law pt 3: the oath of Brutus

Now this Brutus who had accompanied Collatinus to his house was a strange one. He became a great man, yet his early life had been one of trouble. His real name was Lucius Junius, and not many remember that he was King Tarquin’s nephew.

Now the proud King had a vicious streak in him, and among the many people he murdered was a brother of young Lucius. So Lucius, not wanting to draw unwanted attention, pretended from then on to be a harmless idiot – so gaining the nickname Brutus.

And so imagine Collatinus’ shock when this Brutus grabbed the knife from his wife’s lifeless hand and cried “By this innocent blood I swear before heaven, by fire, sword and all my might, to drive out Tarquin the Superb, his wife and his wretched children, that neither they nor anyone else may ever rule here as King!

And what a change it made after that! Lucius the Idiot seemed to become a new man. This very same Brutus had just a few years before visited the Oracle at Delphi, then tripped on the way out the door because his tiny mind was so shocked by the marvelous words! But this same Brutus now fired up the brave young men of Rome, leading them to drive out the proud King. This same Brutus sat on the curule chair as the first consul of our glorious Republic, with young Collatinus as his colleague.

That oath he swore before heaven must have done something. But oaths, as you know, are hungry. When a man swears an oath he follows an unseen law. And laws have a habit of eating anything they can find. Whatever law Brutus found himself under when he spoke that oath, it bound him tightly. For he fought against Tarquin for the rest of his life, and the struggle took from him everything.

Proud Tarquin tried three times to retake our seven hills. The first time was through trickery. He sent spies to Rome, hoping to find a secret way in. These spies met with some success, for some of the worthless men of the city, former pets of the former King, welcomed them. These men made a secret agreement with the spies to open the city gates at night and let Tarquin’s men in. Among the traitors were young Titus and Tiberius, the sons of poor Brutus.

Everything was undone however by a slave. This man, in the house of one of the traitors, had already suspected something was wrong. He had been trying to bring the traitors out, when one night – look! – all of them gathered to write a letter, guaranteeing their cooperation with Tarquin. Immediately he ran to tell the consuls, who with full fury rushed in and arrested the lot of them.

Now of course the traitors were to be executed under the consuls’ stern eyes. But everyone looked with wonder at Brutus, who was to watch and approve of his own children’s deaths – for what man, what consul could break the laws for the sake of kin?

So stern Brutus sat on the curule chair, bound by law. The traitors were bound to posts set in the ground. They say that both consuls gave the order, though Brutus’ voice was a little quieter. First the executioners whipped the men, and then beheaded them. They say that when young Titus and Tiberius were whipped, stern Brutus’ mask still held. But when the axe flashed in the sunlight it made the consul blink, as if blinking away tears. So they say.

Now the second time Tarquin tried to retake our city was through force. That same year he gathered the fighting men of Veii and Tarquinii to march on Rome. The Veientines, humiliated time and again by Roman arms, were eager for a fight. The Tarquinians also needed little persuasion, for they were the tyrant’s kinsmen.

So proud Tarquin marched at the head of this army with his son Aruns. The Roman army met them at the forest of Arsia, and riding at its head were the consuls Brutus and Valerius.

Now both Aruns and Brutus were the cavalry commanders, and so both chose to lead a charge into the enemy. As the horses thundered toward each other it was young Aruns who first spotted Brutus. With a dreadful shout he said “Look, there is the man who took away our home! See how proudly he rides, dressed in our armour. O Heaven, avenger of kings, help me!” And with a roar he raised his lance, rushing out of his troop and straight toward Brutus. Stern consul Brutus, no coward, bound to fight all challengers, raised his lance and roaring, rushed at Aruns. When they collided there was a sound not unlike the butcher’s knife striking home, only much louder. And then – look! – there lay both men, dead on the ground, run through by each other’s weapons.

It goes without saying that we won that battle. And you probably know the details of it. Our men carried the day, though to speak the truth it was no easy fight! We whipped the Veientines, but the Tarquinians were made of stern stuff. In the end however they ran and we won.

Proud Tarquin would return once more to threaten our seven hills. But stern Brutus, poor Brutus, was dead by then, bound to death by law and by oath.

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