Since the days of Tarquin the Proud, the people of Rome had hated the very name of king. In some strange and subtle way, their love for Cæsar and their pride in his achievements began, from this time, to be touched with the suspicion that he wished to bear the title Rex, rex being the Latin word for king.
Slowly but surely the thought grew. Suppose Cæsar should claim the supreme title and then forget his gracious ways, and become like Tarquin of old, proud and cruel!
Cæsar's enemies were not slow to take advantage of the mood of the people, and they did all that they could to encourage their suspicion and dread.
His friends, too, foolishly played into the hands of his enemies, some of them one day saluting him as Rex.
Cæsar, whether he was pleased or not, was quick to see that the people standing near were angry. So he replied, as though to reprove his friends, that his name, as they knew, was not Rex but Cæsar.
Rex, as well as meaning king, was also the surname of a well-known Roman family.
It was all very well for Cæsar to pretend that his friends had mistaken who he was, but rumours were soon rife in the city—that Cæsar really wished the title, and had not been well pleased at the evident dislike of the people to hear him saluted as Rex.
And so gradually his words and movements came to be watched by his enemies and by the people too, always with this thought of kingship in their minds.
When, on his return from Spain, the consuls and senators went to tell Cæsar of the new honours that had been heaped upon him, he did not, as was his custom, rise to receive them, but remained sitting.
Not only the Senate, but the people, were indignant at such haughty behaviour, and Cæsar himself was quick to see that he had made a mistake.
He tried to excuse himself, saying that his health was not good, but few believed that that accounted for his action.
It is said that he really was going to rise as usual, had not one of his flatterers pulled him to his seat, saying, "Will you not remember you are Cæsar, and claim the honour which is your due?"
Soon after this, in February 45 b.c. , an ancient festival called the Lupercalia was celebrated on the Palatine.
Cæsar sat, clad in a triumphal robe, in a golden chair to watch the games.
Mark Antony was taking part in the festival, and as he ran hither and thither amid the merrymakers, he reached the Forum and saw Cæsar seated on the chair of gold as on a throne. He stepped before him and held out a crown wreathed with laurel.
A few persons had been placed near Cæsar, with orders to applaud when Antony proffered the crown to the Dictator, and so some feeble cheers rose on the air, while the crowd looked on coldly and in silence.
But when Cæsar moved the crown aside, loud cheers burst from the multitude. There was no doubt that the Dictator's action had pleased them.
Again Antony offered the crown, while a few persons clapped their hands, but when once more Cæsar put it aside, cheer after cheer rent the air.
A third time Antony tried to force the crown upon Cæsar, but the temper of the people had been shown too plainly, and the Dictator now bade the crown to be taken to the Capitol and dedicated to Jupiter, for he alone was king.
A few days later, those who passed the statues of Cæsar found them adorned with crowns.
This roused the anger of two tribunes, who pulled off the crowns and arrested those who, they believed, had first called Cæsar Rex, and sent them to prison.
Whether Cæsar really wished to be king or not, he was angry with the tribunes for their hasty conduct, and ordered them to be suspended from the tribuneship.
As I told you, Cæsar's every act was now watched with suspicion. He had no sons to follow him, so he began to bring his great-nephew Octavius, who was eighteen years of age, to the front, and treat him as a prince and his heir should be treated. It seemed to the nobles that Cæsar was acting as a king, who claimed for his heir the respect due to royalty.
In this, and many other ways, the Dictator incensed the patricians. Little by little their hatred grew, until some among them began to think that it would be well if Cæsar were dead. For as long as he was alive it was not possible for them to be as powerful as they had been before he ruled in Rome.
But others, like Decimus Brutus, who was loved by Cæsar and who loved him, did not wish the Dictator out of the way, in order to satisfy their own ambitions. They truly believed that it would be better for Rome not to be ruled by one man, but by the Senate and the people, as had been the way of old.
So while different nobles had different reasons for plotting against Cæsar, they all had agreed at length that Cæsar must be put to death.
The chief conspirator was Cassius, who like Brutus had fought for Pompey, and had been pardoned and even favoured by Cæsar.
Cassius was crafty and ambitious, and his dark lean face smiled as he thought how soon Cæsar's power would now be at an end. Brutus, too, was one of the most active conspirators.
Before long the plot was complete, and the conspirators determined that it should be carried out quickly, lest it should be discovered. For already more than sixty or seventy people had been told the terrible secret.