Julius Caesar was a part of the first Triumvirate of Rome, meaning he was a one of a group of three people who held power in Rome. After the death of his two partners, Crassus and Pompey, Julius Caesar took full power of the Roman Empire. He then spent time in Egypt securing a strong relationship their ruler, Cleopatra. After returning to Rome, Caesar declared himself as Emperor for life. This did not fit with Rome’s constitution, nor did it make the senate very happy. Matters were worsened because Caesar was not a humble man and often came off as arrogant. It was his personality and his blatant disrespect of the role of the senate that allowed conspirators to appear. Caesar Reading the History of Alexander’s Exploits (Painting) (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian AmericanArt Museum)
The plan to assassinate Caesar was in motion. Historians are unsure of who exactly started the plan, but most people credit the scheming to two members of the senate who had a strong hatred of Caesar and feared he wielded too much power. Cassius, bitter that his leaders were dead, had served under Crassus and Pompey, and Brutus who blamed Caesar for the death of his father in-law are the two conspirators most often mentioned as ringleaders.
March 15, in the year 44 BC, was to be a day like any other for Julius Caesar. Many things occurred that should have tipped him off that something was amiss. Caesar woke up feeling ill, his wife had a nightmare of him dying in her arms, and a soothsayer, someone who could supposedly see the future, warned him to “Beware the Ides of March!” Caesar, however, was not a superstitious man and left to attend the senate meeting as normal. A large crowd accompanied Caesar on his way to the senate. Just as he entered the theater a man named Artemidorus tried to warn him of eminent danger by thrusting a small scroll into his hand, but Caesar ignored it. The emperor entered and sat on his throne. Mark Antony, who had accompanied Caesar, was conveniently delayed outside. Scenes from Shakespeare: Julius Caesar [sculpture] / (Photographed by De Witt Ward) (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian AmericanArt Museum)
There were two hundred senators in attendance, along with ten tribunes (politicians chosen by the people) and a number of slaves and secretaries. It was then that the attack commenced. Caesar reportedly said, “Why, this is violence?” when the first stab was struck. Caesar immediately tried to defend himself by raising his hands to cover his face. The remaining conspirators surrounded Caesar. Cassius struck him in the face, and then, as Brutus approached Caesar and stabbed him, Caesar uttered his famous words, “E tu, Brute!” (“You too, Brutus!” Although many historians think it was closer to “You, too, my child!”) Caesar collapsed, ironically, at the foot of a statue of his old enemy Pompey. In all there were twenty-three blows. That was the death of Julius Caesar.