“Beware the Ides of March.” Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2.
Today is March 15, the Ides of March. On this day, in the year 44 B.C.E., the dictator Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a number of his fellow Roman noblemen near the Theater of Pompey, which was being used by the Roman Senate while the regular Senate building in the Roman Forum, which we know today as the Curia, was being renovated.
While many think of Julius Caesar as an emperor, in fact, he never claimed that title. For years he was the dominant political force in the Roman Republic. He also became a strong military commander, leading a major expansion of Roman territory through the Gallic Wars. When the wars were over, he refused to step down as commander and disband his army. Instead, in 49 B.C.E., his legend tells he said “the die is cast,” and crossed the Rubicon river north of Rome, leading his legion into Rome. Civil war resulted, with Caesar being the victor, ultimately being declared “dictator for life.”
Republican nobles, however, were aghast at the idea of a man becoming a king of Rome — after all, Rome had overthrown its kings and instead chosen a Republic. Intending to re-establish the Republic, a group of Senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger stabbed Caesar to death on the Ides of March.
The assassins were quickly tracked down and executed by Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian; Caesar’s friend and general Mark Antony; and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, an ally of Caesar. So much for the Republic. Ironically, it was Octavian who would become the first Roman Emperor, taking the name Augustus. While Brutus sought to bring back the Republic, the power vacuum that resulted from Caesar’s death allowed the wily Augustus to strategically eliminate all of his rivals (such as Mark Antony) and seize ultimate power, becoming emperor in 27 B.C.E.
Caesar’s body was burned in the Roman Forum, and a temple dedicated to him was erected on that spot. What is always amazing to me is that more than 2,000 years after the fateful Ides of March, people still leave flowers on his grave.