Lucius Junius Brutus

Lucius Junius Brutus Condemns His Sons to Death
Lucius Junius Brutus Condemns His Sons to Death. NYPL Digital Gallery

According to Roman legends about the establishment of the Roman Republic, Lucius Junius Brutus (6th C. B.C.) was the nephew of the last Roman king, Tarquinius Superbus (King Tarquin the Proud). Despite their kinship, Brutus led the revolt against the king and proclaimed the Roman Republic in 509 B.C. This revolt happened while King Tarquin was away (on the campaign) and in the wake of the rape of Lucretia by the king's son.

It was the exemplary Brutus who reacted to Lucretia's dishonor by being the first to swear to drive out the Tarquins.

" While they were overwhelmed with grief, Brutus drew the knife out of the wound, and, holding it up before him reeking with blood, said: 'By this blood, most pure before the outrage of a prince, I swear, and I call you, O gods, to witness my oath, that I will henceforth pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, his wicked wife, and all their children, with fire, sword, and all other violent means in my power; nor will I ever suffer them or any other to reign at Rome.'"
~ Livy Book I.59

The New Government With Brutus and Collatinus at Its Head as Co-Consuls

When the men accomplished the coup, Brutus and Lucretia's husband, L. Tarquinius Collatinus, became the first pair of Roman consuls, the new leaders of the new government. [See Table of Roman Consuls.]

Brutus Expels His Co-Consul

It wasn't enough to get rid of Rome's last, Etruscan king: Brutus expelled the whole Tarquin clan.

Since Brutus was related to the Tarquins on only his mother's side, which meant, among other things, that he didn't share the Tarquin name, he was excluded from this group. However, the expelled included his co-consul/co-conspirator, L. Tarquinius Collatinus, the husband of Lucretia, the rape victim-suicide.

" Brutus, according to a decree of the senate, proposed to the people, that all who belonged to the family of the Tarquins should be banished from Rome: in the assembly of centuries he elected Publius Valerius, with whose assistance he had expelled the kings, as his colleague."
~ Livy Book II.2

Brutus as a Model of Roman Virtue or Excess

In later periods, Romans would look back to this era as a time of great virtue. Gestures, like Lucretia's suicide, may seem extreme to us, but they were seen as noble to the Romans, although in his biography of a Brutus contemporary with Julius Caesar, Plutarch takes this ancestral Brutus to the task. Lucretia was held up as one of only a handful of Roman matrons who were paragons of womanly virtue. Brutus was another model of virtue, not just in his peaceful disposal of the monarchy and replacement of it with a system that simultaneously avoided the problems of autocracy and maintained the virtue of kingship -- the annually-changing, dual consulship.

" The first beginnings of liberty, however, one may date from this period, rather because the consular authority was made annual, than because of the royal prerogative was in any way curtailed. The first consuls kept all the privileges and outward signs of authority, care only being taken to prevent the terror appearing doubled, should both have the fasces at the same time."
~ Livy Book II.1

Lucius Junius Brutus was willing to sacrifice everything for the good of the Roman Republic. Brutus' sons had become involved with a conspiracy to restore the Tarquins. When Brutus learned of the plot, he executed those involved, including his two sons.

The Death of Lucius Junius Brutus

In the Tarquins' attempt to reclaim the Roman throne, at the Battle of Silva Arsia, Brutus and Arruns Tarquinius fought and killed each other. This meant both the consuls of the first year of the Roman Republic had to be replaced. It is thought that there was a total of 5 in that one year.

" Brutus perceived that he was being attacked, and, as it was honourable in those days for the generals to personally engage in battle, he accordingly eagerly offered himself for combat. They charged with such furious animosity, neither of them heedful of protecting his own person, provided he could wound his opponent, that each, pierced through the buckler by his adversary's blow, fell from his horse in the throes of death, still transfixed by the two spears."
~ Livy Book II.6

Sources:

  • T.J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome
  • "Roman Myth," by Judith De Luce; The Classical World Vol. 98, No. 2 (Winter, 2005), pp. 202-205.


Plutarch on Lucius Junius Brutus

" Marcus Brutus was descended from that Junius Brutus to whom the ancient Romans erected a statue of brass in the capitol among the images of their kings with a drawn sword in his hand, in remembrance of his courage and resolution in expelling the Tarquins and destroying the monarchy. But that ancient Brutus was of a severe and inflexible nature, like steel of too hard a temper, and having never had his character softened by study and thought, he let himself be so far transported with his rage and hatred against tyrants, that, for conspiring with them, he proceeded to the execution even of his own sons."
~ Plutarch's Life of Brutus