Brutus: The Noblest Roman of them All

by TorgoNeedsLove

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world "This was a man!"
--Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5

The Lineage of Brutus

Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger achieved modest personal success in politics and as a governor but it is his role in the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar that made his name immortal. Vilified and celebrated in equal measure throughout history, Brutus was well known in his own day; the respected scion of one of the wealthiest and most ancient gens in Rome.

Brutus was born in 85 BC, son of Marcus Junius Brutus the elder and Servillia Caepionis. Brutus's father fought against Pompey and was executed by Pompey after surrendering the city of Mutina in the understanding that he and his men would be spared. Brutus was adopted by his mother's brother and became a protégé of her half-brother Cato the Younger. Through his mother's family Brutus inherited a huge sum of wealth, which was thought to derive from the loot of Tolosa embezzled by Quintus Servilius Caepio the Elder.

From an early age Brutus knew Caesar. His mother was Caesar's mistress from 64 BC all the way to Caesar's death. The relationship was well known and Servillia's devotion to Caesar annoyed Cato greatly. There were some who suggested that Brutus was actually Caesar's son. This is possible, though unlikely; certainly Caesar took great interest in Brutus and was always there to protect him. One instance of this was in 59 BC when Brutus was accused of plotting to kill Pompey, the accusations were false and Caesar did his utmost to clear Brutus' name.

Brutus was a firm supporter of the republic above all else, a product, no doubt, of Cato's tutelage. He was also keenly aware of his family legacy. Brutus was the descendant of Lucius Junius Brutus, who drove out Tarquin, the last king of Rome. On his mother's side Brutus was a descendant of Gaius Servillius Ahala who slew the would-be king Spurius Maelius. However while both these men were regarded as very ruthless, Brutus was known for gentleness and magnanimity.

Brutus and Caesar

Brutus spent his early political career in the East with Cato. On Cyprus, Brutus assisted the struggling town of Salamis with a loan; at the exorbitant interest rate of 48%, it made Brutus an even richer man. In 53, Brutus was made a quaestor and assumed governorship of Cilicia. Brutus favored the conservative faction of Senators led by Cato and Cicero against the generals Pompey and Caesar though the close relationship between Caesar and Brutus was well known.

Because of this close relationship, when the Civil War came, it was expected by all that Brutus would side with Caesar. Indeed, Brutus hated Pompey and had never spoken to the man. Nonetheless Brutus reluctantly decided that his greater duty was to the Senate and so he sided with Pompey. Brutus traveled to Macedonia to join the Senate in preparation for battle against Caesar. Caesar ordered his officers that Brutus was not to be harmed in anyway and that if he resisted capture he was to be let go.

Of course, Caesar won the battle of Pharsalus, and Brutus surrendered to him. Caesar greeted him like an old friend and was much impressed by Brutus's passion and integrity. Caesar was so impressed that when he departed for Africa in pursuit of the optimates he granted Brutus the praetorship of Cisalpine Gaul. Brutus governed both wisely and generously, a stark contrast with the previous, rapacious governors of the province. This delighted Caesar when he toured the province upon his return and he promised Brutus that he would make him consul in 41. It was around this time that Brutus suddenly divorced his wife Claudia and married Porcia, the daughter of his old mentor Cato. Why this sudden marriage occurred is unknown, but Brutus was devoted to his new wife and Porcia pushed strongly on Brutus to take action against Caesar.

The Assassination

Brutus' future in Caesar's regime looked glorious but he was troubled by the fact that Caesar increasingly acted like a king, despite not wearing a crown. Around this time a faction began to plot the death of Caesar, led chiefly by Brutus' friend and brother in law Gaius Cassius Longinus. Letters appeared at the statue of Lucius Junius Brutus, exhorting Brutus to take action and castigating him for his friendship with Caesar. The conspirators desired more legitimacy and told Cassius that they would not act without the support of Brutus and eventually Cassius half-shamed and half-persuaded Brutus into joining the conspiracy.

On the 15th of March, 44 BC Caesar met his end. With Casca taking the lead, the conspirators, or liberatores as they came to be known, attacked the dictator at the Theater of Pompey. When Caesar saw Brutus among the assassins he is alleged to have either pulled his cloak over his head in despair or to have said, "You, too, my son?" He certainly did not say "E tu, Brute?"

Brutus attempted to make a speech but the other senators had fled, indeed a panic began to spread about the city. The other liberatores advocating killing Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus as Antonius was Consul and Lepidus was Magister Equitum, but Brutus convinced them that only the dictator should be killed. After this a general amnesty was arranged between the liberatores and Antony and Lepidus and all of Caesar's edicts were maintained.

Antony showed the mutilated corpse of Caesar to the people, stirring the mob of Rome into a fury, which forced the liberatores to flee the capitol. When Octavius arrived and a conflict began to brew between him and Antony, Brutus and Cassius fled to the East to gather their forces. Brutus was welcomed in Greece and gathered legions to his banner there; the liberatores were soon able to establish themselves as masters of Greece, Macedonia, and Epirus. They then traveled to Asia; Cassius gathered support in Syria while Brutus did likewise in Asia Minor.

War Against the Caesarians

Meanwhile Octavius had defeated Antony in Italy but had angered the Senate by maintaining his armies and soliciting the consulship illegally. The Senators publicly voiced their support for Brutus and a fearful Octavius reconciled himself with Antony and Lepidus. Together the formed the Second Triumvirate (the first comprising Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus). They massacred over two hundred of their opponents, Antony proving himself the most brutal of the three.

Virtually all the East had aligned themselves with the liberatores except Rhodes and Lycia. Cassius resolved to seize Rhodes and Brutus Lycia. Brutus laid siege to the city of Xanthus which took fire during the fighting. Fearing the city would be incinerated, Brutus ordered his men to fight the fire, but the Xanthians fed the flames and killed themselves in the inferno. Brutus wept at this senseless destruction and offered generous terms of surrender to the other Lycian cities. They accepted and joined Brutus' forces.

When Brutus crossed over from Asia back to Greece it is said he saw an apparition, which told him "I am your evil genius Brutus, and you will see me at Philippi." Two eagles followed the army, which was considered a good omen but they flew away when the liberatores arrived at Philippi.

At Philippi the armies of Brutus and Cassius faced those of Antony and Octavius. Brutus and Cassius vowed they would either win or commit suicide. Brutus led a surprise attack on Octavius, capturing his camp and three eagles. Octavian escaped into the marshes though. Antony launched an attack through the marshes at the defenses prepared by Cassius. Antony's forces stormed the defenses and Cassius withdrew and regrouped. Huge amounts of dust rose into the sky and Cassius could not see Brutus' success. Believing their cause lost, Cassius ordered his freedman to kill him.

During the next three weeks Brutus's navy was able intercept Caesarian reinforcements and a standoff developed. Both factions fortified themselves and prepared for battle anew. Brutus wished to starve out the enemy but his officers persuaded him that an attack was needed to keep the army together. Brutus' army attacked and was bloodily routed after a horrific battle. Escaping with four legions, his situation hopeless, a melancholy Brutus finally committed suicide.

Brutus was honored by the Caesarians, particularly Antony. This was the crowning victory in Marcus Antonius's career and it seemed he was the real master of the triumvirate. The Republic died with Brutus, and soon a struggle would begin between the old rivals, Antony and Octavius, for total mastery of Rome.

"The Life of Brutus"- Plutarch
Roman History- Cassius Dio