Gaius Cassius Longinus
Gaius Cassius Longinus (Classical Latin: [ˈgaː.i.ʊs
ˈkas.si.ʊs ˈlɔŋ.gɪ.nʊs]; October 3, before 85 BC – October 3,
42 BC) was a Roman senator, a leading instigator of the plot to
kill Julius Caesar, and the brother in-law of Marcus Junius
Brutus. He commanded troops with Brutus during the Battle of Philippi
against the combined forces of
Mark Antony and Octavian, Caesar's
former supporters, and committed suicide after being defeated by Mark
Cassius was elected as a
Tribune of the Plebs
Tribune of the Plebs in 49 BC. He opposed
Caesar, and he commanded a fleet against him during Caesar's Civil
War: after Caesar defeated
Pompey in the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar
overtook Cassius and forced him to surrender. After Caesar's death,
Cassius fled to the East, where he amassed an army of twelve legions.
He was supported and made Governor by the Senate. Though he and Brutus
marched west against the allies of the Second Triumvirate, Cassius was
defeated at the Battle of Phillippi and committed suicide.
He followed the teachings of the philosopher Epicurus, although
scholars debate whether or not these beliefs affected his political
life. Cassius is a main character in William Shakespeare's play Julius
Caesar that depicts the assassination of Caesar and its aftermath. He
is also shown in the lowest circle of
Hell in Dante's Inferno as
punishment for betraying and killing Caesar.
1.1 Early life
1.2 Civil war
3 In literature
4 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Little is known of Gaius Cassius's early life, apart from a story that
he showed his dislike of despots while still at school, by quarreling
with the son of the dictator Sulla. He studied philosophy at Rhodes
under Archelaus of
Rhodes and became fluent in Greek. He was
Junia Tertia (Tertulla), who was the daughter of Servilia
and thus a half-sister of his co-conspirator Brutus. They had one son,
who was born in about 60 BC. In 53 BC he took part in the Battle of
Carrhae lost by
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus against the Parthians and
after his death, led the legions' retreat back into Syria.
Cassius returned to Rome in 50 BC, when civil war was about to break
Julius Caesar and Pompey. Cassius was elected tribune of
the Plebs for 49 BC, and threw in his lot with the Optimates,
although his brother Lucius Cassius supported Caesar. Cassius left
Italy shortly after Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He met
Greece, and was appointed to command part of his fleet.
In 48 BC, Cassius sailed his ships to Sicily, where he attacked and
burned a large part of Caesar's navy. He then proceeded to harass
ships off the Italian coast. News of Pompey's defeat at the Battle of
Pharsalus caused Cassius to head for the Hellespont, with hopes of
allying with the king of Pontus, Pharnaces II. Cassius was
overtaken by Caesar en route, and was forced to surrender
Caesar made Cassius a legate, employing him in the Alexandrian War
against the very same Pharnaces whom Cassius had hoped to join after
Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus. However, Cassius refused to join in the
fight against Cato and Scipio in Africa, choosing instead to retire to
Main article: Assassination of Julius Caesar
Cassius spent the next two years in office, and apparently tightened
his friendship with Cicero. In 44 BC, he became praetor peregrinus
with the promise of the Syrian province for the ensuing year. The
appointment of his junior and brother-in-law, Marcus Brutus, as
praetor urbanus deeply offended him.
Although Cassius was "the moving spirit" in the plot against Caesar,
winning over the chief assassins to the cause of tyrannicide, Brutus
became their leader. On the Ides of March, 44 BC, Cassius urged on
his fellow liberators and struck Caesar in the chest area. Though they
succeeded in assassinating Caesar, the celebration was short-lived, as
Mark Antony seized power and turned the public against them. In
letters written during 44 BC,
Cicero frequently complains that Rome
was still subjected to tyranny, because the "Liberators" had failed to
kill Antony. According to some accounts, Cassius had wanted to
kill Antony at the same time as Caesar, but Brutus dissuaded him.
Cassius' reputation in the East made it easy to amass an army from
other governors in the area, and by 43 BC he was ready to take on
Publius Cornelius Dolabella with 12 legions. By this point the Senate
had split with Antonius and cast its lot with Cassius, confirming him
as governor of the province. Dolabella attacked but was betrayed by
his allies, leading him to commit suicide. Cassius was now secure
enough to march on Egypt, but on the formation of the Second
Triumvirate, Brutus requested his assistance. Cassius quickly joined
Smyrna with most of his army, leaving his nephew behind to
The conspirators decided to attack the triumvirate’s allies in Asia.
Cassius set upon and sacked Rhodes, while Brutus did the same to
Lycia. They regrouped the following year in Sardis, where their armies
proclaimed them imperator. They crossed the Hellespont, marched
through Thrace, and encamped near
Philippi in Macedon. Gaius Julius
Caesar Octavian (later known as Augustus) and
Mark Antony soon
arrived, and Cassius planned to starve them out through the use of
their superior position in the country. However, they were forced into
a pair of battles by Antony, collectively known as the Battle of
Philippi. Brutus was successful against Octavian, and took his camp.
Cassius, however, was defeated and overrun by Antony and, unaware of
Brutus' victory, gave up all for lost and killed himself with the very
same dagger he had used against Julius Caesar. The date of
Cassius' death is the same as that of his birth, October 3. He was
mourned by Brutus as "the Last of the Romans" and buried in
"Among that select band of philosophers who have managed to change the
world," writes David Sedley, "it would be hard to find a pair with a
higher public profile than Brutus and Cassius — brothers-in-law,
fellow-assassins, and Shakespearian heroes," adding that "it may not
even be widely known that they were philosophers."
Like Brutus, whose Stoic proclivities are widely assumed but who is
more accurately described as an Antiochean Platonist, Cassius
exercised a long and serious interest in philosophy. His early
philosophical commitments are hazy, though D.R. Shackleton Bailey
thought that a remark by Cicero indicates a youthful adherence to
the Academy. Sometime between 48 and 45 BC, however, Cassius
famously converted to the school of thought founded by Epicurus.
Epicurus advocated a withdrawal from politics, at Rome his
philosophy was made to accommodate the careers of many prominent men
in public life, among them Caesar's father-in-law, Calpurnius Piso
Arnaldo Momigliano called Cassius' conversion a
"conspicuous date in the history of Roman Epicureanism," a choice made
not to enjoy the pleasures of the Garden, but to provide a
philosophical justification for assassinating a tyrant.
Cicero associates Cassius's new
Epicureanism with a willingness to
seek peace in the aftermath of the civil war between Caesar and
Miriam Griffin dates his conversion to as early as 48
BC, after he had fought on the side of Pompeius at the Battle of
Pharsalus but decided to come home instead of joining the last
holdouts of the civil war in Africa. Momigliano placed it in 46
BC, based on a letter by
Cicero to Cassius dated January 45.
Shackleton Bailey points to a date of two or three years earlier.
The dating bears on, but is not essential to, the question of whether
Cassius justified the murder of Caesar on Epicurean grounds. Griffin
argues that his intellectual pursuits, like those of other Romans, may
be entirely removed from any practical application in the realm of
politics. Romans of the Late Republic who can be identified as
Epicureans are more often found among the supporters of Caesar, and
often literally in his camp. Momigliano argued, however, that many of
those who opposed Caesar's dictatorship bore no personal animus toward
Republicanism was more congenial to the Epicurean way of life
than dictatorship. The Roman concept of libertas had been integrated
into Greek philosophical studies, and though Epicurus' theory of the
political governance admitted various forms of government based on
consent, including but not limited to democracy, a tyrannical state
was regarded by Roman Epicureans as incompatible with the highest good
of pleasure, defined as freedom from pain. Tyranny also threatened the
Epicurean value of parrhesia (παρρησία), "truthful speaking,"
and the movement toward deifying Caesar offended Epicurean belief in
abstract gods who lead an ideal existence removed from mortal
Momigliano saw Cassius as moving from an initial Epicurean orthodoxy,
which emphasized disinterest in matters not of vice and virtue, and
detachment, to a "heroic Epicureanism." For Cassius, virtue was
active. In a letter to Cicero, he wrote:
I hope that people will understand that for all, cruelty exists in
proportion to hatred, and goodness and clemency in proportion to love,
and evil men most seek out and crave the things which accrue to good
men. It's hard to persuade people that ‘the good is desirable for
its own sake'; but it's both true and creditable that pleasure and
tranquility are obtained by virtue, justice, and the good. Epicurus
himself, from whom all your Catii and Amafinii take their leave as
poor interpreters of his words, says ‘there is no living pleasantly
without living a good and just life.'
Sedley agrees that the conversion of Cassius should be dated to 48,
when Cassius stopped resisting Caesar, and finds it unlikely that
Epicureanism was a sufficient or primary motivation for his later
decision to take violent action against the dictator. Rather, Cassius
would have had to reconcile his intention with his philosophical
Cicero provides evidence that Epicureans recognized
circumstances when direct action was justified in a political crisis.
In the quotation above, Cassius explicitly rejects the idea that
morality is a good to be chosen for its own sake; morality, as a means
of achieving pleasure and ataraxia, is not inherently superior to the
removal of political anxieties.
The inconsistencies between traditional
Epicureanism and an active
approach to securing freedom ultimately could not be resolved, and
during the Empire, the philosophy of political opposition tended to be
Stoic. This circumstance, Momigliano argues, helps explain why
historians of the Imperial era found Cassius more difficult to
understand than Brutus, and less admirable.
In Dante's Inferno (Canto XXXIV), Cassius is one of three people
deemed sinful enough to be chewed in one of the three mouths of Satan,
in the very center of Hell, for all eternity, as a punishment for
killing Julius Caesar. The other two are Brutus, his fellow
conspirator, and Judas Iscariot, the Biblical betrayer of Jesus.
Cassius also plays a major role in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar
(I. ii. 190–195) as the leader of the conspiracy to assassinate
Caesar. Caesar distrusts him, and states, "Yon Cassius has a lean and
hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous." In one of
the final scenes of the play, Cassius mentions to one of his
subordinates that the day, October 3, is his birthday, and dies
^ Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1939,
reprinted 2002), p. 57 online; Elizabeth Rawson, "Caesar: Civil War
and Dictatorship," in The Cambridge Ancient History: The Last Age of
Roman Republic 146–43 BC (Cambridge University Press, 1994),
vol. 9, p. 465.
^ Plutarch. "Life of Caesar". University of Chicago. p. 595.
...at this juncture Decimus Brutus, surnamed Albinus, who was so
trusted by Caesar that he was entered in his will as his second heir,
but was partner in the conspiracy of the other Brutus and Cassius,
fearing that if Caesar should elude that day, their undertaking would
become known, ridiculed the seers and chided Caesar for laying himself
open to malicious charges on the part of the senators...
Suetonius (121). "De Vita Caesarum" [The Twelve Casesars].
University of Chicago. p. 107. More than sixty joined the
conspiracy against [Caesar], led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and
^ Dante, Inferno: Canto XXXIV
^ Cook, W. R., & Herzman, R. B. (1979). Inferno XXXIII: The Past
and the Present in Dante's Imagery of Betrayal. Italica, 56(4),
377-383. "For the vision of
Satan that is
Dante the pilgrim's last
glimpse of hell shows the three mouths of
Satan gnawing on each of the
three great traitors - Brutus, Cassius, and Judas."
^ Plutarch, Brutus, 9.1-4
^ Appian, Civil Wars, 4.67.
^ Plutarch, Brutus, 14.4
^ Caesar, Civil War, iii.101.
Suetonius (Caesar, 63) says that it was Lucius Cassius who
surrendered to Caesar at the Hellespont.
^ In a letter written in 45 BC, Cassius says to Cicero, "There is
nothing that gives me more pleasure to do than to write to you; for I
seem to be talking and joking with you face to face" (Ad Fam., xv.19).
^ T.R.S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the
Roman Republic (American
Philological Association, 1952), vol. 2, p. 320, citing Plutarch,
Brutus 7.1–3 and Caesar 62.2; and Appian, Bellum Civile 4.57.
^ For instance, Cicero, Ad Fam., xii.3.1.
^ Velleius Paterculus, 2.58.5; Plutarch, Brutus, 18.2-6.
^ PLutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic, sec. 69.
^ Adkins, Roy A.; Adkins, Lesley (1998). "Republic and Empire".
Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press US.
p. 14. ISBN 978-0-19-512332-6. Retrieved August 7,
^ Plutarch, Life of Brutus, 44.2.
^ David Sedley, "The
Ethics of Brutus and Cassius," Journal of Roman
Studies 87 (1997) 41–53.
^ Cicero, Ad familiares xv.16.3.
^ As cited by Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Politics, and Politicians
at Rome," in Philosophia togata: Essays on Philosophy and Roman
Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
^ For a survey of Roman Epicureans active in politics, see Arnaldo
Momigliano, review of Science and Politics in the Ancient World by
Benjamin Farrington (London 1939), in Journal of Roman Studies 31
(1941), pp. 151–157.
^ Momigliano, Journal of Roman Studies 31 (1941), p. 151.
^ Miriam Griffin, "The Intellectual Developments of the Ciceronian
Age," in The Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge University Press,
2000), p. 726 online.
^ Spe pacis et odio civilis sanguinis ("with a hope of peace and a
hatred of shedding blood in civil war"), Cicero, Ad fam. xv.15.1;
Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Politics, and Politicians at Rome," in
Philosophia togata (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
^ For a quotation of the Epicurean passage in this letter, see article
on the philosopher Catius.
^ D.R. Shackleton Bailey,
Cicero Epistulae ad familiares, vol. 2
(Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 378 online, in a note to one of
Cicero's letters to Cassius (Ad fam. xv.17.4), pointing to evidence he
believed Momigliano had overlooked.
^ Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Politics, and Politicians at Rome," in
Philosophia togata (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), particularly
citing Plutarch, Caesar 66.2 on a lack of philosophical justification
for killing Caesar: Cassius is said to commit the act despite his
devotion to Epicurus.
^ Arnaldo Momigliano, Journal of Roman Studies 31 (1941), pp.
151–157. Summary of Cassius's
Epicureanism also in David Sedley,
Ethics of Brutus and Cassius," Journal of Roman Studies 87
(1997), p. 41.
^ a b Momigliano, Journal of Roman Studies 31 (1941), p. 157.
Amafinius were Epicurean philosophers known for their
popularizing approach and criticized by
Cicero for their dumbed-down
^ Ad familiares xv.19; Shackleton Bailey's Latin text of this letter
is available online.
^ Cicero, De republica 1.10.
^ David Sedley, "The
Ethics of Brutus and Cassius," Journal of Roman
Studies 87 (1997), pp. 41 and 46–47.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cassius".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Cassius Dio Cocceianus (1987). The Roman History: The Reign of
Augustus. Ian Scott-Kilvert, trans. London: Penguin Books,.
Cicero, Marcus Tullius (1986). Selected Letters. D. R. H. Shackleton
Bailey, trans. London: Penguin Books.
Gowing, Alain M. (1990). "
Appian and Cassius' Speech Before Philippi
("Bella Civilia" 4.90-100)". Phoenix. 44 (2): 158–181.
Plutarch (1972). Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives. Rex Warner,
trans. New York: Penguin Books.
Plutarch (1965). Maker's of Rome: Nine Lives by Plutarch. Ian
Scott-Kilvert, trans. London: Penguin Books.
"Cassius Longinus" in the Jewish Encyclopedia
Letters to and from Cassius - from Cicero's Letters to Friends
Life of Brutus - from Plutarch's Parallel Lives