The Death Of Caesar

August 31, 2017 by admin_name

The Death Of Caesar
written by Barry Strauss

“The Death Of Caesar” is an academic but very interesting and worth the read look into the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar(100BC- 15th March 44BC). It was written by Barry Strauss who has made many interesting documentaries and talks on the classics. You can find videos of his talks online and I highly recommend them. They´re worth the watch. For those living under a rock or back from having spent a childhood in space Giaus Julius Caesar was the famous ancient Roman politician, general and oddly enough writer of prose, among other things. He is known for having contributed into the end of the ancient Rome republic into an empire with its political power residing in the army and not the Roman Senate. The date upon which he was assassinated on, the Ides of March 44BC, is possibly one of the most famous dates in Western history because it is the date of the most famous assassination in Western history. The author, Barry Strauss, gives the reader finer details of the people and events surrounding the assassination. He discusses the sources that have been lost and those still available. We get a clearer picture of the wild storm that was ancient Roman politics of the day.

Barry Strauss website

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“The Death Of Caesar” is one of the more interesting books on the famous assassination. It is academic but interesting with the kind of necessary detail all good documentaries and books have. For example, I heard that the conspirators numbered 23 and that it was those 23 that stabbed Caesar but this was not the case. Strauss claims that there were upwards of 60 to 80 conspirators some of whom were Caesars close friends. The list of people who were part of this affair that I knew of was Gaius Caesar himself who was the victim of the assassination, Cassius Longinus, Mark Anthony, Decimus Brutus, Octavius, Sevilia, Marcus Brutus, Cato and his daughter Portia, Pompeii and his son Sextus, Cicero, Libenius and Fulvia. The list  is however larger than that. The three main conspirators were Gaius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Junius Brutus and Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus who was a good friend of Caesar but joined the Conspiracy for, what seems like, personal reasons of career advancement. Just like in Shakespeare´s play the central character, the lynchpin that would make it all possible was Marcus Junius Brutus. He gave the crime a facade of legitimacy and necessity for the good of the Republic of ancient Rome. He was the dignitas needed for the conspiracy. (I think that´s the right word. Dignitas means more a person´s reputation while auctoritas means more rank in society, I think. I´d love to hear the opinions of any one of you classics people to clear the matter up.)  Shakespeare had Brutus´central role in the conspiracy right. He was right about that much.

Other members of the conspiracy where Gaius Trebonius, who was a friend of Caesar, Gaius Sevilius Casca and his brother Publius Sevilius Casca Longus, Lucius Tilius Cimber and Servius Sulpicius Galba amog just a few more. Quite a few people who prospored under Caesar took part in the conspiracy when they felt like their career opportunities were drying up. I was very surprised to find out that Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus took part in the conspiracy because he was so close to Caesar and prospered so much under him. But when Caesar offered him a simple governorship he must have feared his career was heading south. As it turned out, He was the one who lured Caesar to the place where he would be assassinated at the Senate House Of Pompeii. (It has even been suggested that Caesar was assassinated in front of the large statue of Pompeii). Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus offered his gladiators as protection since Caesar dismsissed his other bodyguards and he also made the sexist comment that Caesar should not listen to his wife´s pleadings to stay home because she was a woman. (That may sound ridiculous in the modern age but that´s the way people thought back then). Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus played a much larger role in the conspiracy than what Shakespeare states in his play. Another fact less known was that a certain Cassius of Parma  was the last conspirator to be killed. (not to be confused with the Gaius Cassius Longinus who slashed Caesar in the face during the assassination at the Senate House of Pompeii on the Ides of March 44 B.C. and commited suicide at the battle of Phillipi) .

I liked the way he also went over the sources that existed but are now gone and the ones that still exist today. Sources like Cicero, Titus Livius also known as Livy, Nikolus of Damascus, Plutarch, Appian and Crassius Dio are the more reliable and ancient of references the author mentions. Another fun fact was how William Shakespeare, yes The Bard, used mostly Plutarch as a reference. That expains the faults in his play.

Barry Strauss also gives some convincing reasons why the noble cast of Rome grew increasingly worried of Caesar. Reasons like how he was immensely wealthy and named Gaius Octavius, also known as Octavian his sole heir and the way he insulted the Senators on many occasions whether on purpose, by accident or from third party machinations. The book mentions a story where Caesar essentially calls the dictator from years earlier, Lucius Cornelius Sulla an idiot for retiring into private life. This gave the nobles the impression that Caesar would never give up power.

So what is my opinion of that moment in time after having read “The Death Of Caesar”? I agree with a lot of what the author states with a few exceptions. To paint a broad stroke over a complex part of history, I believe that ancient Rome, like so many societies today, was run by a few families who owned and controlled most everything. They made laws that favored them and enjoyed the fruits of ancient Roman society. You basically had the slave cast which supported the economy, the merchant class that made most everything and the noble cast which individually consumed the most. (Some would call them the predator or parasitic cast). The noble cast was constantly fighting among themselves for wealth, status and power and they waged these battles through marriage and even murder. A good book that explains this very well even though it is historical fiction is “The October Horse” by Colleen McCullough. (It is one book in a series). Ancient Rome at the time was going through all types of problems. So much wealth had concentrated with the nobles that slaves were taking so many of the jobs. Things like infrastructure needed to be upgraded and invested in and certain rapacious nobles needed to be put in check. I won´t go into detail but Ancient Rome was basically run like a criminal enterprise where nobles squeezed and defrauded the people and the state of as much as they could. Some of that wealth needed to go back or Rome would collapse.

I don´t doubt that Caesar was a tyrant, narcissist and slaver of people but he was also the man that redistributed wealth to the parts of society that needed it so badly. He was also the man that brought so much wealth into the empire, albeit that wealth was gained through conquering and enslaving peoples. So he was many things to many people. Another thing to consider is that I believe he suffered from serious health issues that got worse as he aged in spite of living a fit Lifestyle. Problems such as seizures and chronic strokes. I believe that is why you see a sense of urgency in his actions and that explains some of his actions.

As a last note I find it interesting that Barry Strauss calls his book “The Death Of Caesar“. He does not call it an assassination. I have to wonder if he was born in Ancient Rome would have been one of the conspirators. 

I didn´t want to babble on but ended up doing so anyway. “The Death Of Caesar” is worth the read for historians or the curious. This is a truly fascinating part of history and I really enjoyed this book. There are lessons to be learned from history because history does repeat itself and this particular event is a good lesson or blueprint on how corruption infects wealthy powerful societies. If anything, the problems of Ancient Rome weren´t just Caesar and the ruling families because if that were the case Ancient Rome would have been cured of its problems with the death of Cassius of Parma (who was the last conspirator to die).

Written by John Appius Quill


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