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This episode of the podcast is with Peter Stothard.
He is an author. He's just written a book about the assassins of Julius Caesar, really one of the most infamous political assassinations in history, stabbed by other members of the Senate, jealous of his power, who feared his power. And the reason we're putting this one out today is because this is a huge week for anniversaries from the ancient world, the classical world.
It's the anniversary of the battle of salamis, apparently is not the 2010 versus the 1999, because the USERRA was not a year. So all of my celebratory tweets and thoughts and things are completely wrong, not the first time that's happened, but of Gargamel, a gigantic battle in which Alexander the Great finally decisively won control the Persian Empire, as everybody knows by that extraordinary flanking attack out to the right and back into the centre, heading for the Persian king himself, an astonishing act of military.
The decapitation of the enemy. Astonishing, charismatic leadership by Alexander. I mean, it's a remarkable battle.
Elisia also the anniversary of Lisey's Julius's gigantic victory in Gaul. At one stage, he was besieging the goals and was himself besieged. Again, personal leadership and Valla important that victory, but the battle of Phillipi, which saw Marchand's not Tavian defeat. So these Assassins', you'll be hearing more about them in this podcast.
And because it's all about classical history this week, I want to tell you all about our new podcast called The Ancients. It's with our in-house ancient historian, Treston Hughes. We call him the historian on history at Team. He has got a podcast about Agrippa, who was kind of the well, he was sort of Octavia's right hand man. That's putting it politely. I think he was sort of the military genius behind the man who would become Augustus.
So interesting podcast about him. Great podcast, not just about the classical world, but looking at, for example, the Polynesian seafarers of the Pacific, my personal favorite subject of mine, and so other aspects of ancient history as well. So not just obsessed with the Mediterranean basin. So please go and check out the ancients wherever you get your podcast. In the meantime, though, let's get back to Peter Stothard, talk about the assassination of Julius Caesar and Joy.
Hello, Peter, thank you very much for joining us. Hi. Great to be with 70 people. Well, it's great to have you here talking about one of the most famous infamous events in recorded history, the assassination of Julius Caesar. Let's start with Caesar himself. He wasn't the emperor of Rome, was he? Obviously at the time, his death and just a little bit, but his rise as well. But start by telling me about exactly the power he held when he was killed.
He was called Dictator for Life, which was an unusual title for Roman and worried a lot of his friends who thought that, OK, him being a dictator that had dictators before been dictator for life. But suddenly they some of them started looking around saying maybe he wants to be dictator, not just his own life, but to choose a successor and choose his successor after that. And that to them was basically going back to like having a king and having a king was the thing which Rome defined itself with not having.
And so when a lot of his friends started to see that not only was he extremely powerful, but also wanted to be even more powerful still and to other people, his sons or otherwise, to be kings, at that point, people started getting very anxious and a lot started to develop.
And how did Caesar become dictator for life? Because he was as brilliant a politician as he was a military commander was pretty good about what advances he set out within like was he a man of great wealth or connection at the beginning of his career?
He was a man of good connection, but there were many men who had many more connection. He was an extraordinary speaker. We know he was an extremely writer. And writers like to think that you can tell something about someone by the way they write. But he was a very, very clear thinker, clear describe a great sort of calm propagandist of himself who really did understand politics and was extraordinarily successful at it. But he was working within a system which.
Couldn't cope with either its own growth, the extraordinary power that it gave to people who conquered poverty, he conquered goal, of course, but also it couldn't cope with people who became too powerful to fail. But since his problems with that, he conquered Gaul. He'd done everything you possibly could. And then the rules said that he had to give it all up. Because the Roman system checks and balances the bailout, you talk about Trump at the moment, you know, the rules say that if you lose this, you have to give up.
But sometimes people get very frightened. What will happen if they give up? But in court, they might try that. They might do things that will happen to them. And so they have to keep on going. And that's when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in the famous phrase, put troops into Italy, which wasn't really but was not supposed to do. And then there was a civil war against Pompey. That was Pompey, who was actually in many ways not that unlike Caesar.
One of them was going to be the other Caesar one and one. Caesar had one. He was the most powerful man in Rome ever been in Rome. And a number of things fell out from that. A lot of people work with him very closely. And they knew what kind of a man he was and they worried what kind of a ruler he might be, you know, if he got even more power than he had. And then there were other people around him who perhaps thought that since they fought so hard for him over the years, they should have been more rewarded themselves.
The other people who are just jealous that other people have been rewarded with people who just would tell us about what Caesar could do, whether it was sleeping with their wives or stealing the land that they had planned for an entertainment. So he got to a point in his life and in the life of the Roman Republic, where people feared that it was only one way he could go, that was to make himself king, a hereditary monarch, and therefore people had to decide what was the appropriate response to that.
Not everybody thought you should kill him. A lot of people thought he shouldn't. And they gave very interesting arguments about whether you should kill someone who you think is going to be a tyrant or not. But enough people decided that they should kill him to kill it. He phenomenally successful military commander conquered the whole of goal, unmatched scale of violence there and almost genocide in England, twice as Great Britain twice wrote an amazing commander. But when he was dictator of Rome, what's he do to change Rome?
Obviously, domestic policies like within Rome during that period really didn't have much time as dictator of Rome before, as dictator for life, before people, before they killed him. He spent a lot of his time planning to do what he was going to do if if he'd survived on the Ides of March, which was to invade to the east. He wanted to take over Poppea modern Iran and the big empire over there. He felt that taking goal wasn't really enough and that Alexander the Great, who was his great hero, won all his laurels and all this money in the East and that you weren't really a superhero unless you conquered in the East as well as in the West.
So most of the time, I think when he was planning his life as the dictator, like was actually his next military campaign, this group of people that began to want to assassinate him, they were just worried about somebody wielding too much power.
They what alternative system did they have in mind? If there was one, could they agree? Well, that was the big problem. Of course, they didn't agree. They didn't have any idea of what they wanted to happen afterwards. The notion of consequences of an action which seems so potent to us when we talk about what are your policies, why do you do something to to a modern politician? It's about what outcome do you think that's going to come from?
But these are different people studying Roman history as an art of tightrope walking. You looked at one side of the tightrope and everybody seems a bit like us. They do have policies. They are interested in the water supply and the roads and stuff. But also you look at the other side and they're enormously conscious of of the past, of the honor of their place in history. What was the right thing to do? They could decide that something was the right thing to do, almost regardless of the consequences.
So some of them hoped that what Caesar was killed, everything would go back to normal because they had all got nice jobs. The killers were very close to see, so they went after the state. They all have nice jobs that happen next year where they could move properties and make money and lead armies and all the things that they like to do. And so they didn't really want to take a boat. They just want to get Caesar out the way.
And they thought it would all go back to normal. Well, otherwise, the people said, look, now if you have an assassination, you'll get a civil war. Subsequent history show that was the case, too, that you just create a vacuum in which people to fight over. And then there was a big argument amongst these very wise men, for the most part, about what was the right thing to do with having a dictator so much worse than having a civil war, which is the lesser of two evils, which was the most likely to give you the happy, successful life for yourself or for the country.
And they argued about this in almost a philosophical seminar way, and they came up with different conclusions. But enough of them came to the conclusion that Caesar should be killed for him to be killed. In your book, you also have those philosophical debates about assassination, don't you? And you bring it up to the modern day. You talk about death, the discussions about whether it's right to kill a king and also get very interesting thoughts about Tony Blair thinking about Saddam Hussein.
The first book I ever wrote, one of the most extraordinary times of my time as a journalist was when I happened to be in Downing Street with Tony Blair during the Iraq war. Long story how that happened, but it did. And I stayed there with him throughout the entire war. Tony Blair was in some ways a Roman politician in that respect because he believed there just because he could get rid of Saddam Hussein, because the Americans. They do it for different reasons, he should do it for the notion that just because you can if something is right and you can do it, should you do it with him?
An important idea. And people said, well, why don't you get rid of Mugabe? Why don't you get rid of the Burmese lot? And you said, well, I can't. But if something is the right thing to do that you can do, then you should do it. The consequences of him doing it would be catastrophic in many ways. What you mentioned, but the best checked it in the bay pretty much the first time the word assassination was used in English.
That's where the best is considering killing Duncan. And he says if the assassination could gather up the consequence within itself, then that this blood would be the be all and end all that would be over. But of course, the plane never is the be all and end all. The bloke doesn't gather together the consequences with the consequences come afterwards and then not always the ones that you want. And the and the assassins of Julius Caesar found this place very much because they debated amongst themselves what was the right thing to do, whether, for instance, whether a civil war was better living under a tyranny when it came to it, they had to fight that war and the old world was never going to be the same again.
What they got at the end of it was not any dictator for life but Julius Caesar, the adopted son who became the emperor of a whole dynasty and who taught him about these assassins where we got famous, Brutus and Cassius. But they're all going to the weather.
Well, the we are the one I chose to go for is Cassius Parchments is his name was. And he was the one who lasted the longest. Because what happened after the assassination was that Octavia, who was only a teenager in the beginning, eighteen when Julius Caesar was killed and nobody expected, certainly not his adopted not his stepparents or his friends or anybody. I mean, no one no one thought that he would cross the ocean. He was at university in Greece.
And when he heard that Julius Caesar had made him there, everybody thought he might just come back and try and get some money, possibly. But instead he came back. And soon as he came back, it seems that he realized that Caesar's name was the most potent thing he had and that the soldiers who fought for Caesar really just wanted to fight for another Caesar. They weren't interested in liberty or the restoration of the republic. They were interested in restoring a lot of aristocratic tossed jobs that Caesar had maybe clipped a bit of that part of their power.
They weren't interested in that. They wanted to fight for another season. And so taken systematically in a way with which I described took out every single one of the people who killed his adopted father. And my story is the story of the first assassin he got and then the second and the third right up to be the last assassin, Cassius, since he lost it to thirty to forty years. So looking at it through his. So that lens allows you to see all the assassins.
We're normally rather neglected, as you say. They just talk about Brutus and Cassius because they were in Shakespeare's play. It's a bit part for a few others, but with very important the assassination that it was a joint enterprise of lots of people. That's what made it politically a runner. And they use daggers because, you know, everybody wanted to get a dagger blow in because that made it a corporate political act as opposed to a sort of assassination by a guy running a sword to you in the back alley, which would have been much better way of killing Julius Caesar, but it wouldn't have had the political clout that came from, you know, 20, 30, 40 of his friends and rivals sticking a dagger into him in the Senate.
And each one of those had slightly different reasons. We can talk about what they are, some of the reasons that we can all we can understand today, some of them which are jealous of Caesar, that they thought that they were perhaps legacy to so much better than them. I think Brutus and Cassius both had a bit of that in them. Some of them thought that they should have been better rewarded for helping Caesar. Some of them thought that they were just jealous.
Other people are almost as good with both of them, but not and enrich their lives and go to Caesar. There were people who just didn't like the idea of anybody being powerful enough to pardon them. Julius Caesar was a great partner. He was like you pride himself on his clemency with a bit of genocide is the goal. Okay, but when it came to his fellow rebel leaders, he was more inclined to pardon them than to kill them. But of course, if you pardon someone who's very proud, they can hate you more than if you let them go.
Caesar built up a wide range of personal hatreds from his own behavior, as well as the general anxiety about the fact that he wanted to make himself king, come home to ultrafast broadband and sky, his best ever Wi-Fi for our lowest ever price from just thirty your own money so you can play games, stream music and download movies at Ultrafast Beats for less than ever before. To switch from just 30 zero month for 12 month search guy 30 availability subject to location, set up these terms and conditions apply for more info for its speeds.
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I used to be an abandoned air host of Superbrain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. I have a passion for people and a fascination for the human brain. That's why I became a psychologist and neuroscientist. On Mondays, I pick the brains of inspiring guests about thriving and surviving in life. And on Thursdays I share insights and hacks to help you to understand and unleash your inner superbrain to join me each week. Simply search for Superbrain on Apple Outcaste or wherever you get your podcast.
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What did the assassins hope will happen next? They hope that there would be a lot of popular support for them, not just amongst fellow senators who many of whom shared their dislike and wish that Seether would go away, and even if aren't doing the conspiracy, one been asked, would at least support them. And the most famous of those was Cicero, who you know, who they didn't they didn't like the idea of getting involved in the conspiracy. But as soon as Caesar was dead, Cicero jumped in and said, this is actually wonderful, guys.
I love you all. You have to be great when we go from here. So so they were hoping for a lot of that. They got some. And they also hoping for a lot of support from the ordinary people of Rome, sort of voters like you like and down the line. They will hope that there will be support for soldiers who they believed would fight for, you know, the old idea of the Roman Republic and would be as worried about Caesar's tyranny as they were now that they got some support from the fellow senators.
But it was very they they left the Senate. They could see that it wasn't fantastically popular. They split out. They went back up onto the Capitol Hill to negotiate with see, at that time, Caesar's main man, Marc Anthony. But Marc Anthony was perfectly happy to negotiate to. They all really wanted a quiet life at that point. And they would very happily just divide it up all the good jobs and continued with all the sharing, the power that Caesar had amongst themselves.
And so the assassins were quite hopeful at that point. But then it was it was clear with Shakespeare's famous friends, Romans countrymen speech, Marc Anthony. Well, probably some truth in it. Not completely. Probably understated. It'll play out well. But Marc Anthony did see that the people were not as supportive of the assassins as perhaps he thought they might be or they thought they might be. And so he started hedging his bets, but they still did a deal.
They all gathered in a temple and tell us with a great map of Italy and they did a deal where they said, look, we're not going to pay you assassins. We're not going to say that you did the right thing, but we're not going to pursue you either. And we're going to basically pretend to see that never happened. And that's in quite a good compromise. A lot of people like that idea amongst the ruling class, if you like.
But the people were a bit nervous about it. And as soon as the teenage Octavian arrived on the scene, it was quite clear that he only had to say, avenge Caesar and he was going to get a huge amount of support. And so Marc Anthony, who to begin with, was quite. The diplomatic corps was trying to do a deal to do a deal with Iran and the assistance Mark Anthony was elected to represent sees side was drawn more and more away from diplomacy and forgiveness and let bygones be bygones and more and more into the serious international wars and pursuits and pogroms and description's against against all the assassins.
So one man's desire for vengeance like the other players in his wake. And so that was that was then what happened then? And my story is the story of the day of the hunt, the follow up to that so-called TAVIAN, even as a teenager, heroes with a pretty clear idea of what he wants. Does he? It's not absolutely clear, I find that a little hard to believe that he did, though some people think that he did.
And I think it's normal. I think most likely is that he came looking to see what the score was, something pretty amazing. You know, no reason to expect this. Well, we don't know that he had any reason to expect it. He knew things a bit, but not that much. And he was the grandson of Caesar's sister. One of the Scissor Sisters is the only grandson. He got the nod and he came over. And I suspect that what that was, he smelt the breeze very quickly with a young boy, and he wasn't troubled by a whole lot of misconceptions about what should and shouldn't be done.
He could just see that if you exclude yourself, Caesar and your name was see that his name was Caesar, then he was able to take over to continue where his where Julius Caesar had had to stop. But he was very canny politician. He proved itself very, very quickly. And the story that moves on from that. You mentioned assassins are all hunted down. Some of them are defeated in battle, but others had sort of lonely yesterday. A bit of a spoiler alert here, but run through some of the ways in which they were they were run to ground and dealt with the first assassin to die with a man called to ponies.
He was a rather scholarly general with almost almost a sort of literary critic, gives a collector of Cicero's speeches. But but he was a powerful general. And he had his he had been promised by Caesar that he would be the governor of Asia. And so he went straight off that to take over his job, which he seems have given him, because part of the compromise was everybody kept the job that Caesar told them that they can have. So he went off to take his.
But unfortunately for him, a crazy man called Bella, who was a sort of one of these thugs and who was constantly that must mostly like trying to foment revolution so that there would be an end to death because he was hugely in debt. Every so often he would try to pass laws and rabble-rouser to get all debts canceled. So he was very popular with the with the upper classes or at least the rich upper classes, because things have taken a fancy to him.
He was going to be the consul, the top job after Caesar had left the party and D'Oliveira went off to take his what he thought was going to be his job. He passes by to Benyus and to bonuses tortured to death in a way which is absolutely shocking to to remember you had one senator in a room in Greece with a Sumerian torturer with sort of hot irons in Iraq, killing another Roman senator over two days in revenge for the well, in revenge.
You know, if you wanted money, you might want to remember it was a if the absolutely brutal assault, which the enemies of Mark Anthony but made a great deal of and they. OK, who was that stage? They met with the assassins, but big attack on Syria with brutal attacks on my country, heavily fuelled by the torture and death of the first assassin. That rebellious was the first assassin to die.
And then we have a more formal warfare. Don't we want to talk me through the kind of the final stage of a few of the assassins actually tried to take on Anthony tapin in battle. Anthony and Octavia were sometimes on the same side and sometimes on different sides. It was a complicated area to get your head around even at the time. And it was been very difficult for historians ever since. The big battleground was the area of what is now northern Italy, which is then southern go, which is where it came from in Parma with the hammer.
The cheese came from then and come from now. One of the assassins who was closest to seek the death of this Brutus, who does appear in Shakespeare play. He had been awarded the prize of being governor of that part of. So he goes off there to take to take that. And then Anthony Anthony decides that he wants that job and he can take it from death to the Senate, decide you can't really decide what to do. So you ended up with about three or four different armies fighting a disgusting, wet, damp, low lying mud in northern Italy.
It was the worst kind of civil war that the Romans had who didn't want Caesar to die had warned against because the Romans often one battle could easily. The most brutal battles that take place between fellow Romans and a lot of blood was shed in the mud of Palmer, which was his comments as his hometown, the Hope Parma, which pretty much destroyed the completely destroyed in a revenge attack by Marc Anthony brother. And it was a very, very messy, extremely bloody, very unpleasant dismissed.
Brutus tries to escape to join Marcus, Brutus and Cassius, who were in Greece. He tried to go over land. He's caught by a Gallic tribal chief and he's killed God knows how he was killed. And he becomes the second the second assassin to die. So a mixture of formal violence and torture and sort of assassination, looking at assassins is a great, if any, we'd mentioned this earlier, but is it possible to see that any of their aims were met?
Did it change anything or just deliver the Roman world into the hands of an even greater Caesar?
That's exactly what I think, actually, what he did. One of the aims of that, except possibly, I suppose you could say the Brutus is aims were met since Brutus isn't as much as we can understand him, was to become the person that we're talking about now. I mean, he was at an extraordinary sense of his place in Roman history and he and what was the right thing to do for him, his family and his place in the universe?
I mean, they have a very high view of the high moral tone that you might say. So a success for Brutus, but for the rest of them, disappointment. When is your book out, Peter?
October, the first in Britain and November the first in the US.
It's called The Last Assassin Going Down. Everyone, thank you very much, Peter, for joining us on this episode of History at Life. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
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