Disclaimer: the following characters do not belong to me, but to themselves (or at least, they used to, when they were alive... Let's say they belong to history now). I hope you enjoy it nevertheless!
Before beginning I'd like to say (well... to write) that this story was inspired by the HBO TV series ROME, especially by the outstanding performance by Ciarán Hinds who played Caesar, which is doubtlessly my favourite character in the whole series.
I've been thinking of writing this piece for a long time, since, due to the fact that Gaius Julius Caesar is one of my favourite people in history, I always wonder what could have happened if the events of the Ides of March hadn't occurred. So here you have a little "What if?" Enjoy.
UPDATE! (As you can see) I created a cover for this story! The picture is not mine, but you can go to my profile where there are links to both the original picture, and the edits I have created! :)
Et tu, Brute?
It was dark. A black and moonless night. The only light came from the torch held by his slave, who walked a few steps behind him, a hood covering his features. He too, wore a hooded cloak to avoid being recognised. Even though not a soul could be seen in the streets of the Eternal City, he kept his head down. What if someone were to see him, a man of his status, a senator of Rome, walking alone at such a late hour? He didn't want that to happen, so he quickened his pace to arrive home as soon as possible.
The meeting had gone well. Everything had been carefully planned to assure nothing went wrong the next day. The Ides of March. That was a date that would live on forever, as well as their names, for it was the day when everything would change. Rome would finally be saved, and the Republic restored to its golden age. Yes, it would be memorable indeed; however, he could not help but feel an overwhelming guilt. He was betraying the man he once thought of as a friend, as a father. But something had to be done, the tyranny had to stop and to uphold the honour of his family name, it was his job to do so.
He entered his sumptuous house on the Palatine Hill through the backdoor, instead of using the beautifully carved oak door at the front, and was greeted by only silence. It was almost eerie. A shiver went up his spine. He awaited the sound of footsteps, or a welcoming voice, but he didn't hear any of them. Upon reaching the atrium, a slave that appeared out of nowhere took his cloak and, in exchange, gave him a cup of water.
"My mother, is she asleep?" He asked her in a dry tone.
"Yes, dominus." She answered with a slight bow of her head. Immediately after, she was dismissed.
Then, without even taking the time to take off his toga, he headed for the tablinum (1), to make sure all documents were ready for the senate meeting the next day. He carried a small oil lamp to light the way, but, when he arrived at the tablinum, he was surprised to find that the room was already lit despite the late hour, and was even more surprised when he realised there was a figure facing the frescoes on the wall, with what appeared to be a scroll in his hands. On the table, among other things, there was an oil lamp, similar to the one he was carrying, which was the source of the dim light. The mysterious man didn't move when he heard him enter.
"Quintus, the fact that you are a guest in my home doesn't give you permission to go through my things, especially not in the middle of the night." He said irritated, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"I'm afraid Quintus is not here at the moment, my dear Brutus." The figure responded. The voice was familiar, but it was certainly a very unexpected one. The man turned around and placed the scroll on the table, all the while looking at him with a smile that showed his perfectly straight teeth but did not reach his eyes. "Brutus, I hope you don't mind my late visit. I merely wanted to know how you were." He continued.
Marcus Junius Brutus couldn't move. He was transfixed. He couldn't believe his eyes. He didn't know what to do, or say. A million thoughts crossed his mind but none gave him the solution to his current predicament. Suddenly the room seemed very small and the air too hot. Gaius Julius Caesar was there looking directly at him with those dark and intelligent eyes. He knew of Brutus' plans, there was no way out, nothing he could do now. He was doomed. He finally summoned the courage to speak:
"Caesar. It is an honour to have you in my house. What can I do for you?" It was all said with a confidence he was not feeling at all, but Brutus was a politician, he knew how to control his emotions. But so was Caesar, who detected the hidden nervousness of his tone as soon as the first word came out of his mouth.
"Please, take a seat." Said Caesar changing the roles of host and guest. Brutus did as he was told while Caesar opted for leaning on the desk that was in front of Brutus' chair, thus marking his superiority by keeping the 'higher ground'.
"I'm sorry, but I wasn't alerted of your presence at my home. Does my mother know you are here?" Brutus said trying to appear natural and unaffected by the older man's presence. But Caesar wasn't easily fooled. He had carefully prepared this meeting with Brutus, making sure the young praetor wasn't informed of his late visit. He was a master of strategy, both on the battlefield and the senate floor, and he was aware of how beneficial having the element of surprise could be. It intimidated his enemies; after all, 'no one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected' (2). This time was no exception. Brutus was merely putting up an act.
"No, Brutus, she does not." He answered rather curtly, the smile ever present on his face.
"Forgive my rudeness, Caesar. Can I get you something? Water? Wine perhaps?"
"No, thank you. As I said before, I'm only here to talk with you, to make sure everything is well."
"All is well indeed, thank you."
"Really? I'm glad to hear it. But... isn't there anything you'd like to tell me?" Caesar inquired in a prying voice while raising his right eyebrow.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Brutus responded with a trembling voice and lowered his gaze, not daring to look at his once friend in the eye.
Caesar lifted his head slightly and let out a chuckle. Even in the dim light he managed to look so regal and magnificent, and, Brutus thought, knew very well that he looked magnificent. Caesar was a man that would do nothing before calculating its effect on his audience, and this time was no exception, although as always, he gave not a vestige of his calculation away.
"Oh, I think you know very well what I'm talking about, my dear Brutus." Caesar kept his voice cool and level, but his dark eyes looked slightly menacing. "Stop this charade, Brutus." Although his voice was calm, it was clear he would not accept a 'no' for an answer.
Brutus broke down. He threw himself at the dictator's feet and wept, asking for mercy and forgiveness. He knew the punishment for a traitor was death. Catilina, also a member of the roman senate and a patrician had been killed for plotting against the Republic, was he any different in the eyes of Caesar?
"I'm sorry!"He wept, still on the floor, all the while holding onto the rich fabric of Caesar's red coloured toga. His cries alerted the lictors waiting outside the room, but Caesar dismissed them with a wave of his hand. "I had no other choice! Several members of the senate, not agreeing with the way you were taking care of things plotted to kill you. They thought you were a tyrant; that one man should not be allowed to hold so much power. They thought you wanted to become king, and that was something they could not allow. Due to my ancestry, I was torn between duty and friendship, and they convinced me to do what they thought was best for Rome, for the Republic."
"And what did you think was best, Brutus?"
"I-, I don-."
His answer was cut short by Caesar. "You once told me that only tyrants should worry about tyrant killers. I am no tyrant; however I was right worrying about what my enemies could do against me. I hoped I would be wrong about you, but sadly, I wasn't." His tone began rising gradually. "After everything I have done for you! I did not only forgive you after you betrayed me in favour of Pompey! No, I honoured you, gave you rank. I treated you like a son! And this s how you repay me? By plotting my downfall, my death? You were so angry at me when I chose to send you to govern Macedonia, but it seems it wasn't such a bad choice after all, was it!"
"I'm sorry, Caesar. You were right all along. Now I can only beg for your forgiveness and hope you'll grant it." Brutus said in a barely audible voice.
"Brutus, my son, rise." Caesar said motioning for him to stand up. "Of course I forgive you." He continued in a soothing tone. Suddenly the room seemed brighter and the air fresher, as if Caesar were able to control their surroundings. "I've told you many times, I love you as a father loves his son, and I never doubted your friendship." He put his hands on the younger man's shoulders. "I know that you were influenced by others, that you were forced to make certain choices you didn't want to make. After all you had to live up to your name." It was all said in a conciliatory tone that, to Brutus' needy ears, seemed completely sincere.
Brutus threw himself at Caesar and hugged him tightly. "Thank you. I don't deserve your forgiveness. Thank you" He said in Caesar's ear as tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
It was almost dawn when Caesar finally went to sleep. I had been a long night indeed, but it had proven to be fruitful. Brutus had told him everything once he had said he accepted his apologies: the names of every single senator involved in the wretched plot, when it was going to take place and where, how they were going to carry it out... All of those things Caesar already knew, of course. His men had been following Brutus and his colleagues around for weeks, so Caesar was well informed of their plans towards him, but Brutus' confession had served as a confirmation. The only thing he was surprised to hear was that almost the whole plan had been Servilia's doing. He knew she was upset about the fact that she was not his most favoured woman anymore, but he didn't think she would be so vindictive. She had let her passions get the best of her, and that was so unlike Servilia. He remembered Atia's warning against her not so many nights before. He didn't pay attention to his niece's warning back then. He made a note to thank her properly whenever he got the chance.
After having congratulated Brutus for summoning the courage to confess, he instructed him not to inform anyone of their conversation and to keep the plan as it was. Not one of his fellow senators apart from Brutus would know about his knowledge of the conspiracy. Ah! He thought, the Ides of March would be a memorable day indeed. He, Gaius Julius Caesar, would make sure of it.
And with those thoughts, Rome's First Man fell under the spell of Somnus (3).
The following morning the sun shone as if to reflect Caesar's mood. He woke up and went about his morning routine as he always did. He donned his senatorial tunic along with its matching toga and, before leaving, he prayed to the gods, thanking them for allowing him to prevent his own death and asking them to grant him further protection and success in the tasks he had to carry out that day.
As he exited his home, he was greeted by the sight of his many lictors (4), all of them carrying the fasces (5)symbolising his power of imperium (6). Waiting with them was the newly appointed senator Lucius Vorenus.
"Good day, senator." He said upon arriving to where he was, all the while looking at a scroll he held in his hands.
"Good day." Vorenus answered politely with a slight nod.
And without further ado, they all headed for the senate (7). In the way, Caesar was able to hear the plebs, and even sometimes one or two of his fellow patricians screaming his name accompanied by words of praise and adoration. Caesar smiled and waved in return. It was gratifying to know that the mob admired him in such a way, especially ever since the victory parade in his honour. After all, despite of what some narrow minded aristocrats liked to affirm, it was that very same mob that decided the fate of Rome. If they were kept happy, had good games regularly and something to fill their stomachs with, the nobles were able to live calmly. However, if it wasn't so, revolt plagued the streets. It was very important for a man such as Caesar to have the love of the people since it granted him success in the political field.
When he entered the senate building, instead of going to its main room where the senate members met, he headed to one of the smaller adjoining ones, without most of the senators noticing. When all of the senators finally entered the Curia and took their seats, Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators, stood up and, with a confused look on his face asked where Caesar was. Cicero, taking the initiative, as he usually did, proposed to conduct state business while they all waited for Caesar to arrive, but Cassius insisted that they had to discuss several important matters that required the dictator's presence. At that moment Brutus entered the room and announced out loud:
"I come from talking with Caesar. He is waiting inside the Aula Tertia (8). He needs to talk with some of us before he allows this senate meeting to begin. It concerns several important matters." After that, the young praetor called all the names of his fellow conspirators, who went towards him looking rather baffled. Once they all got out of the room, Brutus got a pat on the back from Servilius Casca, while Cassius congratulated him for his audacity and cleverness.
"I see you managed to grant us a private meeting with the tyrant himself. Very clever, yes, very clever indeed."
"Sic semper tyrannis (9)." Was all Brutus answered.
The Aula Tertia was not a very big room, but it did have some stairs that led to a balcony overlooking the Forum, and when the senators entered the room, it was atop these stairs that they found Caesar waiting for them.
"Welcome gentlemen." Caesar said with an almost sinister smile crossing his handsome features.
As soon as those words left his mouth, some of his most trusted lictors came out of nowhere and seized the senators. Some of the conspirators managed to reach for the daggers hidden between the folds of their togas, but they were quickly disarmed by the experienced lictors. Brutus too had been seized, and waited terrified, alongside his companions, with a knife at his throat for Caesar's next move.
The Julian went down a few steps, but maintained his vantage point above all other occupants of the room. He then waved his toga with a majestic movement of his hand to add a more dramatic effect.
"Rome does not forgive the traitors. And neither does Caesar."
The senators who had remained in the main room suddenly became agitated when they started hearing noises such as screams and cries, and the sound of weapons clashing against each other coming from the eastern wing of the Curia, where the Aula Tertia was located. What could be happening? They all thought.
All of a sudden, Brutus entered the room breathing heavily and with his senatorial attire drenched in blood. He leaned against the door frame to catch his breath.
"Brutus! What happened in there!" Asked Lepidus, one of Caesar's strongest supporters approaching him. Brutus was about to respond when Caesar, escorted by his lictors, who were also covered in blood, entered the room. He, in contrast to the rest of the newcomers had managed to stay spotlessly clean, however the immaculateness of his gowns was tainted by the dark frown he wore. Many senators tried to approach him, but weren't able to get too close because of the lictors that kept them at bay. They asked him what had happened, however Caesar remained completely silent. Caesar took his seat facing the rest of the senate and the room was finally brought to order. After all the senators had taken their seats, the darling of Venus stood up.
"Fellow senators, today is a sad day for the Republic, for today is the day when several men, men you know who have also talked within the walls of this sacred room, attempted to kill the dictator of Rome." The statement was followed by several gasps coming from every corner of the room. "Brutus, dear son, stand up." Caesar said while looking at him. After the young senator did what he had been told, Caesar resumed his speech, now looking at each and everyone in the room. "You should all look upon this man, for he is an honourable man. He, despite having been tricked into plotting against me, his colleague, and foremost, his friend, he had the courage to confess all his deeds as well as those of his companions. He asked for forgiveness and it was granted, for Caesar is a merciful man." Caesar had managed to get the room's attention as only few, such as Cicero, were able to do. "The senate has the right to know of the events occurred in the Aula Tertia, however it is not me who should tell you about it, but the honourable Marcus Junius Brutus." Caesar's brief speech was received with a great applause.
"He speaks the truth." Brutus said, raising his voice to be heard by all. "As soon as we entered the Aula Tertia, the other men took their daggers from between the folds of their togas and attempted to kill Caesar, however the gods protected him by allowing his lictors to stop them. That's why you all heard those noises while waiting in here. They died fighting, while Caesar once more emerged victorious." That last statement was followed by an applause coming from the Caesarean Section. Once it died out, Brutus continued, this time with a grave look on his face. "I also did something I'm not proud of. I participated in the making of the plot. But Caesar gave me the opportunity to redeem myself. He did what many a lesser man would not have done: he forgave me. He has yet again proved that he is like a father to me. I am eternally indebted to you, oh Caesar."
Once Brutus finished speaking, Caesar motioned for him to approach the centre of the room. They walked towards each other and, once they met, Caesar clasped the younger man's shoulders and then kissed each one of his cheeks. This sign of forgiveness and friendship provoked yet another round of applause. Then, it was Caesar's turn to speak again.
"It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you now that all of those men have travelled to the realm of Dis (10). They took out their daggers to assassinate me, and it was in an attempt to protect me that my lictors killed me. Not only did they plot against a fellow member of the senate. No. They also sneaked weapons inside this sacred building! Had they not tried to use them, it would be my utmost desire to have the properly judged, as law states. They all committed a grievous crime, and for it, they paid grievously." He paused and looked around the room. All eyes were on him, and not a whisper could be heard. "Should anyone commit the same mistake, he will share the same fate. All of you should bear that in mind." Caesar said in a slightly menacing tone. But it became more jovial when he added: "On the other hand, you should also know that those who act in favour of the Republic will be honoured. As you all know, in three days I will be leading an army east, to Parthia. Therefore, I won't be able to appease the insurrections that have recently begun in south eastern Britannia. This task I entrust to you, my dear Brutus. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate for the job. A job that you will carry out with the utmost perfection, were you to accept it. Do you, my dear Brutus accept this task?"
Brutus was caught off guard. Britannia was a territory Rome knew very little about. Only Julius Caesar had dared to cross the channel that separated it from Gaul, and it had not yet been properly claimed as a roman province. If he managed to succeed, he certainly would make a name for himself, nevertheless, it was very easy to fail. But what choice did he have? If he refused in front of the whole senate, he would disgrace himself, as well as his name forever. Caesar had just forgiven him, and now he was honouring him publicly. He could do nothing but accept. And so he did.
"I do." He answered. "Thank you for honouring me in such a way."
"Splendid." Caesar replied. "You will leave tomorrow as a military tribune (11) under the command of senator and general Gneus Domitius Calvinus (12). You will be taking two legions, and as soon as you are done, you'll be able to come back to Rome and resume your duties as a praetor."
"Only two legions?" Brutus asked in terrified awe who now realised he had been probably sent to a certain death. This didn't go unnoticed by Caesar or any of the other senators.
"Of course. Remember that some troops should remain here in Rome to assure its protection, and I'll be taking the rest to Parthia." Caesar and Brutus were still standing beside each other in the centre of the room, so the older man put a reassuring hand on Brutus shoulder before continuing. "Besides," he added, "12.000 men are more than enough to deal with a few barbarian skirmishes. I'm sure you'll deal with it flawlessly."
News in Rome travelled fast, and by the time Caesar had reached his home, the whole city knew of what had happened in the senate. If the people had loved him before, they did even more so now. All kinds of cheers and cries of adoration could be heard outside his door. To the eyes of the mob, Caesar had become, now more than ever, a champion, an invincible man capable of conquering even death, the favoured one of the gods, perhaps, even a god himself.
Meanwhile, Brutus too had arrived home, and as soon as he did, he was informed that his mother Servilia had taken ill. Apparently it had been something she had eaten, according to the doctor. He went to see her, but she was asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, he left, hoping she would be alright.
"Dominus!" Caesar was awoken by his personal slave's, Posca, insistent voice. "Dominus! Junius Brutus is here to see you. He says it's urgent, and looks rather distressed. What shall I do?"
"Tell him I'll be there in a minute." He answered in a sleepy tone. Then he turned to Calpurnia. "Don't worry, my dear, I'll be back soon. Go back to sleep."
Once he had got dressed, and deemed himself presentable, he went to where Brutus was waiting for him.
"Caesar!" He said. Caesar noticed that, as Posca had mentioned, Brutus was indeed very distressed. He had dressed hastily, not even taking the time to shave. "I'm sorry to bother you at this hour, but it is something of the utmost importance!" There was a horrified expression on his face and his eyes stayed wide open, as if he had seen a ghost.
"Calm down, sit and have something to drink." Caesar said patting the seat beside him and motioning to a slave standing nearby to bring some drinks.
"No, thank you. I'm merely here to tell you that I won't be able to accept your offer. I cannot travel to Britannia right now."
"Calm down and sit." Caesar repeated ignoring Brutus' statement. This time, the younger man did what he was told, and when the slave approached with the drinks, he took one of the cups and drained it dry. "Now, tell me. What's wrong?"
"As I said, I won't be able to leave for Britannia. My mother..." He paused and gulped before continuing. "My mother has died tonight."
"I grieve with you, my dear Brutus." His face was grave when he replayed. "However you must understand that, as a senator of Rome, you have a duty to the Republic, and it outweighs everything else. You have to leave today, Brutus. There are no other alternatives. But rest assured that I will personally take care of everything. She will be given a proper funeral with all of the corresponding rituals. You understand it is your duty, don't you? Otherwise you would dishonour your family name, and your mother would not want that."
"I understand. Thank you for your kindness." Brutus said sadly.
"It's the least I could do. Stay here as long as you need, and if there is anything else you might need, do not hesitate to ask. Don't forget to bid farewell to your mother before leaving. I myself will accompany you to do so." Caesar stood up. "I'll leave you alone with your thoughts now."
One year and a half after the events of the Ides of March, Caesar was still waging war against the Parthians. It was proving to be difficult. The Parthians were great warriors; however, the spoils of war were making both Caesar and Rome even richer than before. Winter was approaching slowly, and so the war season was coming to an end. Soon all the men would settle to spend the winter in peace, waiting for spring to come and start battle again.
"Sir!" A soldier entered his tent and saluted while Caesar and Mark Anthony discussed several battle strategies over a map. "I have a message for you." The soldier continued once Caesar gave him permission to speak. He handed him a folded and sealed piece of paper. After that, he was dismissed.
"News from Rome?" Inquired Mark Anthony.
"No. From Britannia." He handed it over to the younger man. The letter was very short. It merely said:
It has been done. Marcus Junius Brutus is dead. GDC
"As you can see, Mark Anthony, every traitor pays the price of his treachery."
Author Notes: so I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it! Please, tell me what you thought of it! Feedback is always appreciated.
(1) Tablinum: office for the paterfamilias (head of the family).
(2) 'No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected': quote by Julius Caesar.
(3) Somnus: roman god of sleep. His greek equivalent is Hypnos.
(4) Lictors: they were the men in charge of the protection of the magistrates who held imperium during the roman republic and empire (it was like a bodyguard). They followed the magistrate everywhere (the Forum, baths...) and when he addressed the crowd, they had to stand by his side. Depending on the rank the magistrate had, he would have more or less lictors at his side (for example, a consul had 12, a dictator, 24).
(5) Fasces: carried by the lictors to symbolise the magistrate's imperium. They are a bundle of wooden sticks with an axe blade emerging from the center. The axe was supposedly taken out when inside the pomerium (the walls of Rome). However, since the dictator could enact capital punishment within Rome as well as without, his lictors did not remove the axes from their fasces.
(6) Imperium: (from latin-'power'). It was absolute legal and military power within the magistracy of each man who held it, meaning that one's authority could be overruled by a magistrate who held a greater degree of imperium (imperium maius).
(7) Senate: the day Caesar died (15th March 44BC), the senate did not meet in the Curia (building dedicated to senate meetings) because Caesar had started building a new one (Curia Julia) to substitute the old Curia Cornelia which had been destroyed by fire. Due to that fact, the senate met in a theatre built by Caesar's old ally, and then enemy, Pompey: its name is the Theatre of Pompey. I had the characters meet in the senate because that's what we see in the series.
(8) Aula Tertia: I made this one up. I do not actually know if there were any adjoining rooms to the senate, but there probably were. I thought it would be better to have the assassination attempt in that room, because it was the only place where Caesar would be able to kill the conspirators after having disarmed them. Had it all happened in front of other senators, they would have asked for a fair trial, something Caesar could not allow because, if they weren't condemned to death, they would be able to try to kill again.
(9) Sic semper tyrannis: sentence attributed to Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar. It means "Thus ever to tyrants" and it is currently the official motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia (USA)
(10) Realm of Dis: it means the Underworld, Dis being Pluto (Hades in its greek version).
(11) Military tribune: official of the roman legion and a member of the senate. He was second in command to the legatus who, at the same time was under the command of the general. There were six tribunes in each legion. Brutus, being a praetor in the senate, would usually have been appointed as a legatus; however that was a very prestigious post which benefited from many of the spoils of war. Caesar didn't want to honour Brutus; on the contrary, he wanted to punish him for betraying him. Making him a tribune meant that he would be under someone's command, and that he would see battle, therefore, would have more possibilities of dying.
(12) Gneus Domitius Calvinus: he was a roman general, senator and consul who was a loyal partisan of Caesar.