Conspirators Kill Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 B.C.

The Ides of March is the name for March 15 in the Roman calendar. In ancient Rome, it marked the appearance of the new moon, a festive day with a military parade dedicated to the Roman God, Mars. It is also popularly known as the day that Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.

The families who traditionally held the power in the Roman Senate made up an exclusive circle, proud of their power and prestige. A series of events began in 88 B.C. that were the result of aristocratic ambition and rivalry. A period of civil war began when the Senate passed over Marius in favor of Sulla, a member of one of the oldest patrician families in the republic, to command a major military expedition. While Sulla was busy gathering soldiers in Southern Italy, supporters of Marius convinced the Senate to reverse its decision. This was unconstitutional and angered Sulla, who retaliated by leading his troops against Rome itself. This began the first civil war in the history of Rome, and war remained the constant state of affairs for the next 50 years.

The person who had the most impact during this troubled period was Caesar (100–44 B.C.). Caesar was born into a noble family, received an excellent education and developed his considerable intellectual and literary talents. He was a commanding orator, able to use his humor and wit to appeal to the people. Caesar was also a shrewd, intense politician with unbridled ambition who easily won the respect of his troops. After beginning his military career in Spain, he returned to Rome, where he began a political alliance with Pompey and Crassus, known as the first Triumvirate. They agreed to advance each others’ interests, but the association fell apart within 10 years. After Crassus died in battle, severe strain developed between Pompey and Caesar, which resulted in a long and bloody war that raged from Spain to Greece and across northern Africa to Egypt. In 49 B.C., Caesar also crossed the Rubicon River in Italy despite the Senate ruling that forbade any Roman legion from crossing it. This move marked Caesar distancing himself from the traditional government structure of Rome. Caesar also gained support from the poor and lower class by adopting a somewhat humble lifestyle as a general. Caesar finally defeated Pompey’s forces in 45 B.C. and declared himself dictator for life.

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March 17, 2009