Soothsayers Should be More Specific

Caesar spent a great deal of time between 48 and 45 BC travelling between Cleopatra, Italy, and a darn good fight. Realizing he wasn’t immortal, Caesar made a will in 45 which named his grandnephew, Octavian, heir to everything—including his name. Of course, Octavian already had a perfectly good name of his own, but you never know when a moniker will come in handy. If Octavian died before Caesar, everything was to go to his good friend, Brutus. In hindsight, there was probably someone better he could have thought of.

With great power, comes great responsibility, so Caesar decided it was time to clean up Rome’s act. His three main goals were to 1) suppress armed resistance in the provinces, 2) create a strong central government in Rome, and 3) knit the empire into a single unit. He finished the first by defeating Pompey, the second by ruling Rome himself, and he was working on number three. Reforms under Caesar included a census, a sumptuary law restricting luxuries (because the ideal Roman is serious and frugal), re-population rewards (you can only have so many prudes before the country dies out), debt restructuring, public works, the establishment of a police force, and calendar reform. Although, to be fair, he stole the calendar from the Egyptians. He couldn’t come up with all the good ideas himself.

Of course, too much responsibility was dull, so Caesar countered it with a number of lavish triumphs. Among other things there was a mock naval battle on the Field of Mars, and the Circus Maximus hosted a fight to the death between armies of war captives, including 20 elephants (beat that, Pompey!). Caesar felt gypped that he couldn’t have a triumph for winning the civil war (the Romans thought it might be considered bad form to celebrate defeating your own) so he had a lot to make up for. No matter how many people he conquered there was always more barbarians on the frontier. It was after a short war against Pharnaces II in Turkey that Caesar uttered his most famous phrase: “Veni Vidi Vici,” the modern translation of which is, “All your base are belong to us.”

The Romans were pretty impressed with Caesar and the Senate named him Consul-for-life which came with perks like a golden chair and the right to wear triumphal robes whenever he wanted.  The novelty wore off eventually. He was also granted a semi-official cult which was led by Mark Antony. This may have eventually contributed to his demise. It’s very hard to tell people you don’t want to be king when they are busy worshipping you as a god. It just confuses them. In February of 44 BC the Senate declared Caesar dictator-for-life, and he officially ran out of titles to gain. He’d collected the whole set.

This made a bunch of Senators uneasy, and they began to realize the problem with naming someone dictator-for-life was the for-life bit. So they decided to shorten it. While Caesar may or may not have been warned by a soothsayer to beware the Ides of March he certainly wasn’t warned by Mark Antony. Antony discovered the plot the night before, but was delayed by one of the conspirators on the way to the Senate and arrived just in time for the fighting to begin. He then, very bravely, ran away. Inside the Senate, Caesar was surrounded by the group of conspirators and stabbed to death. According to Eutropius 60 or more men participated in the assassination and Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Either Eutropius must have been exaggerating or two-thirds of them had really terrible aim. (You do the math.)

Caesar’s last words are hotly debated, but are most commonly thought to be “Et tu, Brute?” or “You too, you brute?” At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that Octavian was not dead, so Brutus would not inherit after all. Once the assassination was over, Brutus and the other conspirators marched through the city shouting, “People of Rome, we are once again free!” Ironically, this caused people to lock themselves inside their homes and not come out just proving that you can’t have everything.

The First Seven: or How this Political Quagmire was Formed

Roman government began with a succession of seven kings, seven being the lucky number of the time. Romulus started this crew off by declaring himself king and then making up the rest as he went along, which probably explains more about government than it doesn’t.  However, these other guys just didn’t seem to get it. First they let themselves get voted into office, and then they just let other people vote on everything else anyway.  Everyone knew that no good could possibly come of this, and up sprung the Senate, so they were proven right. 

Only certain people could be Senators, because you don’t want just anybody running things, and they called these people Patricians.  The logic behind this was that the Patricians were the landholding folk, and if things stopped running smoothly it was very hard to run away when dragging an acre or two behind you.  The Plebeians were the lucky ones as they didn’t have to muck around with politics and were still one rung up the social ladder from the slaves.

Eventually all of this voting just went to the Patrician’s heads, and the last of the seven kings, Tarquinius Superbus, was chucked out on his tail. Apparently seven wasn’t his lucky number. Now the Patricians had created a republic and their first major change of policy went from having one absolute ruler to two.  They called these consuls rather than kings, and thought it was a rather smart solution too.  Of course the Plebeians knew what was what, and snickered up their coat-sleeves at the Patricians.  Pretty soon the Patricians got tired of all the laughter when they couldn’t see the joke; so reeling in their wounded dignity they made a council and gave it to the Plebeians in a vain effort to see what was so funny.  They never did figure it out.