Who Assassinated Julius Caesar?

Julius Caesar was assassinated in the senatorial conspiracy, led by Brutus and Longinus, on the Ides of March, 15th March 44 BC. However, the conspirators failed to save the Roman Republic.

May 11, 2024By Vedran Bileta, MA in Late Antique, Byzantine, and Early Modern History, BA in History

who assassinated julius caesar


Julius Caesar, one of the most famous historical figures, was assassinated by a group of senators on the Ides of March (15th March) of 44 BC. The senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, feared Caesar’s absolute power and the return of the monarchy. Believing they were saving the Roman Republic, the conspirators attacked Caesar with their daggers, with Brutus dealing the first blow. Instead, Caesar’s murder plunged Rome into two bloody civil wars, toppling down the Republic and ushering in the Roman Empire.


Julius Caesar was Assassinated in the Senatorial Conspiracy

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Death of Caesar, by Vicenzo Camuccini, 1806. Source: Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Milano


In early 44 BC, Julius Caesar was the most powerful man in Rome. Fresh of his victory at Munda, where he eliminated the last military opposition, Caesar declared himself a dictator for life. Such a move, however, caused alarm in the Senate of Rome. For centuries, Rome prided itself on being a Republic, and now Caesar threatened to topple down traditional values by bringing back the hated monarchy. The Senate feared losing power and influence, with one man taking complete control over the Roman world. The conspirators believed that by eliminating Caesar, they could save the Roman Republic from tyranny.


Thus, on March 15th, 44 BC – the infamous “Ides of March”, the senators assassinated Julius Caesar, stabbing him repeatedly – 32 times – with their daggers. The brutal and symbolic act removed the tyrant, saving the Republic. Or so the assailants believed.


Brutus Made a First Blow

caesar assassination holmes sullivan
Julius Caesar’, Act III, Scene 1, the Assassination, William Holmes Sullivan, 1888, Royal Shakespeare Company Collection. Source: ArtUK


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One of the conspiracy leaders was Marcus Junius Brutus, who, despite being an ally of Pompey during the Civil War, was pardoned by Caesar and became his staunch ally and protégé. Brutus, himself a descendant of an illustrious founder of the Roman Republic (also named Brutus), feared Caesar’s growing power. Thus, when Caesar’s enemies approached the young man, Brutus joined the senatorial conspiracy. According to the sources, Brutus was the first to attack Caesar during the Senate meeting. 


This act of betrayal was later immortalized in a famous phrase, “Et tu, Brute?” by William Shakespeare in his play “Julius Caesar.” However, Caesar probably expressed his disbelief in Greek: And you, my son?”


Longinus Was Also Caesar’s Former Ally

curia theatre of pompey
The Curia of the Theatre of Pompey, 62 BC, a common Senate meeting place in the late Republic and the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination


The second leader of the conspiracy was also Caesar’s former ally. Gaius Cassius Longinus was a senator with a storied military career who joined Crassus’ ill-fated expedition against Parthia. Longinus not only managed to bring the remnants of the legions to the Roman territory. He also repelled the Parthia’s attacks on Syria, saving the eastern province. When civil war erupted in 49 BC, Cassius Longinus sided with Pompey the Great, attacking and defeating Caesar’s navy. However, like in Brutus’ case, Julius Caesar pardoned Longinus after the Battle of Pharsalus, making his enemy a close ally. 


Longinus, too, feared Caesar’s accumulation of power, and as a defender of traditional values, he was willing to sacrifice friendship to save the Republic. He became “the moving spirit” in the plot against Caesar and the principal advocate of tyrannicide. On the Ides of March, Cassius was one of the leading assassins, striking Caesar in the chest.


The Assassins Met a Violent End

eid mar denarius
Brutus “Eid Mar” Denarius, ca. 42 BC. Source: The British Museum, London


With Caesar’s body lying cold on the Senate floor, the assassins – who styled themselves “Liberators” – celebrated, believing that they saved the Republic. The famed “EID MAR” denarius proudly proclaims a tyrant’s assassination and praises the saviors of the Republic. The reality, however, was different. The “EID MAR” coin was minted to pay the troops, the Liberators badly needed. Caesar’s assassination deeply divided the Roman people. In addition, Mark Antony, whom the conspirators spared, allied with Lepidus and Octavian. Brutus and Longinus left for the eastern provinces, where they amassed the army.


Caesar’s assassination, intended to save the Republic, sparked another civil war, which ended with defeat at the Battle of Phillipi. Brutus’ and Longinus’ suicide brought an end to the Liberator’s cause. And the fall of the Roman Republic.


Julius Caesar’s Assassination Led to the Roman Empire

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Detail from the larger-than-life statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, early 1st century CE. Source: Musei Vaticani, Rome


The defeat of the Liberators avenged Caesar’s murder, but it did not save the Republic. Soon, another conflict broke out between former Caesar’s general and friend, Mark Antony and Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, Octavian. The bloody Civil War ended after Octavian’s navy, led by his friend Agrippa, defeated the combined Roman-Egyptian fleet at Actium in 31 BC. The subsequent suicide of Antony and Cleopatra removed all opposition, leaving Octavian the sole master of the Roman world.


A few years later, in 27 BC, Octavian became Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. The Roman Republic ceased to exist, replaced by the very thing the Liberators tried to prevent – a monarchy. Caesar’s assassination backfired, only delaying the inevitable – the birth of the Roman Empire and the first imperial dynasty.

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By Vedran BiletaMA in Late Antique, Byzantine, and Early Modern History, BA in HistoryVedran is a doctoral researcher, based in Budapest. His main interest is Ancient History, in particular the Late Roman period. When not spending time with the military elites of the Late Roman West, he is sharing his passion for history with those willing to listen. In his free time, Vedran is wargaming and discussing Star Trek.