Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. by the people he trusted and thought were his friends. The justification for his death was that he was too ambitious and wanted too much power. The very concept of government in Rome was against dictatorship, to which Caesar posed a great threat.
Although Rome recognized the need for a distinct leader, the power given to the leader was not absolute. The Romans devised a system to avoid dictatorship and retain freedom, but at the same time maintain control of the affairs of the Empire. These leaders, originally given the title of praetor, meaning “to lead the way” (Asimov 24), were elected. Their terms of office were for one year and they could not succeed themselves. Two praetors were elected each year and they both had to agree on issues before action was taken. Later, the title was changed to consul, which is another way to say partners. Praetors’ and consul’s main responsibility was to manage the armed forces of Rome and to lead the armies in warfare. Quaestors were also selected two at a time for one year terms. Their main role was to serve as judges and to supervise all criminal trials.
The Senate was designed to advise the Praetors or Consuls. It originally consisted of one hundred representatives of clans that made up the city. The men were chosen based on their age, experience and wisdom; the word senate is Latin for “old men”. The Senators, or Patricians, were expected to be obeyed. In fact, the praetors had to “bow to the will of the senate” (Asimov 24). This system of governing worked well for several centuries.
The government of Rome gradually evolved, as did the citizen’s opinion on dictatorship. The Senate became corrupt with many Patricians being easily bribed. Almost all of the power belonged to a distinct few. The idea of a dictator no longer caused fear, it was no longer unacceptable. By the time Julius Caesar was a consul, the number had increased to three. Pompey, Crassus and Caesar all had grudges against the Senate for one reason or another. Caesar was upset because the Senate had tried to undercut his campaign for consulship. The three consuls formed a private coalition, known as the First Triumvirate. Together Pompey, Crassus and Caesar succeed in getting Caesar elected consul and in passing legislation that mainly benefited them.
Caesar became the governor of Cisalpine Gaul and part of Transalpine Gaul, where Rome had considerable power. Right after he took on the new position the territory was threatened by Switzerland. Immediately he crushed them and kept going. These wars, which began in 58 B.C. and helped Caesar to establish his reputation as a great military leader, were known as the Gallic Wars. Nine years later in 49 B.C., after constant warfare, he had stormed over eight hundred towns and conquered the area that is now France.
Both Pompey and the Senate were envious of Caesar’s success and they were also fearful of his ambitions. They ordered Caesar to give up command and return to Rome.
He defied this order, therefore committing treason, and ended up fighting Pompey’s army. Caesar followed Pompey’s army all the way to Egypt, where he killed Pompey and met Cleopatra. He lived in Egypt with Cleopatra for a few years but eventually he went off to fight other wars, leaving Cleopatra pregnant with his child, Caesarion.
In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar returned home to Rome. He was welcomed with a massive feast including twenty-two thousand tables. Caesar was declared dictator of Rome by the now submissive Senate.
Caesar’s actions, such as defying the Senate’s order to return home, defeating the other consuls and his continuous warfare went against the concept of democracy in the Roman government. He was ignoring the Senate, whom he was supposed to submit to, and had defeated his partners who were there to avoid dictatorship and encourage accountability. He placed himself above all other Roman citizens, destroying the equality between himself, the Senate and the citizens. And finally, he accepted the title of dictator, destroying the democracy in Rome. The citizens did not even fear the loss of their beloved democracy. They now looked upon Caesar as a god.
A group of Senators led by Cassius, Casca, Cinna and Brutus, who loved freedom and democracy concluded that they had to stop Caesar. No one else seemed to understand the severity of what was occurring. On March 15, 44 B.C., also known as the Ides of March, a total of sixty senators carried out their well-planned conspiracy to kill Julius Caesar right in the Senate in broad daylight. The felt that this was the only solution to rid themselves of the threat that Caesar posed.
“Rome had begun, Romans liked to think, as a republic guided by a senate, but at the height of it’s power, the senators and their colleagues answered not to elected leaders but to emperors” (Time Frame 50). Julius Caesar was a great threat to many of Rome’s strongest values. By placing himself above everyone else, he demolished the democracy in the Roman Empire and the equality of all Romans. There was no way to reason with him, and the only possible way to return to the method of democracy which had worked well for centuries was to kill Julius Caesar.
Asimov, Isaac. The Roman Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.
Time Frame 400 BC – AD 200 Empires Ascendant. Alexandria: Time – Life Books Ltd., 1987.
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http://aj.encyclopedia.com/articles/02124.html (9 June 99)