By Lorie Ann Hambly for Heritage Auctions ……
Decimus Postumus Albinus Brutus was at first a loyal adherent to the great dictator Julius Caesar. The son of the consul for 77 BCE, D. Junius Brutus, he was later adopted into the Postumia gens (clan) and thus bore the names of two illustrious Republican families. He campaigned with Caesar in Gaul and commanded the fleet sent to blockade Massalia (modern-day Marseilles) in 49 BCE. Caesar rewarded him for good service by granting him the office of Praetor and the governorship of Transalpine Gaul for 43 BCE. Caesar even named Decimus in his will as his primary heir should Octavian renounce his inheritance.
Despite all this, Decimus joined in the Senatorial conspiracy led by Cassius and Marcus Junius Brutus against Caesar – exactly why, no one knows. On the Ides of March, 44 BCE, Caesar at first declined to attend the Senate meeting on account of his wife’s having dreamt of his assassination. Decimus, however, shamed him into attending, a scene immortalized by Shakespeare. He accompanied Caesar to Pompey’s Theater, where the Senate was meeting, and deftly whisked him past Mark Antony, who was planning to warn Caesar about the plot, but was purposefully detained by another conspirator. A few moments later, some 60 Senators surrounded Caesar, produced daggers, and stabbed him to death in a frenzied, bloody scene.
Decimus Brutus was possibly the last man to thrust his dagger into his former mentor; the historical novelist Alan Massie proposes that it was Decimus, not the more famous Marcus Junius Brutus, that Caesar addressed with his famous final words, “you too, my son?” After the deed, during the short-lived detente between the assassins and Caesar’s supporters, Decimus rushed to take up the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul and proceeded to raise an army, anticipating the coming civil war. Before long Antony forced the Senate to renounce Decimus’s governorship and award it to him. Early in 43 BCE, Antony raised his own army and headed north to confront Decimus.
Next came a series of bewildering events and head-spinning shifts in fortune that are all but impossible to relate in a logical, coherent way. But I’ll give it a try in 10 easy steps:
- With Antony having departed Rome, Cicero convinces the Senate to “flip” and declare Antony a public enemy.
- The Senate raises yet another army to support Decimus, led by the two consuls Hirtius and Pansa, and heads north along with Caesar’s 19-year-old adoptive heir, Octavian.
- Sandwiched between two hostile armies, Antony suffers a rare defeat, but manages to extricate his forces intact. However,
- The consuls Hirtius and Pansa both die in combat, leaving young Octavian in charge of the field.
- The Senate now awards Decimus command of the Senatorial army, but finds Octavian refuses to give up command and wants no part of helping one of his adoptive father’s assassins.
- The Senatorial soldiers, including many Caesarian veterans, refuse to fight for Decimus and desert in droves to Octavian and Antony, who has now recovered from his defeat and formed an alliance with another general, Lepidus.
- Octavian soon joins this duo to complete the Second Triumvirate.
- His situation crumbling, Decimus decides to flee Gaul and make his way to Macedonia to link up with Cassius and Marcus Brutus.
- Along the way, he seeks refuge in the camp of a Gallic chieftain, who, alas, turns out to be a friend of Antony’s.
- Decimus is held prisoner for a few weeks, then summarily executed on Antony’s orders. Thus Decimus Albinus Brutus, “the other Brutus”, becomes the first of Caesar’s assassins to fall.
Our coin of Decimus Postumus Albinus Brutus was struck while Brutus held the office of moneyer in Rome, circa 48 BCE, while Caesar controlled the city. The obverse bears the head of helmeted head of Mars, looking rather young and clean-shaven –
perhaps a reflection of Decimus himself at this stage of his career? The reverse shows two crossed Celtic war-horns, or carnyces (carnyx singular), with Celtic shields above and below, reflecting Caesar’s recent conquest of Gaul and the active role Decimus played in it.