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Brutus: The Noble Conspirator, by Kathryn Tempest

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 316. Illus., maps., appends., notes, biblio., index. $28.50. ISBN: 0300180098.

“The Noblest Roman of Them All”

British academic Tempest (Roehampton), author of a life of Cicero and a specialist in ancient oratory, has written a very good biography of Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous of Caesar’s assassins, who was supposedly rebuked by the Dictator as the knives fell, whom Marc Antony – per Shakespeare – ironically calls “The noblest Roman of them all”.

Opening with a review of the literature on Brutus, both ancient and modern, Tempest observes that the unusual richness of sources – particularly in Cicero’s letters – makes it possible to undertake a well rounded look at his life. So she is not only able to examine his political and military exploits, but also looks rather deeply into his personality and character, family background, including his mother’s relationship with Caesar, intellectual and philosophical education, political ideas, and his known skill as an orator and author, albeit that virtually none of his work survives.

Tempest is particularly good when discussing the conspiracy and murder of Caesar. She makes a telling point in observing – arguably for the first time – that Brutus, Cassius, and the other leading plotters had no program. That is, they offered no ‘manifesto’ as it were, apparently believing that with the Dictator out of the way, everything would revert to normal. Failing to recognize the problems that lay at the root of the disorders affecting the Republic which had led to the rise of warlords such as Caesar, they insured further disorder and civil war.

On the military side Tempest is rather less detailed. She covers Brutus’ service with the Pompeiians during the first civil war. But her account of the war with the Second Triumvirate is largely limited to a look at a lot of political maneuvering, and good treatment of the Battle of Philippi. She says little about the campaign –naval operations, troop movements, logistical preparations – that brought the two armies to Philippi, which was, in fact a “near run thing”.

Nevertheless, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the collapse of the Roman Republic.


Note: Brutus: The Noble Conspirator is also available as an eBook, ISBN 978-0-300-23126-7, and in several other e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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