Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Sunday 28th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

44BC – The Ides Of March

Following the abolition of the Roman kingdom c. 509BC, the Roman Republic was created. This comprised of a system in which the government contained a variety of appointed officials from noble families, called senators. The main leading figures of the government were two consuls, with new consuls being appointed each year.

Julius Caesar was elected as consul in 59BC, serving for one year, and was then re-elected as consul in 48BC, 46BC, 45BC and again in 44BC, allowing him to accrue a massive amount of political influence very rapidly from the connections he had made with the ruling classes.

Simultaneously, Caesar gained popularity with the lower classes from continued success in his military campaigns in Gaul from 58BC to 50BC, tales of which filtered back to Rome and became exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. Consequently, in the short space of around 15 years he became extraordinarily powerful, serving his consulship in 45BC alone. Due to his popularity, he had few rivals in power.

During the civil wars, Caesar was granted the position of ‘dictator’, a title without the negative connotations it has in the modern day. It was a position held in times of crisis, given to a trusted official who was then granted supreme power in order to solve crises. However, Caesar didn’t relinquish his title, which caused problems and threatened the established political system.

The Ides of March itself refers to the 15th March, as ‘ides’ signifies the middle of the month. On this day in 44BC, a meeting organised by the senators was taking place.  Caesar had been warned by friends not to attend. However, he went to the meeting and was subsequently assassinated on the steps of the Senate House, being stabbed multiple times by up to 60 people, some of whom he had considered as close friends. The two main conspirators of the assassination were Marcus Junius Brutus and Cassius Longinus.

It was believed by the conspirators that through assassinating Caesar they would acquire popularity among the common people. They believed they were saving the public from a tyrant. Unfortunately for the conspirators, due to Caesar’s incredible popularity, his murder was not taken well by the public.

The conspirators themselves believed that they were doing the right thing. Due to Caesar’s vast amount of power, he was believed to be a significant threat to the Republic. However, it will forever remain unclear whether Caesar himself was truly a threat to the Republic, which was already dying, or whether this was a last-ditch attempt by the conspirators to save Rome’s dying institution.

After Caesar’s assassination, it was unclear who his successor was, and two major figures tried to claim this position: Mark Antony, Caesar’s first cousin once removed and Octavian, who was allegedly named Caesar’s adopted son in his will. The two clashed, trying to secure themselves as successor. Mark Antony specifically read Caesar’s will, expecting that he would be named as Caesar’s heir, but the will never said anything clear on this topic. Octavian then organised for Caesar to be deified following his death, meaning that it was believed he would become a god in the afterlife.

Octavian and Antony continued to fight, with Octavian taking control of Caesar’s armies and leading campaigns with them. Antony on the other hand took his own troops east, as Caesar had been campaigning there before his death, and Antony saw this as continuing Caesar’s legacy.

After much conflict, in 31BC, Octavian was victorious against Antony in the Battle of Actium. Following this, Octavian became the supreme ruler in Rome, with a significant number of special powers. After the Senate and public insisted that he stayed and maintained his power, he promised to restore and rebuild the government. Octavian avoided the title of king, but included ‘imperator’ as part of his name, which meant ‘general’ in military terms but later, came to mean ’emperor’. Octavian also assumed the title ‘Augustus’, now being known as ‘Augustus Caesar’. Slowly and gradually, he entrenched himself in power and became the first emperor of Rome.

The Ides of March was certainly a landmark event in the timeline of Roman history, as it set in motion the series of events ending the Roman Republic and forging the Roman Empire. Caesar was murdered because the Senate did not want to have a king like figure ruling Rome; ironically their actions lead to the creation of an autocratic Roman state.

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