Caesar’s Last Day

Not sure why I’ve never done this before, but here’s Suetonius’ account of Caesar’s assassination (via Lacus Curtius):

More than sixty joined the conspiracy against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and Decimus Brutus. At first they hesitated whether to form two divisions at the elections in the Campus Martius, so that while some hurled him from the bridge as he summoned the tribes to vote, the rest might wait below and slay him; or to set upon him in the Sacred Way or at the entrance to the theatre. When, however, a meeting of the Senate was called for the Ides of March in the Hall of Pompey, they readily gave that time and place the preference.

81 Now Caesar’s approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigour because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, p109inscribed with Greek words and characters to this purport: “Whenever the bones of Capys shall be moved, it will come to pass that a son of Ilium shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy.” 2 And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar. Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubicon when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the Ides of March; 3 and on the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord.

4 Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the senate; but at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour; and when a note revealing the plot was handed him by someone on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after several victims had been slain, and he could not get favourable omens, he entered the House in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the Ides of March were come without bringing him harm; though Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

82 As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something; and when Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders; then as Caesar cried, “Why, this is violence!” one of the Cascas stabbed him from one side just below the throat. 2 Caesar caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, “You too, my child?” 3 All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, and finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none turned out to be mortal, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, except the second one in the breast.

… and just for some additional detail, here’s a bit of Dio’s version (also from Lacus Curtius):

18 Caesar, accordingly, was so long in coming that the conspirators feared there might be a postponement,— indeed, a rumour got abroad that he would remain at home that day,— and that their plot would thus fall through and they themselves would be detected. Therefore they sent Decimus Brutus, as one supposed to be his devoted friend, to secure his attendance. 2 This man made light of Caesar’s scruples and by stating that the senate desired exceedingly to see him, persuaded him to proceed. At this an image of him, which he had set up in the vestibule, fell of its own accord and was shattered in pieces. 3 But, since it was fated that he should die at that time, he not only paid no attention to this but would not even listen to some one who was offering him information of the plot. He received from him a little roll in which all the preparations made for the attack were accurately recorded, but did not read it, thinking it contained some indifferent matter of no pressing importance. 4 In brief, he was so confident that to the soothsayer who had once warned him to beware of that day he jestingly remarked: “Where are your prophecies now? Do you not see that the day which you feared is come and that I am alive?” And the other, they say, answered merely: “Ay, it is come but is not yet past.”

19 Now when he finally reached the senate, Trebonius kept Antony employed somewhere at a distance outside. 2 For, though they had planned to kill both him and Lepidus, they feared they might be maligned as a result of the number they destroyed, on the ground that they had slain Caesar to gain supreme power and not to set free the city, as they pretended; and therefore they did not wish Antony even to be present at the slaying. As for Lepidus, he had set out on a campaign and was in the suburbs. 3 When Trebonius, then, talked with Antony, the rest in a body surrounded Caesar, who was as easy of access and as affable as any one could be; and some conversed with him, while others made as if to present petitions to him, so that suspicion might be as far from his mind as possible. 4 And when the right moment came, one of them approached him, as if to express his thanks for some favour or other, and pulled his toga from his shoulder, thus giving the signal that had been agreed upon by the conspirators. Thereupon they attacked him from many sides at once and wounded him to death, 5 so that by reason of their numbers Caesar was unable to say or do anything, but veiling his face, was slain with many wounds. This is the truest account, though some have added that to Brutus, when he struck him a powerful blow, he said: “Thou, too, my son?”

… and just to fulfill the law of three, here’s Plutarch’s version:

4 Well, then, Antony, who was a friend of Caesar’s and a robust man, was detained outside by Brutus Albinus, who purposely engaged him in a lengthy conversation; 5 but Caesar went in, and the senate rose in his honour. Some of the partisans of Brutus took their places round the back of Caesar’s chair, while others went to meet him, as though they would support the petition which Tullius Cimber presented to Caesar in behalf of his exiled brother, and they joined their entreaties to his and accompanied Caesar up to his chair. 6 But when, after taking his seat, Caesar continued to repulse their petitions, and, as they pressed upon him with greater importunity, began to show anger towards one and another of them, Tullius seized his toga with both hands and pulled it down from his neck. This was the signal for the assault. 7 It was Casca who gave him the first blow with his dagger, in the neck, not a mortal would, nor even a deep one, for which he was too much confused, as was natural at the beginning of a deed of great daring; so that Caesar turned about, grasped the knife, and held it fast. At almost the same instant both cried out, the smitten man in Latin: “Accursed Casca, what does thou?” and the smiter, in Greek, to his brother: “Brother, help!”

9 So the affair began, and those who were not privy to the plot were filled with consternation and horror at what was going on; they dared not fly, nor go to Caesar’s help, nay, nor even utter a word. 10 But those who had prepared themselves for the murder bared each of them his dagger, and Caesar, hemmed in on all sides, whichever way he turned confronting blows of weapons aimed at his face and eyes, driven hither and thither like a wild beast, was entangled in the hands of all; 11 for all had to take part in the sacrifice and taste of the slaughter. Therefore Brutus also gave him one blow in the groin. 12 And it is said by some writers that although Caesar defended himself against the rest and darted this way and that and cried aloud, when he saw that Brutus had drawn his dagger, he pulled his toga down over his head and sank, either by chance or because pushed there by his murderers, against the pedestal on which the statue of Pompey stood. 13 And the pedestal was drenched with his blood, so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was presiding over this vengeance upon his enemy, who now lay prostrate at his feet, quivering from a multitude of wounds. 14 For it is said that he received twenty-three; and many of the conspirators were wounded by one another, as they struggled to plant all those blows in one body.

I’ve always been amazed — given the vagaries of ancient historiography — of how consistent the accounts seem to be, although they are all written several generations after the deed.

6 thoughts on “Caesar’s Last Day

  1. Where’s Appian? His account is (more than Plutarch’s version) primarily based on the Historiae by Asinius Pollio, a contemporary of Caesar. (I’ll look for it.) And there’s another account from a contemporary, the Bios Kaisaros by Nicolaus Damascenus.

  2. By the way: Apart from the murder itself, the betrayal by Decimus Brutus was not the only betrayal on this day. It is often forgotten that Marcus Antonius knew of the assassination from Trebonius, but had “faithfully kept silence about it” (Plut. Ant. 13). Antonius then even disguised himself as a slave and went into hiding for a short time on the Ides.

  3. Caesar’s Assassination Site?

    I believe many archaeologists and historians including Rome’s Archaeology Department believe that this is the Curia (Hall) of Pompey.

    I’ve been posting about the Curia’s location on European travel messageboards since ~’98 and in ~2004/5 the City of Rome finally put up plaques all around this 1 block site which makes it alot easier to find:).

    These plaques have this EXCAVATION DIAGRAM (the numbers are not the same though, in my tinyurl #3 is the Curia Pompey).

    {On the Rome plaques}
    #(1) reads in Italian and English;
    “Remains of the central exedra of Pompey’s portico. Used as the senate house, it was here that Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44BC.”

    #(1) is in the exact location of the ‘Tree’ I mention below but that is also the exact center of the Curia’s rear section remains, so a logical place for them to put the #1.

    The Hall’s (Curia) prominent location in the exact center of the rear porticus would be visually attractive.

    A beaufiful theater at one end, a large open area with trees, fountains, etc surrounded by a porticus and a temple-like Hall at the opposite end with a beautiful facade.

    Also this had to be an important bldg in this complex because it was elevated on a high foundation requiring steps to enter and very likely had a porch with columns, architrave, pediment, etc.
    If it was just a functional-type bldg (shop, storage, office, wc, etc) it would be at groundlevel like the shops on the southern-side of the porticus.

    Now Suetonius, Plutarch and Appian claim Caesar was seated when attacked.

    Which seems likely because;
    The Statue of Pompey was probably on or besides the podium as a place of honor.
    And Suetonius states that Caesar had a stylus in his hand with which he stabbed Casca in the arm after he struck the 1st blow.

    This seems to rule out other locations like the Hall’s front steps or porch because outside Marc Antony was being detained in a planned phony conversation with one of the conspirators.
    Plus it would be in public view with the possibility of the Mob turning against them.

    Or crossing the Hall to the podium; A moving target with the assassins also moving while trying to uncover their hidden daggers?
    Plus Caesar would be on his feet with the possiblity of fleeing even wounded into the Senator’s seats or to the front entrance.

    But just wait a few seconds longer until Caesar is seated and all the assassins are in position with their hidden daggers at the ready and then just await the signal to attack.
    Their victim now surrounded with his back figuratively against the wall.

    [MODEL] That half-circle structure at the bottom of the model is the actual Theatre of Pompey.
    The large rectangular Porticus of Pompey is behind the theatre.
    And in the *exact center* of the rear section of the porticus is the Curia (Hall) of Pompey (small square bldg).
    And behind the rear porticus are 4 Temples (A, B, C, D).
    These temples predate Pompey’s Theater & Porticus.
    Directly behind the Curia is the circular Temple B and the rectangular Temple C (The Curia’s rear corner actually butts up against the rear corner of Temple C).

    This ACTUAL PHOTO puts you at the top of the MODEL above looking between Temples B & C at the back wall of the Curia of Pompey. OR
    Temple C on the left and to the right you can see a curved section of the circular Temple B.

    See the tree roughly in the center; that tree is on groundlevel with the Temples and behind it in what looks like a low wall are the remaining finely-cut stone blocks that made-up the back wall of the Curia (the rest have been looted I assume).
    And behind this low wall over to the modern wall arches and sidewalk are the remains of the brick/concrete-rubble foundation of the Curia.

    To the right of this foundation see a small stone block pier, everything to the right of that and in front on the last wall arch on the right is missing (~30% of the total width), that was also part of the Curia.
    You can see this in the EXCAVATION DIAGRAM, #3 is the Curia of Pompey

    Now go back to the ACTUAL PHOTO; Notice that right behind the tree I mentioned earlier there is another tree that is growing *in* the higher brick/concrete-rubble foundation.

    The cool thing about that tree is it is *exactly* in the center of the Curia widthwise […..T…..] and ~1m in from the outside backwall.
    [SIDEVIEW; Tree is right-center
    So if you had a time machine and went back to 44BC along with that tree:), it would be growing inside the Curia alongside the backwall dead-center.

    What I am getting at is; Julius Caesar or any VIP that was going to address a crowd in this Hall would enter thru the monumental front entrance, walk across the Hall and be seated along the backwall in the center on a low podium, probably similar to the Curia Julia in the Roman Forum

    Now go back to the ACTUAL PHOTO of back of the Curia and look at the center-tree I mention.
    NOW IN YOUR MIND square-off the Curia’s core foundation then put the floor over the foundation with the small podium on the floor.
    So now you have a floor and podium hovering in the air between just above those modern wall arches and the modern sidewalk:).

    So it’s very possible that ‘Once Upon A Time’ in that exact space on the morning of the Ides Of March 44BC, a seated Julius Caesar was struck by the 1st dagger and then raising to his feet he received an onslaught of stab wounds, finally falling to the floor and dying at the base of the Statue of Pompey?

    Regards, Walter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s