This is what many of united state know about the death of Julius Caesar, half-remembered indigenous movies and plays:

Some soothsayer said, "Beware the Ides the March." A couple of idealistic Romans decided to win ago Rome for the people.Caesar acquired stabbed through Brutus v a big sword, stated "Et tu, Brute?" and died nobly.

All of the is wrong.

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In significant and boy ways, a the majority of us misunderstand the fatality of Julius Caesar on in march 15, 44 BC. That"s why ns talked come Barry Strauss, a Cornell classics and background professor. He"s the author of The death of Caesar, a book that chronicles among history"s most infamous assassinations and also dispels a many half-remembered myths.

A many those myths come from Shakespeare, who relied exclusively on Plutarch to paint his snapshot of Rome. However Strauss offers Plutarch in concert through other old sources favor Nicolaus that Damascus, Suetonius, Appian, and Cassius Dio, and the work-related of various other scholars. Weighed against one another, with each other they form a more complete picture of Rome at the moment — and one the happens come bust a lot of myths.

Myth 1: A soothsayer said Caesar, "Beware the Ides of March"


An illustration that the soothsayer native an version of Shakespeare"s play. (Universal photos Group/Getty Images)

The Ides that March originates from the ides, a ax the Romans used to note the middle of a month. Every month has an ides around the middle (as well as a calends in ~ the beginning of the month and nones eight days before the ides). The Ides of in march feels unique for a pair of reasons: it"s the work Caesar was murdered, and also it"s the subject of a soothsayer"s spooky prophecy in wilhelm Shakespeare"s Julius Caesar.

The reality is actually an ext interesting.

For one, we know who the soothsayer was and also what he yes, really said: the was named Spurinna, and he was from Etruria. That"s important, since Etruscans were known to specialize in divination. Cicero"s letters , Plutarch, and Suetonius all confirm his high status. As notably, Spurinna"s warning come Caesar was more complex — and more accurate — than the form of prophecy most contemporary skeptics would certainly dismiss.

"They have actually a most contacts," Strauss says, "and they"re civilization who know what"s walk on." that would have actually made Spurinna"s prophecy a an ext frightening bellwether the the anti-Caesar emotion in Rome. Soothsayers can poll the elites, and the elites did not favor Caesar.

On February 15, Spurinna said he uncovered a bad omen: a bull there is no a love (it"s unclear if the bull was a genetic abnormality, a shocking sign, or a soothsayer"s poetic license). After ~ that, Spurinna called Caesar come beware for the following 30 days, not just on the Ides that March. The wasn"t a happy prediction yet rather a calculated evaluate of Rome"s politics climate.

The end date of the prophecy wasn"t a coincidence, either — on march 18, Caesar to be going to embark on a multiyear military project that would take him away from Rome. The assassins had actually to kill him before he left.

Myth 2: every the conspirators to be idealists that wanted to restore Rome come the people

There to be idealism involved: Caesar was transforming the roman republic into a dictatorship and also making self a king. But there were additionally deeply an individual motives.

Self-Interest journey the conspirators to kill caesar

"I think political leaders don"t have actually a firewall in between ideals and practical benefits," Strauss says. "They think what"s good for the country is also good for themselves. The senators who joined the conspiracy against Caesar have the right to sincerely say he to be a risk to the republic and also to them and also their way of life."

Before Caesar, roman nobility and military were complimentary to plunder the districts they ruled. But under Caesar, Rome managed the process and sent inspectors to inspect up on everything, so they can only manipulate their provinces under Caesar"s supervision.

That slight was compounded by Caesar"s rebranding of political genuine estate in his name — he built statues in his image and renamed monuments for himself. He lugged power to his family by giving them politics appointments and also honorifics, and also drew allies external the charmed one of roman nobility, choose his soldiers and also leaders in the provinces.

"People in the old nobility feel reduced out," Strauss says. In enhancement to issue for the typical Roman, self-interest drove the conspirators to kill Caesar.

There weren"t just political and financial grudges, either. Brutus" mother, Servilia, had once had actually an affair v Caesar, and also there were even rumors that Brutus to be Caesar"s boy (for the record, Strauss thinks that"s highly unlikely). Servilia was also co-conspirator Cassius" mother-in-law.

Myth 3: Brutus was the assassins" ringleader and also Caesar"s finest buddy


An artist"s explicate of Brutus. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)

As far as epic betrayals go, we tend to imagine Brutus in the same organization as Judas. In reality, that infamy should be booked for someone called Decimus.

Caesar reliable Decimus much more than he trusted Brutus — and that do his betrayal much more shocking. Misspelled in Shakespeare"s Julius Caesar together "Decius," Decimus was much more important than most of united state realize. "There were three leaders of the assassins" conspiracy," Strauss says. "Brutus, Cassius, and also Decimus."

Shakespeare do Decimus a minor character since he largely used Plutarch as a source, who offered Decimus brief shrift. However all the other ancient sources think Decimus to be key, and, according to Strauss, "he"s the only assassin that could really be called close to Caesar."

Decimus dined v Caesar the night prior to his assassination and convinced Caesar to leave his residence the following morning (he was continuing to be home due to the fact that his wife, Calpurnia, was worried). Decimus" betrayal complied with an adult life spent at Caesar"s side. Brutus, however, had often fought against Caesar, like as soon as he took Pompey"s side versus Caesar in the Civil battle that lasted from 49 come 45 BC. He only came over to Caesar"s next after a handsome cash compensation and financially rewarding political appointment.

Myth 4: Caesar was eliminated with swords in a grand Senate room


Jean-Léon Gérôme"s painting of the assassination the Caesar. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks to epic paints like Jean-Léon Gérôme"s The fatality of Caesar, us imagine a grand scene for a cool death. Yet the paint gets some points seriously wrong.

In reality, the assassination happened in the Portico the Pompey, a Senate residence with a statue that Pompey (Caesar"s enemy) inside. "It would have been a nicely decorated room," Strauss says, "it"s simply not cavernous." Imagine the British home of Commons rather of the cool room in Gérôme"s painting.

And the assassins virtually certainly didn"t have gigantic swords — ~ all, it to be a surprise attack. They most likely snuck in daggers to kill Caesar.

Myth 5: Caesar obtained stabbed and also died nobly, speak "Et tu, Brute"

This could be the most an effective myth that all. And it shortchanges Caesar. This wasn"t a noble fatality — it was probably a scrappy fight for his life.

"et tu, brute" is a renaissance invention

"Caesar is a soldier," Strauss says. "If friend stab this guy, he"s walk to shot to fight back."

He may have stabbed one of the attackers with a stylus, and most that the sources say he tried to acquire up and also escape. Regrettably for Caesar, the conspirators were trained soldiers, therefore they"d formed a tight perimeter. "They know exactly how you lug out an ambush," Strauss says. "I think some of the senators were assigned the project of crowd control."

As far as what Caesar said when he died, "Et tu, Brute" is a Renaissance invention. But Caesar did execute a few resonant gestures. He tried come escape, like any type of soldier would, however when death was near, he covered his face prior to he died. It may have been an attempt to keep his dignity.

Myth 6: The assassins failed to victory the mind of the roman people


An artist"s explicate of note Antony"s funeral oration for Caesar. (Archive Images/Getty Images)

Without getting into the national politics of the 2nd Triumvirate and imperial dominance that adhered to Caesar"s death, the assassins eventually failed to regain a coherent republic come Rome. However it"s not since they failure to win over the world — they failed to success over the soldiers.

The assassins had actually prepared for the military after-effects of the assassination — they had gladiators stationed nearby to aid protect them after the autumn from the murder. Led by Decimus, they even stationed gladiators outside the Senate house to defend themselves. However the conspirators miscalculated the political autumn of the assassination.

In his will, Caesar had actually the ancient equivalent the a toxicity pill — a huge payout to roman citizens and also soldiers, which broken support for the conspirators. The roman inn republic had remained in trouble for virtually a century, ripped apart by polite wars and also ruled by armies. Caesar supplied cash to consolidate power also after death.

"Rome is a armed forces city," Strauss says. "On the suburbs of the city, Caesar has actually a legion ... And also at various places around the city, Caesar"s veterans have gathered to start a three-year war versus the Persian empire at the east. Some are there to present their support, however others space there because Caesar is over there to lead them to new lands."

Those soldiers want a significant payout from whoever to be going to preeminence Rome, and Brutus and Cassius didn"t pull it off over time to for sure support. The led Rome to at some point fall ago in the hands of emperor Octavian (later referred to as Augustus) rather of reverting to a republic.

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In a way, that might be the best myth around the Ides of March and also the assassination that Caesar. Yes, Caesar to be killed. Yet his influence lived ~ above — v him and also through the Caesarism that thrived for century after his death.