The murder of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BC was one of the most significant assassinations in history. The repercussions of the event included yet another Roman Civil War and the victor, Octavian, became the first Emperor of Rome. It occurred three days before Caesar was due to leave Rome, and he had planned to leave the city in the hands of trusted advisors.
In truth, the assassination of Caesar was one of many political crises in Roman history. As Rome’s territory started to grow, so did the level of violence at home. The Civil Wars of the 80s BC were tinged with Roman blood as Sulla took control and became dictator for a short period. The majority of the most important men in Rome during the first century BC; Cicero, Pompey, Crassus and Mark Antony among others, died violently, so the death of Caesar probably had an air of inevitability about it given the political landscape at the time.
The assassination came at a time when Julius Caesar probably believed he was invincible. After defeating Pompey at Pharsalus in 48 BC, he was the most powerful man in Rome. He mopped up resistance to his rule at the Battle of Munda on March 17, 45 BC. Caesar was named dictator for 10 years in 46 BC and became dictator for life sometime between the middle of January and early February 44 BC.
He was one of the greatest military commanders of all time, and when he finally settled in Rome, he had won a host of significant victories and was involved in at least 50 battles. Caesar endeared himself to the citizens of Rome by introducing a number of reforms such as giving grain to the urban poor. He also offered land to seasoned veterans, cleaned up the dangerous streets of Rome and increased employment through the introduction of public work projects.
Although his reforms won him plenty of admiration from the people of Rome, they terrified a number of influential citizens who believed the Republic was all but dead. Perhaps they were jolted into action when Caesar became dictator for life as it was a completely unconstitutional act. As well as being concerned about Caesar’s power and influence, the Senate was greatly offended by his arrogance and vanity.
The would-be assassins believed they had to kill Caesar for the good of the Republic but also knew failure meant certain death as they would be branded traitors. The conspirators included friends of Pompey, one-time allies of Caesar who disagreed with his policies and idealists that believed the assassination was necessary to preserve what remained of the Roman Republic.
There were an estimated 60 people involved in the plot, but historians have identified Brutus, Decimus, Gaius Trebonius and Gaius Cassius Linginus as the ringleaders. Brutus is often deemed to be the main conspirator and is compared to Judas because he was apparently close to Caesar. In reality, Brutus was never friends with Caesar and actually fought with the forces of Pompey against him. Caesar forgave him, but clearly, Brutus wanted Caesar dead. The real traitor is Decimus who had spent years fighting by Caesar’s side in Gaul and dined with the dictator the night before the murder.
The conspirators probably began meeting in 45 BC; initially in small groups to avoid detection. Caesar arrogantly dismissed his Spanish guard in October of that year in the belief that no one would dare attack him. The plotters knew their plan had to be completed in haste as March approached because Caesar was due to leave the city on March 18, 44 BC. After considerable debate, the conspirators decided to attack during a session of the Senate at the Theater of Pompey on March 15. They also chose to bring 8-inch daggers instead of swords as they were easier to hide beneath their togas. Caesar’s brief reign as dictator was about to come to a bloody end.