85-42 B.C.

Roman political leader and assasin

Marcus Brutus is best known for his role in the assassination of Roman ruler Julius Caesar. The Romans and some historians differed in their opinions of Brutus. Some saw him as a traitor to Caesar, who had been his friend and ruler. Others considered Brutus a patriot who helped bring down a tyrant* in the hope of preserving the Roman Republic*.

Born into a distinguished Roman family, Brutus had a distant ancestor who was said to have liberated Rome from the tyrant Tarquin the Proud, the last of the seven kings of Rome, before the founding of the republic. Brutus became involved in a similar struggle in 49 B.C., when civil war erupted between Caesar and Pompey the Great. Fearing Caesar’s growing power, Brutus supported Pompey the Great and the republican side. Caesar defeated Pompey the Great, but he pardoned Brutus for his opposition and asked him to serve as governor of Gaul.

In 44 B.C., Brutus again turned against Caesar. This time, he was drawn into a conspiracy with Cassius, one of Caesar’s enemies. Because Brutus was respected as a thoughtful and honorable man, dozens of prominent citizens joined him in the plot to assassinate Caesar on the Ides (the fifteenth day) of March. After the assassination, Brutus and Cassius had to fight Caesar’s supporters, led by Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Octavian (later the emperor Augustus). Antony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in Greece in 42 B.C., leading Brutus to commit suicide.

Apart from his notoriety as one of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus had a reputation as a man of letters. A follower of the philosophy of Stoicism, Brutus wrote books on history and ethics, and was a distinguished letter writer. In one letter to a friend, Brutus wrote, “Our ancestors thought that we ought not to endure a tyrant even if he were our own father.” (See also Rome, History of.)

* tyrant absolute ruler

* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials

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