Today, March 15th, is the infamous Ides of March. On this day in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate by a group of political conspirators. More than 2,000 years later, he remains the most famous Roman ruler. His story has been adapted many times — by people as varied as William Shakespeare, Hollywood screenwriters, and Las Vegas casino moguls. It's what he represents, rather than who he actually was, that we're exploring today.
Caesar was born to a patrician family, an elite social class who lived in single-family homes (as opposed to plebians, who lived in multi-unit buildings). Lawrence Alma-Tadema's painting, shown above, is a 19th century depiction of the home of Gaius Matius, a contemporary and friend of Julius Caesar. It illustrates the airy courtyards and rich decorative details typical of a patrician Roman home.
As a young man, Caesar earned a prominent position in the Roman army and was awarded a laurel wreath for valor. When he returned home from war, he began his life in politics. He was known for making strategic decisions — like marrying to form political alliances — and he went into debt in his attempts to gain public favor by renovating buildings and staging grand events.
Caesar was eventually elected consul, the highest office in Rome, which he shared with Marcus Bibulus. He strengthened his political power by forming a pact with other political leaders, an alliance known as the First Triumvirate. Caesar leveraged his political power to pursue military campaigns and earn popular support while he edged out Marcus Bibulus. He became governor of Gaul, defeated tribal leaders throughout Europe, conquered the lands that now make up Italy, and took Rome by force.
In Rome, he was appointed dictator and named Mark Antony his second in command. As dictator, he ordered a census, passed laws restructuring debt, started public works projects, and reformed the Roman calendar to the 365-day cycle we pretty much still use today.