CHARLES JERMY: Good evening, and welcome to the fourth summer lecture. If there is an emergency, please exit quietly there and here. We don't expect any emergencies, but just in case. My name is Bud Jermy. I'm the Associate Dean of the School of Continuing Education.
And I want to thank the College of Agriculture and Life Science for the use of this auditorium. It was a generous donation from the college. And we appreciate it.
Barry S. Strauss is the Bryce and Edith M. Bomar Professor of Humanistic Studies, and chair of Cornell's Department of History. A military historian who focuses on Ancient Greece and Rome, he teaches courses on the history of Ancient Greece, war in peace in the ancient world, history of battle, introduction to military history, and specialized topics in ancient history.
Barry is the author of six books that have been translated into nine languages. He speaks or reads eight himself. The Battle of Salamis: the Naval Encounter that Saved Greece-- and Western civilization was named one of the best books of 2004 by the Washington Post. And his Masters of Command: Alexander Hamilton-- not Hamilton, sorry about that-- Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership-- this is not going to be made into a musical, by the way-- was named one of the best books of 2012 by Bloomberg.
Writing in the Washington Post, Tom Holland hailed his Spartacus War for having, quote, all the excitement of a thriller. And Books and Culture named it one of its favorite books in 2009. An avid rower, his Rowing Against the Current: on Learning to Scull at 40, enjoys a sort of underground existence as an account of athletic angst.
He's also co-author of two other books, and co-editor of two more. He has written many scholarly articles, reviews, and book chapters. He is the series editor of the Princeton History of the Ancient World, and contributing editor of MHQ, the quarterly Journal of Military History.
Barry has appeared in more than a dozen television documentaries. He has published op-ed pieces in the Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, and Newsday, and has been interviewed on NPR and the BBC. He has been quoted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in other major newspapers.
He has spoken at many universities, institutes, and war colleges both here and abroad. Barry has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Korea Foundation, the American School at Athens, and the American Academy in Rome. He received Cornell's Clark Distinguished Teaching Award. In recognition of this scholarship, he was named an honorary citizen of Salamis, Greece.
Barry received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell, and a master and the Ph.D. degrees from Yale. A former director of Cornell's Peace Studies Program, he is currently director, as well as a founder, of Cornell's program on freedom and free societies. Barry lives in the New York Ithaca with his wife. Besides rowing, his hobbies are cycling and hiking.
He loves jazz and opera. And he admits to watching too much television. Barry's latest book, The Death of Caesar: the Story of History's Most Famous Assassination, was available in early March this year-- fittingly, just in time for the Ides of March. It is one of Amazon's best books of the year so far. And, in fact, that's almost the titles of Barry's lecture tonight, which is "The death of Caesar: new light on history's most famous assassination." Barry.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Thank you, Dean Jermy, and thank you everyone for turning out on this beautiful night. It's really a pleasure and an honor to be here to talk to you about one of my favorite subjects-- death? No, not quite. I come not to bury Shakespeare, but to praise him.
How many of you, friends, Romans, and Cornellians, got your first introduction to the subject from the Bard, as I did? Raise your hands. Great. It's a wonderful story, an immortal story, a profound one.
But Shakespeare was not a historian. Nor should we have expected him to be a historian. What I'd like to do tonight is to try to go between the lines, and to bounce off Shakespeare, and to get to the story of the history as best as we can reconstruct it.
And I'll try to explain to you why, from the point of view of a scholar, we can reconstruct the history, and why we can tell a different story than the one Shakespeare tells us. The subject, of course, is this man and his demise-- Caesar, the dictator, one of history's most famous dictators.
It's a great time to be studying this story, and to be reexamining the question of Caesar's death for three reasons. First of all, this last generation has made enormous strides in the study of politics in the Roman Republic. Previously, we thought of politics as simply a matter of intra-elite fighting. But we now understand the degree to which Roman Republican politics tied into much broader concerns, and much more popular issues, and brought bigger passions into play. Here, we're looking at the Forum, the Roman Senate, and an imperial speaker's platform. More on all this later.
Second reason why it's a great period to be studying the subject is it's an excellent time to be studying ancient military history. There's been an absolute flurry of work in ancient military history in the past generation. And we now understand it in its depth in a way we didn't before. And as we'll see, this is very much a story about military as well as political history.
And, finally, it's a great time to be studying our hero-- Caesar. Here we see him on a coin. And he represents himself as Kaiser Imperator, Caesar the victorious general.
There's been an absolute Renaissance of Caesar studies of late. It's very different from when I was in graduate school in the 1970s. For some reason, for several decades after 1945, the study of mono-maniacal, warmongering, tyrannical dictators was out of fashion.
But it came back into fashion-- I won't say not a moment too soon. Not a moment too late was more like it. And there's tremendous work being done on Caesar, all of which made it possible for me to be able to enter the fray and try to say something new about his assassination.
So our story is a story about war, and particularly about Civil War. If you remember, Shakespeare's play begins with a triumphal march in 44 BC, shortly before Caesar's assassination. What we really want to look back a few years before this to the time when Caesar crossed the Rubicon-- the little stream dividing Gaul from Italy-- and began a civil war, a civil war that lasted from 49 to 45 BC, and whose scars were still very much visible on the Roman body politic in the month of March, 44.
The war was fought all over the Roman world-- from Gaul, which Caesar had conquered in the 50s BC-- to Italy, to Greece, where the great Battle of Pharsalus between Caesar and Pompey was thought, to Egypt where-- as we shall see-- Caesar added a particularly interesting notch to his belt. To Central Northern Turkey, where Caesar won the famous Battle of Zela, which he memorably commemorated as I came, I saw, I conquered. To what is today Tunisia, where Caesar defeating his enemies at the Battle of Thapsus, and where his great enemy Cato committed suicide rather than accept Caesar's pardon. And, finally, to Spain, where in March of 45 BC, Caesar won his last victory over Pompey's sons, and then slowly made his way back to Italy.
As some of you know, Caesar's great opponent in the Civil War was Pompey, another leading Roman general, and at one time Caesar son-in-law. But to the two of them broke over the enormous amount of power that Caesar amassed. And Pompey led the opposition to Caesar and his rule.
He lead the die-hards, the true believers in the Roman Republic. After Pompey's defeat and his death-- he was murdered, not by Caesar's doing-- Caesar began to offer pardons to his opponents. Indeed, even before Pompey's death, he offered them pardons. This was something new in Roman politics. Typically, when there was a civil war, the winner would pursue his opponents to the death and confiscate their property. But Caesar said he was going to represent a new kind of politics, one in which he forgave his opponents.
Roman aristocrats were people of very great honor, dignity, and status. And it was not easy for them to ask Caesar's pardon, and to accept it. And, yet, many of them did.
And so they came over to Caesar's side. They accepted what he called his clemency. When Caesar finally came back to Italy in the fall of 45 BC-- when we finally entered Rome in October of 45 BC-- these men who had accepted his pardon, and even some of the men who had fought for him-- and I should say the women as well, because as we will see they play no small role in the story-- they accepted Caesar to make concessions.
Sure, he had gathered dictatorial power during the civil war, and during his struggles against his opponents. But now they thought he would back off and step down. In short, they expected him to reestablish the Roman Republic. This was a form of government that gave some power to the ordinary people of Rome, but gave enormous amount of power to the elite, to the Nobles.
These were the men, very small circle of men, who sat in the Roman Senate, and who held the highest offices at home and abroad. What they expected Caesar to do was to turn power back over to them. Yes, he would keep a share of it for themselves. But they fully expected this building, the Roman Senate, to be at the center of Roman political life, as it had been before.
They had seen dictators come and go before. And they thought that Caesar, in the end, wouldn't be any different. But Caesar disappointed them. Caesar turned out to be a very different kind of dictator. And that's the process we need to talk about now.
So in the winter-- either in December of 45 or January or February of 44 BC-- Caesar had himself proclaimed something that had never existed in Rome before-- Dictator Perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity, dictator for life. This was an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms from the Roman point of view. Originally, a dictator in Rome was appointed only to hold office for a temporary period.
It was an emergency sort of office. Romans had seen dictators hold power for a year or two since then. They had been forced to accept that. But they'd never seen anyone who insisted on being dictator for life.
This was something new. And they had to ask, what was the difference between being dictator for life and being a king? Caesar insisted carefully that he was not a king. Caesar knew that being a king was a dirty word in Roman politics.
The Roman Republic had been founded centuries before in a revolt against kings. And no Roman would dare call himself a king. And, yet, people began to think that Caesar aspired to be a king.
He dressed like a king in certain ways. He wore the high red boots that went back to the kings of Rome. Nobody else wore them.
He had a whole set of honors that the Senate gave him that seemed men monarchical. He was allowed to wear the purple and gold robe of a triumphing general. He was allowed to wear a laurel wreath on all occasions. He was allowed to sit on a golden throne.
Caesar decided that he would take over a lot of the elections that were normally held to choose Roman public officials. He would appoint some of those public officials. He took that power away from the people.
Caesar still saw to it that the regular public officials were either appointed or elected. But they now had supervisors, some of them. And these supervisors were Caesar's close friends. And Caesar saw to it that members of his family and friends got the highest honors.
Men and women began to ask, is this a king? Does Rome have a king again? Now, I want to talk about three incidents in the winter of 44 BC that were, in many senses, the last straws-- the ones that made people think Caesar wants nothing less than to be the king of Rome.
So the first of these incidents took place probably in January of 44 BC. And it took place here in the Forum of Caesar-- the Forum Julium, Julius' Forum. Rome, of course, had a forum, which went back to the origins of Rome.
But Caesar created a new forum, modestly named after himself, adjacent to the Roman Forum on some of the most valuable real estate of Rome. And at one end of the forum, he had erected a temple to Mother Venus, the goddess who we claimed as the ancestor of his family. He said that his ancestors were descended from Venus himself.
In January of 44, Caesar was at work in his forum supervising the architects putting the final touches on these buildings-- and here we'll see all that is immortal of the Temple of Mother Venus-- when a delegation of 100 to 200 senators came to see him. They were bringing with them a list of some of the additional honors that he had been awarded. And one of the honors that Caesar had been awarded was that the senate had voted to make him a god.
He would be called the deified Julius. He would get his own priesthood, his own temple, and his own cult. None of it had been started yet. It was for the future. But it had been approved.
The delegation came to see Caesar. And Caesar did something absolutely shocking from the Roman point of view. He did not stand up.
Everybody knew that when the senators arrived, you had to stand up to receive them. And Caesar declined to do that. The senators were shocked and horrified that he had insulted them in this way.
And, afterwards, he realized that he'd made a mistake. And so he had his spin doctors-- I'm not quite sure how you say that in Latin-- but he had them put out that he was not feeling well, he was indisposed. And he meant to get up. he just couldn't help it.
The other thing he did which didn't help him is he made a joke. When they said they were there to present him with new honors, he said, in effect, enough already. You should be looking at ways to give me fewer honors. That did not go over very well either. So that was the first incident that made people upset.
The second took place at the end of January 44 BC on this road the Appian Way. And it took place where the Appian Way entered the walls of Rome at the Appian Gate. Caesar was returning from the Alban Hills, where he had carried out a festival.
He'd carried out a sacrifice. Among his other titles, he was Rome's chief priest. And the Senate had given him the right to return to Rome on horseback, as if he had just won a major victory. As he entered the city at the Appian Gate, he was greeted by a crowd.
And someone in the crowd called out, hail rex-- hail king. And others in the crowd took up the cry. Caesar made a joke about it. He was nothing if not urbane. And he said, my name is Caesar, not rex.
In Latin, as in English, rex both means king-- king could be the name of a monarch. But it could also be a family name. And Caesar made a joke.
But some of Rome's public officials were not amused. Among the most important officials in Rome were the 10 tribunes. They were elected every year to represent the common people of Rome.
And two of them decided that this was a slap in the face of the Roman Republic, and the privileges of the Roman people-- a free people-- who did not want to have a king. And so they arrested the man who began the cry of, hail rex.
Caesar was furious. He demanded that they release him. He said, this is a put up job. You've done this on purpose to make it look bad, to make people think I want to be a king when I want nothing of the kind. I just want to be a dictator for life. Can't you understand the difference?
They made a declaration that they felt threatened in the exercise of their office, and unable to do the people's duty. And they were right, because Caesar called a special session of the senate in which she insisted that the Senate vote these two tribunes out of office, which they did. So earlier, Caesar insulted the Roman Senate. And now he insulted the Roman people by turning on the tribunes.
The third incident was one in which we might say that he insulted everyone by his bizarre behavior. It took place here. What we are looking at is the remains of the Rostra of Caesar, the Julian Rostra. The Rostra was the speaker's platform in the Roman Forum. And Caesar modestly renovated the Forum, and built a new speaker's platform that he named after himself.
On February 15, 44 BC, Caesar was seated on this platform. Here you can see a close up of the stairs leading up to the speaker's platform. It was originally covered with marble. And it would have expanded further out into the Forum.
The occasion was a festival-- and this is one that Shakespeare talks about-- the Lupercal Festival, the Lupercalia. It was an annual festival in which the priests would run through the city of Rome wearing only loin cloths. They would take goat skin whips. And they would mock whip young women.
It was a fertility rite. And I was all done in good fun. This year, they had created a special new association of priests called, what else, the Julian Priests who led the ceremony. And the leader of the Julian Priests was Caesar's close military associate, comrade in arms, henchmen, and along with Caesar one of the two leading public officials of 44 BC, Mark Antony.
Anthony went up to the speaker's platform, the Julian Rostra where Caesar was seated, and he offered him-- well, Shakespeare says the crown. In reality, he offered him a diadem. The diadem with the ancient symbol of monarchy. It was an embroidered white ribbon with two fringes at the end.
And Caesar turned it down twice. Antony said, in the name of the Roman people, Caesar, I offer you the crown. I offer you the diadem. And people were horrified. On the platform was another associate of Caesar's, Marcus Lepidus, who audibly groaned at the sound of this.
Caesar said, let it be written down in the formal records of Rome that Julius Caesar was offered the diadem, the monarchy, by the Roman people. But Rome has no monarch except Jupiter, the king of the gods. And Caesar turns it down.
Many people thought this was a put up job on Caesar's part, that this was a trial balloon to see how the public would respond if he asked for monarchy. So all in all, this incident greatly redounded against Caesar. And it was now that some of Rome's politicians decided to act.
I should say one other thing. Caesar was married. He'd been married for 15 years to a Roman noble woman named Calpurnia. This is not a statuette of Calpurnia. It is a Roman nobleman from this period.
We don't know exactly what Calpurnia looked like. But we do have many images of Caesar's best-known mistress. And he had many mistresses. His best-known mistress at the time was none other than the queen of Egypt.
She was 30 years younger than him. She was famous. She was glamorous. And she was living in Rome.
Her name, of course, was Cleopatra. We see her here in a bust in Berlin. Cleopatra was at-- in March of 44 BC, in the winter 44 BC-- she was living in Caesar's Palace-- not really, Caesar's gardens, the Romans called it, which was built about a mile from the center of Rome across the Tiber on the hills. And she, among her other claims to fame, was the mother of Caesar's illegitimate son.
His name was Ptolemy Caesar. But everybody called them him Caesarion, which means Little Caesar. Now, she was there in Rome, even though Cesar lived downtown with his wife.
She was a queen. Caesar as dictator for life. And when anyone said, gosh, you're dictator for life, and your mistress and the mother of your only living child is a queen, sounds like you want to be king, he would say, nothing to see here. Move right along. But not everyone was convinced.
What happened next is a story that is told in five main ancient authors. The most famous of them, and the ones who Shakespeare got most of his information from, is a name you'll probably know-- Plutarch, who was a Greek. But I'm willing to bet that you don't know the name of the earliest author to give us a detailed account, and to my mind the most interesting.
He came from this city, Damascus. He was a Greek from Damascus named Nicholas-- Nicholas of Damascus. Nicholas of Damascus was a remarkable character.
He studied Aristotle and Thucydides. He was very learned, and very wise. And he made his career working for King Herod in Judea-- yes, the infamous King Herod.
He then moved on to become the tutor to the children of Antony and Cleopatra. As you know, Cleopatra eventually moves on to Mark Antony when they lived in Alexandria, and finally fetches up in Rome as a secretary to the Emperor Augustus.
He wrote a biography of Augustus, very little of which survives. But luckily for us, the main part that survives is an account of the assassination of Caesar. The story of the assassination that we get in Plutarch, very much the story that we get in Shakespeare, is highly idealistic. It's idealistic men motivated by higher causes, and also a story of men who are motivated by sheer jealousy of Caesar and all he had achieved. He made them feel small.
Nicholas tells a different story. Yes, there are some ideals. And there is some jealousy. But it's much more a story about politics, and power, and wealth, as these coins from the period. It's much more of a down and dirty story. And I dare to say, I think there's more truth in it.
So all our sources agree that one of the three key conspirators, and the one who Plutarch says started the ball rolling, is this man-- Gaius Cassius, he of the lean and hungry look. Cassius was a Roman soldier. He was a general who had won a great victory in Syria.
He'd saved the Roman army there about a decade earlier. He had fought in the civil war for Pompey. And then after Pompey's defeat, he made his peace with Caesar.
And he accepted Caesar as better than the other possibilities on offer. But once the civil war came to an end, he chaffed under Caesar's rule. He felt that Caesar did not recognize him enough, and hadn't given him high enough office. He'd had enough of the dictator for life.
And so Cassius turned to his brother-in-law, a man who Cassius was angry act because he too had made his peace with Caesar, but to greater effect. He had been named by Caesar as Chief Judge of the city of Rome. And he was on tap to become the console, the leading public official.
That brother-in-law was none other than Marcus Brutus-- the Brutus of Shakespeare. Brutus was a remarkable and complex character. He came from one of the oldest political families in Rome, as we shall see.
And Brutus was a student of philosophy. He was close to this man, Cicero. This is an image of Cicero done by William Blake, the poet and artist.
Cicero was the last line of the Roman Senate, the last man standing from those who had opposed Caesar. But he was in retirement, writing philosophy now and writing to other philosophers like Brutus. Brutus himself published philosophy.
He was a writer and an orator. But he was also a Roman politician, a pragmatic man, and somebody who paid a lot of attention to his own reputation and to his family and its business. And that family had a very complicated business indeed.
When Brutus was young, his father was murdered at the Order of Pompey-- same Pompey who Brutus later went on to fight for, and then after Pompey's defeat defected from and went to Caesar. He knew Caesar very well because Caesar was the former lover of his mother.
Here is an image not of his mother-- we don't have an image of her-- bit of a Roman noble lady of this period. His mother's name was Servilia. She was so close to Caesar that gossip claimed that Brutus was Caesar's son. But that's almost certainly not true. Caesar was 15 at the time that Brutus was born. And even for Rome, that was a bit precocious.
But through his mother, he was close to Caesar. And he was able to reconcile with Caesar after supporting Pompey. And Caesar granted Brutus pardon.
And Brutus had worked for Caesar. He had governed part of Gaul for Caesar. He had greeted Caesar on his return for Rome.
But now he was having second thoughts, seeing all the power that Caesar grabbed for himself, Realizing that his future in Rome would be limited in a Rome dominated by Caesar. And if he ever thought he would make his peace with Caesar, he would have another formidable woman to deal with. And that was his wife-- this lady, Porcia.
The year before, Brutus had divorced his wife and married what the Romans called a trophy wife-- no, they didn't. But he married a younger woman, Porcia, who was the daughter of the most famous supporter of the Republic in Rome, Cato the Younger-- Cato who had committed suicide rather than ask Caesar for pardon. Brutus was now married to her no doubt because he found her young, beautiful, and attractive. But every day she surely reminded Brutus of what was at stake in allowing Caesar to rule Rome.
One story claims that in order to win Brutus' trust, and be the only woman allowed in the conspiracy, she actually stabbed herself, inflicting a rather deep wound, to show how tough she was. And Brutus told her the story.
Those stories are told of other Roman women as well. We can't be sure that it's true. But it's surely true that Porcia was tough.
So Brutus decided to join his brother-in-law Cassius, and to join the plot. It was partly because he believed in the Republic. It was partly because he believed in his wife. It was partly because he was insulted by all the rumors that he was Caesar's illegitimate child. It was partly because he saw his own career, and that of his family, being blocked off by Caesar and the deals Caesar was making with his own friends and family.
The third member of the conspiracy is the most famous Roman you've never heard of from Shakespeare. His name was Brutus as well. His full name was Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. He was Brutus' distant cousin.
Shakespeare calls him Decius, not Decimus. And he gives a small role-- significant role, but rather small one in the conspiracy. That's because Plutarch says that Decimus was insignificant, not an important figure in the conspiracy. But the other sources disagree, particularly Nicholas of Damascus, who says that Decimus was the most important figure in the conspiracy. I'll settle for saying he was one of the three leading figures.
Decimus was a very different sort than Brutus or Cassius. While Brutus and Cassius had opposed Caesar, and fought for the Republic, and for Pompey, Decimus had spent his entire career fighting for Caesar. He was Caesar's Admiral first in Gaul, and then during the civil war.
And after that, Caesar appointed him to be his deputy as Governor of Gaul. And Decimus won great victories at sea and on land. When Caesar returned to Italy from the civil wars in the summer of 45 BC, he had traveling with him three other men-- Mark Antony, his great nephew Octavian, and Decimus Brutus.
So Decimus expected great things from Caesar. But Decimus must have been disappointed in the autumn of 45 BC, and the winter of 45 and 44. While other men were allowed to celebrate triumphs, even though their victories had not been as great as Decimus', Decimus was not allowed to celebrated a triumph.
While Cesar chose his 18-year-old grand nephew to be his second in command on a forthcoming new expedition-- more on that minute-- Decimus had to stay home and govern the northern part of Italy. Decimus, like Brutus, was married to a woman who had been part of the Republican opposition to Caesar. Perhaps he, too, on the homefront was reminded of his priorities.
And Decimus, like Brutus, was descended from the alleged founder of the Roman Republic. This is a bust that is often identified as Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the republic, and supposedly the ancestor of both Marcus Brutus and Decimus Brutus, and a very important figure in the propaganda of the winter and spring of 44 BC. Quietly, in February and March, Cassius, Brutus, and Decimus gathered over 60 men to their conspiracy. The most important among them-- well, let me say a few things about them.
First of all, there was another major general of Caesar's, a man named Trebonius, who also fought with Caesar in Gaul in the civil war. There were other soldiers, other officers, who fought with Caesar. In fact, we're told that more of the conspirators were Caesar's friends than Caesar's enemies. There were some former supporters of Pompey. But supposedly more of Caesar's friends joined the conspiracy than the enemy.
And, again, why did they do it? It wasn't because they hadn't supported Caesar before. It's because they didn't like what he was doing. They didn't like what he was doing with this power, the direction he was going in, the direction he was taking the republic. They saw things spinning out of control.
And let me just add one other ingredient to the recipe. What they saw was a man who cared more about the empire than about the city of Rome. Now, that might seem a very strange thing to say.
There were Tens of millions of people living in the Roman Empire at this time. There was between 500,00 and a million people living in the city of Rome. And the population of the city of Rome, there was less than 1,000 who belonged to the nobility, and who held these major offices.
As far as Caesar's opponents were concerned, his big mistake was he cared more about the 40 million people in the empire than he cared about the 1,000 of them. We would say, right on. That's exactly what Caesar should have done.
But they saw things differently. And to try to defend their point of view, they would say, we care about the people in the empire as well. But we want Rome to be governed by people of quality.
We are like thoroughbred horses. Only we have the education, the training, to have the wisdom, and the self control, and the discipline to run this empire and to make it work for everyone. And if you have to break a few eggs to make that particular omelet, so be it.
Caesar would destroy everything. Caesar is gathering all this power in his own hands and those of his family. And he doesn't care. He doesn't have respect for honor, and rank, and status, and dignity.
He'll overturn all our values. And that's what we care about. And that's why we are willing to put our lives on the line and risk everything to stop Caesar while we still care. So the conspiracy was born.
They had to decide where to kill Caesar, where to act. Indeed, they had to decide if they should kill Caesar, because the standard way to carry out an assassination in Rome-- and assassinations, unfortunately, were not unknown in Rome. The standard thing to do was to hire assassins.
Get them to do the dirty work. But they didn't want to do that. They didn't want to hire an assassin. They wanted to kill Caesar themselves because they wanted to make a statement.
Roman politicians were among the most media savvy politicians in the history of the world. And they knew how important it was to have the right message, and to brand themselves in the proper way. They wanted to brand themselves as the descendants of the earliest senators of Rome who killed Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, when he became a tyrant.
They also knew that they had an unusual opportunity to strike. Caesar was a dictator. He was dictator for life.
He might have guessed that that would make him unpopular. And, yet, Caesar did something very strange. He dismissed his bodyguard.
He came back to Rome from the field with a bodyguard. And he fired them all. I don't need a bodyguard, he said.
I am open. I'm an open book. I want the Roman people to have access to me.
Why did he do this? On the one hand, it was because he was arrogant. He was the kind of person who got to the top by breaking the rules. And people like that, when they get the top tend to think, there are no rules. I make the rules. If I say no one will touch me, then no one will touch me.
The second reason is that Caesar was a risk addict. His entire life had been about pushing things, and gambling, and taking risks. And he must have known it was risky to go without a bodyguard in Rome.
The third reason is that Caesar was a very shrewd guy. And although he dismissed his bodyguard, he still had supporters. He still had armed men to help him.
What Caesar did is he made sure that whenever he went into public, he would be surrounded by the sort of men that nowadays you would see surrounding a public official, the ones with the ear phones, and the dark glasses, and the crew cuts. So it was very hard to approach Caesar.
There was only one place where he was relatively vulnerable. And even there, he still had made sure that he had some friends. That was the Roman Senate.
Only senators were allowed in the Roman Senate. And so Caesar's conspirators, Caesar's opponents, decided to strike in the Senate. They would kill Caesar by their own hand in the Senate. But they did not plan to kill him in the Senate house that I showed you before, which would be located here right off the Roman Forum. Instead, they were going to go outside the walls of Rome and strike him in a different place where the Senate met-- the most famous building in Rome that you've never heard.
Sorry, just before getting to that, let me just say, why did they decide to strike on the Ides of March, on the 15th of March? Because on the 18th of March, Caesar was leaving Rome. He was heading to the East on yet another war. Caesar didn't want to end his career as the men who had fought against other Romans in the civil war.
He wanted to be known as a conqueror who added territory to the Roman Empire. And so he was heading to the East in an enormous expedition with 100,000 men to conquer no less than the Parthian Empire, an empire that stretched across what is today Iran, Iraq, and Eastern Turkey. That was Caesar's plan, leaving on March 18.
Once he left Rome, he'd have a bodyguard. And he'd be untouchable. So the conspirators had to strike first.
The building that you've never seen is the enormous complex known as Pompey's Works. Pompey had built it. It had opened in 55 BC. It was an enormous structure-- 600 feet long, 450 feet wide.
On the west end, it contained Rome's first stone theater. Then there was what was, in effect, Rome's first public park. There were shops, and offices, and galleries all around.
And at the east end, there was a Senate house. You can't see this building anymore because it was looted for construction material in the Middle Ages. But you can still see buildings that trace the footprint of it-- the amphitheater-like shape of an ancient theater.
You can see it here, and in these buildings, all built on the footprint of Pompey's Theater. The theater was at the west end. At the east end of the building, the building ends in a site that some of us may have seen is tourists of Rome that's called Largo Argentina. There are some temples there.
And-- OK, so here's this round temple. And-- oops, sorry-- to the west of the round temple-- here's the round temple, I want you to look at this structure, the foundations of building F. You can see some of it here.
There's the round temple. See that there? And here you see it from the west. I'm sorry. This is a little bit backwards.
It's from the east. And then-- yeah, OK, that's from one direction. I believe it's from-- I got it wrong. That direction is from the south. That's looking north. here and here.
OK, and here-- technical failure. There we go. Here we are in the other direction.
So what am I making such a big deal about this for? This is all that is mortal of Pompey's Senate House, those foundations. That's all that's left from the east end of the Porticus of Pompey.
Here is a reconstruction. It's been badly translated as reenactment. But it's a reconstruction of what the building might have looked like.
It was not a very big building, less than 5,000 square feet, less than 100 feet tall. It was relatively small. And this is the place where Caesar went to the Senate meeting on the Ides of March.
The senators were gathered there. Little did Caesar know that 60 some odd of them had daggers under their togas. They were wearing Roman military daggers-- pugiones, as the Romans called them. And they were waiting for Caesar to arrive.
The Senate met early in the morning. But Caesar didn't come. Little did they know that back at home Caesar's wife Calpurnia had told him, as we know from Shakespeare, that there are terrible omens. You mustn't go to the Senate that day.
Caesar decided to listen to her, perhaps because he wanted domestic piece, perhaps because he knew that she was plugged into Roman politics and might have known what she was talking about, perhaps even because he had had one of his bouts of the infamous epilepsy from which he suffered. In any case, he decided to dismiss the Senate and stay at home. But before you can put that into effect, the conspirators sent the one man who was close enough to Caesar to get him to change his mind-- Decimus Brutus.
Decimus now traveled half a mile across town to Caesar's house and convinced Caesar to go. We don't know exactly what he said. The ancient sources, which tend to make up dialogue, said, basically, Caesar, if you're a man, you'll not listen to a woman. But you'll come to the meeting of the Senate.
You have nothing to be afraid of. I guarantee your safety. And how could Decimus guarantee his safety? Because Decimus had his own private police force, as it were.
Decimus had a crew of gladiators. It was not uncommon in Rome for this period for a great man to have their own troops of gladiators. These gladiators would fight in public shows to win the support of the public.
But they would also serve as bodyguards. And as it happened, Decimus said, I've got my gladiators at the Portico of Pompey today. You have nothing to worry about.
They were there, allegedly-- it's a long story. But it had to do with games in the theater. But I imagine that Decimus told Caesar that they were there to protect him.
And so Caesar agreed. He left home. He got into a litter.
He was brought to the Porticus of Pompey. And around noon on the Ides of March, 44 BC, he entered the Senate house. And there, of course, destiny was waiting for him.
No time to go through the whole story in detail. But suffice it to say that the conspirators, being military men, had planned it very carefully. They had one group that formed a perimeter around Caesar, and another that blocked the senators and prevented them from coming to his aid. And we know of two senators who actually tried to come to his aid.
What about Brutus? And what about the famous et tu, Brute? Well, Cesar, never said, et tu, Brute-- you too, Brutus-- that line was made up in the Renaissance. What the ancient authors tell us is that there was a rumor-- a rumor that they deny, a rumor that Caesar said, in Greek, [GREEK], and you, too, child.
Again, the ancient sources say, he didn't say that. He groaned, and moaned, and tried to protect himself. He didn't say much of anything. It only took a minute to kill him.
But if he did say it, what did he mean? There are three theories. Theory one is by saying, you too, child, Caesar was incredibly urbane and quick-witted, and he was insulting Brutus.
He was saying, you know what? The rumors are true. You really are my illegitimate son. You have just killed your father, the most heinous crime a Roman can do. Have a nice day.
I don't believe it. Version two is that Caesar, again being very urbane, was quoting a line of Greek tragedy that went on to say you too, child, will one day enjoy power such as mine. But he croaked before he could finish the line.
The third version, and perhaps the most persuasive, is that Caesar was quoting a well-known ancient curse. The ancients signed curse tablets. And they would bury these tablets with curses against their enemies. And the tablets often said in Greek, same to you. And that is one theory as to what Caesar was supposedly saying.
In any case, Caesar fell. And infamously, he fell at the foot of his arch enemy. This was the Senate House of Pompey. On the tribunal stood a statue of Pompey, which the artist has depicted here.
This was a statute found in the Renaissance, which was thought to be Pompey. You can still see this statue. But it ain't Pompey. We know that it's actually a Roman emperor. We have some ideas as to which one it might be. We don't have the Statue of Pompey.
But this is a nice, very dramatic version. And you'll notice that the artist has this guy holding a sword. More accurate, what we see in these other hands is that the men who killed Caesar carried daggers.
How do we know that they carried daggers? We have the most famous coin of the ancient world-- the Ides of March coin-- in which a year or two later, Brutus advertised the deed on that day by showing the Ides of March, a liberty cap-- a cap worn by a freed slave-- and two daggers.
It goes to the extent of showing two different daggers. This one has a cross-like handle-- very rare, by the way, in this period. And this one, you can't see it so well in this particular coin, but if you could, there would be two disks on the handle.
So daggers were what they used. These were Roman soldier's daggers. After the assassination, the enemies of the assassin said, you're just cut throats. You used, in effect, a switch blade, a sica, a Roman version of a switch blade.
Nonsense, they said. We used good military daggers. We were carrying out a military mission on behalf of the Republic. Well, as we know from Shakespeare, the conspirators tried to address the senators to say, we've brought freedom to land. The senators were scared out of their minds. And they skedaddled.
Brutus and the fellow conspirators at this point, surrounded by their gladiators, marched a half mile from the Senate house back towards the center of Rome to the Capitoline Hill. And they then proceeded to fortify the hill surrounded by gladiators. This was a smart thing to do, because less than a half mile away on the island in the Tiber River was a Roman legion, at least 1,000 men, commanded by one of Caesar's loyalists, Marcus Lepidus.
There now followed a standoff. For the next three days, the conspirators were here on the Capitoline Hill-- over here. And the Roman people were gathered in the Forum.
The conspirators addressed the Roman people. And they won a lot of supporters. They were not the only people who were opposed to Caesar becoming a King.
And there were many people who thought the conspirators must have known what they were doing, and surely had armies waiting to come to the gates of Rome. But they didn't. They expected that they could win on popular support and by co-opting their enemies.
They had a measure of success. The Senate met-- not in the place where Caesar was killed, but in another meeting house. And they decided on the 17th of March to have an amnesty.
And late in the day on the 17th of March, the conspirators left the Capitoline Hill. They came down. And they shook hands with Caesar's two leading supporters-- Antony and Lepidus.
And they then followed reconciliation dinners, bizarrely. Brutus went off to dinner with Lepidus, who was also his brother-in-law. These Romans had operatic connections.
And Cassius went off to dinner with Antony, where they made jokes about daggers. I am not kidding. And that might have been that.
But it wasn't, of course. Antony was a shrewd political operator. Here's Mark Antony on a coin. And he was married to an even shrewder political operator, a woman named Fulvia. This is not a very good image of her.
Fulvia had been married to two other Roman politicians. She'd seen them both die. And one of them she saw have a funeral that devolved into a riot that burned down the Roman Senate house to overturn Roman politics.
And I imagine that she was now suggesting to Antony that this is precisely what he should do. Antony and Caesar supporters demanded a public funeral for Caesar. And the conspirators, seeing the number of soldiers and veterans who continued to support Caesar, had no choice but to agree. And so on the 20th of March, the famous funeral took place.
Once again, Caesar's body was on the Rostra, the Julian Rostra, where he sat on February 15. This time, it was as a corpse. Antony led the funeral. He never said, friends, Romans, countrymen. He never said honorable men.
But the real funeral was even more dramatic than the version that Shakespeare tells us. It had opera-- excuse me, it had singing. It had chanting. It had stagecraft.
It had a model of Caesar's body on a crane, a revolving model that showed the wounds. And Antony whipped the crowd up into a riot. I imagine that he had agent provocateur. Can't prove it. But there's some reason to think he had agent provocateur there to make sure there was a riot.
Caesar's body was here-- oops, here, rather, on the Julian Rostra. And the crowd came. They grabbed the corpse.
And they brought it across the Roman forum near where Caesar lived. And right here, they burned it. They created their own funeral pier. And they then rampaged through Rome, forcing some of the conspirators to be locked into their houses. And they actually killed someone who they thought was a conspirator. But he was, indeed, innocent.
How do we know exactly where Caesar was killed? Because in later years, a temple-- the Temple of the Deified Julius-- was built on this very site. And to this day, we can see the place where Caesar was cremated. And as you can see, people to this day leave flowers there for Julius Caesar.
So that was that. Or was it? No, that wasn't that.
And in spite of this, the conspirators and Antony might have made a deal. The Romans were very practical people. And Antony was a member of the old Roman aristocracy. Things might not have ended so badly for the conspirators if not for the emergence of this man, Caesar 18-year-old grand nephew Gaius Octavius. Gaius Octavius was not in Rome at the time.
He was in Albania with the army that was poised to invade the east. But he came back to Italy and discovered that in his will Caesar adopted him as his son and heir. And 18-year-old Gaius Octavius accepted this, even though he was advised not to, that it was too dangerous.
He accepted it. And he said, from now on, my name is Gaius Julius Caesar. We tend to call him Octavian. But he turned out to be one of the most intelligent, shrewd, mature, and prudent 18-year-olds in history-- freshman, take note.
He goes on to lead Caesar's veterans in a war in which he switches sides and betrays various people over the years. At one point, he's fighting against Antony. Then he's fighting with Antony. Then he's fighting against Antony again.
And when it's all over 15 years later, Gaius Octavius-- and here we see a wreath, part of the decoration of the Temple of the Deified Julius. Gaius Octavius is Rome's first Emperor Augustus. So the act, the assassination that was meant to save the republic, ends up, ironically, leading it to a monarchy, though a different one than Caesar had in mind.
Was it entirely in vain? No, it wasn't entirely in vain. Octavian Augustus learned something from Caesar. He learned that you couldn't be a dictator for life, much less a king. He learned that you had to respect the Senate and share power to a small degree with it.
And so although Augustus was a monarch, he was a constitutional monarch. He was not an autocrat. It would take centuries before Rome devolved into autocracy. So the conspirators achieved something that was far less than they had hoped to achieve.
Here, we see part of Augustus' propaganda. You can see a coin with him depicted on the other side, a reminder that he is the son of the deified Julius. And that symbol is of a comet which passed over Rome in the summer of '44, which Augustus Octavian then said was a symbol that Caesar had been accepted into the heavens.
As far as Pompey's Senate House, Augustus had it bricked up. It was never used again. He declared the Ides of March to be official parasite day, a black day on the Roman calendar. And he built a latrine my next to the Senate House of Pompey, turning it into a public urinal.
As for the story of the assassination and valiant Brutus the noblest Roman of them all, that, of course, has survived in Shakespeare's version, and Hollywood's version. I won't ask you how many have seen that. And I hope I've added a little bit to it tonight. Thank you.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: I'd be very happy to take a few questions.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: So the question is, how close to the truth is this story? Well, always in ancient history there has to be an element of plausibility, and competitive plausibility. We don't have a video camera. We weren't there.
But what ancient historians try to do is to put together the evidence, and to make the most sense of it. So for my story, I'm pivoting against the tradition that's rooted in Plutarch, and his idealistic version of what happened. And I take Nicholas' tradition, which is a much more realistic, even cynical, version of what happened, and argue that that is closer to the truth, because this is based on work that a number of other scholars have done on Nicholas.
And looking at him more closely, previously scholars tended to say, he was just a guy working for Augustus. So he's only giving us Augustus' version of the story. But I think what other scholars have shown is that Nicholas was a much deeper thinker than that. And he had really learned a lot from studying Thucydides and Aristotle.
He was a very shrewd judge of politics. So I start from the premise that there's really a lot more truth in his story than he has been given credit for. When you do that, you then see more of a role for Decimus. And you tell rather a different story than Shakespeare tells.
I'd like to think that the story I'm telling is more of a story in the round, that sees more of human nature than we're used to in other stories, not that I could possibly compete with Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature. I just think that the historical truth has some different facets to it than the ones that Shakespeare chose to emphasize.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: I think Augustus would have been-- Caesar himself, of course, would have been the most interesting to speak to. Although in December of 45 BC, Caesar visits Cicero's villa on the Bay of Naples. And Cicero writes a letter about what a tense occasion it was.
And he ends up saying, he's not the sort of guest to whom you'd say, please come again. So in the right controlled environment, I'd like to speak to Caesar. I think probably Nicholas of Damascus would have been an absolutely fascinating person to speak to.
He saw so much of this period of history, and so many different perspectives. And what little survives of his work is so good and so fascinating. I think he would have been the most interesting to talk to, with maybe Cicero being the second most interesting. Cicero, of course, is a wonderful, heroic, sometimes fatuous and tragic figure in the end. But extraordinary, what we learned from Cicero.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: So the question is, are there new sources? There are some. First of all, what we saw is the Senate House of Pompey. That was only excavated in the 1930s, and only really published in the 1950s.
And it's still being studied today. So reconstructing the Senate House of Pompey is something that we're learning more from. I personally crawled through a number of basements in that part of Rome, and can tell you that there are pieces of Pompey's portico that's around there. We're learning things from that.
There are some coins that we haven't seen before. And there's some topographical work on Caesar's campaigns that we haven't seen before. There are a few little tidbits from here and there.
A lot of the new evidence we get from the [INAUDIBLE] comes from Egypt, because the climate allows papyrus to survive. And believe it or not, there is a papyrus that's about something completely different that suggests that Decimus, Brutus, and Mark Antony shared a girlfriend, and that this girlfriend was a prominent actress on the Roman stage in this period.
So there are a few tidbits, as far as new things. But you're absolutely right, that most of the progress comes from reinterpreting old things. But some of them were hardly interpreted at all. Some of them were passed over. So that's where we learn a lot from.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Great question, what happened to Cleopatra? She was still in Rome. She did not leave Rome for about a month. And you might say, how could she possibly have stayed in Rome?
Well, Cleopatra, besides being Caesar's mistress, was the Queen of Egypt. And her job was to represent her country. What she needed to find out was, who was going to run Rome now? And she had to make sure she was friends with whoever was running Rome.
So she didn't want to leave right away. She stuck around for a while, before she got a sense of the political lay of the land. And then she left. And then she went back to Egypt.
She ends up helping the opponents of the assassins, and being part of the effort to destroy the assassins, which happens. And as you know, she ends up married to Antony. And that's a whole additional story. But then she's back in Egypt.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Great question-- surely, Caesar knew. And even in ancient times, there were people who said that, and who said-- who said, he was so depressed and in such poor health that he didn't really mind. But I don't buy that. I really don't buy that.
I mean, if I'm Julius Caesar, I don't think I want to end my life in this horrible sort of way. If you want to end your life, there are other ways to end your life rather than being slaughtered in the Roman Senate that way.
I don't think that I'm going to be planning a three-year long military expedition to the East. I don't think I'm going to be so quick to say goodbye to Cleopatra, for all those things. Again, I think this is more of a story of the arrogance of power, that Caesar is so used to thinking, I break the rules. I make the rules, that what other people around him could see, he couldn't see.
To be sure, two other factors-- A, the conspiracy came very close to being revealed to him. There were two different men on that day who wanted to tell him the truth. With 60-plus conspirators, it's hard to keep a secret. So this thing was going down one way or another. And it's why it's so important that Decimus got Caesar to go to the Senate that day. It was now or never for the conspirators.
The other thing you have to realize is there's a lot of noise out there. Caesar hears all the time about this and that conspiracy out to get him. And he's reached a point where he thinks, ah, no one's going to really do it. They're all talk. But it's a good game. And no one's really going to do it.
And I think Caesar, again being someone who liked risk, just said, the best thing to do is to be bold. And I have nothing to worry about. So I don't think he knew about it. That's my opinion.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Right.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Yeah, I love HBO Rome. It was absolutely terrific. And there are many inaccuracies. The way they showed the Senate is not accurate. But they do two things that I think are really great.
For one thing, they remember that the sources tell us that before he died, Caesar put his toga-- covered his head with his toga, which was supposed to be a gesture of modesty, and also some said a gesture of arrogance that he was joining the gods. The other thing they do is, if you remember, they claim that Caesar got one of his ex-centurions-- I think it's Titus Pullo-- to be his personal bodyguard-- Varinas, OK-- even though he didn't have a bodyguard.
I'm absolutely convinced that Caesar did something like that. One of our sources tells us that the conspirators didn't dare go after him in public because he had big scary man around. Also, remember the sources tell us there were two men, two senators, who tried to save Caesar. We have no names. And we know that afterwards Augustus rewarded them to the skies.
So, yes, I think it was a lot scarier, a lot more dangerous, for the conspirators than we tend to think. And I think they get some sense of that in HBO Rome-- wonderful show, also, because they give a sense that Rome wasn't entirely a pretty place made of marble. But there was a seamy, gritty side to it as well. And they give women important roles too.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Yeah, so Octavius was very young. But Caesar doesn't have a male heir. He has a few close male relatives.
And Octavius, I think, is the most impressive among them. His mother-- his father died when he was young. But his mother was pushing him. She was the one related to Caesar.
And he had important public positions from an early age. And Caesar showed him favor from an early age. I think the key moment is when he goes to join Caesar in Spain. He gets there too late for the fighting in 45 BC.
But he spends several months with Caesar. And he must have impressed his uncle. I imagine that he impresses his uncle, because the sources claimed he did, as just the sort of brilliant, cunning, ruthless, ambitious person that he was-- a chip off the old block.
I think that's what makes a difference. Caesar wants someone who he's related to, and someone who has his talents. And so on the Ides of September, 45 BC, Caesar rewrites his will. And he makes Octavius his main heir. And he deposits it with the Vestal Virgins.
And that's the will that people read after his death that's so shocking to so many people, that he chose this young whippersnapper over all the 40-year-olds who wanted to be Caesar's heir, that he chose Octavius instead. Question?
BARRY S. STRAUSS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: I think those are two great questions. The letters first-- the Romans don't have a regular postal service. And later on in the empire when things become more regularized, it's a postal service only for government and government officials.
But I'm sure that big wigs like Servilia would always be able to find people to take their letters. In the late republic, the Senate and public officials did have people who they would hire regularly. One of them was called a tablet carrier, a tabellarius. And there's also a fast rider.
And they would send them out on expeditions. They would use people like that. Cicero we know sometimes would send slaves. He would have slaves who would carry the letters.
Or he would have friends whose slaves he would piggyback on and have them carrying the letters. But it's a very ad hoc system. And I don't think that ordinary people could use it very much. We do know later on we have Roman examples of letters between Roman soldiers. But I suspect they were using the government post, because they were in a military capacity.
As far as the soldiers and their money, I think it's going to be really-- it's a great question. It's going to be really difficult to get that money back to people. There is a security issue.
And I would imagine that most soldiers held on to that money very tightly. They're not going to trust it to others to take it to them. So the people back at home, I would think-- I haven't looked into this subject. It's a good one. And we might have some evidence of it.
But I would think that the people back at home are just going to have to wait for those soldiers to come back. You could trust a banker, I suppose. But I don't think very many people would want to do that. Great questions, thank you.
BARRY S. STRAUSS: OK, those are great questions. So I'll take the last one first. What happens to the common people?
Well, the common people get some benefits from the Roman emperors. This is the famous bread and circuses. They get bread. And they get entertainment.
But they lose all political power. I mean, one of the sad things about the late republic is that, in a sense, both sides were wrong. The Senate was wrong in that it didn't see the need to reach out to the empire, and to expand the ruling group.
People like Caesar were wrong in that they didn't believe the republic had anything of value in it. Caesar supposedly said, the republic is just a name. It has neither form nor substance. He didn't set any store by the voting of the Roman people, or by the freedom, or the liberty, of the Roman people.
And that gets lost, sadly. The common people lose any electoral power, while the elite does retain some. As far as having an elective monarchy versus a hereditary monarchy, it's true that having an elective monarchy was messy.
And sometimes there was violence, and sometimes even civil war. But the one huge advantage of the elective monarchy is that it was extremely flexible. And it allowed people who were not from the charmed circle of the elite to become emperor.
And one of the reasons the Roman Empire lasts as long as it does is that the Romans are among the most flexible people in history. They're incredibly good at dealing with change. And the imperial system is one of the ways they deal with change.
Augustus himself-- we think of him. He must have been very Roman because he is Caesar's heir. In fact, he's one quarter Roman. On his mother's side, he's part Roman from Caesar's family.
But three of us four grandparents came from families that did not come from Rome. They came from Italy. And they came from Italian families. True, they were Roman citizens.
But they're nowhere near the charmed circle of the Roman elite. So he himself already represents a move away from the narrow days of the Senate. So for all the problems of the monarchy, it is extremely flexible in many ways. And it serves Roman in very good standing. One last question? Well, thank you for being such a great audience.
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Barry Strauss, Cornell's Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies and chair of the Department of History, talks about "The Death of Caesar: New Light on History's Most Famous Assassination" in this July 22, 2015 lecture sponsored by the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. Strauss is the author of a highly praised new book on the subject.