by Al Bloomfield
Thursday March 15, 2018
HISTORY – On this day – 2,062 years ago, March 15, 44 BC, a conspiracy of wealthy Roman senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus assassinated Gaius Julius Caesar on the floor of the Senate of Rome. They included Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, Lucius Tillius Cimber, Publius Servilius Casca, Gaius Servilius Casca, Gaius Trebonius and many others.
The assassins chose the date of the Ides of March (March 15), because that date was for Romans a deadline for settling old debts. It was by that date that people owed something were supposed to get what’s coming to them. The Romans did not number days as we do – from day 1 to day 31st, for example. They counted back from 3 fixed dates in each month: the Nones – 5th or 7th day (depending on the month’s length), the Ides – the 15th of March, May, July and October but on the 13th of the other months, and the Kalends – the 1st of the following month.
According to Plutarch, this is what happened: One of the senators, Lucius Tillius Cimber, stepped forward to set the stage for the assassination. Groveling before Gaius Julius Caesar, Cimber pleaded a written petition to Caesar to recall Cimber’s brother Publius from the exile Caesar had banished him to. While Caesar was thus stopped and distracted, the other senatorial assassins rapidly positioned themselves like chess pieces. The senators did this ostensibly to offer Cimber their moral support, but in actuality were positioning themselves at different angles from which to optimize their stabbing points against Caesar.
But Caesar tried to wave away Cimber. Yet Cimber, not to be ignored, seized Caesar’s shoulders, grabbed hold of his garments, and pulled away his toga. This move exposed Caesar’s neck and body which only had a shirt-like tunic remaining. Surprised, Caesar shouted at Cimber, “Why, this is violence!” Then Publius Servilius Casca tried to stab Caesar’s neck. Quickly, Caesar whirled around and caught Casca by the arm. Glaring at Casca, Caesar demanded, “Vile Casca, what does this mean?” Terrified, Casca shouted in Greek, “Help, brother!” (This was probably a call to Gaius Servilius Casca.)
Then the other senators swarmed in with daggers drawn. Caesar’s body received 23 stab wounds including 2 to the face. Only the 2nd stab wound was fatal and he died of blood loss. Although a very old man, Caesar fought like a wild man possessed the Furies. He fought back until he saw among the assassins his best friend (some say his natural son) Brutus among the killers. Caesar shouted, “Kai su, teknon!” (“You too, my child!”) Then Caesar pulled his toga over his head and gave up.
The first sign that something went wrong with the conspiracy – which was supposed to excite popular approval – was when Brutus stepped away from the dead body of Caesar to say something conciliatory to all the Senators who were not involved in the murder. Only then did he and the other conspirators realize that the other senators had cleared the building in flight.
Outside, the streets were deserted and every door locked as a Romans hit away in fear. They were all in fear of what might happen next should Caesar truly be dead. Only then did Brutus and the other so-called “Liberators” realize that they may have miscalculated. After that, the assassins fled and Civil War resumed. The Roman Civil War – which had raged on and off for years between the political parties the conservative Optimates and the liberal Populares (of which Caesar was a member) – would sweep away the last vestiges of the Republic and pave the way for the institution of the Empire.
Source of information for this report included the works of Plutarch.
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