The Assassination of Julius Caesar – A People’s History of the Roman Republic


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18

Conspiracies, civil wars, beatniks of antiquity, and a guy named Caesar figure prominently. Virtually everyone dies. Oh, and Cleopatra.


Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate on March 15th 44 BCE— he was the last casualty of one civil war, and the first casualty of the next, which would end the Roman Republic, inaugurating the Empire.

The principal plotters were Brutus, Cassius (both former allies of Pompey), and Decimus. The last was a leading general and close friend of Caesar’s who felt betrayed by the great man: He was the mole in Caesar’s camp.

After the assassination, everything went wrong. The killers left the body in the Senate and Caesar’s allies held a public funeral. Mark Antony made a brilliant speech—not “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” as Shakespeare had it, but something inflammatory that caused a riot. The conspirators fled Rome. Brutus and Cassius raised an army in Greece, but Antony and Octavian defeated them.

Most historians, both ancient and modern, have viewed the Late Republic of Rome through the eyes of its rich nobility. In this course, we will carefully weigh the evidence concerning the murder of Caesar, and sketch in the background to the crime with fascinating detail about wider Roman society. We will find reflections on the democratic struggle waged by Roman commoners, religious augury as an instrument of social control, a divided populace, conspiracies of the elite, and the political use of populism turned fascism.

This course offers a whole new perspective on an event we thought we knew well.

(Oh! …and we’ll do our best to set the record straight about Cleopatra – a woman grossly misrepresented by history.)

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

This course is the third in a series of courses on the Roman Republic: Course 1, Course 2. This course follows: The Three-Headed Monster: Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar.

This class is taught with cliffhanger storytelling techniques designed to develop critical thinking skills and initiate lots of learner interaction.

Assignments will be posted on the classroom wall each week for learners who are interested in exploring the topic further and may include reading, researching, and watching videos. It will also include participation in the threaded discussions on the classroom wall.

Ancient Sources Available Online at LacusCurtius: Into the Roman World.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 0 – 1 hour per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18