Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a mob of senators on this day in 44 B.C. He was warned of the conspiracy against him by a petitioner on his way to the senate meeting at the theatre of Pompey. Supposedly he died still holding the warning, unread. It has recently been argued that he was not unaware of the machinations, but that he might even have manipulated them.
Short version, the complex politics of Rome had a kept a tenuous balance and a semblance of a Republic by weighing the different influential players against one another. With the death of Pompey and their partner Crassus (yes, this is the origin of the word crass), Caesar was the only one left standing and consolidated power. He was named dictator for life. The conspiracy against him was intended to return power to the senators and ensure the continuation of the Republican status quo. Instead, it led to a series of brutal civil wars and began the era of the Roman Empire.
Caesar’s was one of the first autopsies in recorded history.
Only one of the 23 stab wounds inflicted by the senators was fatal.
Caesar never said the ‘Et tu, Brute?’ that Shakespeare gave him. Historians aren’t sure he said anything. Some reports have him saying something along the lines of ‘and you my son,’ possibly in Greek, some have him saying nothing and merely curling in on himself under his robes at the sight of Brutus in the fray.
The conspirator Cassius on Caesar:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great?
This is my favorite passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Act I, scene ii. Never good for accuracy, but always good for words. This was the passage I chose to memorize in high school. On a good day I can still do most of it.