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The Ides of March

March 15, 2018

Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BCE, or famously the Ides of March as the opening words of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar records. I wonder what day it was when the soothsayer warned Caesar to “beware the Ides of March.” Perhaps it was at the beginning of March but since the assassins needed time to plan the murder they more likely started the planning the previous Summer during the period Caesar was escalating the consolidation of his power. Either way, the date he died will live in history because of Shakespeare.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 13, 100 BCE so he was 55 when he died. He was a Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He is known to have said “I came. I saw. I conquered” after a short war in 47 BCE. One of those succeeding him was Mark Antony also made famous by Shakespeare.

Much of what we know about Caesar is from two books he wrote chronicling the Galic and Civil Wars which are his only work to have survived in their entirety; and then republished as one of the first printed books in the late 15th Century. These were written by Caesar in the third person to give the impression of an objective history rather than the personal memoirs that they were. Other contemporary writers were Cicero and Sallust and later biographers Suetonius and Plutarch. Because of how much we know of him and his accomplishments, he is considered by many historians to be one of the greatest military commanders in history.

In 60 BCE he formed the first triumvirate to govern with Crassus and Pompey. Crassus was killed in battle in 53 BCE and Pompey assassinated in 48 BCE. In 47 BCE Caesar defeated the pharaoh’s forces and installed Cleopatra as ruler. Cleopatra also visited Rome more than once and reportedly Caesar had a son with her.

Caesar’s military exploits pushed the Roman Empire north to the English Channel and the Rhine invading Britain. That concluded the Gallic Wars and the Senate ordered him to resign his military command and return to Rome. His response was to cross the Rubicon [reportedly saying “the die is cast”], leaving his province and illegally entering Roman Italy under arms igniting a civil war which he won.

With complete unmatched power to govern Caesar instituted many social and governmental reforms. One was the creation of the Julian calendar with a 365.25 day year with an added day at the end of February every four years. He also had extra months inserted to align the calendar with the seasons, one of which was eventually named in his honor – July. Among his accomplishments were laws reforming debts, redistributing public lands to the poor, pardoning most of his enemies gaining their loyalty and support, and enacting a new constitution that brought order in the provinces and the Republic. He established a strong central government, reduced corruption by public officials; ordered a census, changed the way jurors were selected, passed laws restricting the purchase of certain luxuries, rewarded families for having many children to speed up the repopulation of Italy, outlawed certain professional guilds, set a term limit for governors, had the Forum of Caesar and many other public works built, distributed land to veterans, established a police force, started rebuilding Carthage and Cornith, and abolished the tax system reverting to an earlier version where cities made their own rules to collect taxes. His assassination also halted his plans to establish a library on the scale of the one in Alexandria. Further, Caesar increased the Senate by appointing hundreds of his loyalists thereby reducing the power and prestige of the sitting Senators. One month before his assassination he had himself appointed dictator for life.

The assassination was by rebellious senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. 60 senators participated in the assassination stabbing him 23 times with likely only one lethal blow.

Caesar’s grandnephew Gaius Octavius, later known as Augustus Caesar, was his principal heir. Caesar also bequeathed substantial gifts to the citizens of Rome. Civil War and more intrigue occurred afterwards, and if interested, I suggest you start at Wikipedia where I also got a lot of the information here.

Shakespeare’s play has some memorable quotes which appeared in a blog I posted on August 19, 2014. I also posted a blog with the same title as this on March 13, 2012, but that one wasn’t really about Julius Caesar. I hope you found the above interesting.

P.S. The Julian calendar was in use until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII refined and replaced it. The actual number of days in a year are 365.2425 and the Gregorian calendar fixed this by adding 13 days since one day was lost every 128 years. The difference now is one day every 3030 years and this was accounted for in the Gregorian calendar that keeps track of it. The British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar on September 14, 1752 and also made a change moving New Year’s Day from March 25 to January 1 advancing the calendar one year. Thus George Washington’s birthday of February 11, 1731 became February 22, 1732.

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