Et tu, Brute?

The Daily Telegraph, Monday 24 March 2003
By Tom Leonard, Media Editor

Julius Caesar was rather less surprised to find his great friend plunging a knife into his body than has always been assumed, according to experts who subjected history's most notorious political assassination to a modern police investigation. A team of forensic pathologists, psychiatrists and profilers, whose analysis of the 2,000-year-old killing is revealed in a television documentary tonight, have challenged the traditional belief that Caesar was unaware of the plot by senators to kill him. They have argued that, in fact, he engineered and welcomed his death. The investigation was led by Col Luciano Garafano, commander of the Italian Carabinieri's northern forensic investigation unit, and assisted by a leading criminal psychologist at Harvard. Visiting the murder scene and analysing Caesar's autopsy report, conducted by a physician named Antistius and the first recorded autopsy in history, Col Garafano conducted experimental simulations to assess the dynamics of the assassination. Drawing also on his experience of gangland killings, he concluded that only between five and 10 conspirators could have stabbed him, not the greater number recorded in many texts. Moving on to the final 24 hours of Caesar's life, Col Garafano queried his behaviour on the morning before the murder. Caesar ignored his wife's pleas that he not attend the Senate and the warnings of a soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March". He dismissed his bodyguard for his fateful walk to the Senate and a warning note was found in Caesar's hand after his death which he had not bothered to open. Col Garafano took the evidence to Prof Harold Bursztajn of Harvard Medical School in America, one of the world's leading forensive psychiatrists and criminal profilers. He shared Col Garafano's scepticism as to why a general who was famously well prepared and informed of his enemies' every intention could not have been aware of the murder plot. It is often assumed that the crucial moment that convinced the conspirators that Caesar's power threatened their republic came when he refused to rise from his seat after the Senate elected to deify him. Col Garafano was confused by two conflicting accounts - one, put forward by Plutarch, blamed the incident on Caesar's epilepsy. The other put it down to diarrhoea.

Prof Bursztajn diagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy, an affliction which can cause temporary loss of consciousness, extreme behaviour and diarrhoea. The investigators concluded that if that were the case, a man obsessed with his own image and dignity would not countenance losing control in public. The choice faced by Caesar, who at the age of 56 was already ancient by Roman standards, would have been old age and increasing fits or a dramatic exit.

Both Col Garafano and Prof Bursztajn believe he chose the latter. "Is it so out of the question to suppose that Caesar might wish to use the conspirators' agenda to serve his own?" the professor asks in the programme.

"He needed to find an executioner and the conspirators were his perfect tool. We call it "suicide by cop" and it serves a very specific personal and political agenda."

That agenda included guaranteeing a lasting reputation and ensuring his dynasty would not be thwarted by the pro-republican senators, they maintained. They claimed that the fact that Caesar changed his will shortly before he was assassinated supports their theory. By naming his nephew, Octavian, as his successor, Caesar ensured his dynasty continued. "This is a man seeking to accomplish in death what he wanted to accomplish in life," says Prof Bursztajn.

The Kindest Cut


Retirement planning is difficult for dictators at the best of times. For paranoid and psychopathic dictators, retirement is particularly difficult. Tonight a television documentary will argue that Julius Caesar was not surprised when his friend Brutus and half the Roman Senate stabbed him, but had in fact played a part in engineering this extraordinary political event. A retired Italian forensic police officer and a psychiatrist from Harvard who specialises in criminal profiling turn the conventional historical account of Caesars murder on its head. Instead of being taken surprise by his assassins, Caesar in effect courted the outcome. He normally knew what his enemies were planning and was well prepared for them. Yet on the day he was killed, he ignored his wives pleas to stay away from the Senate and went there with out his bodyguard. The motive for his reckless behaviour, according to this reconstruction of events that happened more than 2,000 years ago, is that the great general feared the frailties and indignities of old age. Plutarch says Caesar had epilepsy, and other contemporary accounts suggest that he was afflicted with diarrhoea. At 56, Caesar was already quite old by the standards of ancient Rome. As a military hero and a politician he was obsessed with his image and placed great importance on his personal dignity. Allowing his enemies to kill him would have enabled Caesar to avoid the public humiliations of temporary loss of consciousness, extreme behaviour and diarrhoea associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. Assassination in this account not only provided him with a dramatic exit but would also secure his families succession and lead to the destruction of his enemies. By co-operating with his killers, Caesar was sacrificing himself for the future of his heirs and for what he regarded as the good of Rome. Saddam, by taking on the full might of America and Britain, may also be courting death rather than retirement. Marx famously said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. But at this grim stage, it is hard to see a Kenneth Williams of the future portraying Saddam as a camp buffoon after the fashion of his Caesar in Carry on Cleo.