03.05.22 44 B.C. Julius Caesar Assassinated; Augustus Reigns
For more than two centuries on the peninsula of Italy, what was once a small Roman Republic, was now growing into a formidable force that would one day dominate the Jewish world. Its leader, Julius Caesar, was assassinated on the ides of March (March 15) which resulted in the following:
- A period of political instability within the government. With his death the Roman Republic ended and the Roman Empire began under Augustus.
- The Parthian Empire, far to the east, took advantage of the instability to invade Jerusalem.
- The assassination was a blow to the Jewish community throughout the empire, as Jews in the Diaspora lived in peace and prosperity until the assassination.
Caesar’s grandnephew, Octavianus, who was his adopted heir, later known as Octavian as well as Caesar Augustus, succeeded him as absolute ruler/emperor of the newly formed Roman Empire. Augustus had an immediate power struggle with Mark Anthony, who challenged him. After several conflicts and assassination attempts, Augustus was the winner. Under his leadership, the Roman Empire became a superior force and kept the eastern empire of the Parthians from gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea. The tension between these two competing empires would be constant in the land of the Jews throughout the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Since Julius Caesar had given the Jews throughout the empire religious freedom and prosperity, they gathered for many days to mourn his passing. While this period was exceptionally good for those living throughout the empire, it was brutal for those living in their Jewish homeland under Herod. The Roman historian Suetonius preserved interesting insights concerning the appreciation of the Diaspora Jews (See map 02.01.03.Z) toward Julius Caesar at the time of his unexpected death.
In exceeding sorrow and public mourning, a number there were besides from foreign countries, who every one after their country’s manner, lamented round one after another, by companies in their turns; but above all the Jews, who also for many nights together frequented the place of his sepulture and where his body was burnt.
Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars 84
The group of men who committed the assassination were captured and their leaders, Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. The Roman senate responded voting to give Caesar divine honors. It was the first time in Roman history that a mortal was deified.
Augustus reorganized the Roman government, laws, and tax structures, and even downsized the military, while transforming it into a highly efficient killing machine. Slowly, but effectively, he increased his governmental authority until he achieved dictatorial powers as well as pontifex maximus, or religious head of the state. He built towns and cities without the usual fortification walls. His policies not only shaped the manner in which Israel would be governed but also kept Rome strong for centuries to come.
. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology. 279.
. Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. “Julius Caesar” 62.
. Suetonius, Deified Julius 88.
. Tenney, New Testament Times. 132.
. Tenney, New Testament Times. 129-32.