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Marcus Junius Brutus Caepio


Gold piece showing the portrait of Brutus.
Brutus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)
Marcus Junius Brutus Caepio (c.85-42): Roman politician, murderer of Gaius Julius Caesar and one of the last defenders of the republic.
Marcus Junius Brutus was born in or about 85 BCE, as the eldest son of a Roman politician with the same name, a man who never made it to the top. Father Brutus was killed in 78 by Gnaeus Pompey, a young general who was to become famous. The boy was educated by the half-brother of his mother Servilia, Marcus Porcius Cato, and later adopted by a relative of his mother, Quintus Servilius Caepio. To honor his adoptive father, the young man started to call himself Marcus Junius Brutus Caepio.

In 59, a man named Vettius declared that Brutus and several other men were part of a complot to kill Pompey. In fact, there was no such complot, and one of the consuls af that year, the popular politician Gaius Julius Caesar, an ally of Pompey, did his best to get rid of the accusations. Caesar had a good reason for this: he had an affair with Brutus' mother, and he did not want to bring the young man, whom he had often met at the house of his mistress, into troubles.

During the next two or three years, Brutus was with Cato on Cyprus, which had been conquered by Pompey and was finally in annexed in 58. We happen to know that Brutus managed to help the town of Salamis, which desperately needed help; the loan had an interest of no less than 48%. As a rich man, he returned to Rome, where he married a woman named Claudia.
In 53, he was chosen quaestor, the financial magistracy which a Roman politician had to occupy when he started his career. He was responsible for the taxes in a province called Cilicia (where his father-in-law was governor), and used the opportunity (and the army of Cilicia) to settle accounts in Cyprus. The next governor of Cicilicia, Marcus Tullius Cicero, condemned this behavior.

Meanwhile, the situation in Rome was becoming dangerous. Two generals had become very powerful: Pompey, who controled Rome and Hispania, and Caesar, who was conquering Gaul and had obtained a fine army, lots of money and enormous popularity. The chances of a civil war were growing every day.

Meanwhile, Brutus served as military commander in Cilicia and Macedonia. Politically, he had later sided with conservative politicians like Cicero and Cato, who wanted to defend the rights of the Senate against the generals. When the inevitable war between Caesar and Pompey broke out in January 49, Brutus the conservatives sided with the latter, and were defeated in August 48 in the the battle of Pharsalus in Greece. Caesar showed clemency to the son of his lover. 
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Gold piece of Brutus, commemorating the murder of Caesar: freedom's cap and two daggers.
Coin of Brutus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

Brutus was now considered to be a friend of Caesar, who sent him on an important mission to the east, made him governor of Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., the Po plains) in the years 46-45, choose him as praetor for the year 44 and promised him the consulate in 41. No man had received similar, extravagant honors.

However, in his heart, Brutus remained a conservative. He and Claudia were now divorced and he remarried with Porcia, the daughter of the conservative leader Marcus Porcius Cato. At the same time, he wrote a pamphlet in which he honored his father-in-law.

In February 44, Caesar showed clearly that he would never restore the republic that he had overthrown. He received the senators as a king (not rising from his seat when they entered the room), wanted himself to be crowned (text) and had himself proclaimed dictator for ever. All this was extremely unrepublican, and Brutus decided that he had to act.

Coin of Brutus: the goddess of Freedom (Libertas) and a tripod.
Coin of Brutus: the goddess of freedom (!!)

Some 60 senators conspired to assasinate the dictator, and Brutus, who was close to Caesar, became one of the leaders of the plot. Decimus Brutus and his friend Cassius were also involved. It would be easy to kill Caesar, who had disbanded his bodyguard, trusting that nobody would like to run the risk of a new civil war (Sulla had done the same). Suetonius decribes the events on 15 March 44 BCE:
Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the Senate. But at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting, which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour. [About eleven o' clock.] When a note revealing the plot was handed him by some one on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently. Then, after many victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the House in defiance of portents, laughing at [the seer] Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the ides of March were come without bringing him harm. Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber, who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something. When Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders. As Caesar cried, 'Why, this is violence!', one of the Cascas [two brothers in the Senate] stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound. When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, my child?'
 
Bust of Brutus. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Brutus (Palazzo Massimo, Roma)
Brutus had shown that he had, to use a word of Cicero, 'the courage of a man and the brains of child'. He had acted out of idealism; otherwise, he would have preferred to remain Caesar's friend and be consul in 41. But killing the tyrant did not mean that the republic was restored - Caesar had defeated the Senate at Pharsalus and it was beyond recovery. On the same day, the murderers had to occupy the Capitol, where they would be safe - at least for a while.

After the death of Caesar, Marc Antony, the consul, was the official head of the state, and his first act was to secure the co-operation of the commander of Caesar's troops outside Rome, Lepidus. Shortly after sunset, he confiscated Caesar's papers and treasury. Having the men and the money, he could negotiate from a position of strength, and on March 16, he announced a meeting of the Senate, which was to take place on the next day. During this meeting, he dictated the murderers a compromise: they were to receive amnesty while Caesar's acts were to be respected, and he would be worshipped as a god. From now on, Marc Antony was in charge of the city.

That very day, Caesar's father-in-law Piso opened the testament of the dead dictator. It contained precisely the material that Marc Antony needed: Caesar left his gardens as a park to the city of Rome, and gave every inhabitant a large amount of money. On 20 March, the corpse was burned on the forum (text). The Roman mob saw the blood-stained cloak, and heard of the money that was to be distributed among them. Then, Marc Antony delivered a short funeral oration (text), in which he inflamed their emotions: that night, Brutus and the other murderers had to escape from the city that they had wished to liberate.

The river Xanthus (left) and the acropolis of Xanthus (right).
The river Xanthus (left) and the acropolis of Xanthus (right).

Brutus went to Crete, the small eastern province that he had been assigned to. (A former praetor became almost automatically governor.) This was the end of his career, or so it seemed.

During the autumn of 44, Marc Antony lost control of Rome: it turned out that Caesar had left three quarters of his estate to his great-nephew Octavian and had adopted him as a son, which meant that he could use the magical name of Julius Caesar. At first, nobody seemed to notice the boy, except for Caesar's veterans. Even though the Octavian couldn't pay them, the soldiers were enthusiastic and loved him. Soon, the veterans of the legions VII and VIII, who had been settled near Capua, joined him. Two legions of Marc Antony, called Martia and IIII Macedonica, sided with him as well. At the beginning of 43, Marc Antony and Octavian were involved in a new civil war.

This offered a new chance to Brutus and Cassius, who were able to build a large army in the east, which they wanted to use to liberate Italy from Octavian, who had defeated Marc Antony, and to restore the Senate. Towns that did not side with  Brutus immediately, were sacked (e.g., Xanthus). Meanwhile, the Senate was forced to come to terms with the young Caesar: he was consul in 42.

First battle of Philippi. Map design Jona Lendering.
First battle of Philippi

In control of the city, Octavian declared Marc Antony's compromise to be illegal and outlawed the murderers of his father. Then, unexpectedly, he signed a peace with Marc Antony: Octavian had learned that it was impossible to defeat the man, who still controlled Hispania and Gaul and was an excellent general. But together they could destroy the republic, if only they managed to defeat Caesar's murderers. (This deal is known as the Second Triumvirate; the third triumvir was Lepidus.)

In the autumn of 42, Marc Antony and Octavian crossed the Adriatic sea and proceeded against Brutus and Cassius. In two large battles near Philippi, on the northern shore of the Aegean Sea in Macedonia, Brutus and Cassius were defeated. Brutus committed suicide. The republic was never restored.




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