If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Caesar, Cleopatra and the Ides of March

Julius Caesar installs Cleopatra as Pharaoh in Ptolemaic Egypt and becomes Dictator for Life, only to be assassinated by Brutus on the Ides of March.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Instructor] Where we left off in the last video, we saw Julius Caesar had conquered Gaul as proconsul. And, near the end of his term as proconsul, the senators in Rome were afraid of him. He was this popular, populist, charismatic figure, he had just had these significant military victories in Gaul, and they said, all right, Caesar, why don't you just leave your position, leave your army, and return to Rome? Well Caesar is sitting over here saying, well, that doesn't really make a lot of sense. If I were just to return to Rome, they already are threatened by me, who knows what they're going to do to me? So he decides to cross the Rubicon and enter Rome. And so the Roman senators, they say, okay, let's get Pompey, the famous general, who used to be part of Caesar's triumvirate but had switched sides, to engage with Caesar. But Pompey says, you know what, I'm not so sure if Caesar is beatable right now, he wasn't aware that Caesar only had one legion, maybe there was a trick up Julius Caesar's sleeves. So Pompey takes his forces and retreats across the Adriatic to regroup, with the intent of coming back and retaking Rome. And so you can imagine, a lot of the senators, especially the powerful senators who were in opposition to Julius Caesar, go along with Pompey. So Julius Caesar, even though he's now in control of Rome, he knows that this isn't the end of it, that a civil war has begun, that it's only a matter of time before Pompey's forces and these senators return and retake Rome. So he decides to take the fight to them. He puts his second in command, Marcus Antonius, often known as Mark Antony, who was one of his generals in the Gaelic Wars, he puts him in charge of, he puts him in charge in Italy. And then Julius Caesar leads several of his legions off across the Adriatic, and it's a pretty interesting story in its own right. They cross during the winter, which was a bit of a surprise attack, because no one would've expected them to cross the winter in the Adriatic, and to break the blockade of Pompey, 'cause Pompey controlled the navy. But he's able to engage Pompey several times, and then, finally, in 48 BCE, he is able to decisively beat Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, which is right over here in central Greece. So his enemies, his opponents, Julius Caesar's enemies are now defeated, and Pompey is in retreat. He tries to escape to Alexandria. And this is where the story gets even more interesting. So this is a little bit of background. In 51 BCE, so right about there on that timeline, and right about here on this timeline, Ptolemy XII, who was the pharaoh of Egypt, dies. Ptolemy, Ptolemy XII passes away. And this is a little bit of background. It was called Ptolemaic Egypt, and even this guy was called Ptolemy, because, you might remember that Alexander the Great, when he conquered Persia in the 330s BCE, he also conquered Egypt. And then, once Alexander the Great passed, once he died, one of his generals, Ptolemy, Ptolemy I, established a Ptolemaic Empire over Egypt, established Ptolemaic Egypt. And so this is Ptolemaic Egypt right over here, which was significantly less powerful than the Roman Empire, and the historical accounts say that they essentially bribed their way to maintain their independence up to this point. But Ptolemy XII, when he dies in 51 BCE, dies in 51 BCE, in his will he wants two of his children to co-rule Ptolemaic Egypt, and they were young. One of them, Ptolemy, creatively named Ptolemy XIII, was 10 years old. And his daughter, the other one that he wanted to co-rule, Cleopatra, was 18 years old, and this is a picture of Cleopatra, and this is now the Cleopatra. In popular culture, the movie Cleopatra, when people talk about Cleopatra, this is the Cleopatra they're talking about. But, you can imagine, this co-rule thing doesn't really work out that well, and civil war has broken out in Ptolemaic Egypt, with the supporters of Ptolemy XIII, you can imagine, this is only a 10-year-old, young kid, it's really the adults that are probably running the show, but the supporters of Ptolemy XIII are the ones that seem to have the upper hand at the time that Pompey is running away to Alexandria, which is the seat of power, a city established by Alexander the Great, and the seat of power in Ptolemaic Egypt. Now, the supporters of Ptolemy XIII, they say, okay, we don't wanna mess around with Julius Caesar, who seems to be quite powerful, with his legions. So why don't we do him a favor. When Pompey comes, why don't we kill him? And so, in 49, or 48 BCE, this is after, remember, Pharsalus, Pharsalus was in August of 48 BCE, you have Pompey leaving, and in 48 BCE, he is killed. So Pompey is now killed in 48 BCE by the supporters of Ptolemy XIII, thinking that this is gonna curry favor with them with Julius Caesar. Well Julius Caesar really does not like this. He likes to establish his reputation as a magnanimous ruler, someone who likes to forgive his enemies, someone who wants to unify the people of Rome. And so he's in pursuit of Pompey. When he gets to Alexandria and realizes that he was killed by Ptolemy XIII supporters, he decides to take the other side and join forces with Cleopatra. And, not only is he able to support her in a political, military sense, he helps her defeat her enemies and become, and come onto the throne, become the pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt. He also has an affair with Cleopatra. And, at the time, this is now 48 BCE, 48 BCE, where you have, so let's see, this is 50, 49, 48 BCE, which is roughly late 48 and early 47 BCE, when Julius Caesar was actually in Alexandria, they actually have an affair. And this is a Julius Caesar who is in his early 50s, and this is a Cleopatra who is in her early 20s. And through that affair, they have, by most accounts, a child, Caesarion, later on. But this affair puts, or I guess this support for Cleopatra, puts Cleopatra on the throne. And, even though Julius Caesar does not take control of Ptolemaic Egypt, it makes Ptolemaic Egypt something of a client state, something of a client state of the Roman Empire. And then Julius Caesar returns back to Rome. He does several other things, engaging in the east here, but, eventually, he gets back to Rome. And, over several periods, he gets himself declared dictator. And dictator today has a term of someone who kind of takes power, maybe unlawfully, someone who just runs the show. Under Roman law, under the Roman Republic, there was actually a position called dictator, that could be appointed for these six-month terms, especially when they was in times of emergency, that they could do whatever they needed to do. But now he got appointed dictator multiple terms and for more than six months. And in 46, he gets elected dictator for 10 years. So now 46 BCE is, let's see, this is 45, 46 BCE, he gets elected dictator for a term of 10 years. And then in 44 BCE, he gets, he gets declared dictator for life. Now, this whole time, even though he tried to be someone somewhat conciliatory against his enemies, his enemies were kind of brooding and saying, what can we do to get back at this? And so, on March 15th, 44 BCE, and this is one of the most famous dates in history, his opponents in the senate, led by Marcus Junius Brutus, literally attack Julius Caesar in Rome, and this is an artist's depiction of that attack, and they kill him. You might have heard of the Ides of March. Ides of March, that is the date March 15th, and it's referring, when people say it today, they're referring to that event that happened on March 15th, 44 BCE, where the dictator of Rome, and he was really emperor, even though he wasn't declared emperor yet, he had absolute power over Rome, Julius Caesar was killed by his enemies, and that those enemies were led by Marcus Junius Brutus. And, as you can imagine, this then puts Rome into another phase, I guess you could say, of the civil war. Or you could say into another civil war. Now, before we leave Julius Caesar, it is worth saying some of the things he did. He did try to do some of these populist reforms. He's also well known for establishing the Julian calendar. Julian calendar. The Roman calendar before the Julian calendar got pretty off on an annual basis, but the Julian calendar got a lot closer to our current Gregorian calendar that we use today, so the days didn't shift as much as Earth orbited around the Sun. So I'll leave you there, and in the next few videos we'll talk about what happened after Julius Caesar, the civil war, I really could say the civil wars, that broke out, and how they really culminated with Rome officially going from being a republic to an empire.