Lucius Junius Brutus (LVCIVS IVNIVS BRVTVS) was the founder of the Roman Republic and traditionally one of the first consuls in 509 BC. He was claimed as an ancestor of the Roman gens Junia, including Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous of Caesar’s assassins. Brutus was a hero of Republicanism during the Enlightenment and Neoclassical periods, and artists like Jacques-Louis David painted scenes of his life.
Prior to the establishment of the Roman Republic, Rome had been ruled by kings. Brutus led the revolt that overthrew the last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, after the rape of the noblewoman (and kinswoman of Brutus) Lucretia at the hands of Tarquin’s son Sextus Tarquinius. The account is from Livy’s Ab urbe condita and deals with a point in the history of Rome prior to reliable historical records (virtually all prior records were destroyed by the Gauls when they sacked Rome under Brennus in 390 BC or 387 BC). According to Livy, Brutus had a number of grievances against the king, amongst them was the fact that Tarquin had orchestrated the murder of his brother.
Brutus gained the trust of Tarquin’s family by feigning slow-wittedness (in Latin brutus translates to dullard), thereby allowing the Tarquins to underestimate him as a potential threat. He accompanied Tarquin’s sons on a trip to the Oracle of Delphi. The sons asked the oracle who would be the next ruler of Rome. The Oracle responded the next person to kiss his mother would become king. Brutus interpreted “mother” to mean the Earth, so he pretended to trip and kissed the ground. Upon returning to Rome, Brutus was forced to fight in one of Rome’s unending wars with neighboring Italian tribes. Brutus returned to the city once he heard about the rape of Lucretia. Lucretia, believing that the rape dishonored her and her family, committed suicide by stabbing herself with a dagger after confessing all to a gathering of the extended family (including Brutus, and her father, Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus). According to legend, Brutus grabbed the dagger from Lucretia’s breast after her death and immediately shouted for the overthrow of the Tarquins. Soon, Brutus would achieve this goal, causing Tarquinius Superbus and his family to flee back to their ancestral home of Etruria in exile. In place of kings, Brutus declared power to be in the hands of the Senate, with him as one of the first two Praetors, executive officers that would later become the Roman office of Consul.
Brutus and Lucretia’s widowed husband, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, were elected as the first consuls of Rome (509 BC). Brutus’ first acts during his consulship, according to Livy, included administering an oath to the people of Rome to never again accept a king in Rome (see below) and replenishing the number of senators to 300 from the principal men of the equites. The new consuls also created a new office of rex sacrorum to carry out the religious duties that had previously been performed by the kings.
His consulship came to an end during a battle with the Etruscans, who had allied themselves with the Tarquins to restore them to power in Rome. Brutus’s death is romantically described by Livy during the battle. Arruns Tarquinius, the king’s son, challenged Brutus from across the battlefield on horseback. Charging at one another, without any thought to their own defense, both were impaled upon one another’s spears.