The Ancient Roman Tale Of Lucius Caesar’s Close Call With Assassins

Lucius Caesar was a contemporary relative of Julius Caesar and was the uncle of Mark Antony (as Lucius’ sister, Julia, was the mother of Antony). Unfortunately, Lucius did not have the trust or support of Mark Antony or his other influential kinsman, Octavian (later known as Augustus), after those two achieved great power in Rome. Despite the familial connections, Antony did not feel obligated to protect his uncle, Lucius, and Octavian (the great-nephew and adopted son of the late Julius Caesar) seemed to believe that Lucius could potentially threaten his own influence over the Caesar family and estate. As a result, when Antony and Octavian gained ultimate power in Rome by 43 BCE after forming an authoritative triumvirate, Lucius Caesar in no way benefitted from his family’s elevation to extreme power. Quite the opposite, he found himself in grave danger.

Octavian and Mark Antony, in their triumvirate arrangement, ruled with violence and brutality. The two strongmen often had disagreements during their uneasy alliance, but they both agreed on the grim idea of assassinating rivals and threats to their power. Unfortunately for Lucius Caesar, his name was evidently included on the list of people that the triumvirs wanted to kill. The list was approved, his location was confirmed, and killers were dispatched to hunt down Lucius.  All might have seemed lost, but Lucius still had a potential savior. Whereas the men in his family forsook him, Lucius Caesar was said to have found a steadfast guardian in the form of his sister, Julia—Mark Antony’s mother. The story of Lucius, Julia, and their showdown with assassins was recorded by the ancient scholar, Plutarch (c. 50-120 CE), who wrote:

“Caesar [Octavian] gave up Cicero to Antony, while Antony yielded to him Lucius Caesar, who was Antony’s uncle on his mother’s side, and Lepidus was allowed to kill his brother Paullus (though some say that Lepidus gave up Paullus to Caesar and Antony when they demanded his death). I can think of nothing more savage and cold-blooded than this exchange…[Antony’s] uncle, [Lucius] Caesar, took refuge from the men who were harrying and hunting him in his sister’s house. When the assassins arrived and tried to force their way into her room, she stood in the doorway with her arms spread out and kept repeating in a loud voice: ‘You shall not kill Lucius Caesar without first killing me, the mother of your imperator.’ By this stratagem she managed to get her brother out of harm’s way and save his life” (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Antony, chapters 19-20).

Lucius Caesar, as the quote conveyed, narrowly managed to escape death. After learning that assassins were on his trail, he succeeded in going on the run before the killers could close in. During his harrowing flight, Lucius made his way to the home of his sister, Julia, who sheltered him from the ruffians in pursuit. Perhaps, Julia also pleaded Lucius’ case to the triumvirs and was able to have her brother’s name removed from the list of assassination targets. Whatever the case, as Plutarch stated, Julia reportedly saved Lucius Caesar’s life.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Death Of Caesar, painted by Jean-Léon Gérôme (c. 1824-1904), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and The Walters Art Museum).



  • Roman Lives by Plutarch, translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Oxford World Classics), 1999, 2008.

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