Ides of Mars, the assassination of Caesar (March 15, 1944)

Ides of Mars, the assassination of Caesar (March 15, 1944)

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The day of Ides of March 44 BC AD, Jules Caesar, who became dictator for life, reigns over Roman political life. Originally, a young aristocrat from an old but low-profile family, he became a member of the "popular party" in Rome, a movement opposing the old and prestigious aristocracy, embodied by Sylla. Launching into an ambitious plan, the young man took out many loans in order to buy a large clientele among the Roman population.

General threatens old Roman republic

In fact, in Rome, the nobles based part of their power on these links; they counted on the vote of these close relations so that the policy is favorable to them. They also relied on their warlike strength as often factions clashed in the streets as well. From then on, Caesar, crippled by debts, was assigned theproconsulate in the province of transalpine Gaul (future Narbonnaise) by counting on a war in order to bail out. His military command was extensive and left him with many options, especially with people from Illyria.

The Germanic movements brought the Helvetians into a threatening migratory movement, according to Caesar, his province, which gave him an excellent pretext to intervene. It is unlikely that he thought of conquering Gaul in its entirety from the start, a task no doubt incommensurable at the time, so dreadful the Romans were remembered by the Gauls. Still, caught in the Gallic internal affairs, Caesar ends up subjugating the Gallic space, in spite of the revolts and some difficulties.

But this war seemed illegal in Rome and, above all, contrary to the rules governing conflicts. In fact, the Romans acted while always thinking of waging a just war: the jus ad bellum, which seemed to be lacking in Caesar's war. However, the Romans were hardly accustomed to submitting too much and made the point of view coincide with their interest. In this case, the problem for the Senate was clearly the new power of the proconsul, which needed to be brought down. Not letting himself be constrained, Caesar then marched on Rome, passed the Rubicon and inaugurated a new civil war in Rome.

Caesar imperator

Winner of Pompey, he returned to Rome where he became dictator for life as we have mentioned. Nevertheless, political life in Rome continued, and Caesar, like every aristocrat, was embroiled in conflicts of interest. It was the very excess of his power that worried, preventing others from claiming supreme power. Internal struggles had torn the Republic apart for a long time. We remember the Gracches, members of the popular party, massacred by the aristocrats in street battles between partisans, the war between Marius and Sylla, the conspiracy of Catilina… This dynamic was not dead with the victory of Caesar, worse, it stirred up the fiercest hatred.

Faced with this, Caesar, according to the sources, would not have acted with great political finesse, in the sense that, according to Suetonius and Dion Cassius, he would have disrespected the envoys of the Senate by remaining seated in front of them in front of the temple. of Venus Genitrix, (he claimed to be descended from this divinity). He would also have brought foreigners into the Senate, Gauls who are moreover, whom the Romans considered as bellicose barbarians, impervious to any oratorical, political, artistic finesse ... But worst of all, his supposed claim to royalty undoubtedly aroused passions. Antony, moreover, tried to place on his head the diadem, symbol of royalty, which he refused. The idea was there and the old hostility Roman for Kings quickly rekindled.

If we add to this a rumor claiming that he wanted, according to Suetonius, to transfer the wealth of Italy to the East to reign as monarch, we have undoubtedly gathered a good part of the grievances that could be attributed to him. The latter is all the stronger since he also served Octavian, Caesar's successor and future Augustus, during his propaganda campaign against Antony and Cleopatra, accusing the Roman of wanting to subjugate Rome to theEast. This accusation, terrible for the Romans, appeals to their feeling of ethnocentric superiority making Others people of less virtue. The Orientals are thus stigmatized for their too great softness, a tendency to deceit, to calculation, to which the Romans cannot submit.

Caesar was therefore seen as too troublesome a rival, as a tyrant, like a haughty figure, offending the secular senatorial arrogance. Dion Cassius, who wrote at the turn of the second and third centuries AD, insists on the legitimacy of his claims and shows that it was the senators themselves who did him these honors. He defends the memory of the dictator because he is the direct precursor of the imperial regime, a man whose name became a title and which we find even in the denomination of the Russian emperors (Tsar comes from Caesar).

The Ides of March

Still, the day of Ides of March 44 BC. J.-C., the most powerful man in Rome and that part of the world leaves his home before the exhortations of Decimus Brutus. On the way he would have met a man who would have given him a text delivering the plot hatched against him, which Caesar did not immediately read. Advancing towards Pompey's curia (the old one had been destroyed by fire) he did not know that a real conspiracy awaited him. Indeed, according to Suetonius, about sixty armed senators awaited his arrival, including the two Brutus (Marcus and Decimus), symbols of this plot, because their ancestor was the one who had brought down royalty in 509 BC. AD and established the Republic, a concept that the Romans associated with freedom. For the rest, let Suetonius speak (Julius Caesar, 82) :

When he sat down, the conspirators surrounded him, under the pretext of paying him respects. Suddenly Tillius Cimber, who had taken on the leading role, came closer as if to ask him a favor; and Caesar refusing to hear him and making a sign to him to postpone his request until another time, he seizes him by the toga on both shoulders. "This is violence," cries Caesar; and, at the same moment, one of the Cascas, to whom he was turning his back, wounds him, a little below the throat.

Caesar, seizing the arm which struck him, pierces it with his awl, then he wants to rush forward; but another wound stops him, and he soon sees daggers raised at him from all sides. Then he wraps the head of his toga, and, with his left hand, he simultaneously lowers one of the sides of his legs, in order to fall more decently, the lower part of his body being thus covered.

He was thus pierced with twenty-three blows: at the first only, he uttered a moan, without saying a word. However, some writers report that, seeing Marcus Brutus advancing against him, he said in Greek: "And you too, my son!" When he was dead, everyone fled, and he lay on the ground for some time. Finally three slaves brought him home on a litter, from which one of his arms hung.

Of so many wounds, there was no fatal, in the judgment of the physician Antistius, except the second, which had been done to his chest.

The intention of the conspirators was to drag his corpse into the Tiber, to confiscate his property, and to annul his acts, but the fear they had of the consul Marc-Antoine and of Lepidus, master of the cavalry, made them renounce for this purpose.

In its romantic style and full of unverifiable details, the death of Caesar therefore remains a mystery for us. His contemporaries have not said a word about it, and the magnificent "And you too my son!" », Launched in Greek, remains a splendid and vibrant symbol of politics in Rome, that late-republican Rome, both so near and far from us, whose tragic accords reach us so violently according to the phrases bequeathed by the history.


- The Ideas of Mars. The assassination of Caesar or the dictatorship? Gallimard / Julliard, Archives n ° 51, 1973.

- The Ides of March by Thorton Wilder. Folio, 1981.

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