What were the consequences of Caesar's assassination

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There have been many famous political assassinations throughout history and one of the most well-known was the killing of the Roman general and politician in 43 BC. The assassination of Caesar was a turning point in the history of Rome, not only did it end the career of one of the greatest Romans it also initiated a chain of events that changed the very nature of Rome and its Empire. Among the consequences of the assassination were the rise of Mark Anthony, Octavian and a brutal civil war. The deatH of Caesar on the Ides of March was to send the Roman Republic into a crisis that ultimately led to the abolition of the Republic and the emergence of the Imperial system.

An 18th century painting of Caesar’s assassination


Caesar was a member of the Roman aristocracy and he was a lifetime member of the popular faction. This was a party of nobles who claimed to be serving the interests of the common people. Caesar became one of the most powerful men in Rome when he joined the First Triumvirate. He used his new-found power to secure a consulship and the command of several legions which he used to wage war in Gaul. Following his conquest of Gaul, he was the most powerful man in Rome and he was feared by the Roman Senate. To safeguard his position Caesar marched on Rome and this began a civil war[1]. Caesar fought the Optimate army, initially led by Pompey the Great. He defeated Pompey at Pharsalus and later in a series of battles across the Mediterranean defeated several armies opposed to his rule. By 43 BC Caesar was by far the most important man in Rome and he had himself made dictator for life. This aroused the deep hated of many in the Roman aristocracy. A conspiracy was formed by several leading Roman nobles, whose titular leader was Brutus, someone whom Caesar knew well. The Roman general had pardoned many of the conspirators and had even appointed some of them to high office. The members of the plot called themselves the liberators, meaning the liberators. The plot involved luring Caesar to Pompey’s theatre where gladiatorial games were to be held in his honour[2]. The Roman leader was notoriously reckless when it came to his personal security. He refused bodyguards and he declared that to live surrounded by guards was not a life he wanted. Caesar had only a few personal attendants who escorted him everywhere. On the Ides of March, the conspirators lured their target to the Theatre of Pompey. Here after one of the conspirators seized his toga, up to sixty assailants stabbed Caesar, who later died because of blood loss. It is important to understand the motivations of those who killed the great Roman general. They believed that he wanted to become king and to end the Republic. The killers of Caesar were all Republicans and they believed in the Roman Constitution and the rule of the Senate. Brutus and the others believed that they were delivering the Republic from the tyranny of the conqueror of Gaul. The assassination of Caesar was carried out to protect the Republic and to preserve the ancient Constitution of the city[3].

An 18th century painting of Caesar’s assassination

Immediate Aftermath of the Assassination

The death of Caesar was a great shock to many. Those who had killed him, styled themselves the Liberators and they expected that the people of Rome would rally to them and support their actions and that this would save the Republic. However, most of the population remained wary and neutral, while many people and especially the political gangs, who controlled large areas of the city, were angered by the killing of Caesar. In the days after the assassination there was an eerie calm in the city. Mark Anthony became the de-facto leader of the Caesarean party in the city, even though he had fallen out of favour in recent years with his former general[4]. He arranged a political compromise that allowed the killers of Caesar to go unpunished and for those who had been appointed by the dead man to remain in office. This was able to maintain some semblance of order in the city. The lower class became increasingly incensed when they learned more about the death of Caesar and Anthony threatened to unleash them against the senators[5]. The reading of the will of Caesar came as a surprise, he made his grand-nephew his son and heir. This shocked Mark Anthony who was not even mentioned by Caesar in his will. Octavian returned from Greece and as Caesar’s heir he became one of the most powerful men in Rome. This only added to the confusion in Rome. The Senate supported Octavian, who distrusted Mark Anthony and he was forced to flee the city. He assembled an army of five legions but was defeated by Octavian and the forces of the Senate at the Battle of Mutina in Northern Italy (43 B.C.). The two consuls for that year were also killed during the battle. Antony was forced to retreat, and his cause seemed lost, but he was fortunate. The Senate tried to take his army away from Octavian and give it to one of the assassins of Caesar[6]. This persuaded Octavian to enter an alliance with Anthony and Lepidus. This was the so-called Second Triumvirate and it divided the legions and provinces among the three allies. The aim of the alliance was to avenge the assassination of Caesar. They soon occupied Rome and launched a campaign of terror in the city, summarily killing their enemies. However, their rule was opposed by the Optimates and the assassins of Caesar and this led to another civil war[7].

A cameo of Mark Anthony

The Civil War

Those who were involved in the assassination of Caesar under the command of Cassius and Brutus controlled much of the Easter portion of the Empire. Antony and Octavian sailed with an army to confront their enemies and the two armies confronted each other at Phillipa in modern Macedonia or Northern Greece. Here the two armies clashed and over two battles the followers of Caesar prevailed. The battles had been close fought and it was the personal bravery of Mark Anthony and the general Agrippa that ensured victory for the Second Triumvirate. The liberators and their Optimates allies all died in the battle or its aftermath[8]. Brutus and Cassius committed suicide in the aftermath of the defeat. The defeat at Philippi was a decisive one and it effectively ended the Optimates as a military force. While there were to be more civil conflicts the Senatorial elite were no longer active participants. Successive defeats and a series of proscriptions had decimated the old Republican elite and they were no longer able to influence events in Rome. Those who wanted to preserve the old ideas of the Republic no longer had the means or perhaps the will to prevent the concentration of power in the lands of one or two men[9]. The assassination of Caesar was motivated by a desire to restore the old Republican system and especially the influence of the Senate. In fact, the civil war that ensued in the aftermath of the death of Caesar was to result in the side-lining of the Senate and those who believed in the ideals of the Republic.

The Second Triumvirate

The Second Triumvirate saw the rise of Octavian and Mark Anthony, who became the most powerful man in Rome. Lepidus was decidedly a junior partner in the political arrangement. Octavian Mark Anthony and Octavian divided the Roman Empire between them and deftly side-lined Lepidus. Anthony assumed responsibility for the pacification of the east which had become restive after the civil wars. Anthony successful reimpose Roman control over the Eastern section of the Roman Empire. The relationship between Mark Anthony and Octavian was sealed by a series of marriages. However, in truth the two men were never really allies and both knew that there would be a day of reckoning. The Second Triumvirate allowed Octavian and Mark Anthony to rule the Roman Empire. Both paid only scant regard to the Senate. Octavian was the real power in Rome and he observed the forms of the Republican system [10]. In the east Mark Anthony began a relationship with the Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra IV. For a brief period, the Roman territories were divided between Octavian who presented himself as champion old fashioned Roman values and beliefs and Mark Anthony who seemed to be creating a personal domain for himself and Cleopatra in the east. For the entire duration of the Second Triumvirate, the Senate was subservient to the demand of especially Octavian. The Second Triumvirate that was made possible by the assassins who sought to preserve the Republic, did much to undermine the old system of governance and politics[11].

The Rise of Octavian and the End of the Roman Republic

Perhaps the most important result of the death of Caesar was the rise of his grand-nephew Octavian. He had not been particularly close to the great general and politician, but he was one of his last living male relatives. It seemed that the victor of so many battles saw something in the young man and Octavian was to prove his grand-uncle right. The death of Caesar cleared the way for the rise of Octavian and he was to prove to be one of the most calculating and brilliant politicians in the entire Roman era [12]. The young Octavian was able to manipulate the situation to make himself master of the Roman world. For example, he goaded Mark Anthony into a war, in which he defeated him at the Battle of Actium. This was to make him master of the entire Roman world. Octavian learned from the assassination of Caesar and he did not make the same mistakes as the legendary leader. He was very respectful to the Senators and observed all the procedures. This was to placate the sensibilities of the Roman aristocracy. Octavian made sure that he did not goad the senators’, but he also controlled them [13]. Octavian slowly concentrated power into his own hands and created an Imperial system under the guise of a Republican system. He safeguarded his position by sharing power with the Senators and the rest of the Roman aristocracy. However, he was the dominant player in Rome. Octavian moved slowly and amassed so many powers that he was the leading man in Rome. Many welcomed the stability that he offered, and he governed the Empire wisely. However, he was also slowly undermining the Empire. His pre-eminence was confirmed when he was granted the title Augustus. Such was his hold on power that he was able to pass on his position to his family and found the first Imperial dynasty. For this year Augustus, as he became known is regarded as the first Roman Emperor and the founder of an Imperial system that was to last in the West until 476 AD. The assassins of Caesar who killed him to save their beloved Republic, simply paved the way for the rise of the man who was to quietly dismantle the Republic and erect a new Imperial system[14].

A statue of Augustus


The death of Caesar at the hands of aristocratic Romans was to have far reaching consequences in both the short and the longer term. The killing led to a series of events that led to the rise of Mark Antony and Octavian. It also led to a civil war between the adherents of the Caesarean party and the liberators and their allies that ended with the total defeat of those who believed in the Republic. The defeat at Philippi was to effectively end the military power of those who sympathized with the old Republican system. The death of the conqueror of Gaul also enabled Mark Anthony and Octavian to partition the Empire between them. Perhaps the most significant event, that emerged from the bloody confusion in the aftermath of the assassination was the rise of Octavian. He learned much from the death of his grand-uncle and did not repeat his mistakes. He created an imperial system while observing the outward form of the Republican system. As a result, he faced little opposition, as he ended the Republic and made himself the first Emperor. The most important consequence of the assassination of Caesar was the fall of the Roman Republic and the establishment of an Imperial system that was to last until 476 AD.

Additional Reading

Syme, Ronald, The Roman Revolution (Oxford, Oxford University, 2002). Holland, Tom, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (London, Anchor Books, 2003). Everitt, Anthony. The First Emperor: Caesar Augustus and the Triumph of Rome. London: John Murray, 2007 Jiménez, Ramon L. Caesar Against Rome: The Great Roman Civil War (New York, Praeger, 2006). Goldsworthy, Anthony. Caesar: Life of a Colossus (Yale, Yale University Press, 2006).


  1. Goldsworthy, Anthony. Caesar: Life of a Colossus (Yale, Yale University Press, 2006), p. 261
  2. Plutarch, Life of Caesar, xxxi
  3. Goldsworthy, p. 314
  4. Osgood, Josiah. Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press (USA), 2006), p. 113
  5. Plutarch, Life of Anthony, xxiv
  6. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, xxiv
  7. Galinsky, Karl. Augustan Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 89
  8. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesar, vii
  9. Osgood, p 227
  10. Holland, Tom, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (London, Anchor Books, 2003), p. 207
  11. Holland, p 298
  12. Goldsworthy, Adrian. Augustus: First Emperor of Rome (Yale, Yale University Press, 2010), p. 213
  13. Suetonius, Life of Augustus, cvii
  14. Osgood, p. 452