Why was Caesar Assassinated?

The assassination of Julius Caesar is perhaps one of the most famous incidents which occurred during the time of the Roman republic. Although this happened as long ago as 44BC, over 2000 years ago, the cause of the conspirator’s plot to stab Caesar in the senate house is still disputed today.

After Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon and became sole ruler of Rome, the senate, made up of members of the aristocracy, gave Caesar various honours, some of which were quite surprising. These honours began as compliments to Caesar, for example, his image being depicted in statues and monuments throughout Rome, however as his reign continued and he became more powerful, these honours became more questionable. Caesar was worshiped as some sort of divine being with various statues proclaiming him as a demigod, and it was even proposed that Caesar should be entitled to sleep with any woman he wanted, regardless of whether she was married to another man. The reason why Caesar was given these offers is subject to much debate- were the senators genuinely thankful for him ‘saving’ the republic, or were they giving him these honours as a form of sarcasm or mockery?

Receiving these honours and becoming more and more similar to a monarch made Caesar appear more and more like a king, or tyrant, which was viewed negatively by the Romans due to the bad precedent set by Sulla. There were many accounts of Caesar acting alike to a monarch, including his refusal to stand up in the senate house as a sign of respect, punishing a group of plebs who removed a crown from a statue dedicated to him, and sitting upon a gold encrusted throne. The most significant act which caused resentment to him amongst the senate was the incident which occurred during the Lupercallia festival, where Mark Antony famously offered Caesar a crown. For the conspirators, lead by Brutus and Cassius, these occurrences and the gradual increasing of Caesar’s power and influence caused them to formulate a plot to kill.

It is unclear why they sought to assassinate Caesar; it could have been with genuine intent to restore the constitutional republic of previous years, or to rid Rome of a tyrant, however it could also have been due to jealousy and resent of his power. Caesar was stabbed (23 times!) in the theatre of Pompey- if this act was to restore peace and stability to Rome, it certainly achieved the complete opposite. The years following Caesar’s assassination were renowned for political turmoil; a civil war, proscriptions, and the transition from republic to empire was far from the constitutional republic which the conspirators supposedly desired.

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