Conclusion and consequences

Civil wars and the end of the Republic

At Brutus’ insistence the conspirators killed only Caesar. Mark Antony threw off his senator’s toga to escape, not realising that he was not in danger, mingling with the crowd as the senators fled in panic. No one seems to have had much idea of what was going to happen next. Slowly and cautiously, apparently realising that there were not gangs of supporters bent on revolution and pillage, the Senate went back to the Capitol and spoke to the conspirators. The value of Brutus’ reputation to the conspirators was now proved, for the vast majority of the senators were ready to listen to him. The more distinguished members, including Cicero, stood with the conspirators, signifying their support and after a few hours even Antony and Lepidus, Caesar’s most important subordinates, appeared to be reconciled to the deed. The reaction of the population as a whole was less certain, for Caesar had always been popular with the poorer citizens, and there was some open protest when Brutus made a public speech explaining their motives.

Perhaps the conspirators simply expected everything to return to normal. The dictator was dead, so the Senate and properly elected magistrates could resume their guidance of the state. The problem was that virtually no one could remember a time when the traditional institutions of the Republic had functioned properly. Even the oldest, and there were few enough of these left after the Civil War, had grown up with a world of dictators like Sulla and Caesar, the dominance of informal triumvirs and the ever present threat of revolution from men like Lepidus, Catiline and Clodius. Caesar’s former supporters seemed willing to agree to a general amnesty for the conspirators. The latter made no demands for personal power, and although the leaders were soon given provinces, this was no more than their due as ex-magistrates. Brutus even granted Antony’s request to hold a public funeral for Caesar. At this ceremony Antony read out Caesar’s will, which included sizeable benefactions to the ordinary citizens, and, sensing their growing hostility to the conspirators, roused the mob to demand vengeance against the murderers of their hero. Some of Caesar’s soldiers were making similar demands and most turned to Antony or Lepidus to lead them. The uncertain truce between the two sides continued for some months.

A new factor arose when Octavian, formally taking the name Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus now that his adoption had been confirmed in the will, returned to Italy. Moving from Brundisium to Rome, he rallied a few of Caesar’s veterans. He was just 19, but incredibly self-confident. Mark Antony failed to take him seriously, and anyway saw him as a rival for the loyalty of Caesar’s supporters rather than as a useful ally. It was round about this time that he and Cleopatra brought the child Caesarion into the public eye, presenting an actual son of Caesar to counter the adopted heir. Antony soon left for Cisalpine Gaul, taking charge of an enlarged army—for part of the garrison of Macedonia was posted there—with which he was in a position to threaten Rome. To those senators who hoped for a return to peace and stability and were broadly sympathetic to the conspirators, Antony was clearly the greatest threat to peace, for Lepidus was cautious by nature and unlikely to act of his own accord, even though he had command of the legions in Transalpine Gaul and Nearer Spain. Cicero had his last great moment of glory, emerging as one of the most distinguished of the surviving senators to dominate the debates in the House. At this time he delivered a series of speeches attacking Antony in a way that was vitriolic even by the standards of Roman politics. The speeches were known as the Philippics, for he modelled them on the tirades directed at Philip II of Macedon (Alexander’s father) by the great Athenian orator Demosthenes. Octavian was seen as a useful figurehead, who would help to draw support away from Antony. Cicero is supposed to have said that they would ‘praise the young man, decorate him, and discard him’ (laudanum aduluscentem, ornandum, tollendum—there is a rhythm and double meaning to the Latin which does not easily translate). Yet Octavian was building up his power and rallied a force of veterans from Legio VII and VIII, and was soon joined by two more legions which were nominally under Antony’s command but answered the call of Caesar’s heir.

At the beginning of 43 Antony reached Cisalpine Gaul, but was resisted by the governor from the previous year and one of the conspirators, Decimus Brutus. Antony’s army was superior in both numbers and quality and Brutus was soon besieged at Mutina. The Senate resolved to send the two new consuls for 43, Hirtius—one of Caesar’s old officers and the man who had completed his Gallic Commentaries and possibly also written some of the books continuing the Civil War Commentaries— and Pansa to relieve Brutus. Cicero and the other senators decided to employ Octavian and his legions to aid them, giving the youngster, who was not even a senator, proconsular imperium, just as an earlier Senate had chosen to make use of Pompey and his private army in the 70s. The armies clashed in a confused battle at Forum Gallorum on 14 April 43, and after a hard struggle the arrival of fresh units forced Antony back with the loss of two eagles. Pansa was wounded by a missile during the fighting and died some days later. The army moved on to Mutina and attacked Antony’s camp. At first things went well and they broke in, but then Hirtius was killed in the fighting near Antony’s tent and Octavian and his men forced to retreat. Decimus Brutus was released from siege, but Octavian had no desire to welcome one of his father’s murderers. Brutus began to journey to join the other conspirators in the east, but was killed during the journey.

Both consuls had died within a matter of days, and Octavian was now, effectively, in control of three armies, altogether some eight legions, plus cavalry and other auxiliaries. Rumours circulated at the time and later claiming that Octavian had had a hand in the deaths of both his colleagues. He moved south and stood successfully for election to the consulship for the next year, though he was probably very aware that the Senate was attempting to use him only as a short-term measure. Now that Antony was for the moment checked, they could begin to discard him, and rely instead on the conspirators. Letters began to pass between Antony, Lepidus and Octavian. After a while the first two joined forces, and later in the year all three met at Bononia. Together, at the head of a huge army—altogether nearly 43 legions, though not all were present— they seized Rome and on 27 November 43 had a tribune pass a law by which they became triumvirs with consular power to restore the state (triumviri rei publicae constituendae consulari potestate) for five years. The wording was almost the same as the dictatorships adopted by Sulla and Caesar, save that this time there were three men instead of one. The need to avenge Caesar figured heavily in their propaganda, and the dead dictator was formally deified and a temple constructed for his cult. A comet seen in 44 was proclaimed as a clear sign that Caesar had ascended to heaven after his murder, and from now on Octavian was regarded as the son of a god.

There was far more of Sulla than Caesar about the triumvirs’ behaviour, for this time there was no talk of clemency, and the lists of the proscribed were again posted. Some 200-300 senators and several thousand equestrians suffered death as a result. Among them was Cicero, caught by Antony’s horsemen as he fled in his carriage. His head, along with the hand that had penned the Philippics, was nailed to the speaker’s platform in the forum. Many of these men were killed for political reasons, but the triumvirs needed money to support their huge war effort and plenty of names were added to the list simply to confiscate their property. In spite of this they still had to levy extraordinary taxation. What was left of the Senate was packed with the triumvirs’ supporters and simply confirmed, often in advance, their actions. Preparing for war, and also keen to cement their own power, they took provinces. Antony received Gallia Comata (long-haired Gaul), the area conquered by Caesar, Lepidus had Transalpine Gaul and Spain, and Octavian was given Sicily, Sardinia and Africa. Octavian was also betrothed to Antony’s step-daughter Claudia.

Meanwhile, Brutus and Cassius had had time to prepare a large army, drawing on the provinces around the eastern Mediterranean just as Pompey had done. In the end they amassed some 17 legions, including some such as Legio XXXVI which had fought first for Pompey and then for Caesar in the last Civil War, and would now fight against Caesar’s heirs. Cicero’s son was with them, serving as a cavalry officer. Antony and Octavian brought 22 legions to oppose them in the summer of 42. They met in the twin battles of Philippi. In the first Antony routed the wing commanded by Cassius, who committed suicide without realising that Brutus had in turn smashed Octavian’s legions. Various stories claimed that the latter had either fled in terror or been ill in his tent during this battle. A few weeks later the second battle was fought and, on this occasion, the Caesarean cause won an outright victory, Brutus emulating the action of his colleague. Most of the credit for the victory went, probably rightly, to Antony.

After this victory Octavian and Mark Antony began gradually to ease out Lepidus, who was transferred to the province of Africa, while Octavian took Spain and Antony Gaul. Afterwards Antony went to the east to ensure the loyalty of the region and to secure provinces still threatened by the Parthians, who had begun to become more aggressive again. The son of Labienus had gone into exile at the king’s court, and led a band of followers as part of a Parthian invasion of Syria. At the same time Pompey’s younger son Sextus, who had escaped after Munda, had built up a considerable fleet in Sicily and was actively opposing the triumvirs. He was a problem most of all for Octavian, whose task it was to supervise Italy. One of Octavian’s greatest tasks was to arrange the demobilisation of nearly 100,000 soldiers, a mixture of captured enemies and men whose service was up or who were no longer needed after the victory at Philippi. In 41 he began confiscating land throughout Italy to provide farms for these veterans, evicting many farmers, including the poet Virgil. Capitalising on the resentment this caused, while at the same time hoping to win over as many veterans as they could, Antony’s formidable wife Fulvia and his opportunistic brother Lucius publicly rallied support against Octavian. In the autumn they raised an army, but were besieged at the town of Perusia. Excavations on the site have produced many moulded-lead sling bullets fired by both sides, which often contain political slogans and even more frequently extremely crude insults. It was not until the beginning of the next year that Lucius was forced to surrender, but during this time most of Antony’s commanders in the west showed their allegiance to Antony.

It looked as if an open breach had occurred between the triumvirs which could only be solved by yet another civil war. Fighting began at Brundisium, but at the last minute the two leaders patched up their alliance. Fulvia had died of disease, so Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia. They confirmed the division of the empire, so that effectively Antony controlled the eastern Mediterranean and Octavian the west. A short-lived treaty was agreed at Misenum with Sextus Pompey, granting him pardon and acknowledging his power, but this was soon in ruins, since neither Sextus nor Octavian adhered to its terms.

Antony busied himself with a Parthian expedition, while Octavian built up his naval power to confront Sextus. In 36, aided by squadrons sent by Antony, Octavian’s admiral and close friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa defeated the Pompeian fleet at the battle of Naulochos fought off the coast of Sicily. Sextus fled to the east, where he was captured by one of Antony’s officers and executed.

Octavian’s military resources had been built up considerably to undertake this conflict and were now markedly superior to Antony’s. An abortive rising by Lepidus in Italy was swiftly defeated, and Octavian for once emulated his adoptive father’s clemency. Lepidus was spared and allowed to live out the rest of his life in comfortable retirement, retaining his post as Pontifex Maximus, Rome’s senior priest. In the meantime Antony had launched a major invasion of Parthia, beginning the war which Caesar had planned. Despite initial success, his offensive bogged down as the enemy harassed his supply lines. During the subsequent retreat the Romans suffered heavy casualties. The war had been a costly failure, but Antony refused the aid sent to him by his wife Octavia, and instead publicly praised Cleopatra for her assistance. His affair with the Egyptian Queen became more open, and they paraded both Caesarion and their own children. Over the next years the fragile alliance between Octavian and Antony broke down altogether. Antony’s obsession with Cleopatra made it easy for Octavian’s propagandists to depict him as a man so dominated by a sinister eastern seductress that he had betrayed his Roman origins. His scornful treatment of the respectable, and Roman, matron Octavia only made this task easier. Octavian portrayed himself as the champion of all Italy (tota Italia) against the eastern menace. War finally came in 31, and culminated in Antony’s defeat at the naval battle of Actium. He and Cleopatra both escaped to Egypt, and commited suicide shortly afterwards.

Octavian was now unrivalled master of the Roman world, commanding an enormous army of some 60 legions. Militarily, he was more secure than either Sulla or Caesar, but his actions soon showed that he had learned from the failures of both. When he returned to Rome in 29 he formally laid down his powers, dissolving the triumvirate. Eventually he created the system known as the Principate, but this evolved gradually and there were more than a few false starts along the way. At first his power was still too blatant, for he held the consulship each year, and there was resentment, especially whenever he left the city. It was at this time that he appears to have been planning to build an enormous palace on the Palatine Hill, with a monumental entrance approached along a new road from the opposite side of the hill to the forum and Rome’s political centre. In time, Octavian’s public position was made to seem less monarchic. He made considerable effort to disassociate himself from Octavian the triumvir, the man responsible for the proscriptions and other cruel and violent acts. Eventually he became, instead, Augustus, a name with deeply traditional associations, and the Father of his Country (pater patriae). When it was finally built, his palace was less grand, in appearance more like an ordinary aristocratic house, and was approached through the forum along a road lined with the houses of other senators. To all intents and purposes Augustus was a monarch, for his power could not be opposed by any constitutional means. From the beginning the Greek-speaking eastern half of the empire referred to him as king (basileus). Yet he managed to maintain the illusion that he was not the master of the state, but its servant, a magistrate like all other magistrates save that his authority, and his continued services to the state, were greater.

This coin was minted by Mark Antony to pay his army during the war that culminated in the Battle of Actium. On the face is a picture of an oared warship, for Antony was relying heavily on Egypt’s fleet in this campaign. On the reverse are three signa. These coins have a low silver content, which probably reflects the difficulty of paying such a large number of troops. (AKG Berlin)

In its final form Augustus’ powers rested on two chief elements. The most important, though the least public, was his ‘power greater than any proconsul’ (maius imperium proconsulare). Pompey had enjoyed similar, though not quite as extensive, power during his brief command against the pirates in 67. During his second consulship he had been granted a massive province embracing all of Spain and yet been allowed to remain in Rome and govern through representatives. Augustus was granted the same privilege, but his province was truly vast, including most importantly Syria, Egypt and the frontier zones on the Rhine and Danube. Like Pompey and others who had dominated the state, Augustus’s power was ostensibly given to him by the Senate, and renewed every five or ten years, but there was clearly never any possibility of its being withdrawn. Every province garrisoned by a legion, with the sole exception of Africa, formed part of the Emperor’s province and was governed by his representative or legate. In most cases these were senators, but Egypt, the supplier of a high proportion of the grain consumed by the city of Rome, was governed by an equestrian, for it was too risky to grant such a command to a potential rival. A new senatorial career -and soon also an equestrian one—emerged in which traditional magistracies, which remained prestigious even if they lacked real power, were mingled with posts such as the emperor’s legate. Like Caesar before him, Augustus effectively controlled elections to all significant posts.

The other, far more public, element of Augustus’ formal power was the ‘power of the tribunate’ (tribunicia potestas). The Roman people, especially the poorer citizens, had strong emotional attachment to the tribunes of the plebs, who had originally been created to defend them from the misuse of power by other magistrates. In this guise Augustus’ was the people’s champion. Through it he was able to summon the Senate or the Popular Assemblies and could impose his veto. In fact Augustus made little use of these powers, but he referred to them frequently, even numbering the years of his reign from the time this title was granted to him.

Ultimately Augustus’ powers rested on military force. For the first time Rome received a permanent garrison. The emperor had his Praetorian Guard, and also formed a police force (the Urban Cohorts) and fire brigade (the Vigiles). All of these troops were kept directly under his personal control. He also took great care to ensure the loyalty of the army. Service conditions were fixed, as were the soldiers’ legal status and rights. On honourable discharge each soldier was entitled either to a plot of land or a lump sum of money. This, along with the soldiers’ pay, was funded by a special Military Treasury (aerarium militare) which was supervised, and often subsidised, by Augustus. The problem of veterans looking to their commanders to provide them with some form of livelihood was at long last averted, and Augustus also took care that the legionaries’ loyalty was focused on him and no one else. The men were paid by the emperor, swore an oath of loyalty to him, and, when they performed any feat of gallantry, received medals awarded by him.

Military power lay behind the Augustan regime, but attention was rarely drawn to this. Most of the Republic’s institutions persisted. The Senate was reformed and reduced in size to remove many of the less suitable men who had been enrolled in reward for dubious favours to the various sides in the civil wars. More Italians were included and in time senators would come from the aristocratic families of many of the provinces. Augustus attended the Senate as simply another member, if a highly distinguished one, pretending to be merely the ‘first in the senate’ (princeps senatus) an old and thoroughly republican title. He encouraged the members to debate freely and to vote with their conscience. Augustus may have genuinely desired them to do this, but in practice this was a sham. Every senator knew that his future career depended on the emperor’s favour, and so the vast majority said what they felt he wanted them to say. Both the senators and emperor wished publicly to pretend that Rome had not become a monarchy, politely ignoring the obvious reality. From early in his reign Augustus began to groom a successor, although the appallingly high mortality rate within the imperial family meant that quite a few individuals filled this role. When Augustus finally died in AD 14, his successor, Tiberius, had his powers formally voted to him by the Senate and at first feigned reluctance to take on the role. By this time scarcely anyone could conceive of, or remember, life without an emperor.

Augustus succeeded where Caesar had failed. He had learned from his father’s murder and tried to veil his power behind more acceptable titles. By 31 the population of all classes was also far more willing to accept the rule of anyone who could put an end to the chaos of continuing civil war. The Augustan regime was a very Roman form of monarchy. Through the success of his adopted son, Rome was to be ruled by ‘Caesars’ for centuries, for the name became synonymous with supreme power. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a tsar in Russia and a Kaiser in Germany, emperors whose titles derived from the family name of a Roman aristocrat who had made himself dictator and was murdered in 44 BC.

This famous Prima Porta statue of Augustus shows Rome’s first emperor at the height of his power He is depicted as a military leader but in fact possessed only moderate ability as a commander However he possessed the knack of finding reliable subordinates, most notably Agrippa, who won his victories for him, (AKG Berlin)

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