1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brutus

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BRUTUS (originally an adjective meaning “heavy,” “stupid,” kindred with Gr. βαρύς, cf. Eng. “brute,” “brutal”), the surname of several distinguished Romans belonging to the Junian gens.

I. Lucius Junius Brutus, one of the first two consuls, 509 B.C. According to the legends, his mother was the sister of Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the Roman kings, and his father and his elder brother had been put to death by the reigning family in order to get possession of his wealth. Junius, the younger, owed his safety to his reputed dullness of intellect (whence his surname), which character, however, he had only assumed for prudential reasons (Dion. Halic. iv. 67, 77). The story is probably an invention to account for his name; in any case his dullness did not prevent his appointment as master of the horse. When Lucretia, wife of Collatinus, was outraged by Sextus Tarquinius (the incident which inspired Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece), Brutus, together with her husband and father, took a leading part in expelling the Tarquinii from Rome. He and Collatinus were therefore elected consuls—or rather praetors, which was the original title (Livy i. 59). In a conspiracy formed for the restoration of the dynasty, the two sons of Brutus were deeply implicated, and were executed by sentence of their father, and in his sight (Livy ii. 3). The Etruscans of Veii and Tarquinii making an attempt to restore Tarquinius, a battle took place between them and the Romans, in which Junius Brutus engaged Aruns, son of the deposed king, in single combat on horseback, and each fell by the other’s hand (Livy ii. 6; Dion. Halic. v. 14). The Roman matrons mourned a year for him, as “the avenger of woman’s honour,” and a statue was erected to him on the Capitol. The conspiracy of his sons is the subject of a tragedy by Voltaire.

The patrician branch of the family appears to have become extinct with L. Junius Brutus; the chief representatives of the plebeian branch in later times are dealt with below.

II. Decimus Junius Brutus, consul 138, surnamed Gallaecus from his victory over the Gallaeci (136) in the north-west of Spain (Plutarch, Tib. Gracchus, 21). He was a highly educated man, a patron of literature, and a friend of the poet Accius (Livy, Epit. 55; Appian, Hisp. 71-73; Vell. Pat. ii. 5; Cicero, Brutus, 28).

III. Marcus Junius Brutus, a jurist of high authority, was considered as one of the founders of Roman civil law (Cicero, De Oratore, ii. 33, 55).

IV. His son, of the same name, made a great reputation at the bar, and from the vehemence and bitterness of his speeches became known as “the Accuser” (Cicero, De Officiis, ii. 15).

V. Decimus Junius Brutus (Albinus), born about 84 B.C., first served under Caesar in Gaul, and afterwards commanded his fleet. Caesar, who esteemed him very highly, made him his master of the horse and governor of Gaul, and, in case of Octavian’s death, nominated him as one of his heirs. Nevertheless he joined in the conspiracy against his patron, and, like his relative Marcus Junius Brutus (see below), was one of his assassins. He afterwards resisted the attempt of Antony to obtain absolute power; and after heading the republican armies against him for some time with success, was deserted by his soldiers in Gaul, betrayed by one of the native chiefs, and put to death by order of Antony (43), while attempting to escape to Brutus and Cassius in Macedonia. He figures in Cicero’s correspondence. (See Appian, B.C. iii. 97; Dio Cassius xlvi. 53; Caesar, B.G. iii. 11, B.C. i. 36, 45.)

VI. Marcus Junius Brutus (85, according to some, 79 or 78–42 B.C.), son of a father of the same name and of Servilia, half-sister of Cato of Utica, is the most famous of the name, and is the real hero of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. His father had been treacherously put to death by order of Pompey during the civil wars. At that time young Marcus was only eight years old, and was educated with great care by his mother and uncles. He at first practised as an advocate. In spite of his father’s fate, he supported the cause of Pompey against Caesar, but was pardoned by the latter after the victory of Pharsalus, and subsequently appointed by him to the government of Cisalpine Gaul (46). His justice and moderation won him great honour from the provincials under his rule. In 44 he was city praetor, and Caesar promised him the governorship of Macedonia at the expiration of his term of office. Influenced probably by his friend Gaius Cassius, he afterwards joined in the conspiracy against the great dictator, and was one of the foremost in his assassination. He maintained the cause of the republic by seizing and holding against Antony’s forces the province of Macedonia, where he was joined by Cassius. But at Philippi (42) they were defeated by Antony and Octavian, and, rather than be taken prisoner, he fell on his sword. His wife Porcia, daughter of Cato of Utica, afterwards committed suicide, it is said, by swallowing red-hot coals (Dio Cassius xlvii. 20-49; Plutarch, Brutus; Appian, B.C. iv.; Vell. Paterculus ii. 72).

Brutus was an earnest student through all his active life, and is said to have been working on an abridgment of Pausanias the night before Pharsalus. He was generally friendly with Cicero, who dedicated several of his works to him (amongst them his Orator), and gave the name of Brutus to his dialogue on famous orators; but there were frequent disagreements between them, and Cicero frequently speaks of his coldness and lack of enthusiasm. It is difficult to understand his great influence over the Romans (he was only forty-three when he died); probably they admired him for his respectability, the old-fashioned gravitas. He was slow in decision, amazingly obstinate, lacking in sympathy save towards his womenkind—who unduly influenced him—and in his financial dealings with the provincials both extortionate and cruel (Cic. ad Att. vi. 1. 7). Shakespeare’s portrait of him is far too flattering. It has been held that he was really an illegitimate son of Julius Caesar. If so we may find an explanation of his joining the conspirators by the fact that in 45 Caesar had appointed Octavian as his heir. He wrote several philosophical treatises (de Virtute, de Officiis, de Patientia) and some poetry, but nothing has survived. On the other hand, we possess part of his correspondence with Cicero (two books out of an original nine), the authenticity of which, though formerly disputed, is now regarded as firmly established, with the possible exception of two of the letters. The letters of Brutus written in Greek are probably the composition of some rhetorician.

See E. T. Bynum, Das Leben des M. J. Brutus (Halle a/S., 1898); Tyrrell and Purser’s edition of Cicero’s Letters (refs. in index vol. s.v., “Iunius Brutus,” especially introductions to vols. iii. and v.); G. Boissier, Cicero and his Friends (Eng. trans. 1897); J. L. Strachan-Davidson, Cicero (1894); other authorities under Caesar; Cicero.