Why Did They Kill Caesar?

If Caesar was such a brilliant general and wise leader, why did they kill him?

Because with his army he overthrew the Roman Republic and set himself up as dictator.

Shakespeare, taking off on Plutarch’s biography, makes him into a megalomaniac:

caesar receives vercingetorixVercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar (1899), Lionel Royer; Crozatier Museum at Le Puy-en-Velay (public domain photo)

“…I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place:
So in the world; ’tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshak’d of motion: and that I am he…”  Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare (and Plutarch) didn’t know Caesar but Cicero knew him well.   This is how he summed up Caesar in his Second Philippic:

“His character was an amalgamation of genius, method, memory, culture, thoroughness, intellect, and industry. His achievements in war, though disastrous for our country, were none the less mighty.  After working for many years to become king and autocrat, he surmounted tremendous efforts and perils and achieved his purpose. By entertainments, public works, food-distributions, and banquets, he seduced the ignorant populace; his friends he bound to his allegiance by rewarding them, his enemies by what looked like mercy. By a mixture of intimidation and indulgence, he inculcated in a free community the habit of servitude.”

That is why Cicero applauded when he heard they had killed him.

How did Caesar himself explain what he had done?

“I did not leave my province [and cross the Rubicon with my legions in defiance of the Senate] with intent to harm anybody. I merely want to protect myself against the slanders of my enemies, to restore to their rightful position the tribunes of the people, who have been expelled because of their involvement in my cause, and to reclaim for myself and for the Roman people independence from the domination of a small clique.” Civil War, Book 1, 22
By “a small clique” he meant the Roman senators.

But once he had established himself in Rome, he never took any step to restore the Republic. On the contrary, he had himself proclaimed dictator for life and some believed he even wanted to be crowned king. That is when his opponents decided to assassinate him.

caesar assassination

The Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini (public domain photo)

See what has been said in his defence in Why Did They Kill Caesar 2




This entry was posted in 1, books, Caesar, Cicero, history, Romans and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Why Did They Kill Caesar?

  1. ricky Gervais says:

    i love caesar i wish he was my dad

  2. ErnestMn says:

    у нас на этом веб-портале собран огромный выбор статей о тоо иванов село покровка есильский район видео

  3. Kennethpah says:

    Аренда квартир на сутки, посуточно Воронеж
    http://vk.com/vrn_nasutki – Аренда жилья на сутки воронеж

  4. name
    Alexander Gildenberg

  5. 100swallows says:

    Ana Cap: Thanks. I must write the next one–the article justifying Caesar’s revolt.

  6. Ana Cap says:


  7. Ken Januski says:

    Hi Swallows,

    After I commented I realized that maybe I shouldn’t have since I don’t want to get too much into art on your history blog. Out of curiosity though I did do a little more investigating to see if I could find the painter. It seems to be: Lionel-Noël Royer, 1899.

    The only reason I pursued this is that I think that there’s something that often allows you to place a painting in its correct time period even if you know nothing about it. Maybe it’s like birdwatching where even a new bird can be placed as a warbler, flycatcher, etc. What is interesting is that for art it’s so hard to put into words exactly what makes it seem to be OF a time period. But this painting rings with late 19th century/early 20th century. And you’re right it pales by comparison to the Veronese. But that is another topic for another blog!

  8. 100swallows says:

    Ken: The first one is a fragment of the painting of the surrender of Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia. I thought it was good illustration of Caesar’s tough, ruler style. I’ve often looked at the painting and was sorry so many of the faces are so similar (couldn’t he invent another type of soldier?) and so dumb. There you see why Veronese is great: compare this with his Alexander Meeting Darius’ Family. Yet there are many good things about the painting, too–the soldiers behind Caesar, the historical details such as his robe, the standards, the weapons and the whole conception of the moment.

  9. Ken Januski says:

    Quite a wide-ranging, and widely-quoted, essay. For those, like me, who have forgotten so much of Roman history it’s been enlightening.

    And of course I have to wonder about the paintings: the first looks somewhat like British late 19th century, or American 20th century (N.C. Wyeth?) while the bottom one reminds me of early 19th century French (David? Actually I just cheated and looked it up myself and see it is Vincenzo Camuccini, a contemporary of David).

  10. cantueso says:

    It is a pity you don’t say who painted those Americanadas.

    And the link to the second part in the last line of this post does not work.

    And a question: did killing Ceasar save the Republic? The reason why I am asking is that I don’t know a thing about history, but believe that when a republic is doomed, it is doomed and sauve qui peut, because by definition (and by law)a republic does not depend on the fate or the character of 1 man.

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