Julius Caesar was a Roman statesman, author, and general. He was one of the best and most accomplished military commanders in history. Despite never being an emperor, Caesar was a consul and later dictator for life. He was immensely popular with the citizens of Rome.
His death, on the Ides of March (15 March 44 BC), was a catalyst for the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.
Caesar was born in 100 BC as Gaius Julius Caesar. He was born into a patrician family of the gens Julia, which claimed descent from Julus, son of the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus. His father, also named Gaius Julius Caesar, was the Roman governor of Asia.
He joined the army at a young age after the death of his father and served with distinction, being awarded the Civic Crown for his part in the Siege of Mytilene. He served under the command of Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia.
He then returned to Rome where he became an accomplished legal advocate known for prosecuting graft and corruption among Roman governors, a common problem of the time.
While crossing the Aegean Sea in 75 BC, he was kidnapped by pirates, who demanded 20 “talents” of silver, a unit of weight during that era, for his release. Caesar rebuked the pirates saying they should have demanded 50 talents instead.
Upon his release, he threatened them all crucifixion upon his release, which the pirates scoffed at as a joke. But he did just that. Once he returned to Rome, he raised a fleet, caught the pirates, and had them all crucified — but first had their throats cut as a sign of leniency.
Recalled to the army, he quelled an uprising from the eastern areas of Asia and was made a military tribune.
By that point in considerable debt, Caesar sought the help of Marcus Licinius Crassus who paid off his debt in return for Caesar’s political allegiance against Pompey. Caesar then moved to Spain and put down two different indigenous tribes. In 60 BC he was elected consul and Rome formed the First Triumvirate, a power-sharing, loose alliance between Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.
Heading to Gaul, Julius Caesar extended the Roman influence all the way to the coast of Britain and defeated two Germanic tribes, building a bridge across the Rhine at Trier. During this time period, he led two limited forays into Britain. But Crassus was killed during an operation in Asia, and his daughter, given to Pompey in marriage, died in childbirth. The Triumvirate was no more and Pompey and Caesar turned against each other.
After a brilliant military campaign in which he defeated the very numerically superior force of Pompey, Caesar arrived in Rome while Pompey fled to Egypt to be assassinated soon afterward.
Caesar had the assassins of Pompey put to death, quelled a civil war in Egypt, and began a relationship with Cleopatra who became the Queen of Egypt with Caesar’s backing.
As the dictator, he set about casting many reforms in Rome, arguably the biggest of which was the adoption of the Egyptian calendar. He set the length of the year to 365.25 days by adding a leap day at the end of February every fourth year.
The seasonal calendar had three extra months inserted into 46 BC to bring it in conjunction with the season. The Julian calendar started being used on 1 January 45 BC. This calendar is almost identical to the current Western calendar in use today.
On the Ides of March, Caesar was en route to the Senate, where several of the unelected senators were plotting his death. Marc Antony, who had learned of the plot the night before, was racing to the Senate to head off the assassination but was detained by Trebonius outside the Theater of Pompey.
One senator, Tullius Cimber, handed Caesar a petition to recall his exiled brother. Caesar waved him away, but Cimber then grabbed his shoulders and pulled down Caesar’s tunic.
Servillius Casca, another senator, pulled his dagger and made a thrust at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned around quickly and caught Casca by the arm. Casca, losing his nerve, shouted for help. Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by his blood running into his eyes, tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. Ironically, Caesar died at the foot of the statue of his enemy Pompey.
Julius Caesar was stabbed a total of 23 times. Sixty men were complicit in his assassination.
However, it was later established that only one wound, the second one to his chest, had been lethal. It was reported that Caesar said nothing as he died. Later the English poet and playwriter William Shakespeare, in his play “Julius Caesar” had Caesar speak the now immortal words: “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?”, commonly translated to as “You too, Brutus?”)
As Brutus and his conspirators ran through the streets of Rome calling out what they had done, they were met with a wall of silence. Romans loved Caesar and knew that further civil war lay ahead. His body lay where it fell for about three hours before officials retrieved it for a cremated burial.
Caesar’s death was a watershed moment marking the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. It led not to a path towards senatorial rule, as Caesar’s assassins had envisioned, but towards civil war and further dictatorship.
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