Valley was in disarray. Within a generation, Alexander’s massive empire was torn apart. One can only imagine the historical reverberations had a capable successor taken over Alexander and preserved his legacy.

Leading the struggle amidst this enormous power vacuum were three Diadochi (generals) who were Alexander’s right hand men, each claiming a stake in the new pie. It was then decided that the administration would be split into 3 distinct dynasties, each ruled by one Diadochi. General Antigonus took control of Macedon, establishing the Antigonid Empire. Seleucus forms the Seleucid Empire in Persia and Ptolemy became pharaoh of Egypt, and that was how the term “Ptolemaic” Egypt and the Ptolemaic dynasty came about.

The Diadochi Era

Back to the story. The child King Ptolemy XIII was largely a puppet controlled by his regent Pothinus, a eunuch who instigated the king and ruled behind the scenes. Pothinus was a scheming man and did not like the idea of his king sharing the throne with a woman, even less so the fact that Queen Cleopatra was very popular among the people compared to his king.

Cleopatra — Wikipedia

He convinces the gullible king to turn on his own sister, forcing her out of the country in order to consolidate their claim to the throne. Cleopatra flees to Syria, but being the capable woman she is, she manages to raise an army to march onto Alexandria (the capital of Egypt). At the time, both Rome and Egypt were embroiled in their versions of the Great Civil War.

It was in 48 BCE, the height of the Roman and Egyptian Civil war, that the path of these two great dynasties converged. Pompey arrived in Alexandria after fleeing from Pharsalus, hoping to seek refuge with the Egyptians. Pothinus initially accepted Pompey’s request, but then realised that Julius Caesar could be a useful ally to defeat Cleopatra. So he executes Pompey, thinking it would curry favour with the Roman dictator.

Things turned out quite the opposite. When Caesar arrived, he viewed this traitorous act with disgust, something that was unbecoming of a dignified ruler. Pothinus also failed to observe that Caesar had been giving clemency to his former enemies like Cicero — something that was indicative of a reputation for benevolence, whether crafted or otherwise genuine. This would prove to be the eunuch’s downfall.

Cleopatra and Caesar — Jean-Léon Gérôme

On the other hand, Cleopatra becomes successful at her attempt to win over Caesar. She became Caesar’s lover and earned his support for the throne. Together, they execute Ponthinus and oust King Ptolemy XIII, declaring Cleopatra as Pharaoh of Egypt. She subsequently chooses another of her brothers to share the throne.

Still bitter over defeat, Ptolemy XIII musters his own rebel army to siege Alexandria. But upon the arrival of the Roman legions, the boy stood no chance. In the Battle of the Nile (47 BCE), Cleopatra, with Caesar’s help, end Ptolemy XIII’s campaign.

Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra was scandalous in more than one way. At the time, Caesar was married to Calpurnia and Cleopatra was still officially with her brother Ptolemy XIII. And yet, their salacious fling in Egypt produced a son, Caesarion. In fact, Caesarion was the only known biological child of Caesar, and when that was made known, it launched this innocent baby into the limelight of Roman politics and on many others’ hit list. But that is a story for another time.

Cleopatra and Caesarion — Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Caesar is reappointed dictator for another year. Slowly, it was becoming clear that old Republican ideals of consulship, Senators, and the limited involvement of the People, were being eroded. Caesar spends the first months of 47 BCE in Egypt then leaves for Syria to deal with an uprising.


Once and for All

Pharnaces II of Pontus stood no chance.

Taking advantage of the Roman’s preoccupations elsewhere, he declared himself king of lesser Armenia and Colchis (modern day Georgia). This infuriated Caesar, who swiftly marched down to Zela (modern day Turkey) and emphatically defeated Pharnaces II in 47 BCE. Regarding this short, one-sided victory, Caesar famously commented Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) to capture the decisive might of this expedition.

Elsewhere, other Optimates such as Cato the Younger and Pompey’s sons had regrouped in Africa to take one last stance against the dictator. And yet, despite losses at Pharsalus, the army they managed to muster was no small one. It consisted of war elephants, 40 000 troops and cavalry.

On the other hand, Caesar faced increasing resistance from his own soldiers. One group was unhappy that Caesar had not yet paid them for their efforts in the Battle of Pharsalus as promised. They mutinied against their former commanders and refused to follow orders, demanding immediate discharge and backpay.

Caesar knew that he needed the help of these men to quell the remainder of the Optimates’ resistance, and yet he was indeed in debt and had no funds to pay them. He decided that the urgency of this situation demanded his personal attention and met with the soldiers face to face.

Caesar’s soldiers — Wikipedia

Whether Caesar did this deliberately or not, only the man himself could say. But on hindsight, this move was ingenious. The Roman soldiers, who were inculcated with values such as military honour and dignity from an early age, did not have the courage to raise their morally questionable demands during the dialogue. They were undoubtedly embarrassed to be haggling over the price of their loyalties and over their mutinous conduct.

Caesar finally relented to their requests for discharge. This appalled the soldiers for most of them were there simply to get paid. But Caesar insisted he had no money and no need for their services. It was then that these warriors realised the severity of their actions — that they would lose the respect of a man they had fiercely followed for ten odd years, and worse, that they would lose the honour of being a Roman legionnaire.

The soldiers gave in and agreed to fight for Caesar once more in the African war. Caesar’s rhetoric was so impressive that the mutineers not only agreed to delay backpayment for Pharsalus, they were agreed to postpone payment for the upcoming war in Africa. Caesar managed to regain the loyalties of these veterans without spending a single cent.

Despite reenlisting the help of these veterans, Caesar was outnumbered by the Optimates in the Battle of Thapsus (modern day Tunisia — North Africa) (46 BCE) by 20 000 troops and 10 000 cavalry. Nonetheless, Caesar managed to clinch a decisive victory, ending the Optimate threat once and for all.

In the battle, Caesar’s Legio V Alaudae shone. Enlisting in Gaul at the time of the Gallic Wars, they were the first Roman legion to comprise of non-Roman citizens. They used provincial soldiers instead, but this did not stop them from being fiercely loyal fighters.

Wikipedia

In the Battle of Thapsus, the Legio V Alaudae (‘Gallica’) faced 60 intimidating Pompeian war elephants charging head on. But they stood strong and even turned the tides against the Optimates by attacking the elephants and causing them to go about in a frenzy. The beasts turned around and even attacked Optimate soldiers at one point in time. This was the turning point of the conflict, and the Legio V Alaudae’s efforts allowed Caesar’s cavalry to enter and destroy the enemy’s fortified camps. In the aftermath of the battle, Gallica used the elephant as their war symbol to represent their bravery against the beasts.


Assassination

By the time of July 46 BCE, Caesar had thoroughly vanquished the remainder of Optimate resistance led by Cato the Younger. Pompey’s sons Gnaeus and Sextus Pompeius managed to escape Africa to Spain, but they too fell in line soon after.

Caesar returned to Rome victorious. He not only boasted an impressive record of military victories on foreign lands, most of them were also fought while he faced severe disadvantages. Caesar was outnumbered by the Optimates nine times out of ten and yet managed to come out on top.

Julius Caesar, the Dictator — emaze.com

Back home, Caesar faced little resistance from any remaining aristocrats. The opposition had been purged thoroughly and none dared to declare war against the dictator. As a Populare, Caesar also enjoyed the natural support of the People. Thus, it is in this context of power and popularity that in 46 BCE, Caesar was appointed as Dictator once more, this time for a period of ten long years.

‘Dictator’ in Ancient Rome meant something different from what we refer to today. Back then, ‘Dictator’ was a legitimate political title that was awarded, giving far-reaching powers in order to deal with a military emergency or other state-threatening events. Dictatorship was given insofar as a specific task required a decisive government; in other words, the post was temporary, and the occupant was intended to vacate the title as soon as the task was completed.

By naming himself Dictator for ten years, however, Caesar was in effect, mocking the limitations that the Roman Constitutions imposed. This was not without reason.

Caesar had personally witnessed the dire state of Roman politics before he ascended into the limelight. The Republican machinery that Cicero valued so highly was malfunctioning; the central administration became powerless, leaving corrupt authoritarian governors free to exploit their provinces. Moreover, a clear divide was beginning to show, separating the haves and the have-nots. Those who had the fortune of birth continued to multiply their wealth, while others were forced to inherit debt and all the misery that came with it.

As Dictator, Caesar reasoned that he could make the central government strong again, which could be used to enact widespread reforms and unite Rome into a cohesive body once again.

For example as Dictator, Caesar regulated the purchase of grain, restricted the purchase of luxury goods, limited the terms of provincial governors, reformed tax collection, demolished professional guilds that became too influential, rewarded families with many children, built majestic temples, redistributed land, restructured debt to alleviate the entrenched inequality, and of course, famously reorganised the calendar to follow the Sun instead of the Moon.

In 44 BCE, Caesar was appointed dictator in perpetuum (in permanence). If his previously authoritarian stance had not angered defenders of the old Republic, this move surely did. Though Caesar claimed Rome was still a Republic, any observer would have realised that authoritarianism was quickly eroding the old way.

Thus, on the fifteenth of March that same year, Caesar’s enemies, led principally by Marcus Junius Brutus, Tillius Cimber and Servillus Casca staged a dramatic assassination of the Dictator. The historian Plutarch records these events in detail.

The Senate had been holding a session in the Theatre of Pompey. During the session, Cimber called Caesar to recall his brother from exile. But Caesar simply waved off his request and declined, prompting Cimber to grab the dictator by the tunic.

“Ista quidem vis est!” (“Why, this is violence!”) Caesar said. Indeed it was, for it was then that Casca stood up too, revealing a hidden dagger and thrusting it at his neck. Caesar was caught off guard, but still managed defended himself successfully and cried in Latin “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?

In a graphic series of events, a panicked Casca then shouted “Help, brother!”, which triggered an entire group of senators to attack Caesar. Caesar tried to escape but it was futile. In total, over 60 men were involved in this gruesome assassination and Caesar was stabbed 23 times.

Ides of March, Caesar’s assassination — EarthSky

Till date, Caesar’s last words remain shrouded in mystery. Some claim that he shouted, “Kai su, teknon? (“You too, child?”). But others, like Shakespeare, more dramatically claimed that Caesar was pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus amongst the traitors and exclaimed “Et tu, Brutus?” (And you, Brutus?)

Caesar was murdered right in front of the towering statue of Pompey. Perhaps this too was part of Brutus’ plan: that the assassination be held in the Theatre of Pompey for a thespian ending of the Dictator’s life. Either way, the ex-Pompeiians/Optimates/old Republican Guard got their revenge. The Dictator was no more.


War, once more

In the aftermath of the assassination, Brutus is reported to have fled the building and onto the Capitol, where he famously celebrated “People of Rome, we are once again free!

The resentment built up against Caesar over his years as consul then dictator-for-life was evident, considering the number of Senators that were involved in the plot. But these men were united only by the goal of eliminating a common enemy; most of them shared different motivations.

Some were loyal ex-Pompeiians, who resented Caesar for defeating their leader. There too were senatorial Optimates, who did not necessarily aligned with Pompey, but also believed in maintaining an entrenched aristocracy. Finally, there were the Republican old guard, people like Cicero, who cherished the Roman Republic over anything else, and saw Caesar’s political manoeuvres toward authoritarianism as an erosion of the old way.

One would have thus expected that with the removal of Caesar, the old Roman Republic could have been once more.

Unfortunately, things never turn out the way we expect them to. Caesar’s death left behind a power vacuum that various political factions were dying to fill. This sparked yet another Great Roman Civil War, just like Pompey’s and Caesar’s, one with its fair share of warfare, bloodshed, bravery, treachery and tragic endings.

Evidently, even something as dramatic as the great Caesar’s lifeless corpse being strewn before the statue of the dead general Pompey was not enough to convince the new instigators that perhaps peace was the way forward. And sadly, Rome would never manage to escape Romulus’ and Remus’ long shadow.


Thanks for indulging me!