VII

MARCH 7, 44 B.C.

A VISIT FROM ONE OF CAESAR’S GENERALS

It was the Nones of March, a day sacred to Vediovis, one of the oldest Roman deities, god of deceivers and protector of right causes. It is likely that the conspirators discreetly made offerings to Vediovis this day.

Marcus Brutus saw his clients that morning as usual, but his mind was by now totally preoccupied with the plot to kill Caesar, so much so that he had been having trouble sleeping. During the morning, Brutus received a note from Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, a distant relative. Albinus, variously referred to as “Decimus” and “Brutus” in some classical texts, was “one of Caesar’s most intimate associates” and had been his faithful follower for a number of years.¹ He also was a close friend of Mark Antony. In the note, Albinus asked for a private interview with Brutus. That a man so close to Caesar and Antony was asking to see him in private must have filled Brutus with trepidation. Had Caesar learned of the plot? Was he sending Albinus to see Brutus alone so he could deliver an ultimatum from Caesar? Brutus had a reply delivered to Albinus, agreeing to the meeting and setting a time.

Albinus had served as an army commander under Caesar both during the Gallic War and during the Civil War. While Caesar’s governor of Transalpine Gaul in 49 B.C., Albinus had participated in a protracted siege of the city of Massilia, today’s Marseilles, a city that had supported Rome’s republican Senate and held out against Caesar’s forces for months. Albinus also had commanded a Caesarian fleet that had taken on a combined fleet of republican warships and warships from Massilia, and routed it.

Plutarch considered Albinus “of no great courage,” but Albinus had always served Caesar loyally and without question, and was well known for “the great confidence that Caesar put in him.” As a reward, Caesar had marked Albinus for a consulship in two years’ time, alongside Lucius Plancus, another faithful follower of the Dictator, who was currently supervising army veteran settlement in Gaul. In the meantime, Caesar had decreed that Albinus become governor of Cisalpine Gaul when that post became vacant at the end of that spring.²

Brutus did not have to wait long to find out what was on Albinus ’s mind. Albinus arrived alone at Brutus’s city house, and when he was certain no one could overhear them, Albinus revealed to Brutus that he had been approached by Labeo and Cassius, who had told him of the plot to kill Caesar and invited him to participate. Albinus added that Labeo and Cassius had assured him that Brutus was not only party to the conspiracy, he also was a leader of it.³

Albinus would have looked questioningly at Brutus, and there would have been a nervous pause. When Brutus did not rush to deny the claim, Albinus went on to say that he had told that pair he would reserve his decision on the matter until he had determined from Brutus himself whether Brutus was genuinely a leader of the conspiracy. Then and only then would Albinus be prepared to join the plotters. This was why Albinus had asked for a private meeting.

The volatile Cassius, himself not the most popular of personalities, had soon discovered that Brutus’s name was the key to winning supporters to the conspiracy. Once men knew that the noble, upright Brutus, a figure held in high regard even by Caesar, was one of the chief conspirators, a surprising variety of senators would agree to join the plot—“the most and the best were gained by the name of Brutus,” said Plutarch. Now Brutus confirmed to Albinus that he was indeed all for the murder of Caesar and was prepared to take a leading role in the deed. On hearing this, a relieved Albinus “readily consented to partake in the action.”

If we are to believe all classical accounts, no deal was discussed or struck by the pair; Albinus neither asked for nor received anything in return for participating in the murder of the man he had loyally served for a decade, other than confirmation of the appointments already announced for him by Caesar. Albinus’s great dissatisfaction with Caesar was his only motive, and that dissatisfaction must have become known to Cassius and Labeo for them to approach him, for on the surface he was the most loyal and trusted of the Dictator’s lackeys.

Discussion next turned to how, where, and when the murder should be carried out. Cassius and Brutus had been discussing this, but with Caesar due to leave Rome in just twelve days, time was running out for the details to be ironed out. From the beginning, it was agreed that the murder should be carried out in a public place, with all the conspirators taking part to demonstrate to the Roman people that theirs was a unified, public-spirited act. The Forum was considered as a location. It was also suggested that Caesar be attacked on the Sacred Way going to or from his residence, or as he went to enter a city drama theater. “The conspirators wavered between these plans,” said Suetonius, “until Caesar called a meeting of the Senate in the Theater of Pompey for the Ides of March.”

This sitting of the Senate on March 15 was intended to be its last meeting before Caesar’s departure for the East on the nineteenth of the month. Both Brutus and Albinus had received notification of the sitting, and of its location. Albinus now told Brutus that he had been preparing a large troupe of gladiators for an upcoming public spectacle—apparently the Liberalia games scheduled for March 19, the day when Caesar intended leaving Rome. It occurred to Albinus that he could put on an exhibition by his gladiators for Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey following the Senate sitting—Caesar was a big fan of gladiators, even maintaining his own gladiatorial school.

Should the need arise, Albinus’s gladiators could provide protection for the conspirators once Caesar had been killed, for no one really knew how the recently retired legionaries camped around the city would react to their commander in chief being murdered. These thousands of ex-soldiers, some still equipped with their arms, were camped in the temple precincts and holy sanctuaries of Rome, waiting to be allocated the fifty-to-sixty-acre land grants promised to them by Caesar when they had fought for him in the Civil War. Surveying teams were at this very moment busy throughout Italy mapping out the land grants.

Having returned from Spain with Caesar, a large number of these former soldiers, men from one particular legion, were occupying Tiber Island, in the middle of the Tiber River, outside the city walls. Long, narrow Tiber Island was a religious sanctuary that housed the Temple of Vediovis. The legion to which these men camped on Tiber Island belonged is not named by classical texts, but later events point to it being either the 7th or the 8th Legion.

Both these units had for some years been stationed in and most likely recruited in Spain, and had served with Caesar throughout the Gallic and Civil wars. Along with the 9th and 10th legions, also units with Spanish backgrounds, the 7th and the 8th were considered Caesar’s best legions. But after defeating Pompey’s legions at the 48 B.C. Battle of Pharsalus in Greece, all four of these legions had gone on strike, demanding their overdue discharge, financial bonuses, and land grants that Caesar had promised them. Caesar had given them none of these at the time. Instead, as he set off in pursuit of Pompey with his loyal cavalry and former Pompeian legionaries, he had sent the 7th, 8th, 9th, and l0th legions to Rome with Mark Antony. At Rome, the 8th, 9th, and 10th had rioted; only the 7th had continued to obey Antony’s orders.

When Caesar had arrived back at Rome in late 47 B.C. after fighting a grueling war in Egypt and then swiftly defeating Pharnaces, king of the Bosporus, at Zela in Pontus, after which he had sent his famous message Veni, vidi, vici, or “I came, I saw, I conquered,” Caesar had employed cohorts of the 7th Legion as his bodyguard in Rome. He had posted these Spanish legionaries around his residence and taken them with him when he addressed the other rebellious legions on the Campus Martius and brought them back under his control. Memories of these Spanish cohorts’ role as Caesar’s bodyguard at Rome would shortly spark a suggestion from the Dictator’s friends.

Brutus agreed that involving Albinus’s gladiators as protection for the conspirators against these retired legionaries in the city was an excellent plan, and Albinus departed their meeting assured that Brutus and Cassius would proceed with Caesar’s murder no matter what, with Albinus undertaking to bring both his gladiators and more friends of Caesar to the plot.

Albinus was not the only man close to the Dictator who had developed severe doubts about Caesar’s rule. Another of Caesar’s leading generals was among those now quickly recruited to the conspiracy. Gaius Trebonius had been a tribune of the plebs in 55 B.C. before serving as a general under Caesar in both the Gallic and Civil wars. Trebonius had efficiently governed Farther Spain in 47-46 B.C., receiving the reward of a suffect consulship from Caesar in 45 B.C. and appointment as governor of the province of Asia for this year of 44 B.C., an appointment he was soon due to take up.

In Caesar’s own view Trebonius was a “humane” man who had displayed both “clemency and moderation.” Despite these qualities, and despite having received considerable rewards from Caesar for his loyal service, and without seeking or receiving any promises of rewards from the leaders of the conspiracy, Trebonius agreed to draw his blade against Caesar and, with the other conspirators, strike him down.

With the conspirators’ numbers swelling with each passing day, and with the likes of Albinus and Trebonius not only agreeing to take part in the murder but also actively contributing suggestions on courses of action, Marcus Brutus should have been feeling more and more secure about the plot. But the enormity of what he and his fellow conspirators were planning made him uneasy. Failure to act would consign Roman democracy to history. Yet the murder of any man, let alone one to whom he and his mother were attached, went against all Brutus’s principles.

During the day he was able to cover that uneasiness, but at night, as he lay in his bed beside his wife, Porcia, “he was not the same man,” according to Plutarch. It was not so much that he feared the conspiracy would be discovered; the weight of expectations sat heavily on his shoulders, for he felt that “the noblest spirits of Rome for virtue, birth, or courage were depending on him” to carry the assassination through.

The night following Albinus’s visit, Brutus’s sleep was again troubled as his conscience, self-doubt, and sense of honor wrestled in his tormented mind, and several times he jerked awake. Beside him, the sensitive Porcia could not help but notice, and she became convinced that Brutus’s mind was agitated by “some dangerous and perplexing question.” For the moment, Porcia said nothing. Instead, she decided to embark on a dangerous course of action.

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