Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Beware the Ides of March"

The Assasination of Ceasar on March 15, 44 B.C.

Generally speaking, a term from the ancient Roman calendar. The Ides fell on the 15th day of March, May, July, or October or the 13th day of any other month. Thus the Ides of March was the 15th day of March.
Specifically, the term is best known because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, a few days before, the soothsayer Titus Vestricius Spurinna apparently warned Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar disregarded the warning:

"The following story, too, is told by many. A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: "Well, the Ides of March are come," and the seer said to him softly: "Ay, they are come, but they are not gone."

As the Senate convened, Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the Liberatores ("Liberators"); they justified their action on the grounds that they committed tyrannicide, not murder, and were preserving the Republic from Caesar's alleged monarchical ambitions. Among the assassins who locked themselves in the Temple of Jupiter were Gaius Trebonius, Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, Marcus Junius Brutus, and Gaius Cassius Longinus; Caesar had personally pardoned most of his murderers or personally advanced their careers. Marcus Brutus was a distant cousin of Caesar and named as one of his testamentary heirs. There is also speculation that Marcus Brutus was an illegitimate child of Caesar's, since he had an affair with Servilia Caepionis, Brutus' mother; however, Caesar was 15 years old at the time Brutus was born. Caesar sustained 23 (as many as 35 by some accounts) stab wounds, which ranged from superficial to mortal, and ironically fell at the feet of a statue of his friend turned rival, Pompey the Great. His last words have been variously reported as:
• Και σύ, τέκνον Βρούτε; (Kai su, teknon Vrute?) (Gr., "Even you, my child, Brutus?" – from Suetonius)
• Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi! (Lat., "You too, Brutus, my son!" – a modern Latin translation of the Greek quotation from Suetonius)
• Et tu, Brute? (Lat., "And (even) you, Brutus?" – from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar)

Contemporary Account

Nicolaus of Damascus wrote a detailed account of the murder of Caesar a few years after the event while on a visit to Rome. During his visit he had the opportunity to interview those who witnessed the murder. Nicolaus' account of the plot to kill Caesar and the actual assassination are thought to be accurate. The following are excerpts from Nicolaus of Damascus' "Life of Augustus" detailing the plot against Caesar and his death.

The Plan

"The conspirators never met to make their plans in the open, but in secret, a few at a time in each other's houses. As was natural, many plans were proposed and set in motion by them as they considered how and when they should commit the awful deed. Some proposed to attach (sic?) him while on his way through the 'Via Sacra', for he often walked there; others, at the time of the comitia, when he had to cross a certain bridge to hold the election of magistrates in the field before the city. They would so divide their duties by lot that some should jostle him off the bridge and the others should rush upon him and slay him. Others proposed that he be attacked when the gladiatorial shows were held (they were near at hand), for then, because of these contests no suspicion would be aroused by the sight of men armed for the deed. The majority urged that he be killed during the session of the Senate, for then he was likely to be alone. There was no admittance to non-members, and many of the senators were conspirators, and carried swords under their togas. This plan was adopted."

Bad Omens

"And Fate [Moira] becomes a still stronger force if indeed one acknowledges her part in these things: on that day his friends, drawing conclusions from certain auguries, tried to prevent him from going to the Senate Room [bouleuterion], as did also his physicians on account of vertigoes to which he was sometimes subject, and from which he was at that time suffering; and especially his wife Calpurnia, who was terrified by a dream that night. She clung to him and said that she would not let him go out on that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators, though he was at that time thought to be one of his most intimate friends, came up to him and said, 'What do you say, Caesar? Are you going to pay any attention to a woman's dreams and foolish men's omens, a man such as you? Are you going to insult the Senate which has honored you and which you yourself convened, by not going out? No; if you take my advice you will dismiss from your mind the dreams of these people and go, for the Senate has been in session since morning, and is awaiting you.' He was persuaded and went out."
"Meanwhile the assassins were making ready, some of them stationing themselves beside his chair, others in front of it, others behind it. The augurs brought forward the victims for him to make his final sacrifice before his entry into the Senate Room. It was manifest that the omens were unfavorable. The augurs substituted one animal after another in the attempt to secure a more auspicious forecast. Finally they said that the indications from the gods where (sic?) unfavorable and that there was plainly some sort of curse hiding in the victims. In disgust, Caesar turned away toward the setting sun, and the augurs interpreted this action still more unfavorably. The assassins were on hand and were pleased at all this. Caesar's friends begged that he postpone the present session on account of what the soothsayers had said; and for his part, he was just giving the order to do this, but suddenly the attendants came to summon him, saying that the Senate had a quorum. Then Caesar cast a look toward his friends. And Brutus approached him again and said, 'Come Sir, turn your back on these people's nonsense and do not postpone the business that deserves the attention of Caesar and of the great empire, but consider your own worth a favorable omen.'"

The Final Attack

"Thus persuading him, he [Brutus] at the same time took him by the hand and led him in, for the Senate-chamber was nearby. Caesar followed in silence. When he came in and the Senate saw him, the members rose out of respect to him. Those who intended to lay hands on him were all about him. The first to come to him was Tullius Cimber, whose brother Caesar had exiled, and stepping forward as though to make an urgent appeal on behalf of his brother, he seized Caesar's toga, seeming to act rather boldly for a suppliant, and thus prevented him from standing up and using his hands if he so wished. Caesar was very angry, but the men held to their purpose and all suddenly bared their daggers and rushed upon him. First Servilius Casca stabbed him on the left shoulder a little above the collar bone, at which he had aimed but missed through nervousness. Caesar sprang up to defend himself against him, and Casca called to his brother, speaking in Greek in his excitement. The latter obeyed him and drove his sword into Caesar's side. A moment before Cassius had struck him obliquely across the face. Decimus Brutus struck him through the thigh. Cassius Longinus was eager to give another stroke, but he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius, too, made a lunge at Caesar but he struck Rubrius on the thigh. It looked as if they were fighting over Caesar. He fell,under many wounds, before the statue of Pompey, and there was not one of them but struck him as he lay lifeless, to show that each of them had had a share in the deed, until he had received thirty-five wounds, and breathed his last."


It has been speculated, by Colonel Luciano Garofano, commander of the carabinieri's forensic investigation centre in Parma in a Channel 5 documentary, that Caesar knew of the plot against his life, and allowed it to proceed, going so far as to dismiss his guard contingent in order to allow the conspirators to kill him. This theory hinges on Caesar's epilepsy, a condition attributed to him by several sources including Plutarch. Proponents of the theory suggest that Caesar deliberately arranged to be murdered by the Senate, to spare himself the indignity of increasing seizures as he aged, and to ensure his own legacy. While the public outrage over Caesar's murder did provide a favorable climate for Caesar's heir Octavian to take power, this theory is not currently backed by any evidence to give it credence and fails to account for his Parthian Campaign planning.


* Ides had real meaning only in the Roman Calendar, which had just been displaced by the Julian Calendar. However, the term "Ides" was still used in a vernacular sense for centuries afterwards to denote the middle of the month.
• Because of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar and its line "Beware the Ides of March", the term "Ides of March" has come to mean a foreboding of doom.

• The Ides of March are celebrated every year by the Rome Hash House Harriers with a toga run in the streets of Rome, in the same place where Julius Caesar was killed.

The Toga Run in Hartford this year has been cancelled because of previous "parade route violators."


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