Thursday, 30 October 2014

Brutus - the Death of an Assassin - 23 October 42 B.C.

Marble bust of Brutus by Carlo Brogi

In the year 42 B.C., on 23 October, Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger ended his life less than two years after participating in the assassination of his mother's lover and civil partner Julius Caesar.
Some said that Brutus was Caesar's son as his mother Servilia had been one of Ceasar's multitude of mistresses.

Lindsay Duncan as Servilia in the TV series Rome.

Orphaned at an early age, Brutus was raised in Greece where he was initiated in the arts of Platonic philosophy and stoicism. He becomes convinced that man's affairs could only be governed by reason and not by force of arms. But back in Rome he found himself falsely implicated in a plot against Pompey, and was forced to flee.

His political career finally took off when he was sent to Cyprus to assist Cato during his governorship of the isle. While there he amassed a tidy fortune and returned to Rome a rich man and married Clodia Pulchra. 

Clodia Pulchra
Published by Guillaume Rouille

More riches flowed Brutus's way when his 'father-in-law', Julius Caesar, appointed him as questor in the province of Cilicia. His task as questor was to collect taxes for Rome, but Brutus shrewdly ensured that part was and diverted into his own deep pocket. 

But back at Rome all was not well. Treachery was afoot! While Caesar was campaigning in Gaul, his partner Pompey the Great seized power. Julius was livid! 'I'm livid!' he proclaimed, and immediately began hot-footing his army back to Rome.

They arrived at the Rubicon, the tiny river that marked the boundary between Gaul and Italy. There Julius hesitated, knowing that to cross the Rubicon would be an act of high treason because of new laws enacted by Pompey and the Senate. He agonised over his options, until one of his soldiers, Astronautus Neilus Armstrongus, urged his general to cross.
'Tis but a short step for man by a giant leap for Mankind,' said Armstrongus.
'Then the die is cast,' said Julius, and marched his army southwards and to Rome.
'It is said, moreover, that on the night before he crossed the river he had an unnatural dream; he thought, namely, that he was having incestuous intercourse with his own mother.' - Plutarch.

Knowing himself to be outmatched, Pompey fled Rome, and Julius installed himself as Dictator with absolute power.

Obverse of a silver denarius bearing the head of
Julius Caesar and inscribed DICT (Dictator).

'Beware the Ides of March'

Several dozen senators were outraged at Caesar's arbitrary decision to bring to an end the Roman Republic, and a plot began to be hatched to permanently remove him. 

Because of his popularity with the Roman citizens, Brutus was persuaded to join the conspiracy. But Brutus had conditions.
'Only Caesar must die,' demanded Brutus. 'There must be no collateral damage. Copy?'
'Roger that,' agreed a reluctant Cassius.

Death of Julius Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

The dirty deed was set for the Ides of March, when Caesar would be attending a Senate meeting at the Theatre of Pompey. But the omens were not good. The seer Spurrina had warned Caesar to 'beware the Ides of March'. And the historian Suetonius later wrote: 'On the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall.'

Unconcerned, Caesar went to the Pompey Theatre without his bodyguard. He took his place and the conspirators - sixty it all - crowded around him. Then, one of them, Cimber, grabbed Caesar's purple robe.
'This is violence!' cried Caesar.
It was also the signal to the other plotters.
Publicius Servilius Casca struck the first blow on Caesar's throat. The other conspirators drew their daggers, among Caesar's 'son' Brutus.
'Kai su, Technon?' ('You too, my child?') said Caeser in Greek.

La Mort de César by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Caesar's dead body lies abandoned on the floor.

With Caesar dead civil war ensued. Brutus's partner in crime, Cassius, was vanquished by Mark Antony. Believing Brutus also to be crushed, Cassius commited suicide. Three weeks later Brutus, too, was overcome by Antony and on 23 October decided to end his life. His dying words were said to have been: 'Virtue, thou art but a name'.

'O Caesar, though you enacted many laws that men may not be killed by their personal foes, yet how mercilessly you yourself were slain by your friends!' From the funeral oration by Mark Antony.

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