This painting, by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme (c. 1824-1904), depicts the assassination of the Roman dictator, Julius Caesar, on the Ides of March (March 15) in the year 44 BCE. The scene is set in the immediate aftermath of the attack, with Caesar left dying on the ground while the murderous senators jubilantly departed from the chamber. Suetonius (c. 70-130+), an ancient Roman scholar and biographer, described Julius Caesar’s famous death:
“Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers, he [Caesar] drew up the top of his toga over his face and at the same time ungirded the lower part, letting it fall to his feet so that he would die with his lower body decently covered. Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there…The entire Senate then dispersed in confusion, and Caesar was left lying dead for some time until three of his household slaves carried him home in a litter, with one arm hanging over the side” (The Twelve Caesars, Divus Julius, section 82).
Such is the scene that Jean-Léon Gérôme has portrayed in his painting. Central in the artwork, illuminated with bright colors, are the cheering senators who had just stabbed the dictator to death. In the lower-left corner, Julius Caesar, himself, can be seen, with his toga splayed out to cover his bleeding body.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.