“Beware, General. The armies have vanquished your enemies. But, those closest to you await the Ides of March.” The Roman Oracle Spurinna.
45 BC – Rome – Julius Caesar had just assumed power after crossing the River Rubicon and fighting his way from northern Italy to the capital. As he settled in as the new leader of the Republic, he became alarmed over the level of corruption and sense of entitlement that plagued the Roman Senate.
Caesar also understood how to nurture the love of his people. His soldiers were well-paid, and he passed laws (over the Senate’s objections) to assist independent, hardworking Romans gain wealth and protect them from abusive government officials.
During this time, Caesar allowed another man to gain power. Brutus was a mediocre general, but close friend of Caesar’s who rose in the ranks to become one of the most powerful men in Rome. However, he would always remain in Caesar’s shadow. Brutus’ resentment and greed would grow with time.
Brutus had a friend who was a fellow general and a member of the Roman Senate. His friend, Cassius, hated Julius Caesar with great passion. The main thrust of his hatred came from being passed over for several high-level positions.
Cassius became obsessed with killing the leader of the Republic. But, he knew that he had to persuade someone Caesar trusted to go along with a conspiracy of murder.
Brutus was the perfect candidate.
On March 15th, Caesar was scheduled to appear before the Senate. However, after the oracle warned Caesar of the Ides of March, the day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15th and was marked by several religious observances, he cancelled his appearance. But, he changed his mind after Brutus said the senators would look at him as weak if he didn’t attend.
As the 15th drew closer, Brutus and Cassius recruited approximately 60 men to join them. They decided to kill Caesar in the Senate Chamber. They felt it would be the safest place since no weapons were allowed in the Senate.
On March 15th, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, woke from a nightmare. She dreamed that her husband would be murdered that very day and begged him not to go to the Senate.
Caesar was concerned as well and he again cancelled his appearance. The conspirators had to persuade him to change his mind. In an ultimate act of betrayal, Brutus met with Caesar at the ruler’s home. He again convinced Caesar that if he failed to show for the meeting, the senators would look upon him as a tyrant or a weakling.
Inside the Senate, at around noon, Caesar took a seat on his golden throne as his enemies took the stage, having snuck in daggers under their togas.
Once the meeting was underway, Caesar, was approached by the hard drinking and hard fighting Tillius Cimber. Cimber disrespected Caesar by coming up to him with his hands out instead of keeping them humbly beneath his toga. Then, Cimber grabbed Caesar’s toga and pulled it from his shoulder.
Pulling down Caesar’s toga was the signal to start the attack. Within seconds, the most powerful man in the world was engulfed by knife wielding senators thrusting their blades into his body. Just before he died, Caesar looked at one of his assassins and said, “Et tu, Brute?” This translates into “And you, Brutus?”
The pain of the blades was secondary to the pain Caesar felt as a result of his friend’s betrayal.
The conspirators immediately hit the streets, seeking public support by denouncing Caesar as a tyrant. But, both the public and Caesar’s army were more divided than they’d hoped. Instead of peace, a civil war was unleashed.
Brutus and Cassius would die soon after their betrayal. Cassius had one of his men decapitate him. Brutus, then seeing his own defeat as inevitable, killed himself.
Marc Antony and Octavian divided Rome and its territories between them, and after Antony’s death, Octavian became Caesar Augustus.
Rome was no longer a Republic. It was an Empire.
This famous event in history has several versions. But, the message provided a foundational principle for western civilization that still holds true today:
1. Deceit, disloyalty, and betrayal are the worst character defects a person can possess;
2. Those who embrace these defects will oftentimes face consequences; and
3. Allowing these defects to flourish can have a widespread negative effect on others.