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Marcus Junius Brutus: Biography & Overview

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson is a biography of the life and background of Marcus Junius Brutus, one of Julius Caesar's primary assassins and later a rebel who held all of Roman Asia under his rule.

The Tragic Villain

A great tragedy is a story where a character thinks they are making all the right decisions, but are actually making choices that will lead to their doom. Think of Darth Vader in Star Wars -- he made certain choices in order to gain security and power, but those choices only turned him into a villain. Marcus Junius Brutus had a similar life trajectory.

A Noble Family

Brutus was born in 84 B.C.E. as a descendent of the legendary Lucius Junius Brutus, a man credited with driving the last Etruscan kings from Rome and ending the monarchies forever. Memory of that event, of forever keeping kings out of Rome, was a part of Brutus's family's legacy.

The Ancestor of Brutus, Lucius Junius Brutus
Lucius Junius Brutus

In 77 B.C.E., Roman statesman Pompey killed Brutus's father. Marcus Junius Brutus was adopted by an uncle, Marcus Porcius Cato, or simply Cato the Younger. Cato instilled the philosophy of Stoicism on Brutus. As you might have guessed, Stoicism is a philosophy built around not feeling any strong emotions but instead always thinking and acting rationally. Stoicism was a popular belief at the time, and Cato was one of the most respected members.

Pompey later joined the First Triumvirate along with Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus. The First Triumvirate was an unofficial, political alliance between the three men. Cato actively opposed this alliance, and eventually gave his life to protect the Republic.

Pompey

Similar to how a young Darth Vader accepted the Jedi philosophy and fought against evil, Brutus initially followed Cato in resisting the growing power of the First Triumvirate. He believed that their power threatened the Republic and had to be stopped.

When Julius Caesar crossed the Tiber River and began a civil war against Pompey in 49 B.C.E., Brutus again tried to take the Republic's best path when he followed his adopted father and joined Pompey against Caesar. In spite of his love for his father, he followed Pompey because he believed the general would do more to protect the Republic than Caesar.

Assassination of Julius Caesar

When Julius Caesar defeated Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, he ordered that Brutus be taken captive. He was immediately pardoned. Accepting Julius Caesar as the victor, Brutus took an appointment as the governor of Cisalpine Gaul from 47-45 B.C.E., followed by a term as praetor in Rome.

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