“This was the noblest Roman of them all.” – Marc Antony
The purpose of this article, briefly: I keep reading about Julius Caesar, and I think it’s high time Brutus got some love. Also, I’m just plain obsessed with Brutus and need some outlet to share that fact.
Family was always quite important to Romans and influenced many of their decisions. The fact is that Brutus was descended from two tyrant-killers – one on each side of the family, which no doubt weighed heavily on him. On his father’s side was Lucius Junius Brutus, who, in 509 B.C. was instrumental in establishing the Roman Republic. On his mother’s side, Gaius Servilius Ahala killed a man who was attempting to become king of Rome.
Marcus Junius Brutus is born around 85 B.C. to Servilia Caepionis and Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder (who, for simplicity’s sake, I will simply refer to as Junius Brutus). Rumors did circulate that Julius Caesar as his father, since Servilia was once Caesar’s mistress. This seems unlikely, however, as Caesar was only about 15 years old at the time of Brutus’s birth. Junius wasn’t much of a father-figure, in any case; he was murdered by Pompey when Marcus Brutus was quite young.
Rome of this time was a rough place, filled with gangs, street fighting, and so on. Brutus, however, probably mixed with influential men between the hours spent at school. He was a serious sort who enjoyed his studies and impressed his teachers with this attitude. During this time, Brutus tried out various philosophies before finally settling on Stoicism, which basically discounts useless emotions.
Besides the memory of his ancestors and his strong-willed mother, two people wielded a great influence over the young Brutus’s life. One was Quintus Servilius Caepio, his mother’s brother, who adopted him in 59 B.C. to help him get ahead in life. The other was his mother’s half-brother, Marcus Porcius Cato, whose Stoicism he admired. Cato educated Brutus in this philosophy and gave him political assignments that he carried out with all efficiency. Honestly, Brutus would rather have spent his time reading, but he felt bound to carry out his duty.
In 56 B.C., Brutus returned to Rome from abroad and married a woman named Claudia. He didn’t much care for her; he did this to please his mother, who found Claudia easy to manipulate. He got another job then, as quaestor of Cilicia. This basically means that he handled the money there, and he had a position that was pretty typical for an aspiring politician.
His First War
Brutus loses the stability in his life in 49 B.C. when Julius Caesar’s army marched into Rome and starts a Civil War against Pompey. Brutus, being conservative and not liking the invasion, sided with Pompey, despite the fact that Servilia loved Caesar and Pompey killed Junius Brutus. One event that prompted Brutus’s decision was the fact that Cato joined in on Pompey’s side. Both started fighting in their separate locations. It was Brutus’s first field experience and he acquitted himself well enough, though he was eventually forced to surrender. Cato, unwilling to surrender, killed himself, horrifying his young protégé. Caesar didn’t actually care about Cato, but he really liked Brutus, so he pardoned him and his friends, and then sent him to govern Cisalpine Gaul.
Before the Ides
Brutus returned to Rome when his term in office is up. He didn’t mingle much with society, considering most of his friends were away anyway. At first he ignored politics; he writes a pamphlet on Cato; he divorced Claudia and married Porcia Catonis, a woman he loves and is, furthermore, Cato’s daughter.
He got pulled back into the political arena when he becomes first praetor of Rome (a kind of ultimate judge) in 44 B.C. thanks to Caesar’s nomination. Brutus was kind of annoyed at Caesar, though. Flush with his victory against Pompey, Caesar’s pretentions to power started growing, and it became increasingly clear that he wanted more (especially since he declared himself dictator for life in February of that year). It didn’t take long before a group wanted him gone. A little bit longer than that, and Brutus wanted in on the scheme.
The Ides of March
About 60 senators were in on the plan, but the most famous were and are Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Cassius was the main leader, and he was glad to have Brutus on board as a figurehead; Brutus had a great reputation and two tyrant-killing ancestors. They debated about where to do it, but eventually decided on the Hall of Pompey during a senate meeting. The date was set as March 15, or the Ides of March. There were two good reasons for this. One: The senate planned to give Caesar a crown on that day, just before he went off to conquer some people in the East. Two: The Ides of March was a festival for an obscure goddess named Anna Perenna, which meant that the masses would be busy celebrating that and not notice much of what went on in the senate.
On that day, Brutus and several others had jobs to do. Many others gathered at Cassius’s house, where his son took on the toga virilis (a manhood ceremony). Caesar did get word of the plan, but for some unknown reason, he dismissed his guard. Also, when he made a sacrifice that morning, the animal was deformed, and by religious law, the senate meeting should have been postponed. He went anyway.
Everyone filtered in by the afternoon. One man, Trebonius, kept Caesar’s friend Antonius out of the way while the others pressed around Caesar and struck. Casca made the first move, by prearranged consensus. Caesar, startled, turned around and wounded Casca with his stylus, but it was far too late. He was wounded a total of 23 or 35 times, depending on the source. Only one was mortal.
According to legend, Caesar finally died when he saw Brutus in the crowd against him. Shakespeare has him saying “Et tu, Brute?” but this has no historical basis. A stronger possibility is that he said, “Kai su teknon?” This is Greek, meaning, “You also, my son?” Whatever he said, his body lay for some time where it fell by Pompey’s statue, until some servants and a physician removed it.
Hardly any of Caesar’s assassins survived him for more than three years, or even died a natural death. Most died in the ensuing civil war, which was mainly fought between two factions: the Brutus/Cassius faction and the Antionius/Octavius faction. Antonius, as previously mentioned, was a friend of Caesar; Octavius was Caesar’s main heir.
Now, you all have been a great audience, and I’ll reward you by refraining from a detailed account of the whole campaign. In fact, consider yourselves lucky I cut out a lot of information from the preceding passages as well.
I’ll just say that the war went on for a couple years, punctured by news of Porcia’s depressed and lonely suicide in Rome and culminating in 42 B.C. the two-part battle of Philippi. In part one, on October 3, Brutus defeated Octavius, but Antonius defeated Cassius, who committed suicide by having his shield-bearer kill him. The second battle was on October 23. This time, Octavius and Antonius teamed up and defeated Brutus, who also committed suicide. Obviously, he was no longer mad at Cato for meeting this end.
Antonius, somewhat respectful of Brutus, put his own purple cloak over the body. Octavius, on the other hand, chopped off Brutus’s head and had it shipped back to Rome. He intended this head to be thrown at the feet of Caesar’s statue, but the ship carrying the head sunk, so that obviously didn’t happen. Antonius burned the rest of the remains with all due ceremony and shipped the ashes back to Servilia.
Acta est fibula. Plautite! (The play is over. Applaud!)