The Death of Caesar

The Death of Caesar

The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination

Book - 2016
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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 Caesarprovides a fresh look at a well-trodden event, with superb storytelling sure to inspire awe".

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 marvellous read" ( The Times, London).
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster trade paperback edition.
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9781451668810
1451668813
Branch Call Number: 937.05 STR
Characteristics: xx, 323 pages : illustration, maps

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DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 11, 2016

Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, has provided an insightful study of the actions, motivations, and fallout of the murder of Julius Caesar, "history's most famous assassination," as the book's subtitle puts it. One of the most intriguing features of Julius Caesar's assassination that Strauss investigates is how so many people around the ruler with varying backgrounds—friends and enemies, beneficiaries and slighted, and family members—formed an alliance to commit such a high-profile murder. The plotters may have provided heroic rationales and excuses but it becomes clear there were plenty of self-interested reasons. Strauss stresses the importance of Decimus (Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus) as one of the principle conspirators along with Brutus and Cassius. In addition to persuading Caesar to attend the Senate meeting on the Ides of March 44 B.C., Decimus provided gladiators as (apparent) guards for Caesar, but would in reality prove to be the assassins' bodyguards. Decimus was quickly demonized and then largely dismissed or forgotten by later generations of history writers. The allegiances between the principle characters, including Caesar, his supporters, and his detractors, tends to be extremely fluid. As becomes abundantly clear, "For the Romans, as for most people, principle and profit were inseparable." For many of the principle characters, you could add the importance of dignity as well. What motivated the conspirators will remain conjecture, but Strauss delves into many aspects of their lives and the political climate in Rome, finding interesting tidbit feeding into a broad, swirling pattern. Interestingly enough, as Seneca would later put it, there were more friends of Caesar conspiring to kill him than enemies.

The story of Caesar's assassination turns out to be a fantastical epic, and Strauss removes much of the fog from later presentations (including Shakespeare's play) to try and understand what exactly happened and why things happened as they did. He provides a short section musing on whether or not the Republic could have been saved. Strauss believes it could have, but what would have had to happen seems like a long, improbable list contradicting much of what he presented earlier. But then these were monumental, improbable times with events unfolding on a grand scale. Who could put a limit on what was and wasn't possible during these events? Extremely well done and thoroughly enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

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