Politically motivated and designed to cause tension, panic, and change, the assassinations of world leaders, governing individuals, and other influential figures have been conducted throughout the course of history. From ancient civilizations to modern societies, assassinations have shaken the world and shifted political climates in all nations.
Though there have been a number of assassinations in the past century alone, those preceding the 20th century should not be disregarded. Influenced by personal vendettas as well as broader, global goals and money, assassinations have sought after widespread change and upheaval, and much of the time, these events have achieved such goals.
Julius Caesar, 44 B.C.E.
Perhaps one of the most famous assassinations is that of Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome, in 44 B.C.E. Caesar led a prolific and successful political career as he conquered land and expanded the Roman empire. However, Caesar’s accomplishments were not viewed with high regard by many people, including his rivals, his Senate, and his close friends. After leading the nation into a civil war, declaring himself dictator for life, and becoming obsessed with power, Caesar’s allies became his enemies. The sixty members of his Senate determined that the best solution to Caesar’s rule was assassination, and with the deceptive aid of Brutus, Caesar’s friend, members of the Senate drew daggers and attacked him. Caesar’s demise incited feelings of anger and betrayal, resulting in another civil war and the ultimate ascension of Octavian, Caesar’s adopted heir, to the Roman throne.
Commodus, 192 A.D.
Though Commodus is not as well-known as Caesar, his rule in Rome earned him an infamous reputation. He led alongside his father, Marcus Aurelius, beginning when he was just 15, and upon his father’s death, it became clear that Commodus possessed a drastically different leadership style from those who had come before him. Rather than continue fighting in accordance with his father’s aspirations, Commodus settled on a simpler solution, coming to terms with the Germanic forces in favor of pursuing worldly pleasure. As he grew older, Commodus proceeded along a path of misrule, deliberately avoiding his responsibilities and delegating decisions to a council of ministers, and he was known to be narcissistic and pompous in spite of his behavior.
He endured several attempts on his life, but what killed him was a combination of affairs. First, poison had been put into his meal, but he was ultimately strangled by his wrestling partner, Narcissus, in the bath. Upon his death, Rome was restored to its former glory, erasing mentions of Commodus’ name and influence to the best of its citizens’ ability.
Joseph Smith, 1844 A.D.
His name may not be known to all, but his mark on society remains influential. As one of the founders of the Mormon religion, Smith quickly gained traction in religious communities and gained many converts across the nation. He claimed that, at a young age, he had been visited by an angel; after publishing The Book of Mormon in 1830 and founding what became known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smith achieved notoriety as well as heavy criticism.
After Smith announced his intent to run for president, the anti-Mormon attitudes became more pronounced. Feeling threatened, Smith summoned a militia to one of the Mormon towns in Illinois; he and his brother were then charged with conspiracy and treason, and they were imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois. The brothers were murdered by a mob that broke into the prison. The Mormon religion did not die with them, however, and Smith’s successor later led an exodus of Mormons to Utah’s Salt Lake where they prepared for the arrival of their brethren.
Empress Myeongseong, 1895 A.D.
Married to the first emperor of the Korean empire, Empress Myeongseong, also known as Queen Min, was an influential political figure of the Joseon Kingdom. She became Emperor Gojong’s Queen Consort at the age of 16; she was an orphan and lacked the familial resources and support that would be needed to usurp the kingdom’s political goals, making her an ideal choice for the role. Though at the time women were expected to occupy themselves with pastimes such as gossip, fashion, and other material or superficial interests, Myeongseong was devoted to her education in politics, history, philosophy, science, and more.
As Myeongseong was heavily involved in the ruling of the empire, she became known as a powerful player in politics. She influenced her husband into ruling in his own right, thereby deposing his father’s rule and warranting several unsuccessful attempts on her life. Years later, Myeongseong was responsible for spearheading an initiative to revitalize and modernize Korea’s military. She also cultivated an alliance with Russia and heightened concerns about Japan’s rising power; because of her involvement in politics and opposition to Japan’s forces, Japanese officials deemed her a threat to their initiative for overseas expansion and collaborated with Gojong’s father in a ploy to kill the queen.
She was killed by assassins, but other female court members were killed first in her place before the assassins could verify her identity. Though Myeongseong’s efforts to bolster the Korean empire were valiant, it still fell under Japanese command until the end of World War II.
Though the specific motivations behind assassination attempts remain varied, assassinations throughout history have sought to enact change, eliminate obstacles, and alter the political climate of the world.
Jorge J. Perez is an attorney in South Florida. He is passionate about history, particularly that which predates the 20th century.