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49-44 B.C. - Caesar From the Rubicon to the Ides of March


49-44 B.C. - Caesar's Rubicon, Civil War, and Dictatorship
Julius Caesar. Marble, mid-first century A.D., discovery on the island of Pantelleria.

Julius Caesar. Marble, mid-first century A.D., discovery on the island of Pantelleria.

CC Flickr User euthman

1st Century B.C. Rome Timeline > 1st Triumvirate > Caesar From the Rubicon to the Ides of March

One of the most famous dates in history is the Ides of March. The famous one happened in 44 B.C. when a group of conspiring senators assassinated Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator.


Civil War

Caesar and his colleagues both within and outside of the first triumvirate had acted more or less within the legal framework of Rome. On January 10/11, in 49 B.C., when Julius Caesar, who in 50 B.C. had been ordered back to Rome, crossed the Rubicon, everything changed. It's not that a Roman leader had never brought armed troops into Rome before. Marius and Sulla had done so, but legal right was no longer on Caesar's side once he led his Legio XIII Gemina from the Gallic province into Roman territory, allegedly saying "alea iacta est" 'the die is cast'. Pompey, with two legions, and many of the Optimates senators fled from Italy fearing the approach of Caesar and his troops. The hurried and worried senators left, forgetting the treasury filled with funds that Caesar was able to use.

Civil War ensued, lasting from 49-45, with Caesar's first victorious confrontation at Corfinium against L. Domitius. A second series of confrontations with Pompey's allies followed in Spain, which Caesar also won. Massilia, had resisted, but after Varro surrendered in Spain, Massilia surrendered. While there, Caesar learned he had been named dictator, a position he wanted temporarily so he could run for and win the office of consul for 48. When he won, he surrendered the dictatorship. He created some laws to deal with bankruptcy, but then left for Brundisium before his consulship started.

Like Sulla in 87, Caesar was short of ships, so instead of directly crossing the Adriatic from Brundisium, he went to Epirus. He waited there until Mark Antony met him with half the army. Pompey was in Dyrrachium. Caesar tried, but failed to blockade Pompey's army, so he headed to Thessaly to help Domitius Calvinus face the imminent approach of Metellus Scipio, an ally of Pompey. Pompey followed Caesar. They confronted one another at Pharsalus, a battle Caesar decisively won. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was met by an assassin; his head given to Caesar who arrived shortly. Caesar had not asked for or wanted this, although it was convenient.

Egyptian politics were such that sisters and brothers sometimes competed for the same throne. Caesar backed Cleopatra against her brother Ptolemy and made her queen, with another younger Ptolemy brother as her colleague. That she was married to this brother didn't stop Caesar from having a son by Cleopatra.

Mithradates had been succeeded on the throne of the small portion of his kingdom left by the Romans, by his son Pharnaces. While civil war was rampant in Rome, Pharnaces took the opportunity to reclaim more of his father's kingdom. Caesar left Egypt to deal with the issue and handily defeated Pharnaces' army at Zela in 5 days; whence the expression "Veni, vidi, vici" 'I came, I saw, I conquered'.

Caesar's victory at Pharsalus led to his reinstatement as Roman dictator, but Pompey's allies had rallied. Caesar returned to Italy in 47, but he had to set out to deal with enemies in Africa where he defeated them in a battle at Thapsus. Two of Pompey's sons escaped. Cato committed suicide and some of the leaders were slain. Caesar then returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph, supposedly in Gaul and over Egyptians and Numidians, rather than over his fellow Romans.

Caesar's next campaign was against an insurrection fueled by Pompey's sons in Spain. In 45 Caesar won the Battle of Munda, from which Sextus Pompeius, but not his brother Cn. Pompeius escaped alive. The Battle of Munda is counted as the end of the civil war.

In 44 Caesar was named dictator perpetuus. He didn't last in this position for long. On the Ides of March of the same year, a conspiracy of senators assassinated him, near a statue of Pompey.


  • The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, by Erich S. Gruen
  • From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome 133 BC to AD 68, by H. H. Scullard

Next: Rome 44-31 B.C. The Second Triumvirate.

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