15 March 2010

The Ides of March in 44 BC

The fifteenth of every month in the Roman calendar was called the ides, but the Ides of March was particularly festive. The day was dedicated to the god Mars and military parades marched down the streets of Rome. This day is particularly remembered for the historical event, which ended the life of a great man.

Prior to the day, the augur Spurinna warned Julius Caesar of the Ides of March. Caesar brushed the warning aside. There had been other assassination plots against him, but none of them succeeded. Caesar saw himself as nearly untouchable and believed the gods protected him and his destiny. By this time Caesar had ruled the greatest empire of the civilized world for five years and he had defeated the coalition of nobles including the great Pompey. If he was not destined to rule the Roman Empire, then he would have been struck down by Pompey. Or so he thought. He was so sure of his position and so sure of the adoration of his people, that he thought nothing of the assassination threats.

In the morning, on the Ides of March, Caesar dismissed his bodyguards and set off to the Senate meeting. On his way there a friend handed him a note concerning the details of the plot, but Caesar simply placed it with his stack of letters to read later. Upon entering the Senate theatre, he heard the mocking words of Spurinna, "The Ides of March have come. Yes, but they have not yet gone." Caesar took his seat in front of the Senate and was quickly surrounded by politicians who wished to "pay their respect." The first, Casca, grabbed Caesar by the shoulder who quickly shook him off and Caesar turned to resume his seat. His back turned, Casca's brother pulled out a dagger and stabbed him below the throat. Caesar quickly grabbed the brother's arm and stabbed him with his stylus, in an attempt to escape the thickening ring of assassins. It was then that he realized that he was hopeless.

He did not utter a word until he saw his protégé Marcus Brutus, to whom he spoke, "You, too, my child?" Brutus' mother was Caesar's mistress and he had helped him all his life, despite his siding with Pompey's army. Caesar then drew the top of his toga over his face and allowed the lower garment to cover his legs, so he would die with his legs covered. It was then that the crowd of assassins began to stab him so furiously that they even injured themselves in the onslaught. A total of twenty-three knife blows struck Caesar before he fell dead to the floor.

It was on the Ides of March in 44 BC that one of the greatest Romans fell to his fate. No god could protect him, but perhaps all of it was his destiny. He had opened the door for his nephew Octavian (Caesar Augustus) to create and expand one of the greatest empires in the world. The autocracy established by Caesar lasted half a millennium in the west and 1,500 years in the east.

There are many novels, movies, and television series, which follow the life of Caesar and his successors, as well as the Latin civilization developed during Caesar's generation. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, which follows the life of a Jewish girl enslaved in Rome and the lives she encounters.

The hit HBO series "Rome" will soon become a movie and it looks like Kevin McKidd will be back as Vorenus. The movie will be entitled "Bona Dea."

And we must not forget Russell Crowe in "Gladiator."


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