Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Junius Brutus


Tarquin the Proud had a nephew named Junius Brutus. He seemed to be a simpleton, but he was really a very wise man. His brother had been murdered by the king, and he feared the same fate himself, so he pretended to be half-witted and went about saying and doing silly things. Tarquin therefore did him no harm, but rather pitied him.

Two sons of Tarquin once went to a noted fortune-teller, taking Brutus with them. The young men asked several questions. One was:

"Who shall rule Rome after Tarquin?"

The fortune-teller gave this answer:

"Young men, whichever of you shall first kiss your mother shall be the next ruler of Rome."

The king's sons at once started for home, each eager to be the first to kiss his mother. But Brutus thought that something else was really meant by the answer. So after they had left the fortune-teller he managed to stumble and fall on his face. Then he kissed the ground, saying, "The earth is the true mother of us all." And as we shall see, Brutus became the next ruler of Rome.


The eldest son of Tarquin was named Sextus. He was a very bad man. He deeply injured a beautiful woman named Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, his cousin. Lucretia told her husband and father and Junius Brutus of what Sextus had done and called upon them to punish him for his wicked deed. Then she plunged a dagger into her breast and fell dead. Brutus drew the dagger from her bleeding body and, holding it up before his horrified companions, exclaimed:

"I vow before the gods to avenge the wronged Lucretia. Not one of the Tarquins shall ever again be king in Rome. Rome shall have no more kings."

They all vowed with Brutus that Lucretia should be avenged and that there should be no more kings in Rome. Then they took up her body and carried it to the Forum. There they showed it to the people, who gathered around in horror at the sight. Brutus no longer appeared dull and simple, but stood with head erect and flashing eyes and spoke to the crowd in eloquent, stirring words.

"See what has come from the evil deeds of the Tarquins!" he shouted, pointing to the dead woman. "Let us free ourselves from the rule of these wicked men. Down with Tarquin the tyrant! No more kings in Rome!"

The people were much excited by his speech, and they made the Forum ring with their cries: "Down with Tarquin! Down with Tarquin! No more kings! No more kings!"

Then they resolved to take the power of king away from Tarquin and to banish him and his family from Rome. They also decided to adopt the good laws which had been made years before by King Servius Tullius, and to choose two men each year to govern the nation, instead of a king. The men were to be called consuls and were to rule in turn—one for one month, the other for the next, and so on for twelve months. At the end of the year two new consuls were to be elected.

Meanwhile news of the revolt reached King Tarquin, who was at the time in camp with his army some distance from Rome. He instantly mounted his horse and rode in haste to the city. When he reached the gates he found them shut against him. As he stood impatiently demanding to be admitted, a Roman officer appeared on the wall and told him of the sentence of banishment. Tarquin rode away, and Rome was rid of him forever (510 B.C.).


The people elected Junius Brutus and Lucius Collatinus, the husband of Lucretia, to be their first consuls; but after a short time Collatinus resigned, because he was himself a Tarquin. Publius Valerius was elected in his stead.

Tarquin now sent messengers for his household goods and other things belonging to him which were in Rome. The messengers while in the city had secret meetings with a number of young men of noble families, and a plot was formed to restore Tarquin to the throne.

The young nobles vowed that they would destroy the new republic and bring back the king, for they did not like government by the common people. But while they were making their plans an intelligent slave overheard what they were saying. This slave went to Brutus and told him of the plot. All engaged in it were at once arrested and put in prison. Two sons of Brutus himself, Titus and Tiberius, were found among the plotters.

When Brutus learned that his own children were traitors he was overcome with sorrow. For several days he shut himself up in his house and would see no one. But when the day for the trial came he did his duty sternly as judge—the consuls being judges as well as rulers. Titus and Tiberius were proved guilty of treason, together with the others, and Brutus sentenced them to be whipped with rods and then beheaded. He even was a witness of the execution of the sentence, and we are told that he sat unmoved in his chair and did not turn away his eyes while his two sons were put to death. It was his duty to punish traitors, and he did his duty without sparing his own flesh and blood.

After the loss of his sons Brutus became dull and melancholy and appeared to care very little for life. Tarquin made an attempt to take Rome, with the aid of the people of two cities of Etruria, and Brutus led the Romans to the field to fight against their former king. During the first part of the battle, a son of Tarquin rode furiously at Brutus to kill him. Brutus saw him and advanced rapidly on his horse to meet the attack. When they came together each ran his spear through the body of the other, and both were killed.

The death of Brutus maddened the Romans, and they fought fiercely until dark. Then the armies went to their camps, and no one knew which side had won. But in the middle of the night a loud voice came from a wood close by the camp of the Etruscans, as the people of Etruria were called. The voice said:

"One man more has fallen on the side of the Etruscans than on the side of the Romans; the Romans will conquer in this war."

The Etruscans believed that this was the voice of the god Jupiter, and they were so frightened that they broke up their camp and quickly marched back to their own land.