The Betrayal of Julius Caesar

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Marcus Junius Brutus a tragic hero or a vicious backstabber? The question of Marcus Brutus’s true character has confused many from the beginning of time. From Shakespeare to modern day historians, no one is truly able to explain the reasons behind Brutus’s betrayal of the great Roman General Julius Caesar. Whilst some like us argue that Brutus’s intentions were just and heroic others claim that his betrayal makes him an evil conniving villain who killed his close friend and ally Caesar under the influence of Patriotism and fake honor. A great piece of work which depicts both the good and the bad of the story is written by none other than Shakespeare himself, in the format of a play named Julius Caesar. On one hand where the story focuses on portraying Marcus Brutus as the villain, it also, on the other, portrays him as the tragic hero that he was, fighting to free his beloved Rome from the clutches of Caesar. To understand the debate in the fullest of its context let’s first begin with the key reasons as to why Marcus Brutus, is perceived to be an antagonist. Marble head from a statue, probably of Julius Caesar, about AD50 from Rome at the British Museum
 Julius Caesar- Taken by William Warby (CC) The death of Julius Caesar as depicted by Vincenzo Cammuccini, 1804-5 CE. (National Art Gallery, Moderna, Italy) The death of Julius Caesar as depicted by Vincenzo Cammuccini, 1804-5 CE. (National Art Gallery, Moderna, Italy) The "Tusculum portrait", one of two surviving busts of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime. The "Tusculum portrait", one of two surviving busts of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime.

The Evil Betrayer

The main reason put forth as a justification of Marcus Brutus’s actions, is his belief that Caesar had become power hungry, overambitious and egoistic . Coming from a lineage of powerful republicans, such as Lucius Junius Brutus, who founded the Roman Republic, Marcus Brutus too was driven by the need to protect his “people” and his beloved “Rome” from the clutches of Caesar. (“Omnium primum avidum novae libertatis populum, ne postmodum flecti precibus aut donis regiis posset, iure iurando adegit neminem Romae passuros regnare”- Oath taken by Lucius Brutus and his followers that no king will ever rule Rome again) However, Caesar’s fate as a monarch was one that was unclear. Starting from the bottom, Caesar, in his lifetime had done nothing else, but serve his people. He concurred and expanded the Roman Empire to lengths unimaginable at that time. He was the hero, saviour, and the greatest leader Rome had ever seen. If he had fought hard and made Rome the great nation it was, then why was it that his own friend and ally betrayed him? Was his motivation truly just patriotism and honour or was something else corrupting his mind? As it can be seen in many sources, the simple answer to this question is Gaius Cassius- the man who planted the seed of suspicion in Brutus’s mind and convinced him to become a part of the conspiracy against Caesar. Gaius was one of the many conspirators who were motivated by jealousy and envy of Caesar’s growing success, he convinced Brutus, that Caesar was planning on converting the Roman republic back into a monarchy under his rule, and fearing the fate in stored for Rome, Brutus quickly agreed to help.  As can be understood by this, Marcus Brutus, himself was not one who desired power or envied Caesar, However since his actions were more based on assumptions rather than evidence,  it is clear as to why he is more commonly seen as a traitor by many. [youtube]

The Tragic Hero

Despite his brutal act towards his dear friend, some would still argue that Brutus was a noble hero who did what was right for Rome. It was not only Brutus who thought that Caesar had to be stopped but the entire Senate as well. The Senate was anxious to see Rome revert back to the monarchy that was once ruled in Rome. When he “was named dictator for life in February 44 BCE”, they “believed that they no longer had a voice” and felt that Rome was going to be governed by a “tyrant”.  In the interest of protecting the governance in Rome, they had resorted to such drastic measures. Nevertheless, how else could they have stopped Caesar who was already growing in power? He was successfully conquering Rome’s neighbouring states and those in the Senate did not dare do anything to stand up against him. Hence, they had to do it the only way it could have possibly been done.

There was evidence of Brutus being apprehensive about killing Caesar. Even at the last moment while the attack was being carried out, Brutus displayed signs of resignation to do what they had set out to do, and was last to attack. He “waits until the end, and without emotion, does what he feels is necessary to protect the State”. Him having to do it without any emotion tells us that he actually had thought it through and being emotionally detached about the attack on his friend was his way of dealing with it. This means that he does actually feel for Caesar and what he was going to do to him, but having the best of intentions for the people of Rome, he sacrifices the friendship. It is in this selfless act of his that his altruistic character is seen.

When one reads about Brutus, one would agree that Brutus had undoubtedly loved Rome. In one of Shakespeare’s famous plays ‘Caesar’, Brutus says “not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. / Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen?” From this quote, we infer that Brutus had loved both Rome and Caesar, but he had chosen Rome over his friend. It shows much of his humanity to sacrifice a really good friendship he had had with Caesar for the good of the people of Rome. It is universally understood that it is harder to stand up to your friends than to your own enemy. His love for Rome had motivated him to challenge his friend with the support gained by the Senate who had felt that it was in their best interest as well to impede on Caesar’s ruling. In addition, to spare a thought for the people of Rome over his own self-interest shows a nobility that people of that time had lacked in. People of position in that era had only been interested in their own power, not thinking twice about the way it was done. Brutus, on the other hand, disregarded his own self-interest, having attained a high position since he is a friend of Caesar, and chose to act in the interest of the people of Rome. The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martii) is the name of 15 March (to-day!) in the Roman calendar, probably referring to the day of the full moon. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars (God of War) and a military parade was usually held.
In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was stabbed (23 times) to death in the Theatre of Pompey led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other conspirators.
On his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar saw a seer who had foretold that harm would come to him not later than the Ides of March. Caesar joked, "Well, the Ides of March have come", to which the seer replied "Ay, they have come, but they are not gone." This meeting is famously dramatized in William Skakespeare's play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned to "beware the Ides of March".
'Et tu, Brute?' is a Latin phrase often used poetically to represent Caesar's last words to his friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of his murder by stabbing. It can be variously translated as 'Even you, Brutus?','"And you, Brutus?', 'You too, Brutus?', 'Thou too, Brutus?' or 'And thou, Brutus?'. Immortalized by Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599), the quotation is widely used in Western culture to signify the utmost betrayal.
Beware the Ides of March!- By Paul Bommer (CC) Woodcut illustration (leaf [m]8v, f. cviij) of Porcia Catonis counseling Marcus Junius Brutus, Julius Caesar's death at the hands of Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, and Porcia's suicide, hand-colored in red, green, yellow and black, from an incunable German translation by Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris, printed by Johannes Zainer at Ulm ca. 1474 (cf. ISTC ib00720000). One of 76 woodcut illustrations (1 on leaf [e]8v dated 1473), each 80 x 110 mm., depicting scenes from the life of the women chronicled (for a full list of subjects, cf. W.L. Schreiber, Handbuch der Holz- und Metallschnitte des XV. Jahrhunderts (Nendeln: Kraus Reprints, 1969), no. 3506). "Pour la première moitie le nom se trouve inscrit à côte de la tête de chaque femme, pour le reste il es ajouté entre les deux réglettes. Il n'y en a que trois, qui n'ont qu'un seul trait carré."--Schreiber.
Established form: Zainer, Johannes, ‡d d. 1541?.
Established form: Brutus, Marcus Junius, ǂd 85?-42 B.C.
Established form: Caesar, Julius.
Established form: Cassius Longinus, Gaius, ǂd fl. 54-42 B.C.
Woodcut illustration of Porcia Catonis counseling Marcus Junius Brutus, Julius Caesar's death at the hands of Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, and Porcia's suicide- By POP (CC) Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish (1577-1640)
Marcus Brutus, 1638
11 1/2 x 7 7/8”
Gift of Mrs. Joseph D. Patton
Marcus Brutus- By Haggerty Museum (CC)

The Evil Betrayer

Julius Caesar was seen by most to be a good man. Even after his ascension he maintained a relatively modest profile. It can be argued that only his conspirators thought of his persona as that of a front to gain popularity from the people. They saw Caesar as a threat and doubted his actions no matter how much it benefited the people of Rome.

We can also compare Brutus to likes of Marc Antony. To show the distinct contrast between their loyalties towards Caesar. Though both of them were regarded as friends by Caesar, Mark Antony showed loyalty by rejecting and disagreeing with the conspirators choice after they had killed Caesar. In his speech at Caesar’s funeral, he expressed how Caesar was a great man of Rome and reminded the people of the great things that he had done for his people. His speech differed from Brutus’s greatly as while one can be seen to be done in remembrance of a great man, honouring his life, while the other hinted a desire for power, trying to justify murder. Antony also helped to bring Caesar’s murderers to justice by using sarcasm in his speech to highlight the conspirators involved in the murder. Hence Antony’s behavior and exemplary speech can be used to further portray the depths of Brutus's treachery. [youtube]


In conclusion, perhaps what Brutus did could have been considered as the patriotic thing to do. However, it should not justify the fact that what he did was morally wrong. He committed murder and betrayed Caesar, a man who played an important role in building him up as a person and a figure that had only ever showed him care.The best quote that summarises this debate would be: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." quoted from the play julius caesar. In which Cassius tells Brutus that if all men are equal, and should not have to bow to another. It also means that we are responsible for our own destinies through our actions and decisions. This powerful line can be seen as the determining factor as to what Brutus had to do and what he did, as to stop Caesar from becoming the monarch of Rome.