This series has eleven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Julius Caesar Dead.
You’ve seen the movies. Maybe you’ve even seen the mini-series. You’ve read Shakespeare’s play. Maybe you’ve even watched a production of it.
Now read the real story. It is more than just a romantic drama. It is also the story of the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire.
This selection is from A History of Rome by Henry George Liddell published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Henry George Liddell (1811 – 1898) was a professor who rose to be Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He wrote the book on ancient Rome. Here’s the authoritative account of this classic and important story.
Time: August 30 BC
Place: Alexandria, Egypt
While the conspirators were at their bloody work [of slaying Caesar], the mass of the senators rushed in confused terror to the doors; and when Brutus turned to address his peers in defense of the deed, the hall was well-nigh empty. Cicero, who had been present, answered not, though he was called by name; Antony had hurried away to exchange his consular robes for the garb of a slave. Disappointed of obtaining the sanction of the senate, the conspirators sallied out into the Forum to win the ear of the people. But here, too, they were disappointed. Not knowing what massacre might be in store, every man had fled to his own house; and in vain the conspirators paraded the Forum, holding up their blood-stained weapons and proclaiming themselves the liberators of Rome. Disappointment was not their only feeling: they were not without fear. They knew that Lepidus, being on the eve of departure for his province of Narbonnese Gaul, had a legion encamped on the island of the Tiber: and if he were to unite with Antony against them, Caesar would quickly be avenged. In all haste, therefore, they retired to the Capitol. Meanwhile three of Caesar’s slaves placed their master’s body upon a stretcher and carried it to his house on the south side of the Forum, with one arm dangling from the unsupported corner. In this condition the widowed Calpurnia received the lifeless clay of him who had lately been sovereign of the world.
Lepidus moved his troops to the Campus Martius. But Antony had no thoughts of using force; for in that case probably Lepidus would have become master of Rome. During the night he took possession of the treasure which Caesar had collected to defray the expenses of his Parthian campaign, and persuaded Calpurnia to put into his hands all the dictator’s papers. Possessed of these securities, he barricaded his house on the Carinae, and determined to watch the course of events.
In the evening Cicero, with other senators, visited the self-styled liberators in the Capitol. They had not communicated their plot to the orator, through fear (they said) of his irresolute counsels; but now that the deed was done, he extolled it as a godlike act. Next morning, Dolabella, Cicero’s son-in-law, whom Caesar had promised should be his successor in the consulship, assumed the consular fasces and joined the liberators; while Cinna, son of the old Marian leader and therefore brother-in-law to Caesar, threw aside his praetorian robes, declaring he would no longer wear the tyrant’s livery. Dec. Brutus, a good soldier, had taken a band of gladiators into pay, to serve as a bodyguard of the liberators. Thus strengthened, they ventured again to descend into the Forum. Brutus mounted the tribune, and addressed the people in a dispassionate speech, which produced little effect. But when Cinna assailed the memory of the dictator, the crowd broke out into menacing cries, and the liberators again retired to the Capitol.
That same night they entered into negotiations with Antony, and the result appeared next morning, the second after the murder. The senate, summoned to meet, obeyed the call in large numbers. Antony and Dolabella attended in their consular robes, and Cinna resumed his praetorian garb. It was soon apparent that a reconciliation had been effected: for Antony moved that a general amnesty should be granted, and Cicero seconded the motion in an animated speech. It was carried; and Antony next moved that all the acts of the dictator should be recognized as law. He had his own purposes here; but the liberators also saw in the motion an advantage to themselves; for they were actually in possession of some of the chief magistracies, and had received appointments to some of the richest provinces of the empire. This proposal, therefore, was favorably received; but it was adjourned to the next day, together with the important question of Caesar’s funeral.
On the next day Caesar’s acts were formally confirmed, and among them his will was declared valid, though its provisions were yet unknown. After this, it was difficult to reject the proposal that the dictator should have a public burial. Old senators remembered the riots that attended the funeral of Clodius and shook their heads. Cassius opposed it. But Brutus, with imprudent magnanimity, decided in favor of allowing it. To seal the reconciliation, Lepidus entertained Brutus at dinner and Cassius was feasted by Mark Antony.
The will was immediately made public. Cleopatra was still in Rome, and entertained hopes that the boy Caesarion would be declared the dictator’s heir; for though he had been married thrice, there was no one of his lineage surviving. But Caesar was too much a Roman, and knew the Romans too well, to be guilty of this folly. Young C. Octavius, his sister’s son, was declared his heir. Legacies were left to all his supposed friends, among whom were several of those who had assassinated him. His noble gardens beyond the Tiber were devised to the use of the public, and every Roman citizen was to receive a donation of three hundred sesterces–between ten and fifteen dollars. The effect of this recital was electric. Devotion to the memory of the dictator and hatred for his murderers at once filled every breast.