Lucius Junius Brutus : ? , died in 508 BC

Title: consul in 509 BC J.C.
Lucius Junius Brutus
Brutus condemning his sons to death
Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Le Louvre

A principal agent in the expulsion of the Tarquins from the throne of Rome, and one of the founders of the republic. He was killed in battle, by Aruns, the son of Tarquin, in the year 246 of Rome, and 508 years before the birth of Christ.

The father of this eminent Roman was Marcus Junius, a descendant from one of the chiefs of the colony which had been planted in Italy by AEneas: his mother was a sister of Tarquin the Proud.

Tarquin had usurped the crown of Rome, against the consent of the senate and the people. To obtain it he had murdered his father-in-law, his sister, and his wife; and his whole reign was marked by injustice and oppression. He had enslaved the people, slaughtered many of the nobility; and, despising the laws of the country, had appropriated their possessions to his own use.

Marcus Junius, his brother and eldest son, had all been privately murdered by command of the despot; and Lucius, whose talents and acquirements were much beyond those of his contemporaries in general, perceiving that the only mode by which he could escape destruction, was to affect a state of mental incapacity, assumed the manner and the character of an ideot. Thus, although he would have found no protection from justice, did he find security in contempt. Tarquin, despising his apparent imbecility, gave him the surname of Brutus, or "fool;" and suffered him to reside in the palace, for the amusement of his sons. Lucius had prudence enough to exhibit no symptoms of dislike, either to his name, or to the mode in which he was treated; but resolved, patiently to wait, in the hope that a time would arrive, when he could, with safety, throw off his disguise, and not only liberate himself, but aid in liberating his country from the power of the tyrant.

Whilst he was in this state of servitude, a famine raged in Rome, so dreadful that Tarquin, alarmed lest his own family should suffer from it, was induced to send his sons to Delphi, with propitiatory offerings to Apollo, of immense value. Brutus accompanied them; and is said to have much amused the youths, by carrying, as an offering to that god, a staff formed of cornel wood. But they were ignorant that this staff was hollow, and contained a golden wand. "Thus (says Livy) was it an emblem of the state of his own mind: for, under a contemptible exterior, it concealed a treasure of great value." It is also related that the young men, anxious to ascertain, from the oracle, which of them should obtain the sovereignty of Rome, received, as an answer to their enquiry, that "the first who should kiss his mother should possess the supreme power." In their perplexity they are said to have drawn lots, for the purpose of determining which of them, on his return to Rome, should first salute his mother. But Brutus, supposing that the import of the prediction was not quite so obvious as the youths had imagined, fell, as if by accident, upon the ground, and touched, with his lips, the earth, as the common parent of all mankind.

Some time after this, Sextus Tarquinius; the eldest son of Tarquin, having used violence with Lucretia, the wife of his kinsman Collatinus, she was resolved not to survive the insult; but, after having declared the crime of Sextus, stabbed herself in the presence of her father, her husband, and several of the Roman nobles. Brutus, roused almost to madness, by this additional act of wickedness, elevated his hands towards heaven, in agony at the crime; declared that his character had hitherto been an assumed one, and that henceforth it was his determination to join his countrymen in ridding themselves of their oppressors.

He accompanied Publius Valerius and some others to the house of Lucretia. The body was lying lifeless upon the floor. Brutus drew from the wound the poignard with which the unhappy lady had stabbed herself, and, exhibiting it to the assembled company, they all bound themselves by an oath, to expel the Tarquin family for ever from Rome; and thus to punish the authors of the many crimes that had been committed. The opportunity for this seemed a favourable one: Tarquin was himself employed in the siege of Ardea, a town about twelve miles distant from Rome; and, during his absence, the father of Lucretia had been entrusted with the government of the city.

At the suggestion of Brutus a guard was placed near the city gates, to prevent intelligence of their proceedings from being conveyed to Tarquin. He then proposed that the body, stained as it was with blood, should be conveyed into the forum, and exposed to the public view: that, when the people were assembled, the father and the husband of Lucretia should recount the particulars of her death; and, lastly, that himself and others should then rise up, inveigh against the tyranny of the Tarquins, and exhort the citizens to unite in obtaining their liberty.

Valerius suggested a difficulty, which he was fearful they could not overcome. He said that they were not empowered legally to assemble the people for the purpose of putting any public measure to the vote; but Brutus instantly replied: "I will assemble them. I am the commander of the Celeres1", and, "as such, have a power, by law, of assembling the people. Tarquin invested me with this power, when he thought me a fool, and from a presumption that I should neither be sensible of the importance, nor know how to use it. I will assemble them, and will myself pronounce the first harangue against the tyrant."

The requisite arrangements having been made, and prayers having been offered to the gods, for assistance in their just designs, the company proceeded to the forum. They were followed by the domestics of Collatinus, who carried, upon a bier, the body of Lucretia, covered with a black cloth and stained with blood. On their arrival at the place, it was exposed in a conspicuous situation, before the senate; and, the people being called together, an immense multitude was collected there, from all parts of the city.

Brutus ascended the tribunal from which it was customary to address the people. He stated to them that he had assumed the character of an ideot, as the only means of preserving his life; and he recounted the injuries which himself and his family had sustained from the wickedness of Tarquin, asserting that he had persevered in his disguise for five and twenty years, and that only, by so doing, he had been preserved from destruction. He asserted further, that Tarquin had obtained the sovereignty of Rome, contrary to the established laws and customs of the nation; and that, having been a scourge instead of a blessing to his subjects, he had surpassed, in haughtiness and oppression, all the tyrants by whom the world had hitherto been afflicted. He stated that were even Tarquin himself now to die, they might have three Tarquins, all of them even worse and more unprincipled than their father. He dwelt upon the particulars relative to the death of Lucretia, whose body lay dead before them; and he so wrought upon their feelings, that his whole speech was received by the people with loud and incessant acclamations. When he had finished, it was unanimously resolved that the Tarquins, and all their posterity, should be banished not only from Rome, but from the Roman territory; and that the supreme power should, thenceforth, be vested in two persons, who should be chosen annually, and have the title of consuls or "counsellors."

In justification of this dethronement of Tarquin, it must be remarked not only that he had acted in an oppressive manner towards his subjects, that he had unjustly deprived many of them of their life, others of their freedom, and others of their preperty; but that he had usurped the throne: that, before his time, the Roman government had been a limited monarchy, consisting of a king, a senate, and the people; and that Tarquin, by assuming to himself the entire authority, and excluding the other two orders from any share in the government, had, illegally, converted it into a tyranny. It is remarked, by Livy, that Brutus would have acted in a manner very injurious to the public good, if, through an over anxious zeal for liberty, he had wrested the government from any other than from a prince like Tarquin; and, particularly, if, after having so done, he had given it into the hands of the Roman population, whom he describes to have been a rabble of malefactors, slaves, and fugitives from other countries, and who would thus have only acquired the liberty of acting without restraint, under the protection of an inviolable asylum. Brutus, indeed, was sufficiently cautious not to give full power into the hands of those who, he was well aware, knew not how to benefit even themselves by the possession of it. The origin of Roman liberty is dated from this time, but rather on account of the consular power having been limited to the period of twelve months, than of any diminution having been made in the authority which had been possessed by the kings.

The assembly was dismissed, and the people were directed to hasten to the field where they had been accustomed to choose their magistrates, and there to nominate the consuls. They did so, and the persons elected were Brutus and Collatinus.

Information of these proceedings having been conveyed to Tarquin, he took with him his two sons, Titus and Aruns, and rode, with all possible speed, to the city, in a hope that he might be able to stop the progress of the revolt. But, on his arrival there, he found the gates shut against him, and all the battlements occupied by armed men. He returned to to his camp; but, finding that the army also had joined in the revolt, he fled thence into Etruria.

One of the first acts of the consuls was to fill up the vacant places in the senate. They then increased the power of that body, by making the whole number three hundred instead of two hundred; and afterwards caused the people to take an oath never to recal the Tarquins; nor, in future, to suffer any person to assume the title of king.

Tarquin sent ambassadors to Rome, to propose terms of accommodation. These were all rejected; but, during the residence of the ambassadors in the city, they sought to effect a counter-revolution, by privately corrupting some of the principal persons. Among these were Titus and Tiberius, sons of Brutus; two Vitellii, Marcus and Marius, brothers of the wife of Brutus; and two Aquilii, Lucius and Marcius, sons of the sister of Collatinus.

It seems remarkable that the sons of Brutus could have been so much misled as to have become agents in endeavouring to restore a tyrant so detestable as Tarquin, and by whom their own family had been so deeply injured: and it seems still more remarkable that they should have been so blind to the virtues of their father, as thus to have acted in direct opposition to his proceedings. Had the project of Tarquin been effected, these youths would have been instrumental in the destruction of the senate and the people; and the life of their father would have been sacrificed to their treachery.

The plot, however, was discovered. The criminals were apprehended; and it was the duty of the consuls to try them for the offence, and to pronounce upon them the sentence of the law. Titus and Tiberius were first accused. What an afflicting situation for a parent, to sit in judgment upon his own children ! Unanswerable proofs of their guilt were adduced; proofs which they did not even attempt to controvert. As soon as the trial was ended, a melancholy silence pervaded the assembly. A few of the senators, willing to favour Brutus, suggested the punishment of exile. The tears of Collatinus and of Valerius, gave some hope of mercy. But Brutus, calling upon each of his sons by name, said: "You, Titus, and you, Tiberius, make your defence to the charge adduced against you." They were thus questioned three times, but made no answer. Brutus, then turning to the lictors, firmly exclaimed: "Yours is the part that remains." The lictors seized the youths, stripped off their garments, and, having bound their hands behind them, first severely flogged, and afterwards beheaded them. All the spectators, Brutus excepted, are said to have turned their eyes aside, unable to endure so heart-rending a sight. He looked steadily and sternly upon his sons, until their punishment was complete. Then, says Plutarch, when their headless bodies were extended upon the ground, he departed, leaving to his colleague the completion of the business, and the whole assembly involved in horror and astonishment. It is, however, stated by Livy that, during the whole time of the execution, the countenance of Brutus betrayed the emotions of his heart, and that the feelings of the father often forced their way through the character of the magistrate.

This conduct of Brutus has been variously represented. Some writers have ranked him among the most illustrious of heroes; as one who restored liberty to his country, and secured it even by the blood of his sons: others have considered that the excess of his resentment depressed his soul into insensibility. Some have represented the action as divine, and others have esteemed it savage and brutal. In fact, he had a most distressing task to accomplish. Gladly, no doubt, would he have forgiven the ingratitude of his sons towards himself; but he could not, with justice, protect them from the insulted laws of his country. Their guilt was clearly established; and, if they had not suffered the punishment due to their crime, there was no law by which other traitors could be punished. His resolute conduct proved the safety of the state: had he wavered, the government would have been overthrown; but, by his firmness, it was established. It is, however, undeniable, that his witnessing the execution was an unnecessary part of the ceremonial. After the conviction had taken place, and sentence had been pronounced, nothing further seems to have been requisite from him: he could then have departed from the tribunal, and have left the melancholy completion of the business to his colleague.

The Aquilii, the relations of Collatinus, were next brought before the tribunal; but Collatinus was desirous of treating them with lenity. Valerius, by whom they had been apprehended, called for Brutus. Much confusion having, for some time, prevailed, Brutus at length returned, and the people appealed to him. They requested his interference, and demanded justice against the Aquilii, as well as against the youths who had already suffered. He, however, replied: "It is sufficient for me to have pronounced judgment on my own sons: I must leave these to the judgment of the people." The subject was put to the vote, and they were unanimously condemned to die.

The conduct of Collatinus, on this occasion, gave so much offence, that Brutus declared he would cause him to be deprived of the magistracy. The effect of this threat was, that he abdicated the consulate, and Publius Valerius was elected in his stead.

Tarquin, disappointed in all his hopes, resolved, as a last resource, to seek for success in open war. He induced the inhabitants of Veii and Tarquinia, two cities of Etruria, to espouse his cause; and, having assembled a considerable force, he advanced into the Roman territories. The consuls marched out to give him battle; Valerius having the command of the infantry, and Brutus of the cavalry. The cavalry of the enemy was commanded by Aruns, one of the sons of Tarquin. When the armies were drawn up for battle, Aruns advanced in front of the ranks, and, approaching the Roman lines, uttered the most irritating and abusive language against Brutus; and finally challenged him to decide the fate of Rome by single combat. Deaf to the entreaties and the remonstrances of his friends, Brutus rushed out from the ranks; and Aruns, urging on his horse, with all his force, to meet him, they each received his adversary's spear, through the shield, into his body. The chests of the horses came in contact, by the violence of the motion; the animals reared, and, throwing back their heads, flung their riders upon the ground, where they lay struggling in agony, whilst streams of blood issued from their wounds.

No sooner had the leaders fallen, than the two armies, with a tremendous shout, rushed into combat. A dreadful carnage ensued; for the combatants were separated only by the close of day. They then retired to their camps; but Valerius, in the night, marched out, surprised the forces of Tarquin, and obtained over them a signal victory.

The body of Brutus, adorned with crowns in token of his bravery, was carried into Rome, by the most distinguished of the Roman officers. It was met by the senate, accompanied by nearly the whole population of the city, who had prepared, for the refreshment of the army, tables spread with food and bowls of wine.

Valerius, the surviving consul, entered the city in triumph. On the ensuing day, he appeared in a mourning habit; and, having caused the body of Brutus to be properly adorned, and placed, in the forum, upon a magnificent bier, he assembled the people, and pronounced over it a funeral oration.

Thus died Lucius Junius Brutus, who subverted the Roman monarchy, and was himself the first consul. Though it was late before he attained distinction, and though he flourished but a short time, (not quite twelve months,) yet he acquired a celebrity which will endure to the latest period of history. By the Romans his character was regarded with so much admiration, that the matrons unanimously agreed to wear mourning for him, a whole year, in the same manner as for their nearest relatives; and a statue of brass was erected to his memory in the capitol, commemorative of his having been the founder of the Roman commonwealth.

Authorities-Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, and Plutarch, in the life of Publicola.

1. The Celeres were the Roman body-guards.

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