On dies Mercurii Id. Mar. DCCX a.u.c. (Wednesday 15 Mar 44 B.C.), 710 years after the legendary founding of the City of Rome, the Roman Senate was to meet in the Curia Pompeii, an annex of the colonnaded Porticus adjacent to the stage of the Theater of Pompeii, which had been built by Pompey (Pompeius) just a decade or so before. Caesar was late. As Brutus and Cassius anxiously waited for him to arrive, one of the senators confided that his prayers were with them. “May your plan succeed,” relates Plutarch, “but whatever you do, make haste. Everyone is talking about it by now.” But there was nothing the conspirators could do except grasp their daggers and prepare to use them on themselves, if need be. Porcia, the daughter of Cato, whom Brutus had married within a year of her father’s death, had insisted that she be told of the plan. The day of the assassination, her anxiety was so great that she became hysterical and fainted from apprehension.
Suetonius relates that a soothsayer had warned Caesar that he was in grave danger, which would not pass until the Ides had ended. Entering the building, Caesar now chided him that the day had arrived. “Yes,” he replied, “but they have not yet gone.” As Caesar took his seat, the conspirators gathered around him on the pretext of presenting a petition. One then took hold of his purple toga and ripped it away from his neck. A dagger was thrust at Caesar’s throat but missed and only wounded him. Another assassin then drove a dagger into his chest as he twisted away from the first assailant. Brutus struck Caesar in the groin. Hemmed in, “Caesar kept turning,” writes Appian, “from one to another of them with furious cries like a wild beast.” When he saw that Brutus, too, had drawn his dagger, Plutarch relates that Caesar covered his head with his toga and sank to the ground, reproaching him in Greek, says Suetonius, with the words “Kai su, teknon?” (“You, too, my child?”)
Even after he had fallen, the conspirators continued to strike, at times cutting one another with their own daggers, until they, too, were covered in blood. (Having recently sworn to defend the person of Caesar, which was sacred and inviolate, the assassins must have paused at enormity of their deed; only the second wound later was thought to have been fatal.) Slumped against the pedestal of Pompey’s statue, Caesar died, having been stabbed twenty-three times. “The pedestal was drenched with blood,” writes Plutarch, “so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was presiding over this act of vengeance against his enemy, who lay there at his feet struggling convulsively under so many wounds.”
If the conspirators had killed in the name of Republican libertas, it was the liberty of the Optimates for which they acted. There was to be no popular support for the deed; nor, perhaps, was what the conspirators had sought to preserve even the same. To Appian, at least, “The Republic has been rotten for a long time. The city masses are now thoroughly mixed with foreign blood, the freed slave has the same rights as a citizen, and those who are still slaves look no different from their masters.” It was as if, for the conspirators, the death of the tyrant was sufficient, with no thought being given to what would happen in consequence. It all had been planned, relates Cicero, with the “courage of men and the foresight of children.” But the res publica was not to be restored. The only outcome was what Caesar himself had predicted: “It is more important for Rome,” Suetonius quotes him as saying, “than for myself that I should survive...should anything happen to me, Rome will enjoy no peace.” And so it was: civil war would rage for another thirteen years.
This Roman civil war became the twilight of the Roman Republic and the dawn of the Roman Empire under Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son, Gaius Iulius Caesar Octavianus (the Emperor Caesar Augustus).