Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Ides of March (44 BC)

Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC- 42 BC):
republican and tyrannicide
Early in 44 BC several ambiguous events occurred. Two tribunes, Flavus and Marullus, removed a diadem that had been put on Caesar’s statue and said that they would prosecute anyone who spoke of him as king.

On 15 February, the fertility festival of the Lupercalia was held, an ancient ritual in which young men ran, dressed in animal skins to ‘touch’ women with rods in order to ensure their fertility. One of the runners was Mark Antony, Caesar’s fellow consul. He offered Caesar a diadem, which he refused, and he ordered that the refusal be placed in the public records. (Was he taken by surprise or was it prearranged? Was his acceptance or refusal going to depend on the crowd reaction?)

There is considerable controversy over Caesar’s intentions in the last months of his life. Probably he was planning, long-term, some form of overall control. He had always said that Sulla had been wrong to resign power. By mid-February he had accepted another ‘dictatorship’, his fourth, but this time it was for life. This was surely a clear turning point. However, in the short-term he was planning a campaign against the Parthians, and presumably he wanted this to be successful before he claimed even greater powers than those he already had.

In this period his conduct changed. He became overbearing and discourteous. He refused to stand up to greet members of the Senate. His enemies were putting about wild rumours: he wished to move the capital to Alexandria; he was about to adopt Caesarion as his heir; or his heir was to be his great-nephew, Octavian.

In the fevered atmosphere of the early spring of 44BC a conspiracy was launched. Many of the conspirators were his former friends, who had come to regard him as a tyrant. At least sixty men were involved, but the secret was well kept. The leader was C. Cassius Longinus,  praetor in 44. The historian, Plutarch, describes him as a man of violent temper. The figure-head was his brother-in-law, M. Junius Brutus,  a former Pompeian and a man renowned for his integrity, described by Plutarch as 
‘a man almost ideally balanced to pursue a life of virtue’. 
In 45 he had married Porcia, the daughter of Cato the Younger. He was thought to be attached to Caesar because after Pharsalus Caesar had ordered that his life be spared; there were also rumours of an affair between Caesar and Brutus’ mother, Servilia.

Knowing that Caesar was preparing to move east, the conspirators decided to act quickly.  The date was set for the Ides (15th) March and the assassination was committed in full view of the Senate in the Theatre of Pompey, where the Senate was temporarily sitting. There were sixty senators in the plot but no more than five of them could have rushed at Caesar and stabbed him, while his fellow consul, Mark Antony, was detained outside.  He lay dying under the statue of Pompey. Twenty-three wounds were later counted on his body.

Had the Republic been saved?