The Rome in which Marcus Brutus lived, the late Republic, was vastly different from the Republic Lucius Brutus established centuries prior. Late Republican Rome governed a much more extensive territory.
Despite living under dissimilar circumstances, Marcus Brutus commanded respect in the realm of late-Republican politics because of his ancestors. On his father’s side was Lucius Brutus. On his mother’s side was the Servius Ahala, “who, when Spurius Maelius… designed to make himself king… struck him with his dagger and slew him.”1 Upholding and defending the Republic, even to the point of killing those who threatened it, was in Marcus Brutus’s blood. Additionally, his uncle influenced Marcus Brutus and his ultimate convictions. Marcus Brutus’s uncle was Cato the Younger, a senator famous for opposing Julius Caesar. Marcus Brutus aspired to be like Cato, as Cato “was whom of all the Romans his nephew most admired and studied to imitate.”2 Under the wing of Cato the Younger, Marcus Brutus became skilled at recognizing tyranny. Thus, it is no surprise that Marcus Brutus devoted much of his military career to salvaging the Republic.
During the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49 – 45 BCE), Brutus judged his commitment to the Republic more important than his friendship with Julius Caesar. At first, Marcus Brutus was conflicted. But then, “thinking it his duty to prefer the interest of the public to his own private feelings, and judging Pompey’s to be the better cause, [Brutus] took part with him.”3 Pushing his own private feelings aside, Brutus ultimately sided with Pompey in order to prevent a life-long dictatorship. At the end of Caesar’s civil war, Brutus was on the losing side; Caesar was victorious and Pompey was dead. Nonetheless, Brutus’s allegiances were still with the Republic, though it was in a state of utter chaos.
After the civil war ended, Brutus committed the act for which he is most known: assassinating Caesar and sparking the second round of civil war. Brutus heard a rumor that “Caesar’s friends intended… to move that he might be made king,”4 confirming his worst nightmares. Thus, when Brutus’s comrade, Cassius, asked him to be a part of the plot against Caesar, Brutus agreed. He was willing “to stand up boldly, and die for the liberty of [his] country.”5 However, he did not take the decision lightly. The idea of assassinating his friend tormented him, filling him with “unusual trouble.”6 Though he loved Caesar, Brutus could not sit back and allow him to destroy the remnants of the Republic.
Maintaining his honor to the very end, Brutus committed suicide when he realized that he was going to lose the Battle of Phillippi. Brutus’s loss at Phillippi and subsequent suicide marked the Second Triumvirate as victors, leaving Rome to dictatorship.
Both Bruti were fiercely committed to ensuring that no Roman king would rise again, making the Anti-Federalists drawn to the pseudonym “Brutus.” While the Federalist Publius stirred up images of hope for a new Republic, the Anti-Federalist image of Brutus recalled the difficulties of maintaining a republic. For, as the Romans experienced, a republic could crumble into a regime.
1 Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 1083.
2 Plutarch, 1084.
3 Plutarch, 1085.
4 Plutarch, 1088.
6 Plutarch, 1089.