Why do we still care about Julius Caesar, more than 2,050 years after his death? History may be the least of it. For modern readers, Caesar was immortalized by William Shakespeare. His 1599 drama The Tragedy of Julius Caesar offers a Renaissance-era Christian spin on a pagan story: we behold Caesar’s moment of supreme power, his assassination by Rome’s self-proclaimed liberators, and their disastrous end. No small part of the story, at least in Shakespeare, is the personal betrayal of Caesar by his friend, Marcus Junius Brutus. Upon seeing the dagger in Brutus’ hand, Caesar cries out at the sign of treachery: “Et tu, Brute?”

For Americans, Shakespeare’s Caesar, a would-be tyrant killed in the name of liberty, is a foundational symbol. From George III on, every powerful American leader, including many if not most American presidents, has been accused of being a new Caesar. In the wider world, a variety of emperors have called themselves “Caesar,” from the Romans to the Russians—whose word “tsar” comes from Caesar—and the Germans, whose “kaiser” also comes from Caesar. Then there is Caesarism, or rule by strongman, a phenomenon associated with politicians beginning with Napoleon Bonaparte and ranging from Benito Mussolini to Vladimir Putin.


But there’s more: we are told that Caesar was also

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