In with the Idus Martiae: 15 March marks the ancient Roman Ides of March, a day made famous as its coincided with the assassination of Julius Gaius Caesar in 44 BCE. Among his accomplishments, Julius Caesar achieved ultimate control following his triumph in the Great Roman Civil War (49-45 BCE), his actions during which included his controversial crossing of the Rubicon. This victory cemented the establishment of the Roman Empire, but it also secured Caesar’s status as a powerful figure.
As Caesar’s power grew, so too did concerns by his colleagues and contemporaries as to the extent of his political reach. These fears escalated in late January or early February of 44 BCE, when Caesar was elected dictator perpetuo, which in essence guaranteed him an unlimited term in office similar to that of a king. With worries mounting regarding the potential for a true dictatorial regime to emerge, Caesar’s colleagues conspired to kill him, an act which they fulfilled on the senate floor on this day more than 2,000 years ago. As famed writer Suetonius (69-122 CE) recounts this attack:
“As [Caesar] took his seat, this conspirators gathered about him as if to pay there respects… . 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 sound, but merely a groan at the first stroke … “ Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, trans. by J.C. Rolfe (1913-1914), pp. 112-113).
Portrait Head of Julius Caesar, 18th century. Marble. British Museum, London.
Vincenzo Cammini, Death of Julius Caesar, 1804-1805. Oil on canvas. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.
Andrea Mantegna, The Triumphs of Caesar (Scene 9), 1485-95. Tempera on canvas. Royal Collection, Hampton Court.
Portrait Head of Julius Caesar, 1st century BCE – 1 century CE. Capitoline Museums, Rome.