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The most famous ancient Roman is, without a doubt, Gaius Julius Caesar. We remember Marcus Brutus only because he assassinated Caesar.
Like all members of the Senate, Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Junius Brutus were children of history – particularly their family history. While both came from old and revered Roman families, the ancestors of Brutus were the more famous being descended as his was from Brutus the Liberator who freed Rome from her last King and ushered in the Republic. It is perhaps historic justice that another Brutus would be present at the death of that same Republic. Caesar, on the other hand, traced his family back to the founding of Rome, claiming descent not only from Aeneas, survivor of the Fall of Troy, but through him from the goddess Venus herself. However, despite these auspicious beginnings, Caesar’s Roman ancestors, while competent, had not distinguished themselves in any memorable way. Gaius would change all of that.
Caesar was physically brave (he earned the coveted Civic Crown in battle while serving as a Tribune) a gifted orator (Cicero called him the best public speaker of his age) and a talented writer (he is still considered the greatest Latin prose stylist) who was an outstanding general as well as a shrewd politician. In addition Caesar was generous with his money and famous for his clemency. However, he did not suffer fools gladly, and while he might tolerate the ribald songs sung about him by his soldiers, he had no patience for his fellow senators who refused to curb their greed and excess. Like the Gracchi before him, Caesar was a champion of the people and believed very much in the Roman concept of res publica (the Public Thing). Indeed, it was his support of the people, particularly his land reforms, along with his outsized achievements, that motivated the assassins to murder Caesar.
By contrast, Marcus Brutus, while intelligent and well educated, had done little to distinguish himself. Like many of his class he used his appointments for personal financial gain. Although it was illegal to charge interest rates considered usurious, Brutus was able to obtain an exemption and charge the citizens of Salamis interest rates of 48% per annum. Of course, fleecing the provincials was not only common but practically considered a reward for serving as an elected magistrate. More damning, Brutus proved to be a rank opportunist who bent with the wind. Although his father had been executed by Pompey Magnus (and this after the elder Brutus surrendered to Pompey on the condition that his life be spared) Marcus Brutus joined Pompey in opposing Caesar after he crossed the Rubicon. He sided against Caesar despite the favors Caesar had shown to Brutus and his family. Clearly he thought Pompey would win the civil war, but he had, once again, miscalculated and after Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus, was the recipient of Caesar’s famous clemency. It is interesting to note that when Sulla demanded that Caesar devoice his wife, the daughter of Sulla’s enemy, Caesar refused on principle and barley escaped with his life.
Brutus was an opportunist and typical Roman aristocrat while Caesar was a man of principle and the outstanding Roman of his age.
Chronicle Of The Roman Republic by Philip Matyszak c2003
The Assassination Of Julius Caesar A People’s History by Michael Parenti c2003
Caesar Life Of A Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy c2006
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