The Death of Caesar

The Death of Caesar

The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination

Book - 2015
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Thanks to William Shakespeare, the death of Julius Caesar is the most famous assassination in history. But what actually happened on March 15, 44 BC is even more gripping than Shakespeare's play. In this thrilling new book, Barry Strauss tells the real story.

Shakespeare shows Caesar's assassination to be an amateur and idealistic affair. The real killing, however, was a carefully planned paramilitary operation, a generals' plot, put together by Caesar's disaffected officers and designed with precision. There were even gladiators on hand to protect the assassins from vengeance by Caesar's friends. Brutus and Cassius were indeed key players, as Shakespeare has it, but they had the help of a third man-Decimus. He was the mole in Caesar's entourage, one of Caesar's leading generals, and a lifelong friend. It was he, not Brutus, who truly betrayed Caesar.

Caesar's assassins saw him as a military dictator who wanted to be king. He threatened a permanent change in the Roman way of life and in the power of senators. The assassins rallied support among the common people, but they underestimated Caesar's soldiers, who flooded Rome. The assassins were vanquished; their beloved Republic became the Roman Empire.

An original, fresh perspective on an event that seems well known, Barry Strauss's book sheds new light on this fascinating, pivotal moment in world history.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2015
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781451668797
1451668791
Characteristics: xx, 323 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm

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DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 11, 2016

Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, has provided an insightful study of the actions, motivations, and fallout of the murder of Julius Caesar, "history's most famous assassination," as the book's subtitle puts it. One of the most intriguing features of Julius Caesar's assassination that Strauss investigates is how so many people around the ruler with varying backgrounds—friends and enemies, beneficiaries and slighted, and family members—formed an alliance to commit such a high-profile murder. The plotters may have provided heroic rationales and excuses but it becomes clear there were plenty of self-interested reasons. Strauss stresses the importance of Decimus (Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus) as one of the principle conspirators along with Brutus and Cassius. In addition to persuading Caesar to attend the Senate meeting on the Ides of March 44 B.C., Decimus provided gladiators as (apparent) guards for Caesar, but would in reality prove to be the assassins' bodyguards. Decimus was quickly demonized and then largely dismissed or forgotten by later generations of history writers. The allegiances between the principle characters, including Caesar, his supporters, and his detractors, tends to be extremely fluid. As becomes abundantly clear, "For the Romans, as for most people, principle and profit were inseparable." For many of the principle characters, you could add the importance of dignity as well. What motivated the conspirators will remain conjecture, but Strauss delves into many aspects of their lives and the political climate in Rome, finding interesting tidbit feeding into a broad, swirling pattern. Interestingly enough, as Seneca would later put it, there were more friends of Caesar conspiring to kill him than enemies.

The story of Caesar's assassination turns out to be a fantastical epic, and Strauss removes much of the fog from later presentations (including Shakespeare's play) to try and understand what exactly happened and why things happened as they did. He provides a short section musing on whether or not the Republic could have been saved. Strauss believes it could have, but what would have had to happen seems like a long, improbable list contradicting much of what he presented earlier. But then these were monumental, improbable times with events unfolding on a grand scale. Who could put a limit on what was and wasn't possible during these events? Extremely well done and thoroughly enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

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