Junius Brutus Caepio, Marcus

Marcus Junius Brutus Caepio (c.85-42): Roman politician, murderer of Gaius Julius Caesar and one of the last defenders of the republic.


Coin of Brutus
Coin of Brutus

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 was 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 conspiracy to kill Pompey. In fact, there was no such conspiracy, and one of the consuls of 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 offered his help the city 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.

Early Career

In 53, he was chosen quaestor: he now occupied the financial magistracy that a Roman politician had to occupy when he started his career. Brutus 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 Cilicia, Marcus Tullius Cicero, was to condemn this behavior.

The Second Civil War

Meanwhile, the situation in Rome was becoming dangerous. Two generals had become very powerful: Pompey, who controlled Rome and Hispania, and Caesar, who was conquering Gaul and had acquired 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 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 and the conservatives sided with the latter, and were defeated in August 48 in the battle of Pharsalus in Greece. Caesar showed clemency to the son of his lover.

Caesar's Dictatorship


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 plain of the river Po) 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 his wife Claudia were now divorced and he married 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 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.


Some 60 senators conspired to assassinate 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.note 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?"note

Coin of Brutus, commemorating the assassination of Caesar
Coin of Brutus, commemorating the assassination of Caesar

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. The city did rejoice in the assassination of the tyrant and the murderers were forced to flee to the Capitol, where they would be safe - at least for a while.

Mark Antony versus the Murderers

After the death of Caesar, Consul Mark Antony 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, Antony confiscated Caesar's papers and treasure. 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, Mark 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 Mark 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-stainekd cloak, and heard of the money that was to be distributed among them. Then, Mark 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.

To the east

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.

The river Xanthus and the acropolis of Xanthus
The river Xanthus and the acropolis of Xanthus

During the autumn of 44, however, Mark 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 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 Mark Antony, called Martia and IIII Macedonica, sided with him as well. At the beginning of 43, Mark Antony and Octavian were involved in a new civil war, which culminated in the battle of Mutina (April 43).

This conflict offered a new chance to Brutus and Cassius, who were able to raise a large army in the east, which they wanted to use to liberate Italy from Octavian, who had defeated Mark 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.

The End of the Republic

The first battle of Philippi
The first battle of Philippi

In control of the city, Octavian declared Mark Antony's compromise to be illegal and outlawed the murderers of his father. Then, unexpectedly, he signed a peace with Mark Antony: Octavian had learned that it was impossible to defeat Antony, 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, Mark 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.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 28 April 2020.