Inside the conspiracy to kill Julius Caesar

Blow-by-blow accounts of the Ides of March spare few details on how Rome's dictator-for-life met a bloody end in 44 B.C.

Daggers drawn

Before horrified onlookers, assassins begin attacking Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C., in a circa 1805 painting by Vincenzo Camuccini. It's housed in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.
Scala, Florence. Courtesy of the Ministero beni e att. Culurali e del Turismo

The first blow fell at noon on March 15, 44 B.C. The conspirators “suddenly bared their daggers and rushed upon him,” writes Nicholas of Damascus, a first-century B.C. historian. “First [Publius] Servilius Casca stabbed him on the left shoulder a little above the collarbone, at which he had aimed but missed through nervousness.”

After Casca’s glancing blow, Julius Caesar “snatched his toga from [Tillius] Cimber, seized Casca’s hand, sprang from his chair, turned around, and hurled Casca with great violence,” according to the Greek historian Appian of Alexandria. Suetonius, a Roman biographer and antiquarian, offers a slightly different account: “Caesar caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus,” a sharp tool used for writing on wax tablets that could rip through flesh.

“At almost the same instant both cried out,” writes Plutarch, the Greek biographer and historian, describing how Caesar and Casca reacted. Caesar, in Latin, asked, “Accursed Casca, what does thou?” Casca, in Greek, called to his nearby sibling, Gaius, “Brother, help!”

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