Today is the Ides of March, on which date Julius Caesar was assassinated over 2,000 years ago.
Reading through at least one of the historical accounts of Julius Caesar’s assassination used to be a staple of American education, but not so anymore. As such, details of his assassination which were previously common knowledge are now known only by a small minority of people.
Those inclined to read primary sources should look at the famous accounts of Suetonius, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio. For those who require something briefer, I have provided the following list of 6 facts about Caesar’s death that a culturally-literate person should know:
1) It took place in 44 B.C.
2) Caesar supposedly received numerous prophetic signs foretelling his impending death.
The most famous of them was the dream of his wife, Calpurnia, the night before the assassination. According to Plutarch, she dreamed “that she was holding her murdered husband in her arms and bewailing him.”
3) No one said to Caesar “Beware the Ides of March.”
This line comes from the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, though it’s a fair rendering of the historical accounts. In Suetonius’ account, the soothsayer is named Spurinna, and had warned Caesar that his death would come “not later than the Ides of March.” According to Plutarch, on the day of the assassination, when Caesar mocks him for being a false prophet because the Ides of March had come, the seer reminds him, “Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.”
4) The assassination didn’t take place in the Roman forum, but in the Theatre of Pompey.
At the time of Caesar’s death, the theatre was being used by the Senate as a temporary meeting place. Excavations of the site in 2012 uncovered what is believed to be the memorial that Augustus erected to mark the site of the assassination. Today, the Theatre of Pompey is also well-known for being the home to numerous feral cats.
[The Theatre of Pompey today]
5) Caesar did not say “Et tu, Brute?”
“Et tu, Brute?”—Latin for “And you, Brutus?”—is also most famously located in Shakespeare’s play, though it probably was in existence in popular lore beforehand. According to Suetonius’ account, Caesar did not utter a word, but only groaned when he was first stabbed. However, Suetonius also mentions that “some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him he said in Greek, ‘You too, my child?’”
6) Caesar was reportedly stabbed 23 times.
The first blow, in the neck, came from Servilius Casca. After that, chaos ensued. According to Plutarch, “Caesar, hemmed in on all sides, whichever way he turned confronting blows of weapons aimed at his face and eyes, driven hither and tither like a wild beast, was entangled in the hands of all… Brutus also gave him one blow in the groin.” At the end of it, Caesar “pulled his toga down over his head and sank, either by chance or because pushed there by his murderers, against the pedestal on which the statue of Pompey stood… And the pedestal was drenched with his blood, so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was presiding over this vengeance upon his enemy, who now lay prostrate at his feet, quivering from a multitude of wounds.”
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