People on Quora want to know: was Brutus really Caesar’s son?

Unlike my weird comedic answer the other day about Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, below is an answer I wrote earnestly.

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Was Brutus really Julius Caesar’s son?

Here’s what Plutarch says about it:

It is said, moreover, that Caesar also was concerned for his safety, and ordered his officers not to kill Brutus in the battle, but to spare him, and take him prisoner if he gave himself up voluntarily, and if he persisted in fighting against capture, to let him alone and do him no violence; and that Caesar did this out of regard for Servilia, the mother of Brutus. For while he was still a young man, as it seems, Caesar had been intimate with Servilia, who was madly in love with him, and he had some grounds for believing that Brutus, who was born at about the time when her passion was in full blaze, was his own son.

Bear in mind that although Plutarch was writing a century later, he had access to an account of the assassination of Caesar that is now lost, called “Brutus,” written by a housemate of Brutus’ named Empylus:

Empylus also, who is often mentioned by Brutus himself in his letters, and also by his friends, as a housemate of his, was a rhetorician, and has left a brief but excellent account of the assassination of Caesar, entitled “Brutus.”

If Empylus’s account is where Plutarch got the Caesar-father narrative, then maybe there’s some truth to it. Roommates generally know. But I guess we don’t know what Empylus really said.

However, Caesar was also only 14 or 15 at the time Brutus was born. That seems to be the argument against Caesar’s being the father, though I’ve read somewhere else that I can’t find now that really Caesar and Servilia weren’t really dating when they were kids but later when she was married.

Still, Caesar doled out a lot of kindnesses to Brutus that seem above and beyond the call of duty. While not proof of his being the dad, I mean, this stuff is suspicious when you add it all up. From Suetonius:

  • In 59, when J. Caesar was consul, and had to silence some young and vehement republicans, L. Vettius, on the instigation of the tribune P. Vatinius, denounced Brutus as an accomplice in a conspiracy against Pompey’s life; but as it was well known that Brutus was perfectly innocent, Caesar put a stop to the prosecution.
  • In the battle of Pharsalia, Caesar gave orders not to kill Brutus, probably for the sake of Servilia, who implored Caesar to spare him. After the battle, Brutus escaped to Larissa, but did not follow Pompey any further. Here he wrote a letter to Caesar, soliciting his pardon, which was generously granted by the conqueror, who even invited Brutus to come to him.
  • …. Caesar did not require him to fight against his former friends…
  • Caesar promised Brutus the province of Macedonia, and also held out to him hopes of the consulship.

Suspicious too is that at least at one point, Brutus stayed in Caesar’s service as Caesar was “making war against” Brutus’ family. Maybe Brutus knew they weren’t his “real” family?

  • In the year following Brutus was made governor of Cisalpine Gaul, though he had been neither praetor nor consul; and he continued to serve the dictator Caesar, although the latter was making war against Brutus’s own relatives in Africa. The provincials in Cisalpine Gaul were delighted with the mild treatment and justice of Brutus, whom they honoured with public monuments: Caesar, too, afterwards testified his satisfaction with his administration.

Since Plutarch says that Caesar may have thought he was Brutus’ dad, and since people were having kids at age 14 back then (and now), and since Caesar and Brutus both doled out a lot of favors to each other, I rank this theory PLAUSIBLE.

1 Comment

  1. Ooops, I just realized that probably the “family” that Caesar was fighting against while Brutus remained loyal was his uncle Cato, who would still have been his relative, since it was his mom’s brother. And Brutus LOVED Cato. So… that’s weird, but definitely not evidence that Brutus thought he was or wasn’t Caesar’s son.

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