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Essay – The Assassination of Caesar

Critically discuss the key factors that led to the assassination of Caesar


The name Julius Caesar summons imagery of an assassination that was so momentous that it has been immortalised by William Shakespeare. However, Caesar was more than the victim of a conspiratorial group; he was a politician, military commander and dictator. This was a key moment in the history of Rome that began the transference from the RomanRepublic to the Roman Empire. It is essential, therefore, to understand what factors led to Caesar’s assassination.

Shakespeare identifies three reasons for Caesar’s assassination in a speech delivered by Brutus:

Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen?…as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him

 (Shakespeare Julius Caesar 3.2.21-7)

Rome, tyranny and ambition; Shakespeare builds up the play to match these criteria but there are other factors to consider. Canfora (2007) dedicates a chapter, ‘Iure caesua’ (justly killed), within his work The People’s Dictator in an effort to analyse the reasons for the assassination, and touches on a number of topics in respect of ambition and contempt for the political mechanisms. On the other hand Weinstock (1971) outlines several explanations for perceived slights on Caesar’s part demonstrating that the conspirators plot hinged in some circumstances, upon rumour. These viewpoints require due consideration whilst assessing the key factors for the assassination.

These theories are a few of those to be considered whilst reviewing the primary evidence of authors such as Suetonius, Cassius Dio (Dio) and Plutarch. The sources recount a number of Caesar’s violations against the state, his excessive acceptance of honours and slights against the Senate. Most of the evidence used is not contemporary to Caesar so there will be limitations in establishing its accuracy and validity. Where possible accounts of other authors and contemporaries of Caesar’s will support assertions made. This evidence will demonstrate that there are a number of key factors, particularly from 45 and 44 BC, that resulted in a conspiratorial group forming and assassinating Caesar.

Caesar’s Minor Violations

Members of the Senate of the RomanRepublic, in most circumstances, were from the Roman oligarchy and some Italian provinces. It required a considerable amount of money for a Roman to raise their profile and lay the groundwork for a political career. The culmination of this monetary outlay was an appointment to the Senate. Although any freeborn Roman could attempt a political career the oligarchy ensured a man without ancestors could not rise further than the praetorship; guarding admission to the Senate and the consulship (Syme, 1939:11).

The oligarchy had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in order to protect wealth and land, and stop political revolutionary activity. However, Caesar, like Sulla before him, changed the approach to appointing senators using his dictatorial authority to place whomever he wanted within the Senate (Wiseman, 1971:100). Caesar’s use of the dictatorial power to subvert the route normally required for such an appointment may have been an abuse of his authority.

Suetonius (Divus Julius 76) recounts Caesar’s pollution of the Senate through the admission of ‘some men who had made free of the city, and even natives of Gaul, who were semi-barbarians’ [1]. Two types of appointment specifically recalled by Dio (Roman History 42.51.5 and 43.27.2) are soldiers and ‘unworthy’ people [2]. Syme (1939:78) notes though that these people were not unusual appointments and that the majority would have had property and wealth. However, the appointing of non-Romans to situations of high office would have been unacceptable. The evidence supports the viewpoint of Wiseman (1971:8) who, in considering the opinion of Syme, states that ‘Caesar was accused of opening the Senate to riff raff of all sorts.’ The evidence demonstrates that Caesar’s actions would have been particularly unpopular likely resulting in sections of the senate turning against him, particularly those who risked losing positions of authority. The dilution of the aristocratic element of the Senate and appointment through use of dictatorial power would all have been unpopular with the oligarchy.

Caesar’s compassion and leniency is well accounted for in The Civil War, ‘they…begged for their lives. He reassured them, told them to get up, and spoke briefly to them about his own leniency…He spared them all’ (Caesar The Civil War 3.98 – translation by Gardener 1967). Caesar is the author of this account and as such is unlikely to speak negatively about himself. In addition to this, there will be elements of propaganda involved in a published account of his wartime activities. Canfora (2007:134-5) provides an example of such propaganda; Caesar in The Civil War states that his actions were a defence of the tribunes but this hides the truth that had he not invaded Rome he would have been prosecuted for crimes committed whilst consul in 59 BC. Caesar was immune from prosecution whilst consul of Rome and proconsul of Gaul, as he retained imperium. If he returned to Rome without being consul the imperium would have lapsed allowing a prosecution. Syme (1939:48) believes that had Caesar returned to Rome he would have faced immediate prosecution, and Taylor (1949:160) notes that Cato had openly made threats of legal action. Canfora’s (2007) assessment is an accurate analysis of the evidence with Syme (1939) and Taylor (1949) agreeing that this prompted Caesar’s invasion of Italy.

It would be inappropriate to base an assessment of Caesar’s character solely on the representation in The Civil War.  Similar recollections of Caesar’s clemency are identifiable in Plutarch (Caesar 34.4), Cicero (Letters Atticus:9.16 and 8.13) and Dio (Roman History 41.15.4). There were political reasons for such clemency, namely the restoration of an agreeable situation in Rome (Canfora, 2007:229).  The adoption of a policy of clementia (forgiveness and mercy) enabled such a restoration of order.

However, Caesar’s use of clemency changed following his return to Rome. Dio recounts Caesar’s reaction after the tribunes Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus stated they no longer had a freedom of speech for the public good; he

became exceedingly angry and brought them into the Senate-house where he accused them and put their conduct to the vote. He did not put them to death…but he first removed them from the tribuneship…and then erased their names from the Senate

(Dio Roman History 44.10)

This account is noted in Livy Periochae (116), a summary of Livy The History of Rome book 116 which no longer exists, but also Appian The Civil Wars (2.16.108). Unfortunately, none of these accounts is contemporary with Caesar and as such their accuracy could be called into question. On the other hand Cicero, a contemporary of Caesar, refers to this incident (Philippics 13.31), ‘What then? Were we to remove a man, as if he had been Marallus or Caesetius’ [3]. This reference to the tribunes is evidence of the incident occurring and, therefore, the change in Caesar’s approach to clementia. Caesar’s change in attitude and use of dictatorial authority to depose tribunes at his whim would have proven unpopular with the Senate and the people of Rome, providing a further reason for his removal from power. Gelzer (1969:320) notes that both Suetonius (Divus Julius 80.3) and Dio (Roman History 44.11.4) refer to the elections for the consuls of 42 BC where the names of the deposed tribunes were put forward by some of the people evidencing the dissatisfaction with Caesar’s action.

Caesar is reported to have been

guilty of the same extravagance in the language he publicly used, as Titus Ampius informs us; according to whom he said, “The Republic is nothing but a name, without substance or reality. Sylla was an ignorant fellow to abdicate the dictatorship. Men ought to consider what is becoming when they talk with me, and look upon what I say as a law”

(Suetonius Divus Julius 77)

Meir (1995:464) proposes that Caesar may well have been parodying the role that he had been allotted. However, It is note worthy that Canfora (2007:25) states that Ampius was loyal to Pompey and an enemy of Caesar. However, this is not the only record of such pronouncements by Caesar. Two further examples are available in letters to or from Cicero. Cicero (Letters to Atticus 10.4) reports to Atticus a conversation in which Curio advised that, ‘Caesar now dislikes the Senate much more than ever. ‘Everything,’ he says, ‘will in future come from me’ [4]. Further to this in Caelius Rufus’ letter to Cicero (Letters Friends:8.16) it is noted that Caesar ‘left town incensed with the Senate: he was thoroughly roused by the recent tribunician intercessions’. Cicero’s attitude towards Caesar was changeable; in his speech Against Vatinius (15) in order to defend Caesar he separates him from Vatinius. Following Caesar’s death Cicero (Philippics 5.49) condemns him stating that he had no respect for the Senate or citizens and only wanted power. Cicero’s works could be questioned due to potential bias. However, they are useful sources as the letters provide information, opinion and insight into, what were then, current events and the speeches were public records as long as the potential for bias is noted.

Caesar’s reported attitude towards the Republic and its mechanisms demonstrates a degree of contempt of the constitution. Taylor (1949:172) considers that over the duration of his dictatorship Caesar developed an ‘increasing scorn for Republican institutions’ further commenting that he maintained the political processes ‘to make a mockery of the constitution’. What Taylor proposes certainly comes through in the language of the letters, ‘dislikes the Senate’ and ‘tribunician intercessions’, which shows Caesar’s possible arrogance and hostility.  On the other hand, Caesar may have become frustrated by the political machine and the inability to implement change at an acceptable speed. It is a consideration of Gelzer (1969:274) that Caesar, due to his numerous trips around the provinces, understood that the assemblies of the people did not represent the Roman people. It is likely that Caesar believed that reforms could have benefits for the Republic. There is unfortunately no evidence of Caesar’s long-term plan and as such, both academic positions warrant consideration. However, Gelzer’s position appears reasonable in light of Caesar’s understanding of how the empire functioned. Caesar’s appreciation of the political system is demonstrated in Dio (Roman History 38.1); Caesar wanted to gain favour with the people whilst ensuring he did not alienate the oligarchy; striking a balance would have delayed reform.

Caesar presents himself in The Civil War as a Roman who is in favour of the Republic and its systems. However, the evidence of other authors demonstrates the opposite. Regardless of whether it was scorn or frustration Caesar’s opponents perceived him as holding a negative view of the Republican institutions, which they would have deemed unacceptable. It is difficult to establish at what point these behaviours manifested but there may be some causal link between the honours bestowed upon Caesarby the Senate, and his change in attitude and approach.

Caesar’s Honours

The constitution of the RomanRepublic formed over centuries following the downfall of the last king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. The constitution endeavoured to ensure that no one person would rule the Roman people again. The mechanisms of government were implemented through the appointment of magistrates, particularly two consuls (Gelzer, 2007:1); although as Syme (1939:10) observes the magistracies of higher office, particularly the annual consulship, passed between the greatest of patrician families. Caesar’s acceptance of honours and titles threatened the political system and some may have perceived this as an ambition to return to rule by dictator perpetuus.

Suetonius provides a detailed account of the honours bestowed upon Caesar:

For he not only obtained excessive honours…the consulship every year, the dictatorship for life…the censorship…the title of emperor…the surname of father of his country…his statue amongst the kings, and a lofty couch in the theatre. He even suffered some honours to be decreed to him…gilded chair …a consecrated chariot, and banners in the Circensian procession, temples, altars, statues among the gods, a bed of state in the temples, a priest, and a college of priests dedicated to himself…one of the months should be called by his name. There were, indeed, no honours which he did not either assume himself, or grant to others, at his will and pleasure.

(Suetonius Divus Julius 76)

Suetonius presents Caesar as the instigator of some of the honours granted. If Caesar required such action, this could be a factor that prompted his assassination as it demonstrates ambition for acclaim and high office. In considering the reliability of the account, it is worth noting the view of Yavetz (1983:32) who states that there is no evidence of any hostility towards Caesar from Suetonius and, furthermore, ‘one can scarcely imagine that Suetonius…should have invented the story of honours offered to Caesar.’ Suetonius presents the work on Caesar as a recollection of facts, which implies no personal bias. However, Suetonius summarises the work of others producing a degree of selective reporting and as such, some information may not be included. This does not mean that the work is not reliable but one should be aware of this when referring to Suetonius’ account.

Suetonius was not a contemporary of Caesar and the recounting of events is second-hand which could affect the validity and reliability of the evidence. In considering this Yavetz (1983:32) notes that the honours are recorded by Cicero (Philippics 11.110), ‘What greater honour had he obtained than that of having a holy cushion, an image, a temple, and a priest?’. With this in mind, it can be established that although he was not a contemporary of Caesar the account by Suetonius can be considered a useful source that has some limitations due to its summative nature.

It is observed by Meir (1982:432) that there is no evidence as to whether or not Caesar directed the Senate to grant honours, only that he accepted the majority that were bestowed. The opinion of Weinstock (1971:270) counters this view stating that Caesar must have been involved in the decision, fitting the honours into a grander plan. In Livy (Periochae 116) it is commented that the Senate granted the honours with no mention of involvement by Caesar. Furthermore, Appian (The Civil Wars 2.16.106) comments ‘All kinds of honours were devised for his gratification’ with no mention of a request or order [5]. The evidence of Dio (Roman History 44.8.2) gives the impression that Caesar had been involved in some way, the Senate ‘transacted such business in his absence, in order to have the appearance of doing it, not under compulsion, but voluntarily.’ Dio was not a contemporary of Caesar and so caution is necessary, particularly as this matter does not appear to be referenced elsewhere. However, evidence such as this must not be rejected out of hand as each account provides insight into the period. It is noteworthy that Gelzer (1969) and Canfora (2007) do not refer to whether or not Caesar was involved in the decision to award honours merely stating that he accepted them. They may have the view that it is difficult to draw a conclusion as the accounts vary considerably. However, the evidence presented tends towards a situation where it is unlikely that Caesar would not have had some involvement. Caesar had achieved a high level of personal power and it would have been important for the stabilisation of the Republic for a sole individual to take the lead and bring back order. Syme (1939:52) observes that after a ‘civil war the need was patent’.  The dictatorship was also in Caesar’s interest to reinforce his authority and secure his position and dignitas.

Unfortunately Caesar’s acceptance and want of such honours became disagreeable with sections of the Senate, and Caesar became ‘odious and obnoxious even to the mildest citizens because of the pretension and extravagance of what was decreed for him’ (Plutarch Caesar 57.2) [6].  The honours enabled ‘as many pretexts as possible against him and might be thought to have the best reasons for attempting his life’ (Plutarch Caesar 57.3). Plutarch believes the honours are another possible pretext for the assassination. This may be the case particularly as some honours resulted in an allegation of Caesar desiring a monarchic rule.

It is questionable whether Caesar truly desired to be king as he declined the title on a number of occasions (Dio Roman History 44.9.2). Certainly there is evidence in Plutarch (Caesar 60.1) where it is recounted that ‘the most open and deadly hatred towards [Caesar] was produced by his passion for the royal power.’ Furthermore the Senators have ‘met at his bidding, and were ready and willing to vote as one man that he should be declared king of the provinces outside of Italy’ (Plutarch Caesar 64.2). However, Plutarch also states that:

Caesar was coming down from Alba into the city they ventured to hail him as king. But at this the people were confounded, and Caesar, disturbed in mind, said that his name was not king, but Caesar

(Plutarch Caesar 60.2)

This is further complicated in the life of Brutus where it is stated ‘that Caesar’s friends would then move to have him made king’ (Plutarch Brutus 10 2). These accounts do not confirm either way if Caesar sought the title as they lack clarity. It is likely that Plutarch used multiple sources to formulate his life of Caesar and Brutus and as such this may have caused the differences. In order to address this matter clarification must be sought from other sources.

The accounts of Suetonius, Appian and Dio are similar, but there are notable differences. They each recall Caesar being greeted as king and his response ‘I am Caesar, and no king.’ (Suetonius Divus Julius 79; Appian The Civil Wars 2.16.108; Dio Roman History 44.10.1). However, Suetonius only comments that Caesar could not clear his name after the incident whereas Appian provides a detailed account of Caesar’s reactions and punishment of the tribunes Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus who punished the first person who hailed him as King. Appian states that Caesar ‘confirmed the suspicion that he desired the title, and that he was privy to the attempts to confer it upon him’ (Appian The Civil Wars 2.16.108). Dio reports of the same incident but does not draw the same conclusion only observing that

Caesar, however, received an ill name from this fact also, that, where he should have hated those who applied to him the name of king, he let them go and found fault with the tribunes instead

(Dio Roman History 44.10.4)

Caesar’s action in correcting the group should have put a stop to the rumour but the story spread through the city (Yavetz, 1983:199). The confusion on Caesar’s part may have been nothing but a misunderstanding as Weinstock (1971:324) proposes that

‘Caesar now appeared there as the consul and dictator of Rome and as the dictator, who was also ‘king’, of Alba. This position was relevant for the acclamation on his return’. This explanation is of interest but it is also unlikely, a situation such as this presented a good opportunity to those who wanted to damage Caesar’s reputation and some may have taken advantage. Caesar being hailed as king may or may not have been a spontaneous act (Yavetz, 1983:198). Whilst Caesar had popular support it would have been unlikely that a conspiracy would succeed. It is worth noting that Canfora (2007:273) only notes that the incident occurred, Gelzer (1969:319) and Meir (1995:476) refer to the incident and its aftermath but make no comment regarding why Caesar was called king, the public’s reaction, or whether it was part of a plot. The differing accounts of the incident limit assessment to speculation on what occurred, which may explain why the authors do not express a view. It is possible to propose that the negative reaction of Caesar, to the tribunes, provided another reason for taking action against him. Furthermore, some may have started rumours of Caesar’s ambition in order to take advantage of the situation. Such rumours would have been further fuelled by the incident at the Lupercalia festival.

There are several accounts of Mark Antony’s attempt to crown Caesar at the Lupercalia festival in 44 B.C. but, as with the Alban gate incident, the accounts of each author vary. Appian recalls that Antony:

put a diadem on [Caesar’s] head. At this sight some few clapped…but the greater number groaned, and Caesar threw off the diadem. Antony again put it on him and again Caesar threw it off…When they saw that Caesar prevailed they shouted for joy…because he did not accept it

(Appian The Civil Wars 2.16.109)

Whereas the summary of Livy (Periochae 116) notes that Antony placed the diadem on Caesar’s head who then he placed it on his throne. Dio provides a more detailed account;

Antony…saluted him as king and binding a diadem upon his head, said: “The people offer this to you through me.” And Caesar answered: “Jupiter alone is king of the Romans,”…[had it]…inscribed in the records that he had refused to accept the kingship when offered to him by the people through the consul.

(Dio Roman History 44.11.2)

The account of Dio is similar to that of Suetonius (Divus Julius 76). These sources demonstrate that Caesar may not have had an ambition to be monarch as he turns down the diadem on each occasion. This is further reinforced in Plutarch (Anthony 12.4) where it is recounted that, ‘At last Caesar rose from the rostra in displeasure, and pulling back the toga from his throat cried out that anyone who pleased might smite him there’. Canfora (2007:283) believes that this demonstrates Caesar’s awareness that should he be crowned king it would result in his death. This argument is reinforced by Caesar forbidding the granting of the title with threats, ‘saying that it was an inauspicious name by reason of the curse of their ancestors’ (Appian The Civil Wars 2.16.107); it could be said that these are not the actions of someone who wanted to be monarch.

Alternatively, Caesar may have wanted to gauge the opinion of the people or dispel the rumours that resulted from the Alban gate incident. Meir (1995:476–7) proposes a number of explanations; Caesar rejected the crown due to the lack of enthusiasm of the people, to counter the speculations of his monarchic ambition or that Antony acted without his knowledge. Similar observations have been made by Yavetz (1983:220) and Gelzer (1969:321–2). However, Weinstock (1971:339) suggests that this was a planned performance. The lack of clarity is summed up by Canfora (2007:283), ‘Antony’s gesture at the Lupercalia is prima facie ambiguous, puzzling and impolitic’. There is no evidence either way as to whether Caesar ordered the presentation of the diadem, or if Antony was acting to provoke the conspirators to take action but this incident provided another pretext for the assassination as did the Sibylline prophecy.

The Sibylline prophecy claimed that only a king could subdue the Parthians and a proposal was put forward for Caesar to be granted the kingship of the nations outside of Rome (Suetonius Divus Julius 76 and Appian The Civil Wars 2.16.110). Meir (1995:477) and Gelzer (1969:323) consider that the rumours that had taken hold, such as the Sibylline prophecy, created an impossible situation for Caesar. The public could no longer discern the truth and the mood in the capital was ‘far too tense, reality to obscure, and anything was bound to seem possible’ (Meir, 1995:477). Caesar could have taken the opportunity at this point to be crowned but chose not to. There may be a simple explanation for this, Caesar had the power he desired having been appointed dictator for life (Plutarch Caesar 57.1 and Suetonius Divus Julius 76). However, Taylor (1949:175) is of the view that Caesar, ‘wished to cement the union by having himself declared king’ as all of the actions he had taken up to that point indicated this. Taylor’s view is unsupported by the evidence. Caesar understood the ramifications of the title of king, it would have resulted in his death, and as such he repeatedly turned down the diadem. Furthermore, the permanency of the position dictator for life was king but by a different name.

Unfortunately there is insufficient evidence either way to establish whether or not Caesar desired the title of king. There is only one certainty, it is difficult to imagine that after all Caesar had gone through and achieved he would not relinquish the authority he had obtained. Caesar was the dictator for life and as Gelzer (1969:278) notes ‘he only had one unshakeable principle – he would not let go the power he had won.’ The conspirators, in all likelihood, believed that the only way Caesar would relinquish his control was through his death. Whether Caesar desired the title or not the conspirators found sufficient justification for assassination from Caesar’s actions and honours granted.

One final set of factors warrant consideration, Caesar’s acts against the Senate and official offices.

Slights against the Senate and offices

On the 31st December 45 BC the consul Qunitus Fabius Maximus died leaving the office vacant. Caesar conferred the post on Caninius Rebilus who had requested it of him (Suetonius Divus Julius 76). Suetonius (Divus Julius 76) states that Caesar’s appointment of Rebilus showed a disregard for the consulship. With Cicero (Letters Friends:7.30) expressing in a letter, ‘You think this a joke, for you are not here. If you had been you would not have refrained from tears.’ In this same letter Cicero makes a joke of the situation stating that no one had breakfast and no trouble arose while Caninius was consul as he was awake the entire time due to the short duration of his consulship. The joke has a bitter edge as Cicero believed Caesar was making a mockery of the post. This perspective is prevalent in recent academic thinking. Meir (1995:462), Gelzer (1969:311) and Taylor (1949:173) all refer to the situation as Caesar’s abuse or scorn of the constitution. However, Yavetz (1983:195) observes that ‘Caesar was not inclined to leave Rome without a consul, not even for a single day’ and that he ‘behaved precisely according to the law, but expressly against the legislator’s original intention. By following the rules to the letter he mocked tradition’. Whilst Weinstock (1971:275-6) believes the myth was created to obscure the facts of the case; noting several occasions where positions of office were voted in for short periods of time following deaths with no public outcry (Dio Roman History 48.2.3 and 49.43.7). Weinstock (1971:276) concludes that ‘the replacement was a constitutional necessity which Caesar scrupulously observed.’ Weinstock’s (1971) work is supportive of Caesar, establishing evidence that presents a positive portrayal and a theory of Caesar having a grander scheme of deification. The works of Meir (1995), Gelzer (1969) and Taylor (1949) each take a different theoretical standpoint but generally agree that due to Caesar’s character and dictatorial authority his actions were those of someone with nothing but contempt for the Republican institutions, which he demonstrates in a number of ways. It is worth noting that regardless of the decision there would have been an outcry; had Caesar not appointed a consul he would have been accused of believing the consulship was unnecessary (though Caesar could also have held elections but chose not to). There is insufficient evidence to interpret the desires of Caesar, as there are few clues regarding his intentions. Regardless of this the incident created an outcry that spread widely and provided further grounds for the conspirators’ plot.

The other major slight against the Senate is considered Caesar’s failure to rise when Senators attended the temple of Venus Genetrix. Suetonius (Divus Julius 78) describes this situation as ‘an unpardonable insult’ and Appian (The Civil Wars 2.16.107) states it gave his ‘slanderers a pretext for accusing him of wishing to be greeted as a king’. Suetonius (Divus Julius 78) takes his account further referring to Caesar’s reaction when Pontius Aquila refused to stand for him. Caesar was furious about this show of disrespect and accused him to wanting to oust him from his position. Livy (Periochae 116) and Dio (Roman History 44.8) note this incident as a key reason in the development of the plot against Caesar. There is no evidence to suggest that Caesar intended to offend, as Weinstock (1971:275) argues, ‘as dictator he was superior to the consuls and could therefore remain seated in their presence’ and as senators they had the right not to stand when a magistrate entered the room. Therefore, his remaining seated was not a demonstration of ‘a monarchic status’, it was his right. Weinstock (1971:276) suggests that this is an example of the scandalisation of Caesar’s behaviour in an attempt to create public discontent and should not have been considered an insult; citing that Caesar did not cause public outrage when he remained seated whilst presented with the diadem by the consul Mark Antony at the Lupercalia festival. Opposed to this Gelzer (1969:317) considers that Caesar was displaying his sovereign authority; although he does pretext this view with the word perhaps so makes no firm conclusion. It is noteworthy that authors such as Canfora (2007) and Meir (1995) note only that the incident happened which evidences the speculative nature of Caesar’s intent. Whereas, Yavetz (1983:202-3) considers this one of many rumours that circulated which Caesar’s opponents exploited to demonstrate his ambition. There is evidence to support both interpretations but it is insufficient to draw any conclusion on what Caesar’s intent was. Although Dio suggests an excuse:

That owing to an attack of diarrhoea he…remained where he was in order to avoid a flux. They were not able…to convince the majority, since not long afterwards he rose up and went home on foot

(Dio Roman History 44.8)

Regardless of Caesar’s intent this appears to be one of the major justifications for the assassination.


There is a key theme that has become apparent from the evidence presented, that of perception. The conspirators within the Senate perceived Caesar as a threat to their security and the overall status quo. They risked losing their status, authority, and power and on the basis of this decided to end his life. They may have hoped that by assassinating Caesar they would stop the changes that had commenced.

There are also limitations to the modern perception of Caesar as there are gaps within texts, the accounts vary, and the majority of sources are not contemporary and are based on works that have been lost. It is, therefore, difficult to establish the validity and accuracy of some accounts. However, despite these limitations the overarching theme of perception can be separated out into three subsections.

Dictatorial Authority

It was perceived by the oligarchy that Caesar used his dictatorial authority to appoint inappropriate people to the Senate, therefore polluting the oligarchic element. However, the appointments made by Caesar were likely, in most cases, to have been men of wealth. It is likely the oligarchs believed that their position was threatened by those appointed by Caesar. This perception would have been heightened by Caesar’s removal of the two tribunes from their posts.

Attitude to the Republic

There is evidence of negative comments made by Caesar regarding the Republic, but this too is a matter of perception. Caesar may have been expressing frustration at the slowness of the political system which was misinterpreted. Evidence in respect of this, for example the recorded statement of Titus Ampius, cannot be wholly trusted given that he was an enemy of Caesar. When enacting the letter of the law Caesar was perceived as making a ‘mockery’ of the consulship by appointing a consul for a day.


Caesar accepted a great number of honours, some of which he required to be appointed, and in doing so built up the appearance of being over-ambitious. The conspirators may have exploited this perception defaming Caesar’s name in order to justify their actions. In doing so they may also have taken advantage of the rumours that Caesar wanted to be king; using his failure to rise at the temple of Venus Genetrix to reinforce this idea.

The assassination of Caesar was a key moment in this period of Roman history as it sparked second civil war. The upheaval resulted in the formation of the empire led by one man, Augustus Caesar, everything that the conspirators did not want. Regardless of what motivated the conspirators into assassinating Caesar this, ‘wiped his unfulfilled plans off the slate. The brutal and lengthy contest that followed made it impossible to pick up the pieces’ (Gruen 1974:504).


Primary Sources

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Rawson, E. D. Cicero. A Portrait, Bristol: Penguin Books Ltd, 1985.

Seager, R. Pompey. A Political Biography, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979.

Shakespeare, W. Proudfoot, R., Thompson, A.and Kastan, D. (eds) Arden Shakespeare Complete Works,London:A&C Black, 2010. [e-book] Available at [Accessed: 20 January 2013].

Stockton, D. Cicero. A Political Biography, Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1971.

Syme, R. The Roman Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939.

Taylor, L. R. Party Politics in the Age of Caesar, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 1961.

Weinstock, Divus Julius, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Wiseman, T. P. New Men in the Roman Senate, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971

Yavetz, Z. Julius Caesar and his Public Image, London: Thames and Hudson, 1983.

[1] All quotes from Suetonius are from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Translated by Thomson, A, Eugene Reed, J. (Ed) (1889) Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co.

[2] All quotes from Casius Dio are from Roman History Translated by Cary, E. (1914-27) Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press.

[3] All quotes from Cicero Philippics are from Orations, The fourteen orations against Marcus Antonius (Philippics), Translated by Yonge, C. D. (1903) London: George Bell & Sons.

[4] All quotes from Cicero Letters are from Letters, Translated by Shuckburgh, E. S. (1908-09) London: George Bell and Sons.

[5] All quotes from Appian are from The Civil Wars Translated by White, H. (Ed), (1899) London: Macmillan and Co. LTD.

[6] All quotes from Plutarch Caesar, Antony and Brutus are from Plutarch’s Lives Translated by Perrin, B. (1919, 1920 and 1918 respectively) Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  1. hussain permalink

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