23 October 42 BC: Brutus takes his own life
The leading conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar falls on his own sword
For Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the aristocratic assassins of Julius Caesar, the second battle of Philippi was a catastrophe. More than two years since Caesar’s murder, Brutus might have been forgiven for thinking himself safe. Even at the beginning of October 42 BC, when he was facing the combined armies of Caesar’s lieutenant Mark Antony and his heir Octavian, his position looked pretty good. But after a stalemate on 3 October at the first battle of Philippi, in modern-day Greece, things began to unravel.
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The second battle could hardly have gone worse for Brutus. He had a strong defensive position but his officers were impatient to settle matters, and their insistence on mounting an attack soon backfired. After bitter hand-to-hand fighting against Octavian’s forces, Brutus’s army fell back in disarray.
That night, after fleeing from the battlefield, Brutus and his senior officers sat and talked in the darkness. He asked his old friend Volumnius to help him kill himself, but was refused. Brutus was undeterred. “After clasping each man by the hand... he said he rejoiced with exceeding joy that not one of his friends had proved false to him,” wrote the historian Plutarch, “and as for Fortune, he blamed her only for his country’s sake.” Then he withdrew with another old friend, Strato. According to some reports, Strato held Brutus’s sword, upon which the commander “fell with such force that it passed quite through his breast and brought him instant death”.
When Brutus’s enemies discovered his body, they treated it with striking respect; Antony even ordered that it be covered with his own expensive cloak. Brutus was cremated and on Antony’s orders, his ashes were sent to his mother in Rome. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
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