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Gaius Julius Caesar (100 - 44 BCE), known as Julius Caesar or just Caesar, was a military and political leader in ancient Rome who eventually declared himself dictator for life (dictator perpetus). He spent a lot of time traveling around in military campaigns, but his popularity among many of the Roman people and his conflict with the Senate made him a number of enemies at home. Caesar was stabbed to death in the Senate chamber by a small group of aristocrats.
Caesar is one of the best-known and most important figures in world history, and especially in ancient history. In Rome, he was famous for conquering Gaul (modern-day France), which extended the Roman Empire to the Atlantic Ocean, and leading the first Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BCE.
He was well-loved by the common people as a military and political leader in the Roman Republic. After he became famous as a general, Caesar assumed political power in a triumvirate with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Being of the populares (populist) political tradition, he deemphasized the role of the Senate in favor of popular assemblies of common citizens. This led to various troubles with the Senate.
When the triumvirate collapsed, it caused a political crisis. Caesar restored order, and established his own dominance, by marching on Rome with his legions. After winning several engagements in a Roman civil war, he established himself as dictator-for-life, much to the distaste of the Senate.
As Caesar acquired more popularity and power, some senators began to plot his assassination. After much thought over potential strategies, including the possibility of killing him while on his favorite walking path, the senators decided to stab him right in the middle of the Senate chamber during a meeting. After the assassination, the senators spilled out into the streets in joy. The killing took place on what was called the Ides of March, the 15th day of the month.
Many of the Roman people were angry that a small group of aristocrats had murdered their hero, and popular opinion turned against the Senate. Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, became the focus on popular support in the ensuing civil war. After the conclusion of the war, Octavian took power as dictator, ending the centuries-long Roman Republic and replacing it with the monarchic Roman Empire.
Two years after his death, Caesar was deified in a ceremony, and formally added to the pantheon of Roman gods.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Roman senators on March 15, 44 BC, a date famously known as the Ides of March. The conspiracy involved over 60 senators, with key figures being Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, who were once allies of Caesar but feared his rising power and potential monarchy, which threatened the Republic's existence.
How did the assassination of Julius Caesar unfold?
The assassination took place during a Senate meeting in the Theatre of Pompey. As Caesar took his seat, the conspirators surrounded him under the pretense of saluting him. They then produced daggers hidden in their togas and began stabbing him. According to historical accounts, Caesar suffered 23 stab wounds, indicating the frenzied nature of the attack. His death marked the end of his dictatorship and the beginning of a new phase of civil wars in Rome.
What were the motives behind Julius Caesar's assassination?
The primary motive behind Caesar's assassination was the fear among the senators that his power was becoming too great. Caesar had been appointed dictator perpetuo (dictator for life), which alarmed the senators who valued the traditional Roman Republic governance structure. They believed that by killing Caesar, they could restore the power of the Senate and prevent the establishment of a monarchy or dictatorship.
What was the immediate aftermath of Caesar's assassination?
Immediately following Caesar's assassination, Rome was thrown into chaos. The conspirators had not planned for what would come after his death, leading to a power vacuum. Mark Antony, Caesar's ally, delivered a stirring funeral oration that turned public opinion against the assassins. This eventually led to a series of civil wars, culminating in the rise of Caesar's adopted heir, Octavian (later known as Augustus), who became the first Roman Emperor, ironically fulfilling the very outcome the conspirators sought to prevent.
Did Julius Caesar say "Et tu, Brute?" as he was being assassinated?
The famous phrase "Et tu, Brute?" attributed to Julius Caesar during his assassination, is not historically documented. It was popularized by William Shakespeare in his play "Julius Caesar." According to ancient historian Suetonius, Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σύ, τέκνον;" (Kai su, teknon?), meaning "You too, my child?" However, other sources suggest that Caesar said nothing at all, accepting his fate in silent dignity.