Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries

Khalid Elhassan - January 4, 2021

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Bust of Julius Caesar. Naples, National Archaeological Museum

4. Julius Caesar Might Have Been Killed by His Own Son

Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger (85 BC – 42 BC) was made famous or infamous by the “Et tu, Brute” quotation from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Brutus was Julius Caesar’s friend, and although he might have also been Caesar’s biological son, that family tie did not stop him from becoming Caesar’s best-known assassin. A patrician, he was born to Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, who was treacherously murdered by Pompey the Great, and Servilla, who became Julius Caesar’s mistress for many years.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Marcus Junius Brutus. eHistory

After his father’s murder, Brutus was raised by his maternal uncle, Cato the Younger, one of Rome’s leading conservatives and a staunch advocate of returning to the values and lifestyles of the Roman Republic’s early days. Brutus had been a close ally of Julius Caesar and a supporter of his Populares faction. However, as Caesar sought greater power, Brutus came to view him as a tyrant. So he switched to Caesar’s conservative Optimates opponents. Brutus fought within the Optimates ranks and under the leadership of his father’s murderer, Pompey the Great, in the civil war against his erstwhile friend, mother’s lover, and probable father.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Vincenzo Camuccini’s ‘The Death of Julius Caesar’, 1806. Wikimedia

3. Family Ties Did Not Prevent Brutus From Murdering Caesar

Julius Caesar won the civil war, then pardoned Brutus and restored him to favor. Paradoxically, that just enraged Brutus even more, as he resented the fact that any Roman should have the power to pardon another Roman in the first place. Caesar eventually assumed dictatorial powers. When he started acting increasingly like a monarch, a faction of Roman senators, styling themselves the “Liberators”, formed to assassinate him. They recruited Brutus, whose family name and descent from Lucius Junius Brutus, the Roman Republic’s founder who did away with the monarchy and expelled the last Roman king, carried significant symbolic weight.

Brutus betrayed Caesar and delivered one of the stab wounds during the dictator’s assassination on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Afterward, the Senate declared an amnesty for the killers, but rioting forced Brutus and the other assassins to flee Rome. The following year, Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavian, secured a resolution revoking the amnesty and declaring Caesar’s assassins murderers. That led to another round of civil war, which culminated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. The combined forces of Octavian and Mark Antony crushed those of Brutus and the surviving assassins. Brutus committed suicide after the defeat.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Shaka Zulu as depicted in a TV series. News 24

2. A Conqueror Killed by His Own Family

Shaka Zulu (circa 1787-1828) was a tribal warrior who rose to become chief of the Zulus, then launched a ruthless campaign of conquest against other Southern African tribes. A military visionary, he revolutionized tribal warfare in the region, bringing it to a hitherto unprecedented pitch of destructiveness. By the time he was done, he had established Zulu Empire. His fall came not from defeat at the hands of his open enemies, but at the hands of his own family.

When Shaka came to power, tribal warfare in Southern Africa was a low-intensity affair. It was dominated for the most part by rituals and display, with warriors parading in front of their respective armies, shouting challenges and defiance at the enemy, and throwing the occasion spear. There with relatively little actual fighting, and thus few fatalities. Shaka was of a bloody-minded bent, however, so he set about changing that. He introduced fighting formations, organized his men into regiments known as impis, and transformed the Zulus into a disciplined army.

Deadly Family Spats Through the Centuries
Henry Cele as Shaka Zulu in the TV series of the same name. YouTube

1. Shaka Zulu Killed Millions Before He Was Killed by His Family

Shaka Zulu revolutionized tribal combat tactics by abandoning the throwing spears used in the region for centuries. This taught men to use short stabbing spears, emphasizing shock tactics and decisive close combat. Zulu tactics and training made them unstoppable, triggering a catastrophe known as the Mfecane, meaning the “crushing” or “forced migration”. Tribes forced to flee Shaka’s onslaught were forced to encroach upon their neighbors, who were then forced to fight or become refugees, encroaching upon their neighbors in turn. The result was a cascade of violence that claimed the lives of millions.

Shaka’s reign finally came to an end in 1828. That year, he sent a regiment raiding up to the borders of the Cape Colony. When it returned, rather than allow it the customary rest, he ordered the regiment out on yet another raid. That and increasingly megalomaniacal behavior led to widespread grumbling. Taking advantage of the disgruntlement, Shaka’s half-brother Dingane organized a plot within the conqueror’s own family. At a signal one day at camp, he and his co-conspirators fell upon Shaka and stabbed him to death.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Awesome Stories – Ivan the Terrible Murders His Son

Cawthorne, Nigel – Daughter of Heaven: The True Story of the Only Woman to Become Emperor of China (2007)

Encyclopedia Britannica – George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

Encyclopedia Britannica – Henry II, King of England

History Vault – The Mystery of Edward II’s Death

History Collection – 12 Rulers Who Executed Their Relatives

Holland, Tom – Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (2007)

Jones, Dan – The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (2014)

Live Science – Mummy Murder Mystery: King Ramesses III Throat Slashed

Mad Monarchs – Sado of Korea

Massie, Peter K. – Peter the Great: His Life and World (1980)

Rejected Princesses – Wu Zetian: China’s Only Female Emperor

South African History Online – Shaka Zulu

Spartacus Educational – King Richard II

Suetonius – The Twelve Caesars

History Collection – Noble Relationships in History that Had Internal Conflict

Tacitus – Histories

Thought Co – Wars of the Roses: An Overview

Wikipedia – George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence

Wikipedia – Harem Conspiracy

History Collection – History’s Deadliest Relatives

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