The Ides of March 44 BC

Post by Darci Clark

Gaius Julius Caesar: 1st Century BC

The Ides of March refers to the 15th day of March in the Roman calendar. The phrase is well known from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar when the soothsayer warns Caesar “Beware the Ides of March”. Many people believe Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Senate on March 15 44 BC, but he was actually killed in Pompey’s Theater.

Caesar’s enemies feared his absolute power as Dictator and had conspired to assassinate him and restore the Roman Republic. Caesar was due to leave for an Eastern campaign in twelve days so the conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius had to act fast. They wanted the assassination to happen in a public place and had considered the Forum as a possible location. Pompey’s Theater was occasionally used for Senate meetings, so when Caesar called for a meeting of the Senate to take place on the Ides, they new it was time to act.

There are five classical accounts of Caesar’s assassination which, with the exception of some small details, corroborate one another. The first to attack was Gaius Casca, but Caesar struggled with him, grabbing his arm preventing a stab wound to the throat. His brother, Publius Casca, then drew first blood by stabbing Caesar viciously in the side. At this point the other conspirators including Brutus and Cassius joined in. Cassius slashed Caesar’s face and Brutus stabbed him in the thigh. According to the classical authors Seutonius and Dio, it was at this point that Caesar spoke to Brutus, not uttering the famous Shakespearean line, “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus”), but instead said,“You, too, my child?”

Ciarán Hinds as Gaius Julius Caesar in the HBO series Rome

Caesar had managed to hold onto Casca’s arm until this point in the attack. He had suffered a total of 23 stab wounds. As his strength gave out he released Casca’s arm and collapsed on the floor at the foot of a statue of his former rival, Pompey. Knowing he was dying, Caesar pulled his toga over his head so his enemies could not see his face as he took his last breath. The conspirators had succeeded in their plot to kill the Dictator but in the end their efforts to restore the Republic were in vain. By 27 BC Caesar’s grandnephew and only heir, Octavian, would become sole ruler and the first emperor of the Roman Empire.

For Further Reading:
The Ides: Caesar’s Murder and the War for Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins, 2010.

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