On this date in 44 BCE, Marcus Junius Brutus and as many as 59 accomplices orchestrated the most famous assassination of all time. While we observe the anniversary of Caesar's untimely demise, let’s take a closer look at the assassination's divisive figure and draw our own conclusions.
1. Brutus's Mother was Caesar’s Longtime Mistress.
Brutus's mom, Servilia Caepionis, and the future dictator first became intimate when they were in their thirties. Their affair ended up spanning decades and became one of ancient Rome’s worst-kept secrets.
2. During Caesar’s Civil War, Brutus Picked the Losing Side.
Even though Caesar's rival, Pompey, had killed Brutus’s father, Brutus sided with Pompey when the statesman went to war with Caesar in 49 BCE. En route to defeating his rival, Caesar defeated Brutus’s forces before pardoning Servilia’s son.
3. He Became Governor of Gaul in 46 BCE ...
After the pardon, Brutus's career took off. According to the great historian Plutarch, Brutus treated Gaul well, and her cities flourished under his leadership.
4. … And a Praetor in 44.
A praetor was a high-ranking political official who was responsible for carrying out Roman justice. Brutus’s appointment irked Gaius Cassius Longinus, who had wanted the job and considered himself better qualified. (Make note of this guy—you’ll be seeing a lot of him.)
5. Cicero Dedicated a Masterful Text to Him.
An admirer of Brutus’s soaring speeches, this esteemed philosopher penned a popular compendium about public speaking in 46 BCE, which he titled Brutus, a History of Famous Orators.
6. Brutus Divorced His First Wife So He Could Marry His Cousin.
While still wed to a well-regarded socialite named Claudia Pulchra, Brutus fell for Porcia Catonis, an articulate, well-educated relative.
7. His Name Appears in Ancient Graffiti.
Ancient Roman graffiti artists had a field day with Brutus, marking up a statue of the praetor with such zingers as “Brutus, you are sleeping,” “Would that you were living!” and “You are not Brutus.” Clearly, his approval ratings left a bit to be desired.
8. In His Spare Time, Brutus Took Up Poetry.
He presented many original verses at libraries, though none survive today.
9. Porcia Once Proved her Loyalty to Him Via Self-Mutilation.
When you marry your cousin, things are bound to get a little weird. As Plutarch reveals, Brutus’ second wife literally took great pains to learn his secrets. One day, she grabbed a butcher’s knife and quietly stabbed herself in the thigh until “there was a copious flow of blood”. “Brutus”, she said, “… how can I show thee any grateful service if I am to share neither thy secret suffering nor the anxiety which craves a loyal confidant?” As Brutus looked on in astonishment, Porcia argued that if she could bear such agony without complaint, she could also be trusted with his schemes.
10. He Tried Raising Money for Caesar’s Assassins with Food.
Appalled by Julius Caesar’s ascent to absolute power and a new title that translated into "dictator in perpetuity," Brutus joined the conspiracy that helped organize the leader's murder. Great conspiracies don't come cheap, so Brutus fell back on that favorite moneymaking operation of modern politicians, the fundraising dinner. In the early days of the conspiracy, he treated a wealthy activist by the name of Titus Pomponius Atticus to an excellent meal. But this gesture was in vain—Atticus found the plan far too risky.
11. Caesar’s Last Words Probably Weren’t “Et tu, Brute?”
Sorry, Shakespeare: Nobody’s quite sure what Caesar said just before he died. One historian reported that witnesses saw him take a good look at Brutus and utter “Kai su, teknon?” which, in Greek, means “You too, child?”
12. Coins Complete With Daggers Were Once Issued in His Honor.
After slaying Caesar, Brutus’s team (which called itself “the freedom party”) fled to Macedonia, where local coins featuring his profile on one side and two down-turned knives on the other were produced.
13. Mark Antony Ensured That Brutus Received a Proper Burial.
The forces assembled by the exiled Brutus proved no match for the combined might of those of Antony and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew). Rather than be captured, he famously took his own life in 42 BCE. With reverence, Antony then used his most expensive cape to cloak Brutus’s body—though this garment was swiftly stolen.
14. Brutus Hangs Out with Cassius and Judas in Dante’s Inferno.
The treacherous trio receives unspeakable tortures in Hell’s ninth circle.
15. A Quote Attributed to Him Appears on Virginia’s State Seal.
Does sic semper tyrannus ring any bells? Many claim it’s what Brutus shouted while killing Caesar. But our old friend Plutarch reported otherwise, writing that the Brutus and his fellow assassins simply fled without comment. Nonetheless, Virginia adopted an official seal complete with these words in 1776, 89 years before John Wilkes Booth shouted them at Ford’s Theatre after wounding Abraham Lincoln.