CASSIUS, the name of a distinguished ancient Roman family, originally patrician. Its most important members are the following.
1. Spurius Cassius, surnamed Vecellinus (Vicellinus, Viscellinus), Roman soldier and statesman, three times consul, and author of the first agrarian law. In his first consulate (502 b.c.) he defeated the Sabines; in his second (493) he renewed the league with the Latins, and dedicated the temple of Ceres in the Circus; in his third (486) he made a treaty with the conquered Hernici. The account of his agrarian law is confused and contradictory; it is clear, however, that it was intended to benefit the needy plebeians (see Agrarian Laws). As such it was violently opposed both by the patricians and by the wealthy plebeians. Cassius was condemned by the people as aiming at kingly power, and hurled from the Tarpeian rock. Another account says he was tried by the family council and put to death by his own father, who considered his proposal prejudicial to the patrician interest. According to Livy, his proposal to bestow a share of the land upon the Latins was regarded with great suspicion. According to Mommsen (Römische Forschungen, ii.), the whole story is an invention of a later age, founded upon the proposals of the Gracchi and M. Livius Drusus, to which period belongs the idea of sharing public land with the Latins.
See Livy ii. 33, 41; Dion Halic. v. 49, viii. 69-80; Cicero, Pro Balbo, 23 (53), De Republica, ii. 27 (49), 35 (60); Val. Max. v. 8. 2.
The following Cassii are all plebeians. It is suggested that the sons of Spurius Cassius either were expelled from, or voluntarily left, the patrician order, in consequence of their father's execution.
2. Gaius Cassius Longinus, consul 73 b.c. With his colleague, Terentius Varro Lucullus, he passed a law (lex Terentia Cassia), the object of which was to give authority for the purchase of corn at the public expense, to be retailed at a fixed price at Rome. It is doubtful whether this Cassius (who is often called by the additional name Varus) is identical with the Varus who was proscribed by the triumvirs, and put to death at Minturnae (43). According to Orosius he was killed at the battle of Mutina.
See Cicero, In Verrem, iii. 70, 75, v. 21; Livy, Epit. 96; Appian, Bell. Civ. iv. 28; Orosius v. 24.
3. Gaius Cassius Longinus, prime mover in the conspiracy against Julius Caesar. Little is known of his early life. In 53 b.c. he served in the Parthian campaign under M. Licinius Crassus, saved the remnants of the army after the defeat at Carrhae, and for two years successfully repelled the enemy. In 49 b.c. he became tribune of the plebs. The outbreak of the civil war saved him from being brought to trial for extortion in Syria. He at first sided with Pompey, and as commander of part of his fleet rendered considerable service in the Mediterranean. After Pharsalus he became reconciled to Caesar, who made him one of his legates. In 44 b.c. he became praetor peregrinus with the promise of the Syrian province for the ensuing year. The appointment of his junior, M. Junius Brutus, as praetor urbanus deeply offended him, and he was one of the busiest conspirators against Caesar, taking an active part in the actual assassination. He then left Italy for Syria, raised a considerable army, and defeated P. Cornelius Dolabella, to whom the province had been assigned by the senate. On the formation of the triumvirate, Brutus and he, with their combined armies, crossed the Hellespont, marched through Thrace, and encamped near Philippi in Macedonia. Their intention was to starve out the enemy, but they were forced into an engagement. Brutus was successful against Octavian, but Cassius, defeated by M. Antonius (Mark Antony), gave up all for lost, and ordered his freedman to slay him. He was lamented by Brutus as "the last of the Romans," and buried at Thasos. A man of considerable ability, he was a good soldier, and took an interest in literature, but in politics he was actuated by vanity and ambition. His portrait in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, though vivid, is scarcely historical.
See Plutarch, Brutus, passim, Crassus, 27, 29, Caesar, 62, 69; Dio Cassius xl. 28, xlii. 13, xliv. 14, xlvii. 20; Vell. Pat. ii. 46, 56, 58, 69, 70, 87; Cicero, Philippics, xi. 13, 14, ad Att. v. 21, xiv. 21, ad Fam. xi. 3, 15, 16; Appian, Bell. Civ. ii. 111, 113, iii. 2, 8, iv. 60-62, 87, 90, 111-113, 132; Caesar, Bell. Civ. iii. 101.
4. Quintus Cassius Longinus, the brother or cousin of the murderer of Caesar, quaestor of Pompey in Further Spain in 54 b.c. In 49, as tribune of the people, he strongly supported the cause of Caesar, by whom he was made governor of Further Spain. He treated the provincials with great cruelty, and his appointment (48) to take the field against Juba, king of Numidia, gave him an excuse for fresh oppression. The result was an unsuccessful insurrection at Corduba. Cassius punished the leaders with merciless severity, and made the lot of the provincials harder than ever. At last some of his troops revolted under the quaestor M. Marcellus, who was proclaimed governor of the province. Cassius was surrounded by Marcellus in Ulia. Bogud, king of Mauretania, and M. Lepidus, proconsul of Hither Spain, to whom Cassius had applied for assistance, negotiated an arrangement with Marcellus whereby Cassius was to be allowed to go free with the legions that remained loyal to him. Cassius sent his troops into winter quarters, hastened on board ship at Malaca with his ill-gotten gains, but was wrecked in a storm at the mouth of the Iberus (Ebro). His tyrannical government of Spain had greatly injured the cause of Caesar.
See Dio Cassius xli. 15, 24, xlii. 15, 16, xliii. 29; Livy, Epit. III; Appian, B.C. ii. 33, 43; Bellum Alexandrinum, 48-64.
5. Gaius Cassius Longinus (1st century a.d.), Roman jurist, consul in 30, proconsul of Asia 40-41, and governor of Syria under Claudius 45-50. On his return to Rome his wealth and high character secured him considerable influence. He was banished by Nero (65) to Sardinia, because among the images of his ancestors he had preserved that of the murderer of Caesar. He was recalled by Vespasian, and died at an advanced age. As he was consul in 30, he must have been born at the latest in the year 3 b.c. Cassius was a pupil of Masurius Sabinus, with whom he founded a legal school, the followers of which were called Cassiani. His chief work was the Libri Juris Civilis in ten books, which was used by the compilers of the Digest of Justinian.
See Tacitus, Annals, xvi. 7-9; Suetonius, Nero, 37; Dio Cassius lix. 29; Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Literature, § 298, 3.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)