The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination

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Simon and Schuster, Mar 22, 2016 - Biography & Autobiography - 352 pages
5 Reviews
In this story of the most famous assassination in history, “the last bloody day of the [Roman] Republic has never been painted so brilliantly” (The Wall Street Journal).

Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 BC—the Ides of March according to the Roman calendar. He was, says author Barry Strauss, the last casualty of one civil war and the first casualty of the next civil war, which would end the Roman Republic and inaugurate the Roman Empire. “The Death of Caesar provides a fresh look at a well-trodden event, with superb storytelling sure to inspire awe” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

Why was Caesar killed? For political reasons, mainly. The conspirators wanted to return Rome to the days when the Senate ruled, but Caesar hoped to pass along his new powers to his family, especially Octavian. The principal plotters were Brutus, Cassius (both former allies of Pompey), and Decimus. The last was a leading general and close friend of Caesar’s who felt betrayed by the great man: He was the mole in Caesar’s camp. But after the assassination everything went wrong. The killers left the body in the Senate and Caesar’s allies held a public funeral. Mark Antony made a brilliant speech—not “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” as Shakespeare had it, but something inflammatory that caused a riot. The conspirators fled Rome. Brutus and Cassius raised an army in Greece but Antony and Octavian defeated them.

An original, new perspective on an event that seems well known, The Death of Caesar is “one of the most riveting hour-by-hour accounts of Caesar’s final day I have read....An absolutely marvelous read” (The Times, London).
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - delta351 - LibraryThing

This book is very peoplecentric, in that it is tightly structured around the the major players in the topic. Took a while for me to get used to. Starts a little slow too, but it is very thorough ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - fhudnell - LibraryThing

This was a very well written story of the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Dictator for Life. The motives of the conspirators included jealousy, honor, hatred, self interest and the desire to ... Read full review

Contents

The Best Men
15
Decision in a Villa
29
Caesars Last Triumph
47
Part
65
Assassins
87
Caesar Leaves Home
107
Murder
127
A Funeral to Remember
167
Part Three
183
Vengeance
209
Augustus
229
Acknowledgments
239
Notes
261
Index
309
Copyright

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Death of Caesar 1 RIDING WITH CAESAR
IN AUGUST 45 B.C., SEVEN months before the Ides of March, a procession entered the city of Mediolanum, modern Milan, in the hot and steamy northern Italian plain. Two chariots led the march. In the first stood Dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, glowing with his victory over rebel forces in Hispania (Spain).

In the position of honor beside Caesar was Marcus Antonius--better known today as Mark Antony. He was Caesar''s candidate to be one of Rome''s two consuls next year, the highest-ranking public officials after the dictator. Behind them came Caesar''s protégé, Decimus, fresh from a term as governor of Gaul (roughly, France). Beside him was Gaius Octavius, better known as Octavian. At the age of only seventeen, Caesar''s grandnephew Octavian was already a man to be reckoned with.

The four men had met in southern Gaul and traveled together over the Alps. They took the Via Domitia, an old road full of doom and destiny--Hannibal''s invasion route and, according to myth, Hercules'' road to Spain.

Caesar was heading for Rome. For the second time in little over a year, he was planning to enter the capital in triumph, proclaiming military victory and an end to the civil war that began four years earlier, at the start of 49 B.C. But it was not easy to end the war, because its roots went deep. It was in fact the second civil war to tear Rome apart in Caesar''s lifetime. Each war reflected the overwhelming problems that beset Rome, from poverty in Italy to oppression in the provinces, from the purblind selfishness and reactionary politics of the old nobility to the appeal of a charismatic dictator for getting things done. And behind it all lay the dawning and uncomfortable reality that the real power in Rome lay not with the Senate or the people but with the army.

Dark-eyed and silver-tongued, sensual and violent, Caesar possessed supreme practical ability. He used it to change the world, driven by his love for Rome and his lust for domination. Caesar''s armies killed or enslaved millions, many of them women and children. Yet after these bloodbaths he pardoned his enemies at home and abroad. These overtures of goodwill raised suspicions--could the conqueror be a conciliator?--but most had no choice but to acquiesce.

Of all the Romans in his entourage, Caesar chose these three men--Antony, Decimus, and Octavian--for places of honor on his reentry to Italy. Why? And why would one of them betray him within seven months? And why, after Caesar''s death, were the three men able to raise armies and turn on each other in a new war that retraced their route from northern Italy into southern Gaul?

Consider how each of these men came to Caesar in the years before 45 B.C.
THE RISE OF DECIMUS
Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, to use his full name, was a close friend of Caesar. They had worked together for at least a decade, beginning in 56 B.C. In that year, when Decimus was about twenty-five years of age, he made a sensation as Caesar''s admiral in Gaul. He won the Battle of the Atlantic, which conquered Brittany and opened the door to the invasion of England.

First impressions are important and, in this case, accurate. War, Gaul, and Caesar were Decimus''s trademarks. He was speedy, vigorous, resourceful, and he loved to fight. He was proud, competitive, and eager for fame. Like other ambitious men of his class, he won elected office in Rome, but the capital and its corridors of power never captivated him as the Gallic frontier did.

Decimus was born on April 21, around 81 B.C. He came from a noble family that claimed descent from the founder of the Roman republic, Lucius Junius Brutus. Decimus''s grandfather was a great general and statesman but his father was no soldier and his mother was a flirt who dallied with revolution and adultery and perhaps with Caesar, who seduced many of the married noble ladies in Rome. A great historian suggested that Decimus was Caesar''s illegitimate son. Intriguing as this theory is, it is not supported by the evidence.

In any case, young Decimus found his way to Caesar''s staff. The military suited Decimus. By hitching his wagon to Caesar''s bright star he restored his family''s name for armed might. He was Caesar''s man as much as any Roman was.

We don''t know what Decimus looked like. He might have been attractive like his mother, a well-known beauty, and as tall as one of the Gauls whom he once impersonated. The dozen of Decimus''s letters that survive mix the coarse atmosphere of the camp with the formal politeness and self-assurance of a Roman noble. Elegant at times, his prose also includes clumsy phrases like, "just take the bit between your teeth and start talking." Perhaps some of the roughness of his gladiators--Decimus owned a troupe--rubbed off on him but, if so, it didn''t stop him from trading pleasantries with Rome''s greatest orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

In Gaul, Decimus joined the greatest military adventure of his generation. It took Caesar only eight years (58-50 B.C.) to conquer the big, populous, warlike region that the Romans called "Long-Haired Gaul," after the flowing tresses of its people--an area that comprised most of France, all of Belgium, part of the Netherlands, and a sliver of Germany (the Provence region of France was already a Roman province). (He also invaded Britain.) With its gold, agricultural produce, and potential slaves, Gaul made Caesar the richest man in Rome. He shared the wealth with officers like Decimus.

After his victory at sea off Brittany in 56 B.C., Decimus next appears in 52 B.C., when a great Gallic revolt almost broke Roman rule. Decimus took part in the most dramatic day of the war at the siege of Alesia (in today''s Burgundy). As Caesar tells the story, Decimus began the countercharge against a Gallic offensive and Caesar followed, conspicuous in his reddish purple cloak. The enemy collapsed and the war was over except for mopping-up operations the following year.

In 50 B.C. Decimus was back in Rome for his first elective office--quaestor, a financial official. That same year, in April, Decimus married Paula Valeria, who came from a noble family. There was scandal here to wink at because in order to marry Decimus she divorced her previous husband, a prominent man, on the very day he was scheduled to come back from service in a province abroad.

A year after Decimus and Paula married, in 49 B.C., civil war broke out between Caesar and his oligarchic opponents. They considered him a power-hungry, populist demagogue who threatened their way of life. He found them narrow-minded reactionaries who insulted his honor--and no one paid more attention to honor than a Roman noble.

Caesar''s chief opponents were Pompey and Cato. Pompey the Great--Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus--was no ideologue; in fact, he was Caesar''s former political ally and son-in-law. A conqueror whose career took him to Hispania, Roman Asia (modern Turkey), and the Levant, Pompey was Rome''s greatest living general until Caesar. Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Younger, was a prominent senator, loyal to the old-fashioned notion of a free state guided by a wise and wealthy elite. Rigid and doctrinaire, he was mocked for thinking that Rome was the Republic of Plato when others regarded it as the Sewer of Romulus. He was Caesar''s archenemy.

Most of Decimus''s family tended to sympathize with Pompey and Cato, and his wife''s brothers fought for them. As an adult, Decimus was adopted into the family of Postumius Albinus, a patrician clan that claimed an ancestor opposed to Rome''s kings, and his adoptive family had conservative leanings, too. Yet Decimus remained in Caesar''s camp. It was probably early in 49 B.C. that Decimus issued coins celebrating his victories in Gaul, his loyalty, his sense of duty and spirit of unity--all propaganda themes of Caesar''s in the civil war.

That same year Caesar named Decimus admiral for the siege of the city of Massilia (Marseille), an important seaport and naval base on Gaul''s Mediterranean coast that supported Caesar''s enemies. In the six-month struggle that followed, Decimus destroyed Massilia''s fleet. He won Caesar''s praise for his vigor, spirit, oratorical skill, foresight, and speed in combat. He gave Caesar''s cause a propaganda boost because until then, Pompey had monopolized naval glory.

Caesar now returned to Italy and then turned east for a showdown with Pompey. He left Decimus in Massilia to serve as governor of Gaul through 45 B.C. as his deputy. Decimus then acquired additional military renown by defeating the rebellious Bellovaci, said to be Gaul''s best warriors.

Decimus seems as hard as the country in which he spent much of his adult life. He was one of those Romans--they were rare, but probably less rare than the sources admit--who took on the manners and customs of the barbarians he fought. He spoke the Gaulish language, which few Romans did, and he knew the country well enough to be able to put on Gallic clothes and pass as a local.

Around July 45 B.C. Decimus met Caesar in southern Gaul on his way back from Hispania. There Decimus no do

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