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Marcus Junius Brutus (early June 85 BC – 23 October 42 BC), often referred to as Brutus, was a politician of the late Roman Republic. After being adopted by his uncle he used the name Quintus Servilius Caepio Brutus, but eventually returned to using his original name.
He is best known in modern times for taking a leading role in the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Marcus Junius Brutus Minor was the son of Marcus Junius Brutus Maior and Servilia Caepionis. His father was killed by Pompey the Great in dubious circumstances after he had taken part in the rebellion of Lepidus; his mother was the half-sister of Cato the Younger, and later Julius Caesar’s mistress. Some sources refer to the possibility of Caesar being his real father, despite Caesar being only 15 years old when Brutus was born.
Brutus’ uncle, Quintus Servilius Caepio, adopted him in about 59 BC, and Brutus was known officially for a time as Quintus Servilius Caepio Brutus before he reverted to using his birth-name. Following Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Brutus revived his adoptive name in order to illustrate his links to another famous tyrannicide, Gaius Servilius Ahala, from whom he was descended.
Brutus held his uncle in high regard and his political career started when he became an assistant to Cato, during his governorship of Cyprus. During this time, he enriched himself by lending money at high rates of interest. Brutus was also active in the province of Cilicia, in the year before Cicero was proconsul there; Cicero documents how Brutus profited from money lending to the provincials in his Letters. He returned to Rome a rich man, where he married Claudia Pulchra. From his first appearance in the Senate, Brutus aligned with the Optimates (the conservative faction) against the First Triumvirate of Marcus Licinius Crassus, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar.
When civil war broke out in 49 BC between Pompey and Caesar, Brutus followed his old enemy and present leader of the Optimates, Pompey. When the Battle of Pharsalus began, Caesar ordered his officers to take Brutus prisoner if he gave himself up voluntarily, but to leave him alone and do him no harm if he persisted in fighting against capture.
After the disaster of the Battle of Pharsalus, Brutus wrote to Caesar with apologies and Caesar immediately forgave him. Caesar then accepted him into his inner circle and made him governor of Gaul when he left for Africa in pursuit of Cato and Metellus Scipio. In 45 BC, Caesar nominated Brutus to serve as urban praetor for the following year.
Also, in June 45 BC, Brutus divorced his wife and married his first cousin, Porcia Catonis, Cato’s daughter. According to Cicero the marriage caused a semi-scandal as Brutus failed to state a valid reason for his divorce from Claudia other than he wished to marry Porcia. The marriage also caused a rift between Brutus and his mother, who resented the affection Brutus had for Porcia.
Around this time, many senators began to fear Caesar’s growing power following his appointment as dictator in perpetuity. Brutus was persuaded into joining the conspiracy against Caesar by the other senators. Eventually, Brutus decided to move against Caesar after Caesar’s alleged king-like behavior prompted him to take action. His wife was the only woman privy to the plot.
The conspirators planned to carry out their plot on the Ides of March (March 15) that same year. On that day, Caesar was delayed going to the Senate because his wife, Calpurnia Pisonis, tried to convince him not to go. The conspirators feared the plot had been found out. Brutus persisted, however, waiting for Caesar at the Senate, and allegedly still chose to remain even when a messenger brought him news that would otherwise have caused him to leave.
When Caesar finally did come to the Senate, they attacked him. Publius Servilius Casca Longus was allegedly the first to attack Caesar with a blow to the shoulder, which Caesar blocked. However, upon seeing Brutus was with the conspirators, he covered his face with his toga and resigned himself to his fate. The conspirators attacked in such numbers that they even wounded one another. Brutus is said to have been wounded in the hand and in the legs.
After the assassination, the Senate passed an amnesty on the assassins. This amnesty was proposed by Caesar’s friend and co-consul Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius). Nonetheless, uproar among the population caused Brutus and the conspirators to leave Rome. Brutus settled in Crete from 44 to 42 BC.
In 43 BC, after Octavian received his consulship from the Roman Senate, one of his first actions was to have the people who had assassinated Julius Caesar declared murderers and enemies of the state. Marcus Tullius Cicero, angry at Octavian, wrote a letter to Brutus explaining that the forces of Octavian and Mark Antony were divided. Antony had laid siege to the province of Gaul, where he wanted a governorship. In response to this siege, Octavian rallied his troops and fought a series of battles in which Antony was defeated.
Upon hearing that neither Mark Antony nor Octavian had an army large enough to defend Rome, Brutus rallied his troops, which totalled about 17 legions. When Octavian heard that Brutus was on his way to Rome, he made peace with Antony. Their armies, which together totalled about 19 legions, marched to meet Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The two sides met in two engagements known as the Battle of Philippi. The first was fought on October 3, 42 BC, in which Brutus defeated Octavian’s forces, although Cassius was defeated by Antony’s forces. The second engagement was fought on October 23, 42 BC and ended in Brutus’ defeat.
After the defeat, he fled into the nearby hills with only about four legions. Knowing his army had been defeated and that he would be captured, Brutus committed suicide by running into his own sword being held by two of his own men. Among his last words were, according to Plutarch, “By all means must we fly; not with our feet, however, but with our hands.” Brutus also uttered the well-known verse calling down a curse upon Antony (Plutarch repeats this from the memoirs of Publius Volumnius): Forget not, Zeus, the author of these crimes (in the Dryden translation this passage is given as Punish, great Jove, the author of these ills). Plutarch wrote that, according to Volumnius, Brutus repeated two verses, but Volumnius was only able to recall the one quoted.
Mark Antony, as a show of great respect, ordered Brutus’ body to be wrapped in Antony’s most expensive purple mantle (this was later stolen and Antony had the thief executed). Brutus was cremated, and his ashes were sent to his mother, Servilia Caepionis. His wife Porcia was reported to have committed suicide upon hearing of her husband’s death, although, according to Plutarch (Brutus 53 para 2), there is some dispute as to whether this is the case: Plutarch states that there is a letter in existence that was allegedly written by Brutus mourning the manner of her death.
In Dante’s Inferno, Brutus is one of three people deemed sinful enough to be chewed in one of the three mouths of Satan, in the very center of Hell, for all eternity. The other two are Cassius, who was Brutus’s fellow conspirator, and Judas Iscariot (Canto XXXIV). Dante condemned these three in the afterlife for being Treacherous Against Their Masters and enemies of the King/Emperor.
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