Apart from that little matter of stabbing Caesar twenty three times as part of a conspiracy by M.J. Brutus in 44 B.C., today is the anniversary of a whole range of other horrible events including the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis and the first WHO alert for SARS. But Caesar’s murder will be associated with the date for at least as long as history provides lessons for politics.
So, a refresher if you please:
(The Ides had been the day when the ancient Greeks had celebrated beating a pharmakos or old man dressed in animal skins and driving him from the city. This might have been their way of saying farewell to the departing year as March was the first month in their calender. The custom gives us our modern word scapegoat.)
*Caesar had declared himself perpetual dictator and issued coins in his own image. This was unheard of.
*The senators who eventually killed him had been planning it for a while and had looked at options such as pushing him off a bridge and ambushing him on a favourite walking route.
*Mark Antony heard of the plot and attempted to warn Caesar off but the senators got to Caesar before he could.
*His wife Calpurnia had visions of misfortune and told Caesar not to go out, but Brutus made fun of him for listening to a woman. So, of course Caesar had to go.
*There was a day of gladiatorial sports planned and the gladiators were paid for by Brutus in case their services were needed to do the needful.
*As Caesar arrived in the Theatre of Pompey, the senators crowded about him pulling on his clothes and Publius Casca, the one who had leaked details to Mark Antony pulled out a dagger and grazed Caesar’s neck. Caesar called him a villain at which Casca was alarmed and called his brother Gaius to help him. All sixty senators now attacked Caesar. He tried to get away but blinded by his own blood, tripped and fell on the steps. He was stabbed twenty three times. Only one wound was fatal as found in his autopsy which also gives us the earliest post mortem report known in history. He died of blood loss.
*After a number of years of intrigues and civil wars, the Roman Republic came to an close. Caesar’s base had been with the lower classes and they were angry that he had been betrayed by the aristocrats. The end came with Antony and Cleopatra’s defeat at the hands of Caesar’s grand nephew and heir, Octavian, who became Rome’s first emperor as Augustus in 27 B.C. What came after is another story.
I think it is rather appropriate that Caesar died at the feet of Pompey’s statue. Pompey too had once been a great general and Caesar’s favourite. He was married to Caesar’s only child but when she died in childbirth, their friendship was destroyed. Caesar eventually defeated Pompey in 48 B.C. Shortly after, Pompey was stabbed to death as he attempted to seek asylum for himself, his new wife and his son in Egypt. The Egyptians had decided against him, aware that a wrathful Caesar was on his way to their shores.
And so, on and on…
(Facts and fig. from Wiki, the Smithsonian website etc)
Vincenzo Camuccini: Morte di Giulio Cesare, 1798