What does the saying "Beware the Ides of March!" mean? It refers to the day - March 15, 44 BCE - on which Gaius Julius Caesar, one-time dictator of ancient Rome, was murdered. His grisly assassination was legendary. But just as infamous were the conspirators behind one of the most well-known deaths in history. So just who had Julius Caesar killed?
The assassins who killed Julius Caesar (Roman senators, in large part) were an aristocratic bunch that was infuriated with the dictator's seizure of power. From his very, very close pals - like his mentees Brutus and Decimus - to his former brother-in-law and just generally discontented senators, everybody had a reason to want Caesar six feet under. And they got their wish, although they segmented an already fractured Republic into a gazillion more pieces, brought about another civil war, and ultimately helped create the Roman Empire.
Learn all about Brutus, Cassius, Decimus, and their cohorts here, and vote up the nuttiest of the Romans who killed Julius Caesar.
By far the most famous of the assassins, Brutus is best known for Caesar’s last words to him: “Et tu, Brute?” or “And you, too, Brutus?” That’s actually false - William Shakespeare adapted an ancient account of Caesar’s final words, “Kai su, teknon?” or “You, too, my child?” in Greek. Some have taken that to indicate that Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son - after all, his mother, Servilia, was Caesar’s mistress - but teknon was actually just a term of endearment.
But who was Brutus to Caesar? Besides being his mistress’s son, Brutus was one of Caesar’s protégés. Brutus also might have resented Caesar for consolidating too much power in his own hands and making his great-nephew, Octavian, his adopted son and heir. Besides, Brutus’s family was strongly anti-tyrant, and Cassius encouraged him to get involved.
After Caesar’s assassination, times were dangerous. It was Brutus and Cassius vs. Antony and Octavian. To save his skin, Brutus went to Greece; he loved hanging out in Athens, where he enjoyed lots of philosophical lectures. Brutus stocked up on soldiers in Macedonia and even minted his own coins. He and Cassius consolidated their forces and the conflict finally came to a head at Philippi in 42 BCE. After losing the battle, Brutus killed himself, although Plutarch admits one of his friends might have held the sword upon which Brutus impaled himself.
This Brutus was definitely the less famous of the two of that name (see number three on this list, his cousin), but was one of the masterminds behind the plot to kill Caesar. Julius's protégé, Decimus was like Caesar's little brother, his right hand while conquering Gaul.
But he turned against Caesar when his mentor didn't reward him aptly and took on the role of dictator, especially after Caesar indicated he might not name young Decimus his heir. During the run-up to the assassination, Decimus was by Julius's side 24/7, providing insight into his state of mind. And it was Decimus who convinced Caesar to go to the Senate house the day of the assassination after he received ill omens.
After the assassination, Decimus's career went downhill; he wound up disguising himself as a Gaul. Eventually, Marc Antony convinced a Gallic chieftain to decapitate Decimus and send him the head, which he eventually buried. An ignominious end for a brilliant statesman.
Although he once supported Pompey, Cassius eventually became a supporter of Caesar. Classicist Barry Strauss wrote in The Death of Caesar, "Like many other Romans, Cassius was appalled by Caesar’s monarchical behavior."
Cassius also longed for the highest offices in the land, but it seemed he figured Caesar stood in his way. Not to mention that Caesar didn’t give him a command against the Parthians, may have had an affair with Cassius’s wife, Tertia, and, when Cassius was going to bring some lions to Rome for his sponsored games, Caesar took the felines for his own. During the assassination, Cassius stabbed Caesar in the face.
Eventually, Cassius and Brutus met Antony and Octavian at Philippi, where they were defeated. When he thought he saw Brutus’s forces routed from the field, he “had a freedman decapitate him,” wrote Strauss. Brutus was very depressed over his pal’s death, said Plutarch: “He mourned over the body, and called Cassius ‘the last of the Romans,’ implying that such an exalted spirit could no longer arise in the city.” He buried Cassius on the island of Thasos and continued the battle… until his own suicide.
This former pal of Caesar’s was one of the first the Terrible Trio added to their conspiracy. Although Caesar rewarded Trebonius for his service, it might not have been enough for this ambitious man. On the Ides, notes Appian, “The conspirators had left Trebonius, one of their number, to engage Antony in conversation at the door.”
After the dirty deed was done, Trebonius, who had won the Siege of Massilia for Caesar, was rewarded handsomely, being named proconsul in Asia. But he didn’t escape unscathed. While in Smyrna in Asia Minor, Trebonius offended Dolabella, another Caesar supporter-turned-traitor, by not letting him into the city. As a result, Dolabella put Trebonius on trial for treason and then had him murdered in his bed. The soldiers didn’t treat his body nicely, says Appian: “They rolled his head from one to another in sport along the city pavements like a ball till it was completely crushed.”