Published on March 20, 2014
ROME Impact of Caesar’s assassination. Political Developments in the Late Republic
The story of Caesar’s assassination
The story of Caesar’s assassination. Never before had a Roman citizen allowed himself to receive the honours and marks of Distinction normally reserved for the gods (COWELL) Many Romans found his power Unacceptable and the possibility of a perpetual dictator ruling Rome from the east could not be endured. A group of sixty leading Romans, who had formed a conspiracy to assassinate him, decided to strike on 15 March (the Ides or March) three days before he was due to depart to the east. The following is the account of Suetonius. The Death of Caesar, by Vincenzo Camuccini (1773-1844)
More than sixty joined the conspiracy against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and Decimus Brutus. At first they hesitated whether to form two divisions at the elections in the Campus Martius, so that while some hurled him from the bridge as he summoned the tribes to vote, the rest might wait below and slay him; or to set upon him in the Sacred Way or at the entrance to the theatre. When, however, a meeting of the Senate was called for the Ides of March in the Hall of Pompey, they readily gave that time and place the preference. Obverse: Head of Brutus right, bearded; around, BRVT·IMP; around, L·PLAET·CEST. Border of dots. Reverse: Pileus between two daggers; below, EID·MAR. Border of dots.
Now Caesar's approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigour because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet,inscribed with Greek words and characters to this purport: "Whenever the bones of Capys shall be moved, it will come to pass that a son of Ilium shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy." 2And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar. Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubicon when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Assassination of Julius Caesar Artist: Vasily Surikov Completion Date: c.1875
Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the Ides of March; 3 and on the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment72 of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord. 'Julius Caesar', Act III, Scene 1, the Assassination by William Holmes Sullivan
Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the senate; but at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour; and when a note revealing the plot was handed him by someone on the way, he p111put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after several victims had been slain, and he could not get favourable omens, he entered the House in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm; though Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone. Caesar's Death Makes Cleopatra Mourn from The Story of Caesar and Cleopatra, c. 1680 Wool and silk, slit and double interlocking tapestry weave
As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, "Why, this is violence!" one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered.
And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, "You too, my child?“ All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, and finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast. The conspirators had intended after slaying him to drag his body to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke his decrees; but they forebore through fear of Marcus Antonius the consul, and Lepidus, the master of horse. “
Plutarch maintains that he fell at the foot of the statue of Pompey, which was covered with blood “so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was providing over this act of vengeance against his enemy” In the period immediately following Caesar’s murder Antony quickly took the initiative. He gained the support of Lepidus and his troops and obtained possession of Caesar’s money and papers from Calpurnia. He arranged a meeting of the senate, at which a compromise was reached – the assassins were granted an amnesty and those of them who were eligible to take up provincial commands were permitted to do so. In return it was agreed that all Caesar’s measures would remain unchanged, his will would be read in public and his body would be buried with all the unusual honours.
According to Plutarch the senate passed a ‘vote of thanks to Antony for having averted the outbreak of a civil war’ and for resolving ‘an exceptionally difficult and confused situation in a most prudent and statesmanlike fashion’ Despite his success in calming things in Rome, Things didn’t quite work out like he planned. When Caesar’s will was read he was extremely disappointed – he had not expected Caesar to adopt his grandnephew, Gaius Octavius, as his son and make him the heir to three quarters of his estate.
Cassius, one of the assassins, had strenuously opposed the public reading of the will and his fears were borne out when it was revealed that Caesar had also left 75 denarii to every member of the Roman plebs (those who received the corn dole) as well as the right to use his gardens beyond the Tiber. Everyone loved Caesar. “A great wave of affection for Caesar and a powerful sense of his loss swept over the people” (Plutarch) Brutus
Even more serious in its effect on the conspirators was the reaction of the people to his funeral oration delivered by Antony over the body of Caesar. Here again Cassius had urged against allowing Antony this customary privilege, but Brutus had agreed to it. Plutarch maintained that in this Brutus ‘committed a fatal blunder’ for when the Romans were shown Caesar’s bloodstained toga with the gashes made by the daggers, they ‘almost lost control of their emotions’. Serious rioting broke out, and the conspirators fled the city.
Antony had complete control at this stage. But Cicero states that he showed no signs of wanting to be dictator. He proposed a range of measures that the Senate approved. According to Cicero the most admirable step he took was his proposal to abolish the dictatorship: “The dictatorship, which had come to usurp virtually monarchical powers, was completely eliminated from the Roman constitution”. He also continued to make compromises with the assassins. He referred to them in public with respect and allowed Decimus Brutus and Trebonius to go to their provinces and provided an exemption for Brutus and Cassius from their duties as praetors (they had fled after Caesar’s funeral – praetors were not allowed to leave the city for more than ten days. They never returned to Rome) In Dante's Inferno, Brutus is one of three people deemed sinful enough to be chewed in one of the three mouths of Satan, in the very center of Hell, for all eternity. The other two are Cassius, who was Brutus's fellow conspirator and Judas Iscariot
Antony made many attempts to maintain control. Those who had hoped that he would in fact restore the republic were soon disappointed. To maintain his leadership of the Caesarians he made Lepidus pontifex maximus and sent him to his province in Spain. He also provided land for Caesars veterans. Cicero states that Antony forged documents of Caesar's to gain benefits such as the appointment of magistrates and the recall from exile of men he favoured. He also transferred Gaul from Decimus Brutus to himself. Cicero accused Antony of supressing Caesar’s laws to upset the constitution. He lengthened the tenures of provincial governorships. Instead of protecting Caesar’s acts, as he should have, he annulled them: those relating to national and private affairs alike. Brutus (from Asterix)
This was the situation in Rome when the young Octavian appeared to claim his inheritance. He returned to Italy from Macedonia when he learnt he was heir. He accepted his inheritance (even though his parents didn’t want him too – they thought it was too dangerous) and changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. He had two aims – to revenge Caesar and surpass his achievements A statue of Augustus as a younger Octavian, dated ca. 30 BC
He travelled through Italy and Caesar’s veterans and friends welcomed him. His was smart enough, however, to know that he had to be careful to achieve his goals. Octavian was able to use the loyalty of Caesar’s troops to establish a power base to challenge his opponents. Cicero describes the victorious arrival of Octavian in a letter to Brutus and makes this point.
When Octavian arrived in Rome, he was surprised. He did not expect the cold and hostile reception from Antony, his adoptive father’s best friend, that he received. Antony blocked Octavian’s attempt to have his adoption made legally valid and refused to hand over Caesar’s money – because he had already spent most of it. Octavian knew he was obliged to honour Caesar’s legacy so he was forced to borrow money and sell off some property in order to pay the 75 denarii to each person promised by Caesar. This won him great popularity. He put on games for entertainment which also made him popular. He recorded that on the day of the games a comet appeared and it was thought to be Caesar’s soul being received by the gods Mark Antony and Octavian
“On those very days of my games, the comet was seen for seven days in the region of heaven which is under the Great Bear. It would rise at the eleventh hour of the day and was evident to all on earth. The common people believed that the comet signified the soul of Caesar being received into the divinities of the immortal gods, to whose name his was added, with a distinguished likeness of his head consecrated by us soon afterwards in the forum”
Antony’s behaviour towards Octavian probably was not due to his belief that the young man was a serious political rival for leadership of the Caesarians; it was more likely ‘that Antonius had been irritated at Caesar’s favouritism towards an obscure young relative and acted out of band temper’. If this was indeed the case, Antony had SERIOUSLY underestimated Octavian.
Impact of Caesar’s assassination.
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