TODAY IN HISTORY:
Caesar, born into the Julii, an ancient but not particularly distinguished Roman aristocratic family, began his political career in 78 B.C. as a prosecutor for the anti-patrician Popular Party. He won influence in the party for his reformist ideas and oratorical skills, and aided Roman imperial efforts by raising a private army to combat the king of Pontus in 74 B.C. He was an ally of Pompey, the recognized head of the Popular Party, and essentially took over this position after Pompey left Rome in 67 B.C. to become commander of Roman forces in the east.
In 63 B.C., Caesar was elected pontifex maximus, or “high priest,” allegedly by heavy bribes. Two years later, he was made governor of Farther Spain and in 64 B.C. returned to Rome, ambitious for the office of consul. The consulship, essentially the highest office in the Roman Republic, was shared by two politicians on an annual basis. Consuls commanded the army, presided over the Senate and executed its decrees, and represented the state in foreign affairs. Caesar formed a political alliance–the so-called First Triumvirate–with Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome, and in 59 B.C. was elected consul. Although generally opposed by the majority of the Roman Senate, Caesar’s land reforms won him popularity with many Romans.
In 58 B.C., Caesar was given four Roman legions in Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, and during the next decade demonstrated brilliant military talents as he expanded the Roman Empire and his reputation. Among other achievements, Caesar conquered all of Gaul, made the first Roman inroads into Britain, and won devoted supporters in his legions. However, his successes also aroused Pompey’s jealousy, leading to the collapse of their political alliance in 53 B.C.
The Roman Senate supported Pompey and asked Caesar to give up his army, which he refused to do. In January 49 B.C., Caesar led his legions across the Rubicon River from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy, thus declaring war against Pompey and his forces. Caesar made early gains in the subsequent civil war, defeating Pompey’s army in Italy and Spain, but was later forced into retreat in Greece. In August 48 B.C., with Pompey in pursuit, Caesar paused near Pharsalus, setting up camp at a strategic location. When Pompey’s senatorial forces fell upon Caesar’s smaller army, they were entirely routed, and Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated by an officer of the Egyptian king.
Caesar was subsequently appointed Roman consul and dictator, but before settling in Rome he traveled around the empire for several years and consolidated his rule. In 45 B.C., he returned to Rome and was made dictator for life. As sole Roman ruler, Caesar launched ambitious programs of reform within the empire. The most lasting of these was his establishment of the Julian calendar, which, with the exception of a slight modification and adjustment in the 16th century, remains in use today. He also planned new imperial expansions in central Europe and to the east. In the midst of these vast designs, he was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C., by a group of conspirators who believed that his death would lead to the restoration of the Roman Republic. However, the result of the “Ides of March” was to plunge Rome into a fresh round of civil wars, out of which Octavian, Caesar’s grand-nephew, would emerge as Augustus, the first Roman emperor, destroying the republic forever.
Julius Caesar, the “dictator for life” of the Roman Empire, is murdered by his own senators at a meeting in a hall next to Pompey’s Theatre. The conspiracy against Caesar encompassed as many as sixty noblemen, including Caesar’s own protege, Marcus Brutus.
Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome to fight in a war on March 18 and had appointed loyal members of his army to rule the Empire in his absence. The Republican senators, already chafing at having to abide by Caesar’s decrees, were particularly angry about the prospect of taking orders from Caesar’s underlings. Cassius Longinus started the plot against the dictator, quickly getting his brother-in-law Marcus Brutus to join.
Caesar should have been well aware that many of the senators hated him, but he dismissed his security force not long before his assassination. Reportedly, Caesar was handed a warning note as he entered the senate meeting that day but did not read it. After he entered the hall, Caesar was surrounded by senators holding daggers. Servilius Casca struck the first blow, hitting Caesar in the neck and drawing blood. The other senators all joined in, stabbing him repeatedly about the head.
Marcus Brutus wounded Caesar in the groin and Caesar is said to have remarked in Greek, “You, too, my child?” In the aftermath of the assassination, Antony attempted to carry out Caesar’s legacy. However, Caesar’s will left Octavian in charge as his adopted son. Cassius and Brutus tried to rally a Republican army and Brutus even issued coins celebrating the assassination, known as the Ides of March. Octavian vowed revenge against the assassins, two years later Cassius and Brutus committed suicide after learning that Octavian’s forces had defeated theirs at the Battle of Philippa in Greece.
Antony took his armies east, where he hooked up with Caesar’s old paramour, Cleopatra. Octavian and Antony fought for many years until Octavian prevailed. In 30 B.C., Antony committed suicide. Octavian, later known as Augustus, ruled the Roman Empire for many more years.
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