Rome is one of the most important and ancient historical landmarks in European history. The contemporary cultural, political, and philosophic tradition was built on the basis of old Roman practice and theory. Nowadays, it is still held in high regard, although few people concern themselves with the full history of the Roman civilization. Among its many political figures and thought leaders, none are as renowned as Julius Caesar. Being a military general during the time of the Roman Republic, the man has amassed great power and made a long-lasting impression in history. The assassination of general Julius Caesar is one of the most notable and well-known events in the history of the Roman Republic. Familiar even to people uninterested in ancient history, the murder has had a significant impact on the course of Roman development and the subsequent rule of violence on leadership in the country. There are a number of complex reasons as to why the event occurred, stemming from the economic, political, and social state of the time. It is generally believed that a group of senators were unhappy with the policies the man proposed and the power he was quickly garnering in a republican country. The conspirators saw the murder as the only available and effective solution to prevent leadership stagnation and accomplish their respective goals. This essay aims to examine Caesar’s rise to power, his political influence and efforts while in the position, and the overall reasons for his assassination. The paper works under the assumption that his murder was an inevitable part of Roman history and the senators had valid reasons for plotting against him.
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Why Caesar was Killed
Caesar’s Rise to power
Julius Caesar was a Roman General and a political figure that played a large role in the development and growth of the Roman republic. Emerging as a prominent leader during the Gallic Wars, he has amassed considerable power and influence in Rome (Gill). Along with two other political figures, Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus, he was a part of the First Triumvirate, an alliance formed between the three to amass more political power and influence (Gill). Caesar was extremely popular among people and the middle class, soon garnering a large support base that his vision on the reformation of the country. His political power, however, led to the beginning of a Civil War, from which he emerged victoriously. Building political power and influence, Caesar has become a prominent figure in Roman leadership. Becoming a dictator, he has had the opportunity to enact his personal vision upon Rome with the assistance of the senate. Being a controversial figure, he amassed both the love of his supporters and the vitriol of his enemies. Having forgiven many of his enemies and political opponents, he has gathered an unstable support base among the other influential elites of Rome (Gill). While some were undoubtedly grateful to the man, many still hold onto the grudges of their defeat and saw Caesar’s rule as a threat or a hindrance (Suet. Div. Jul. 67). The common folk, on the other hand, were largely supportive of his position and saw him as a good leader. By introducing legislation favorable to the lower classes, Caesar garnered further support. There are a number of accounts stating that the people wanted to profess him their kind, but Caesar always refused, being content in his role as a dictator.
Serving as a Roman dictator, Julius Caesar has had an immense political and economic influence on the course of Rome’s development. After the end of the Civil War, many poor people were in large debt, suffering from extortionate interest rates. As a means of countermeasure, Caesar found a balance between the needs of the public and the borrowers, managing to alleviate debt by at least a fourth. His domestic policy also tackled unemployment by offering poor people to work in Rome’s colonies overseas. Although possessing a number of virtuous qualities and being adored by common folk, the man was flawed in many other aspects. As noted by Suetonius, a historian of the period, Caesar used his position to obtain excessive honors, named himself a dictator for life without the need for an election, and used censorship to silence the opposition (Suet. Div. Jul. 76). He was revered as a supreme leader of Rome, despite never officially being one, having statues and works of architecture dedicated to him. Caesar also abused his power by appointing people in high-ranking positions at his personal discretion (Suet. Div. Jul. 76). He chose magistrates for multiple years, disregarding the established rules and procedures. Many of his close associates were given high-ranking or important government positions on the basis of association. Suetonius also recounts how the man speaks about the political status of the Roman Republic (Suet. Div. Jul. 77). Caesar considered himself to be a figure of absolute authority, being able to layout laws and govern the country. Voicing his approval of Sulla’s previous dictatorship, he positions himself above the long-standing democratic tradition of the Roman Republic.
Senate, as a governing institution of the Roman Republic, is a long-established and well-respected tradition. Being salvaged even after the fall of the Roman monarchy, the Senate was able to secure its position as the most powerful apparatus of democratic rule. The institution was chiefly responsible for passing advisory decrees to the magistrate, which were then followed similarly to actual laws. With Caesar’s Growth in prominence, the role of the senate became less significant, as the man himself proclaimed legislation. Many individual senators saw Caesar’s position in Rome as a threat to democracy. The man’s attitude towards the traditions of democracy and the practice of appointing people to important positions was unacceptable for many. The main motivations of the conspirators were wildly different, but they have agreed that Caesar’s upcoming departure for a campaign against Parthians, would greatly undermine their efforts and agreed to assassinate Caesar three days before it. A handful of people were involved in the first few stages of the conspiracy. Decimus Brutus, Gaius Cassius, and Marcus Brutus played the role of main instigators. Nicolaus of Damascus notes that all of the conspirators were on Pompey’s side during the preceding Civil War, but were subsequently pardoned by Caesar and welcomed to the senate (Nicolaus Dam. 59). Some of the men sought revenge for the civil war or the position of the dictator themselves, others were unhappy with the idea of autocratic rule (Nicolaus Dam. 60). A number of specific events also served to turn the conspirators onto Caesar. His general disrespect towards the Senate and its members turned many of his allies away and motivated his detractors. One of the prime and most egregious examples of this occurred during the meeting before the temple of Venus Genitrix. The whole senate body was gathered to present him with a number of decrees, however, Caesar did not rise up to greet them, instead of remaining in a sitting position (Suet. Div. Jul. 78). By disrespecting the officials of the senate, Caesar has openly shown his disposition towards them. While accounts of the event vary, the fact of him remaining seated is a constant.
Important to mention is another act of contempt performed by the dictator. Suetonius describes an occurrence when a laurel with a white band was placed upon the head of Caesar’s statue. Two senators have ordered to remove the laurel and send the man responsible to prison. Caesar, however, was displeased with the actions of two men, reprimanding them very harshly. Contended reasoning behind his actions is largely speculated upon, and there are two proposed theories. The first one is that the dictator suspected senators of placing the laurel on the statue themselves as an act of defamation. The over one is that their actions did not allow Caesar to address the issue himself and remove the laurel. Overall, the relationship between Julius Caesar and some of the senators was strained, leading them to be persuaded into assassinating him.
In conclusion, the assassination of Julius Caesar was a culmination of a number of events and the result of long-building tension. Gaining his renowned status after the Civil War, the man had a combination of political and military prowess to assist in the endeavor. Managing to gather a support base of old allies and former enemies, Caesar has become the permanent Roman dictator. With his unprecedented rise to power, Caesar has gained the ability to influence the domestic policy of the Roman Republic while limiting the input of democratic tools of government. Finding support among common people, he has solidified his position as a dictator and appointed individuals close to him in high-ranking positions of power. The conspirators against his rule saw Caesar’s influence as a threat to democracy as well as a personal obstacle to political development. Many of the participants held grudges against the man, finding his prior actions during the time of the Civil War to be personally humiliating. The escalation of the conflict was inevitable, as Caesar failed to see the issue in appointing former enemies in positions of close proximity, and dismissed the concerns of his support base.
Gill, N.S. The Rise and Fall of Julius Caesar’s Political Life. 2019, Web.
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Nicolaus of Damascus, Life of Augustus. Suetonius, Life of Caesar, 76-79