Dictatorship and Death of Caesar - The Second Triumvirate - Civil Wars of Mark Antony and Octavianus

From August B.C. 48, when he defeated Pompey at Pharsalia, till March B.C. 44, when he was assassinated Julius Caesar was supreme master of the Roman world. Senate and people vied with each other in conferring dignities upon him; and all the great offices and titles recognized by the Roman constitution - as consul, dictator, censor, tribune, etc. - were concentrated in his person, while he exercised the virtual patronage of almost all the rest. In short, the Commonwealth may be said to have ceased when he defeated Pompey; and had he lived long enough, there is no doubt that he would have fully established the Empire. It was not so much, however, in organic changes of the constitution, as in practical reforms of vast moment, that Caesar exercised the enormous power which had been placed in his hands. Besides the various measures of reform which he actually carried into effect during his dictatorship, among which his famous reform of the Calendar deserves especial mention, there were innumerable schemes which he had projected for himself, and some of which he would probably have executed, had his life not been cut short. To extend the Roman do minion in the East; to drain the Pontine marshes; to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth; to prepare a complete map of the Roman Empire; to draw up a new digest of Roman law; to establish public libraries in the metropolis - such were a few of the designs which this great man entertained at the time when the conspiracy was formed which led to his assassination. At the head of this plot, which consisted of about sixty persons of note, were Brutus and Cassius, both men of the highest abilities, and esteemed by Caesar; and the former at least actuated by motives of the purest character. The immediate occasion of the conspiracy was the rumor that Caesar intended to accept the title of king, which some of his adherents were pressing upon him. When the plot was matured (B.C. 44) it was resolved that Cesar should be assassinated in the senate-house on the ides (the 15) of March, on which day it was understood a motion was to be brought forward by some of his friends for appointing him king of Italy. ' Upon the first onset,' says Plutarch, 'those who were not privy to the design were astonished, and their horror of the action was so great, that they durst not fly, nor assist Caesar, nor so much as speak a word. But those who came prepared for the business enclosed him on every side, with their naked daggers in their hands, and which way soever he turned he met with blows, and saw their swords leveled at his face and eyes. Brutus gave him one stab in the groin. Some say that he fought and resisted all the rest, and moved from one place to another calling for help; but when he saw Brutus's sword drawn, he covered his face with his robe, and quietly surrendered himself, till he was pushed, either by chance or design, to the pedestal on which Pompey's statue stood, which by that means was much stained with his blood: so that Pompey himself may seem to have had his share in the revenge of his former enemy, who fell at his feet, and breathed out his soul through the multitude of his wounds; for they say he received three-and-twenty.'

The assassination of Caesar has justly been pronounced 'the most stupid action that ever the Romans committed.' The later ages of the republic had been one continued scene of violence and anarchy; and not until Caesar had risen to the chief power in the state was there a restoration of order and efficient government. His assassination plunged the Roman dominions into new and complicated civil wars. On the one side were the conspirators with Brutus and Cassius at their head, bent on the futile project of throwing back the Empire into the condition of a republic. On the other were Mark Antony, an able and valiant officer of Caesar's; Lepidus, another officer of less distinguished abilities; and Marcus Octavius, a young man of eighteen, Caesar's grandnephew, and who, as his uncle's heir, now assumed the name of Camas Julius Caesar Octavianus. These three united themselves into a triumvirate (November B.C. 44) for avenging Caesar's death, and settling the affairs of the republic. After making, themselves masters of Italy, and putting to death by wholesale proscription all those citizens whose views they suspected, among others the great and amiable Cicero, they pursued the conspirators into Greece. At length, in the autumn of B. C . 42, two great battles were fought at Philippi in Macedonia between the republican forces and those of the triumvirate. The former were defeated; Cassius caused himself to be slain, Brutus committed suicide, and the triumvirs thus remained masters of the Roman world. They divided it among them: Antony assuming the government of the East, Lepidus obtaining Africa, and Octavianus returning to Italy, master of the countries adjacent to that peninsula. Each continued to govern his share for some time independently; but a quarrel ensuing between Octavianus and Lepidus, the latter was deprived of his power, and obliged to retire into private life. The Empire was now divided between Antony and Octavianus, the former master of the East, the latter of the West. At length, however, political and private reasons led to a rupture between the two potentates (B.C. 83). The rash and pleasure-loving Antony, who had been caught in the toils of Cleopatra, the licentious queen of Egypt, and therefore one of his subject sovereigns as master of the East, was no match for the cunning, abstemious, and remorseless Octavianus. Defeated at the battle of Actium (2d September B.C. 31), he fled with Cleopatra to Egypt, where, being hard pressed by Octavianus, they both died by their own hands. Octavianus thus remained sole master (B.C. 30) of the great Empire which Julius Caesar had prepared for him; and under the new name of Augustus, he continued to wield the sovereignty during the long period of forty-four years (B. 0. 30 A. D. 14). During these forty-four years, the various races and nations which so many centuries of conquest had connected together, became consolidated into that historic entity - The Roman Empire.'