Servilia II (c. 100–after 42 BCE)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Servilia II (c. 100–after 42 bce)

Roman noblewoman and mother of Brutus. Name variations: Servilia the Younger. Born around 100; died after 42 bce; daughter of Q. Servilius Caepio and Livia (fl. 100 bce); sister of Servilia I; half-sister of Portia (fl. 80 bce) and Cato the Younger; married M. Junius Brutus (died 77 bce); married D. Junius Silanus (a consul); children: (first marriage) M. Junius Brutus (the famous assassin of Julius Caesar); (second marriage) three daughters (all named Junia), Junia (who married M. Aemilius Lepidus); Junia (who married P. Servilius Isauricus); Junia (who married C. Cassius Longinus, better known as Cassius, another assassin of Julius Caesar).

Servilia II's distant ancestor, Servilius Ahala, initially brought fame to their family when he assassinated Spurius Maelius, a would-be tyrant of Rome, in 439 bce. However, Servilia's direct line thereafter fell into political obscurity until the generation of her father, Q. Servilius Caepio. He rose through the ranks of the Roman magistracies, obtaining the office of praetor in 91. Despite promise, he died in 90 (fighting in the Roman Social War) before winning the consulship, Rome's highest annually elected office. At the beginning of his career, Servilius was a political ally of M. Livius Drusus, whose sister Livia (Servilia's mother) he married before the end of the second century. This marriage produced three children: a son, Q. Servilius Caepio, and two daughters, Servilia I and Servilia II. Servilia I married L. Licinius Lucullus, a prominent conservative who won the consulship in 74. The younger Servilia, with whom we are primarily concerned, was born about 100. Thus, she was very young when Servilius divorced Livia (before 96), a split which indicated a political rift between Servilius and Livius. Servilia was about ten when her father and maternal uncle broke into open political animosity, for in 91 Livius (then a tribune) championed a radical legislative agenda which incited widespread rioting in Rome and led to his assassination. As an adult, Servilia straddled the political chasm defined by her father and uncle. A political creature by nature and breeding, and ambitious to oversee the complete political rehabilitation of her paternal line, Servilia worked tirelessly behind the scenes to weave a web of influence which she intended would establish her as the arbiter of Roman politics.

Servilia married twice. Her first marriage was to M. Junius Brutus (tribune in 83) and was consummated (c. 80) when Rome was under the dictatorship of Sulla. After the death of Sulla, when M. Aemilius Lepidus rebelled against the constitution which Sulla had imposed on the Republic, Servilia's husband served as a legate for the rebel's cause. After this uprising was smashed, Brutus surrendered to Pompey the Great at Mutina (77). Initially promising Brutus safe conduct back to Rome, Pompey broke his word and had Servilia's husband executed for his part in the rebellion. Before his death, however, the elder Brutus and Servilia produced a son, another M. Junius Brutus—the famous assassin of Julius Caesar.

Servilia's second husband, D. Junius Silanus, achieved the consulship in 62 with a colleague named L. Licinius Murena. Although his success was won thanks to widespread electoral bribery, and the famous Cato the Younger prosecuted Murena for his part in the corruption, Cato refused similarly to attack Silanus thanks to the latter's marriage to Servilia, Cato's half-sister. (After her divorce from Servilius Caepio, Servilia's mother had married M. Portius Cato and given birth to the younger Cato and a daughter, Portia [fl. 80 bce].) Servilia's staunchly conservative half-brother dominated the Optimate (Senatorial) faction of Roman politics from around 63 until his death in 46 and, as such, long reigned as Julius Caesar's political arch-rival. Caesar was the leader of the Populares (Peoples) faction. Servilia and Cato mostly remained on good terms with each other throughout their lives, although this was often difficult for Cato, since, by the time he was establishing himself in the political arena, Servilia had become Caesar's mistress (more of which below).

With her second husband, Servilia gave birth to three daughters, all named Junia . The oldest of these married M. Aemilius Lepidus, the son of the rebel for whom Servilia's first husband had died. This son-in-law of hers reached the consulship in 46 under Caesar's patronage and eventually became a member of the Second Triumvirate with Marc Antony and Octavian (later Caesar Augustus). The second Junia married P. Servilius Isauricus, who initially was a supporter of Cato but who became a Caesarian and served with Caesar as consul in 48. Later, this Servilius became a partisan of Octavian, for which he was rewarded with a second consulship (41). Servilia's third daughter married C. Cassius Longinus—with Brutus, one of the most renowned assassins of Caesar. Thus, through her daughters' marriages, Servilia maintained firm contacts with the two factions which defined the political extremes of the last generation of the Roman Republic.

During her heyday between the dictatorships of Sulla and Caesar, Servilia reigned as a Roman princess in all but name. Well connected and active behind the scenes, she established herself as a political broker with the appropriate contacts to attempt a reconciliation of Rome's feuding factions. These she attempted to manipulate (without much thought to political principle) so as to bolster the political clout of her family. Certainly the most intriguing relationship with political ramifications which Servilia maintained throughout her long and active career was that which she established with Julius Caesar, whose mistress she was from at latest 63 (in which year, at the time of the Catiline Conspiracy, she was sending Caesar love notes while he was on the Senate floor battling Cato for his political life) until his death in 44 (at the hands of her son, whose father some suspected was really Caesar). An indication of Servilia's intimacy with Caesar came in the youthful betrothal of her son Brutus to his daughter Julia (d. 54 bce). However this union might have altered the future, it never took place, for in order to cement the political alliance (the "First Triumvirate") which catapulted him into the first rank of Roman politics, Caesar altered his plans and gave Julia to Pompey (59).

Although this switch pleased Servilia not at all—she had raised Brutus to hate this same Pompey who now stole his intended bride—the move was entirely political, and it did not lead Servilia to sever her personal relationship with Caesar. (It did create a rift between Brutus and Caesar, however.) In fact, Servilia seems to have been the Roman love of Caesar's life, although both knew other "acquaintances" and neither seriously contemplated marriage with the other. Two episodes prove the depth of his affection for Servilia: in 59 (possibly in partial compensation for the changed marriage plans) Caesar gave her a huge, flawless pearl worth over 60,000 (gold) aurea—which by modern-day standards is the equivalent of millions of dollars—and in 48, after the death of Pompey, he allowed her to acquire much of her enemy's property at auction at a fraction of its true worth, a privilege he denied all others, even those as close to him as Marc Antony.

The year 48 saw Caesar victorious over Pompey in a civil war, and it also saw a temporary reconciliation between Caesar and Brutus, who in the conflict (along with his uncle Cato) had reluctantly supported Pompey. Caesar thereafter favored Brutus' rapid advancement as a personal protégé. Thus it must have come as something of a shock to both Caesar and Servilia when Brutus married Portia (c. 70–43 bce), the daughter of Cato, in 45 bce. This union seems to have been precipitated by Brutus' guilt, for in 46 Cato had committed suicide rather than submit to Caesar's political domination—a path not taken by Brutus when he had reconciled with his mother's lover. Portia was an ardent supporter of her father's republicanism, and she seems to have played a large role in turning Brutus against Caesar once again. As such, Servilia and Portia became rivals, but in the contest for Brutus' political soul, Portia and the memory of Cato prevailed. One can only imagine what went through Servilia's mind when she learned that Brutus had played a leading role in the murder of Caesar in 44 bce.

What is known is that Servilia did not abandon her son's interests after Caesar's assassination, probably because, despite what he had done, he represented the continuation of the political influence she had worked so hard to win for her line. In June 44, Servilia presided over the family conference at Antium at which the assassins of Caesar contemplated how they should plot their political futures in light of the growing unpopularity of their act. There Servilia promised to use her connections with the Caesarian faction in order to affect some mutually satisfactory reconciliation. For this goal did she labor, especially after Brutus left Italy for the East to raise money and men for the military showdown looming with the Second Triumvirate (comprised of the Caesarians, Marc Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian). Despite tireless diplomatic efforts, Servilia failed. When it became apparent that Brutus would face his rivals in battle, she turned her attention to raising money for Brutus' cause, having some success in this field with the immensely wealthy, Atticus. Regardless, all of her efforts failed when Brutus died fighting in northern Greece, at Philippi, in 42. After this catastrophe, Servilia received the ashes of her son. Thereafter, nothing is known of her fate.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California