8. “Et tu, Brute?”
Marcus Junius Brutus (85 – 42 BC) is perhaps best known as the addressee of Julius Caesar’s final words and lines, “Et tu, Brute?” from Shakespeare’s play. Brutus was the Roman dictator’s friend, the son of his longtime mistress, and the most famous of his assassins. Incongruously, Brutus’ father had been betrayed and murdered by Caesar’s rival, Pompey the Great, yet ended up fighting Caesar under Pompey’s command.
Brutus was raised by his maternal uncle Cato the Younger, a conservative reactionary and Caesar’s avowed enemy. Brutus had initially supported Caesar, but turned against him when he started viewing him as a would-be king. When Caesar marched into Italy in 49 BC, Brutus went against him and joined the ranks of his enemies, fighting under Pompey.
However, Cesar defeated Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Brutus surrendered, was pardoned and restored to favor, but continued to resent Caesar. When a faction of Roman Senators, styling themselves “The Liberators”, formed to do Caesar in, Brutus eagerly accepted the invitation to join their secret group. He was a great symbolic catch, because he was a descendant of Lucius Licinius Brutus, the Roman Republic’s founder who had chased the last king out of Rome.
On the Ides of March in 44 BC, dozens of Senators suddenly fell upon Caesar during a meeting of the Senate. Brutus stabbed the dictator in the groin, which contemporaries interpreted as a statement against his mother’s former lover, as well as against the rumors that Caesar might have actually been Brutus’ biological father. The assassins were pardoned by the Senate, but a riot soon thereafter forced them to flee Rome. The following year, Mark Antony and Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavius, got that amnesty revoked, and had the Senate declare the dictator’s assassins murderers. Civil war erupted again, and ended with the assassins defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, after which Brutus committed suicide rather than fall into Octavius’ clutches.