Born in 85, M. Junius Brutus was adopted in early life by a maternal uncle, so that his name became for official purposes Q. (Servilius) Caepio Brutus. But the original style remained in general use among his contemporaries and posterity. His natural father was a nobleman supposedly descended from Rome’s first Consul, who held office under the Marians and was killed by Pompey in 78 for his part in an insurrection against the post-Sullan regime. His mother, Servilia, not only belonged to a patrician family with wide aristocratic connections but was half-sister to M. Cato and, according to general report, Julius Caesar’s mistress. A second marriage and the marriages of three resulting daughters linked her and her son to yet other leading families and individuals. Brutus himself married a daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, whose other daughter was the wife of Pompey’s elder son (Brutus later divorced her to marry Cato’s daughter, the ‘Portia’ of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). The great account in which he was held by his contemporaries is partly attributable to the extent and brilliance of these family connections.
But Brutus’ personal qualities and attainments were far out of the ordinary. An austere intellectual with a deep interest in Greek philosophy, he became as a young man one of the foremost public speakers of the day in the so-called
‘Atticist’ manner, which aimed at simple elegance in opposition to Ciceronian orotundity. Moreover, he did nothing by halves. ‘When he wants something,’ said Julius Caesar of Brutus, ‘he wants it badly.’
In 58 he accompanied his uncle Cato on a special mission to supervise the annexation of Cyprus to the Roman empire. In 53 he served as Quaestor under his father-in-law, Appius Claudius, the governor of Cilicia, and in 49 as Legate to Cicero’s successor in the same province, P. Sestius. The Civil War had now broken out and Brutus passed from Cilicia to Pompey’s camp in Greece, where Cicero wrote of him to Atticus as ‘zealous in the cause.’ But after Pharsalia he was not only pardoned by Caesar but taken into favour, made governor of Cisalpine Gaul in 46 and City Praetor in 44. Early that year a plot was hatched to assassinate the Dictator, which took effect on 15 March. Brutus was its leader, along with his brother-in-law, C. Cassius Longinus, and a distant kinsman, Decimus Brutus.
The conspirators seem to have planned no further than the act. Mark Antony, the surviving Consul, soon showed a disposition to step into Caesar’s shoes. His ascendancy was challenged by Caesar’s heir, the eighteen-year-old Octavian, while Brutus and Cassius, the ‘Liberators’ as they were called, remained helpless spectators until the autumn, when they left for the East. There it was a very different story. The Caesarian commanders in Syria and Egypt, whether from republican sympathies or lack of personal ambition, handed over to Cassius, while Brutus took possession of Greece, defeating and capturing Antony’s brother Gaius. By the spring of 43 the Liberators were in control from the Euphrates to the Adriatic. Despite all appeals, they made no effort to come to the rescue of the re-