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For Students: Notes on JULIUS CAESAR
O, mighty Caesar! by Alice Renier (CSC Education Associate)
When someone rules a country with total power, they are called a dictator. The first Roman dictator, Julius Caesar, was killed on the Ides of March (March 15) more than 1600 years before Shakespeare wrote his play. His assassination is one of the most famous events in Western history outside of the Bible. Today, we still debate whether or not he deserved it.
Before Julius Caesar came to power, the Roman government was a republic, a government where representatives were elected to rule on behalf of the citizens who elected them. As he was growing up, the Roman republic had destabilized: the rich had become more and more wealthy, while the less fortunate were more and more often forced into slavery. When Caesar became a general in the Roman army, he gained the support of his soldiers and the people through his many military successes.
Julius Caesar only ruled for one year, and during that time he transformed what would become the Roman Empire. He relieved debt, reformed the Senate, reorganized local government, invited some of his defeated rivals to join him, and even reformed the Roman calendar. As he did this, he also worked hard to solidify his rule, demanding that the Senate name him dictator for life. This angered his former rivals, Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus who lead an attack on Caesar in the senate, assassinating him and calling themselves “the liberators.” This event plunged Rome into civil war, and resulted in Octavius, Caesar’s great-grandnephew and adopted heir, becoming the first Roman emperor.
Julius Caesar’s rule effectively transformed the Roman government for all time. He was the first Roman ruler to be seen as a god, the “Divine Caesar.”