I find it amazing that we know at least some details of the world-shaking event that took place on the Ides (15th) of March, 2,064 years ago. On that day, Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome by 23 senators, many of whom purported to be his friends. From that day to this, the Ides of March have been considered as unlucky as Friday the 13th by those of a superstitious bent. Thus do the echoes of Caesar’s accomplishments and capabilities come down through the centuries.
During his life, he was hailed as Consul, Imperator, and Dictator. Meaning, in Roman terms, he was a civic leader, a military commander, and head of the government; “dictator” did not denote an autocratic ruler to the Romans of the first century B.C. In reading several biographies with extensive sources, I discovered that, in fact, Caesar was more like the FDR of his era than an egomaniacal despot. Despite being of aristocratic birth, he was a down-to-earth populist, advocating for the rights of his veterans, citizenship for most of what is now Italy, and equal distribution of resources. He fought the elites of Rome to see that grain was allocated fairly to everyone, among other initiatives. He wanted to increase the number of members in the senate, so that more of the population would have a voice. He was offered the equivalent of a kingship three times, but steadfastly refused it, believing in a representative government. Naturally, for the very reason that he was the people’s champion, Caesar made enemies of the wealthy nobles, which is why his life was cut short.
When Caesar’s body was discovered in the Forum, there was such an outcry among ordinary Romans that his assassins had to flee the city. Many escaped to outer provinces, never to return. The plotters had thought that, in eliminating Caesar, they were strengthening their power and would become heroes to the common citizens, but they immediately discovered that exactly the opposite was true. Caesar was declared a god among the Romans, while his killers were vilified.
More than two millennia later, although the events of Gaius Julius’ life have been forgotten by all but devoted historians, the name Caesar lives on. There’s a reason he was known as the noblest Roman of them all. Something to think about in our uncertain political times.