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A novel of Caligula's Rome

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"Et tu, Brute?": Assassination, Roman style

March 17, 2016 | from Sherry Christie's blog

Over the ages, assassination has been one of three traditional methods for getting rid of an unpopular leader. Ideally, you'd be able to remove a disliked VIP by voting him out. In less democratic locales, you and your friends might have to defeat the tyrant in battle. With these two viable options, why did some of Rome's most conservative movers and shakers use assassination twice in 85 years to rid themselves of a ruler?

1. Julius Caesar. On the Ides of March (March 15), 44 B.C., as many as 60 Senators stabbed him in the Portico of Pompeius when he arrived for a meeting there. They hated his political reforms, and were shocked, shocked! that he had brought Cleopatra to Rome as his concubine.

• Defeat him? Some of these men had military experience, but no one dared challenge Caesar in the field. The renowned victor of the Gallic Wars and other conflicts, he had led thousands of soldiers who were still personally loyal to him.

• Depose him? Normally his foes might have tried to vote him out of office, but Caesar had just had himself named Dictator for Life. Mistake! He was dead a month later.

2. Gaius Caesar (Caligula). The 28-year-old Caligula was murdered on January 24, 41 A.D., by several Praetorian Guards, Senators, and courtiers. As characterized in my novel, Roma Amor, he had taken power with good intentions, hoping to be loved by all. But Palace intrigue led to betrayals that enraged him, leading to behavior that mocked the Senate, the Guard, and the army. The common people, though, adored him.

• Defeat him? Knowing that Caligula was no general, a junta of provincial governors might have brought their legions against him. But my guess is that nobody wanted the kind of widespread chaos and devastation that would result from civil war.

• Depose him? The powers bestowed on Caligula, which had once belonged to elected officials, were his for life. (Blame the Senate's servility for that.) Unable to vote out a leader who might live for another fifty years, his enemies opted for murder.

The moral: If you seek permanent power as Il Supremo, Shahanshah, or President for Life, prepare to sleep lightly and trust no one. And be sure to have lots of life insurance.

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