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Death of Caesar


Following the assassination of Caesar, there was immediate panic on the Senate floor. Brutus attempted to address the Senate and give the reasons for the conspiracy, urging his fellow Senators to spread this great deed of liberty as one of honor. Those who weren't involved however would have none of it. They fled the chambers, likely fearing for their own safety. Soon panic struck throughout the area, and the conspirators themselves raced off to the Capitoline Hill where they could safely hole up against the anger of the Roman mob.

Cassius Dio paints a different picture, though. In the immediate aftermath of Caesar's death, Brutus came down from the Capitol to address the masses. In so doing, he calmed the population by claiming the deed was only done to preserve liberty and the Republican system. By convincing the crowd that there would be no mass proscriptions, or additional power grabs by the conspirators, Dio explains that the situation was mostly one of relative calm.

The problem for the conspirators turned out not to be the initial shock and anger of the people, but mistakes they made in carrying out their plan. First they made no real contingent plan to firmly take control. This left an immediate power vacuum, creating uncertainty and fear. Secondly, the biggest mistake was in allowing Marcus Antonius (Antony) to live. Immediately after Caesar's murder, Antony fled Pompey's theatre discarding his consular robe, and trying to maintain anonymity for personal protection.

Though Antony's first thought was self-preservation, it turned out that harm to him, or anyone other than Caesar, was not in the conspirators plans. With the death of Caesar, Antony now stood as his heir apparent, and he took full advantage of the situation. At first Antony would appear to be conciliatory, and attempt to bring calm to Rome. After the reading of Caesar's will, however, Antony probably knew his only chance to win support from the crowd was to incite them against Caesar's assassins.

In the meantime, immediately after the murder, Caesar's mangled body was taken by slaves to his home. Though the conspirators originally planned to confiscate Caesar's property, the plan was aborted due to the immediate panic that ensued on the Senate floor. As family gathered at the home to mourn and discuss their fate, Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso retrieved the all important will of the dictator from the Vestal Virgins (who stored all the wills in Rome).

After reading it, those present were probably shocked by what they heard. Antony, of course was left with a share, as were others in Caesar's political family. The Roman masses too, were to receive a percentage of Caesar's great wealth. The shock likely came when Caesar's primary heir was named. His heir was to be his 18 year old and virtually unknown great nephew, Octavian, who waited in Apollonia to accompany Caesar to Parthia. The grandson of Caesar's sister would be suddenly thrust on the world stage, but first the situation in Rome had to be settled.

In 44 BC, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was serving as Caesar's master of horse and took control of the streets after the assassination. Perhaps Lepidus, a great supporter of Caesar, sought to garner power for himself, but at any rate, he did maintain order. On March 16, the Senate wisely gathered to settle the affairs of the state before things unravelled too far. In the meeting, Lepidus argued against the assassins, maintaining loyalty to Caesar's memory. Cicero, however, the greatest of orators swayed the Senate to compromise, in order to save the Republic.

Eventually the governing body decided on a course of general amnesty for the assassins (or liberators as they and their supporters called themselves). In this compromise, they were forced to uphold all of Caesar's laws and individual honors, including the concession that Caesar's soldiers would receive everything they were promised. This act, took power away from Lepidus, now unable to manipulate the legions into thinking that the Senate would take away their spoils. Antony it would seem, though he was still Consul along with the 'liberator' supporting Publius Cornelius Dolabella, was the biggest loser. Not only had he lost the inheritance of Caesar (though he stole a great part of it before it passed to Octavian), but the assassins had actually set themselves up in positions of power.

The Senate, still understanding that the so-called 'liberators' position with the people was still precarious, decided to grant the major players provincial governorships. This would not only protect them from the Roman mob, by sending them away from the city, but would grant them considerable power and the right to control regional legions. Brutus (the symbolic leader of the conspiracy) was appointed to Crete and Cassius (the driving force behind the plot) was given Africa. Decimus Brutus, the man who finally convinced Caesar to make the final walk to the site of his death, was given Cisalpine Gaul. In a brilliant stroke of political genius, something not generally applied to Antony's career, he completely turned the tables on the liberators.

He secured the right to deliver the eulogy at Caesar's funeral, which was due to begin between March 18 and 20. Though Cassius opposed the idea of a grand public funeral, Brutus understood that the people would need some sort of closure, thereby allowing Antony to have his way. What Brutus didn't realize was that Antony would take the opportunity to turn Rome upside down. Over the course of the grand and likely highly emotional funeral, Antony addressed the people, first singing the praises of Caesar as would be expected at such an event. But Antony was here to make a political statement of a powerful order. He had the will of Caesar read, thereby making it public knowledge of the money left to each citizen of Rome. The crowd also learned that Caesar's own vast private garden was to be turned into a sort of public park for the people to enjoy. There are conflicting reports over how Antony then launched an attack against Caesar's assassins, but Dio Cassius sums up the mood of his speech:

"Of what avail, O Caesar, was your humanity, of what avail your inviolability, of what avail the laws? Nay, though you enacted many laws that men might not be killed by their personal foes, yet how mercilessly you yourself were slain by your friends! And now, the victim of assassination, you lie dead in the Forum through which you often led the triumph crowned; wounded to death, you have been cast down upon the rostra from which you often addressed the people. Woe for the blood-bespattered locks of gray, alas for the rent robe, which you assumed, it seems, only that you might be slain in it!"

Plutarch adds that, Antony, upon finishing held up the robe Caesar wore when he was murdered. Showing the stab shredded and bloody garment to the crowd, they were instantly overcome with a need for vengeance. As Caesar's funeral pyre burned away, the mob took up torches from it and went off to burn down the estates of the involved conspirators. Before long, the 'liberators' would be forced to flee the city faced with certain death at the hands of the mob. Antony had delivered a bold two-stroke victory, removing powerful rivals and propping himself up as the new people's champion.

As for the great Caesar, his bones were carried away and laid to rest in the family tomb, and an altar was later erected on the site of the funeral pyre. To the people of Rome, Caesar was a great hero. He brought wealth, power and prestige to the eternal city and they loved him for it. To them, Caesar truly was a god. At his funeral games held to celebrate the life of Caesar in July of 44 BC, a great comet appeared in the sky lasting for seven days. To the people of the ancient world this was a great sign of Caesar's ascendancy into heaven to take his place among the gods. In January of 42 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar was named Divus Julius (Divine Julius) by the Senate, officially confirming him as a god of the Roman people, and beginning the practice of the imperial cult. Though Caesar's legacy was undeniable, his time had passed, and this was the time for the next generation of Roman political players, Marcus Antonius and Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.

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Did you know?

Lepidus was among Julius Caesar's greatest supporters. He started his cursus honorum as a praetor in 49 BC, and was rewarded with the consulship in 46 BC, after the defeat of the Pompeians in the East.


Aftermath - Related Topic: Roman Senate


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