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Gaius Cassius Longinus (before 85 BC – October 42 BC) was a Roman senator, a leading instigator of the plot to kill Julius Caesar, and the brother in-law of Marcus Brutus.

Biography

Early life

Little is known of Gaius Cassius's early life. He studied philosophy at Rhodesmarker under Archelaus and became fluent in Greek. He was married to Junia Tertia (Tertulla), who was the daughter of Servilia Caepionis and thus a half-sister of his co-conspirator Brutus. They had one son.

Quaestorship and Parthia

See also Battle of Carrhae.
Cassius's first office was as quaestor under Marcus Licinius Crassus in 53 BC, and he proved himself to have a capable military mind. He traveled with Crassus to the province of Syria, and attempted to dissuade him from attacking the Parthians, suggesting that they secure a base at the Euphrates. Crassus ignored Cassius and led the army into the Battle of Carrhae, during which he also ignored Cassius' plans for strengthening the Roman line. The result was the most famous Roman rout since the Second Punic War.

Cassius managed to save the remnants of the army with the help of Crassus' legate Gaius Octavius. The army in turn tried to make Cassius its new commander, but he refused out of loyalty to Crassus. Crassus was killed by treacherous guides during the retreat from Carrhae, but Cassius managed to escape with 500 cavalry and meet up with the surviving legionaries.

For two years afterwards, Cassius governed the province of Syria as proquaestor, defending the border against Parthian incursions until the new proconsul arrived. The last incursion resulted in the death of the Parthian commander Osaces, and split the Parthian troops. Marcus Tullius Cicero, then governor of Cilicia, sent Cassius a note of congratulations for the victory.

Civil war

When Cassius returned to Rome two years later, the outbreak of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus saved Cassius from being brought to trial by his enemies for extortion in Syria. Cassius was elected tribune of the Plebs in 49 BC, and threw in his lot with the Optimates, fleeing Italy as Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He met Pompey in Greece, and was made commander of his fleet.

In 48 BC, Cassius sailed his ships to Sicilia 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 Hellespontmarker, with hopes of allying with the king of Pontus, Pharnaces II. Cassius was overtaken by Caesar en route, and was forced to surrender unconditionally.

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 Rome.

Conspiracy

Cassius spent the next two years without 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, Marcus Junius 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 face. He and his fellow conspirators referred to themselves as the "Liberators" (Liberatores). Though they succeeded in assassinating Caesar, the celebration was short-lived, as Marcus Antonius seized power and turned the public against them.

Post-assassination

Cassius's 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 Dolabella with 12 legions. By this point the Senate had split with Antony 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 triumvirate, Brutus requested his assistance. Cassius quickly joined Brutus in Smyrnamarker with most of his army, leaving his nephew behind to govern Syria.

The conspirators decided to attack the triumviri’s allies in Asia. Cassius set upon and sacked Rhodesmarker, while Brutus did the same to Lycia. They regrouped the following year in Sardismarker, where their armies proclaimed them imperator. They crossed the Hellespontmarker, marched through Thrace, and encamped near Philippimarker in Macedon. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian (later known as Augustus) and Marcus Antonius 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 know as the Battle of Philippi. Brutus was successful against Octavian, and took his camp. Cassius, however, was defeated and overrun by Marcus Antonius. Cassius, unaware of Brutus' victory, gave up all for lost, and ordered his freedman Pindarus to kill him. He was mourned by Brutus as "the Last of the Romans" and buried in Thasosmarker.

Epicureanism

"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 Academymarker. Sometime between 48 and 45 BC, however, Cassius famously converted to the school of thought founded by Epicurus. Although 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 Caesoninus. 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 Pompeius. 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 him, and 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 social contract 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), "free speech," and the movement toward deifying Caesar offended Epicurean belief in abstract gods who lead an ideal existence removed from mortal affairs.

Momigliano saw Cassius as moving from an initial Epicurean orthodoxy, which emphasized tolerance and detachment, to a "heroic Epicureanism." For Cassius, virtue was active. In a letter to Cicero, he wrote:

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 views. 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 literature

In Dante's Inferno, 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 and Judas Iscariot, the Biblical betrayer of Jesus Christ. (Canto XXXIV) In Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar he is depicted as a ruthless manipulator. Caesar says of him, "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;He thinks too much: such men are dangerous." (I. ii. 190-195)

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