I’m reading Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars at the moment, which starts with a bang with a fifty page biography of Julius Caesar. I realise how desensitised I have become to this remarkable story through too much grinding over the text of Shakespeare’s play at school. Caesar broke every law and custom of correct political practice in Rome; he shagged more or less anything that moved, male or female; but he was (and not just by Suetonius’ account) a talented military leader and gifted orator who inspired and reciprocated a strong sense of loyalty from his followers.
But the most dramatic bit of the story is the end, and here I feel that I have been particularly desensitised by overexposure to Shakespeare at a tender age. This man, ruling a huge empire, was actually killed while attending a meeting of the legislature by the legislators themselves. I can’t think of another event like this. There is the case of the slaughter of three leading Croatian MPs, including their leader Stjepan Radić, in 1928 by a Montenegrin radical MP on the floor of the Yugoslav parliamentary chamber; but that appears to have been on impulse rather than a conspiracy, and anyway the Croats were in opposition not in government. The Armenian Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and six other MPs were killed in 1999 when gunmen stormed the parliamentary chamber, but again the assassins were not themselves parliamentarians and the inevitable rumours linking them with other political figures in Armenia have yet to be borne out in substance. I find three other prime ministers assassinated in Parliament, but not as far as I know by fellow legislators – Hendrik Verwoerd (South African PM, stabbed by a deranged parliamentary clerk in 1966); Spencer Perceval (British PM, shot dead by a deranged bankrupt in 1812) and Ahmed Maher Pasha (Egyptian PM, shot dead in 1945 immediately after declaring war on Germany and Japan). I haven’t been able to discover if the Egyptian assassin was an MP or not, but even if he was, I think Julius Caesar’s end is the most politically spectacular of them all.
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