Home Ancient History Ancient Rome Julius Caesar as dictator and Ides of March 44 BC

Julius Caesar as dictator and Ides of March 44 BC

The murder of Julis Caesar - Interpretation by painter Vincenzo Camuccini around 1798 AD

After Caesar defeated Pompey supporters, he emerged on the political stage in Rome as the leader of democratic Populares Party. Caesar reduced the free distribution of grain. Nevertheless, he remained until the end of his life very popular among the plebs who vainly expected radical reforms from him. However, support from the plebs was not sufficient for the Caesar since his rivals had many friends among the plebeians. That is why he had supporters among the population of Italic municipalities. The majority of Italic population was on his side during the civil war. This support towards Caesar was based on client relationships with municipal entrepreneurs, but they also had the groups that were very hostile towards Caesar.

Caesar sought to draw towards himself ruling groups of provincial population. That was the reason why he so generously shared the rights of Roman citizenship, not only to individuals but also to the cities. Municipalities of Cisalpine Gaul received from him the right of Roman citizenship.

Roman citizenships were granted to some Spanish cities, as well as to some newly conquered areas of Gaul. Latin right was also spread, and it was given to the various cities of Narbonne Gaul, to many Spanish areas, to Sicilian cities and to some African cities. They established colonies in various provinces (and in the East). All of these measures have increased the number of Caesar’s supporters in provinces (but they did not have much influence in political sense).

Caesar’s dictatorship

Caesar’s absolute power was expressed through traditional republican forms – with the title of dictator. Caesar was first appointed as dictator in 49 BC after his return from Spain. Since he was earlier elected as Consul, all his dictatorial powers have been given to him again. After the Battle of Pharsalus, he was appointed dictator for an indefinite period of time, and after the battle of Thapsus he got a dictatorship for 10 years. Finally, in 44 BC, the Senate gave him the title of the lifetime dictator in “perpetuum” (permanent). In 48 BC, he received a lifetime Tribunicia potestas (tribunician power), and in 46 BC he became praefectura morum (prefect of the morals). In 63 BC, Caesar was elected for the great pontiff. He was given the title parens patriae – father of the land. Caesar had the supreme Law of war and peace, the right to nominate candidates for Magistrates and he had at his disposal treasury as well. Caesar reorganized the Senate. The number of senators was increased to 900. Caesar did not limit his power only on submission of the highest state institutions but he has sought to find religious justification to his power.

As the great pontiff Caesar was at the head of the Roman religion. His statue was set in the temple next to the statues of gods and he was called divinity. He appeared everywhere in the purple robes which were usually worn by triumphators. At the beginning of the 44 BC, at the pastoral festival of Lupercalia, Marcus Antonius attempted to put on Caesar’s head a royal diadem in the middle of the crowded theatre. However, Caesar demonstrative took off diadem and this act caused ovations of the crowd.

Ides of March in 44 BC

 The main conspirators against Caesar, besides the 60 senators were: Gaius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Junius Brutus and Decimus Junius Brutus. The assassination was elaborated in great detail. The assassins counted on the fact that immediately after Caesar’s murder it will come to the restoration of the old order. This meant that a reign of senatorial aristocracy will return to the scene. Conspirators elected the day for assassination. It was the day of Ides of March (March, 15). Marks “Ide” mean the halfway point of the month. The place of assassinations was Pompey’s Curia where the Senate had scheduled session. Nearby was armed squad of gladiators and slaves just in case something happened. Caesar did not open the letter in which someone tried to draw his attention to the plot against him. He was surrounded by the conspirators and one of them asked him to grant amnesty to his brother. Caesar refused to grant amnesty and he was stabbed to death with knives and daggers. Caesar fell dead in front of Pompey’s statue.




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