Marcus Junius Brutus
Made famous or infamous by the “Et tu, Brute” quotation from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger (85 – 42 BC), was Julius Caesar’s friend and most famous 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.
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 Republic’s early days.
Brutus had been a close ally of Caesar and a supporter of his Populares faction, but as Caesar sought greater power, Brutus came to view him as a tyrant. Switching to Caesar’s Optimates opponents, Brutus fought within their ranks and under the leadership of his father’s murderer, Pompey the Great, in the civil war against his erstwhile friend and mother’s lover.
After Caesar won, he pardoned Brutus and restored him to favor, which paradoxically enraged Brutus even more, as he resented the fact that any Roman should have the power to pardon another Roman in the first place.
After Caesar assumed dictatorial powers, first for ten years and then for life, and came to act increasingly like a monarch, a faction of Roman senators, styling themselves the “Liberators”, formed to assassinate the dictator. The 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, in which the combined forces of Octavian and Mark Antony crushed those of Brutus and the surviving assassins. Brutus committed suicide after the defeat.