Now there were two 6th Legions. In 45 B.C., to give himself sixteen full-strength legions for the invasion of Parthia plus enough legions to garrison Spain, Gaul, Italy, Illyricum, Africa, and the East while he was campaigning in Parthia, Caesar had ordered new enlistments enrolled for the units he’d allowed to discharge their veterans into honorable retirement. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Legions had all received new intakes in this process, with some of their veterans voluntarily returning to march in their senior cohorts, and others taking up appointments as centurions to train and lead the new recruits. Many of those recruits were former Pompeian soldiers who had surrendered in Spain after the defeat of the forces led by the Pompey brothers.
Caesar’s 6th Legion also had received a new intake, following the discharge of their now famous veterans in the wake of their participation in the Spanish Triumph at Rome. Meanwhile, in Africa a year before, the other half of Pompey’s original republican 6th Legion had surrendered at the 46 B.C. Battle of Thapsus, and Caesar had ordered it, and the 4th Legion, remnants of which also surrendered at Thapsus, to likewise be brought up to full strength with a new enlistment. In this case the new enlistment would have been made up mostly of men who had fought on the republican side in Africa and been made POWs.
By 44 B.C., then, the Roman army included these two separate 6th Legions, both approaching full strength, and both linked by a common birth, as if they were twins. As someone in authority at Rome must have pointed out, they were just like Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. That legend had it that the mother of Romulus and Remus was Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, the deposed king of the central Italian city of Alba Longa, while their father was Mars, the god of war. Rhea had been forced by her uncle Amulius, who had overthrown Numitor, to become a vestal virgin and make a vow of chastity so she could not breed sons who might claim his throne. Then Mars had his way with Rhea, after which Amulius ordered Rhea to drown her baby twins in the Tiber. But the container in which Rhea placed them floated down the flooded river and came to rest at the future site of Rome, close to a fig tree on the riverbank that would be considered sacred in later times.
Here, so the legend went, baby Romulus and Remus were found by a she-wolf and a woodpecker, both of which were to become sacred to the god Mars. Wolf and woodpecker suckled and protected the boys until they were found by the shepherd Faustulus, who took them home to his wife, Acca Larentia. The boys were raised by Faustulus and his wife, and in their youth joined a band of adventurous young men who killed King Amulius and restored Numitor to the throne of Alba Longa. The boys established the settlement of Rome on the Palatine Hill, but before long they quarreled, and Romulus killed Remus, after which the city took Romulus’s name.
As Romulus increased his power he welcomed exiles and fugitives, including Trojans fleeing the Trojan War. To provide his men with wives he invited the Sabine tribe from the nearby Quirinal Hill to a festival at Rome, then abducted the Sabines’ wives. This was the famous rape of the Sabine women that was later reenacted in the Roman wedding ceremony, and, like many Roman wedding practices such as the wedding ring, bridal veil, and wedding cake, found its way into modern Western culture, in this case as the act of the groom carrying his bride over the threshold. The Romans and the Sabines soon combined. Romulus eventually disappeared mysteriously in a storm, apparently on the Quirinal Hill. He was thereafter worshiped by the Roman people as the god Quirinus, ranking close to Jupiter and Mars in the Roman pantheon.
By the first century B.C., the image of the she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus was common throughout the Roman Empire, and the two 6th Legions now took this symbol as their own. From now on, in addition to the bull emblem that continued to adorn the shields and standards of both 6th Legions, in recognition of their joint origin both 6th Legions would also proudly carry the symbol of the she-wolf and the twins on their standards. It’s also likely that both units also adopted Quirinus as their patron deity.
By early 43 B.C., Rome was again locked in a civil war, and both 6th Legions were engaged in the conflict. It wasn’t Cassius and Brutus who were now the subjects of dissension—the two leading Liberators remained in the East, building their power base and enjoying strong support from many senators back at home. A new player had emerged on the scene. Caesar’s eighteen-year-old great-nephew Octavius, the son of his niece Attia, who was in turn daughter of Caesar’s late sister Julia, had been studying at the famous learning center at Apollonia in Greece when the Dictator was assassinated. Caesar had taken Octavius into his household when the boy was fifteen and treated him like a son, making him his principal heir.
Caesar had intended taking the young man along on the Parthian operation as a member of his staff, and Octavius had been in Apollonia preparing to join Caesar in Macedonia during the spring for the march to Syria. In the months leading up to 44 B.C.’s Ides of March, senior officers from the legions in Macedonia had gone down to Apollonia to pay their respects to Octavius and to participate in his military training for the upcoming operation in Parthia.
Shortly after the assassination, the young man arrived at Rome accompanied by his best friend, nineteen-year-old Marcus Agrippa, and claimed his inheritance. Antony, who was executor of Caesar’s estate, was now enforcing his will at Rome with his six thousand Praetorian guardsmen but facing unrelenting criticism from the likes of Cicero and other leading senators. Antony fobbed off the youth, who under the terms of Caesar’s will was now his adopted son and so took Caesar’s name, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. While the boy was now called Caesar by his contemporaries, history would refer to him—for the next seventeen years, anyhow—as Octavian. But young Octavian was not to be fobbed off for long.
Antony had wanted the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul then held by Brutus Albinus, one of Caesar’s assassins. When the Senate refused to give it to him, Antony summoned five of the six legions sitting uselessly in Macedonia waiting for the Parthian operation, which would not now go ahead, and four legions landed at Brindisi late in the year, to be soon joined by the fifth. There they went into camp, to await Antony’s orders; meanwhile, he was hoping to use the legions’ presence in Italy to intimidate his opponents and get his own way.
Early in the new year of 43 B.C., while matters were coming to a head in Italy, an event took place that would give the retirees of the 6th Legion great satisfaction and considerable amusement. Flabby young Publius Dolabella, who had divorced Cicero’s daughter Tullia in 46 B.C. and had become Antony’s supporter following Caesar’s assassination, was appointed governor of Syria by the Senate. Dolabella quickly set off overland to Macedonia, on his way to Syria.
In Macedonia early in the new year, Dolabella picked up the only legion that Antony had left there of the six that Caesar had originally assembled in Macedonia for his Parthian operation. This happened to be the Deiotariana Legion, the unit that had served beside the 6th at the Battle of Zela, recalled by Caesar for the Parthian invasion and given Roman citizenship and Roman officers. Dolabella continued eastward, leading the Deiotariana to Asia. Since the previous year this province had been governed by Lieutenant General Gaius Trebonius. One of Caesar’s senior commanders during the last four years of the Gallic War, Trebonius had governed Farther Spain in 47-46 B.C. and been a consul in 45 B.C., but despite his favored status with Caesar he had joined Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators and had taken part in Caesar’s assassination.
Forty-seven-year-old General Trebonius became aware that Dolabella was in his province with a legion and was trying to buy provisions for his march to Syria. Trebonius had no time for either Antony or Dolabella. He gave orders that Dolabella was not to be granted admittance to any city in his province. Turned away from Pergamum, Dolabella arrived outside Trebonius’s provincial capital, the port city of Smyrna (present-day Izmir), on Turkey’s Aegean coast, with his hungry troops. Trebonius disdainfully told him he would have to go another fifty miles south, to Ephesus, for supplies, and Dolabella’s column wearily continued its march.
Trebonius sent a detachment from the legion under his command in Asia—thought to be the 36th—to shadow Dolabella. But Dolabella’s rear guard lured this shadowing force into a trap; then, when these men surrendered without a fight, executed every one of them. The Deiotariana Legion then quickly and quietly marched back to Izmir, and in the early morning hours silently scaled the city walls. The first that General Trebonius knew that his capital was in the hands of Dolabella’s troops was when he was roughly shaken awake and found a sword at his throat.
“Get up!” snarled a centurion of the Deiotariana Legion.
Two legionaries grabbed Trebonius and dragged him from his bed. Appian describes what followed.
“There’s no need for that,” Trebonius protested. “Take me to Publius Cornelius Dolabella. I’m quite willing to go with you without resisting.”
The centurion looked at the haughty general, one of Caesar’s assassins, with a mixture of amusement and disgust. “You can go where you like,” he sarcastically responded. “But leave your head behind. Our orders are only to bring your head.”
With the troops crowding into his bedchamber laughing at their centurion’s darkly dry humor, the suddenly pale General Trebonius was pressed to his knees. And there at Izmir, Gaius Trebonius had his head sliced from his shoulders. As the retired veterans of the 6th Legion would have happily remarked when the story reached them, Trebonius was the first of Caesar’s murderers to die. Even though the assassination conspirators in the Senate soon pushed through a vote that decreed Dolabella a public enemy for this execution, if the men of the 6th had their way Trebonius would not be the last to be meted out the ultimate punishment.
Back in Italy, two of Antony’s five legions deserted him after he decimated them for insubordination, going over to young Octavian. Undeterred, Antony pressed on to Cisalpine Gaul with the other three and a number of new local recruits and lay siege to Albinus at Mutina, today’s Modena, in north-central Italy. The Senate declared Antony an enemy of the state and sent several armies marching north to relieve Albinus at Modena. Two of these forces were commanded by the consuls that Caesar had previously designated for 43 B.C., his former aide and biographer Aulus Hirtius and General Gaius Vibius Pansa. The third force was commanded by Octavian.
In two battles at Modena in April, Antony was badly mauled, losing half his men, and was forced to withdraw across the Alps into Transalpine Gaul, the south of France. But both consuls, Hirtius and Pansa, were killed in the fighting. This left the door open for young Octavian to assimilate their legions into his army. In the south of France, Marcus Lepidus, ordered by the Senate to take on Antony’s depleted force, was in command of seven legions, including new enlistments of both the 6th and the 10th Legions.
By the summer of 44 B.C., too, the renowned retired veterans of the 6th at Arles—Cleopatra’s kidnappers—had rejoined their legion, which was part of Marcus Lepidus’s army then in camp at the Var River, not far from Arles. The veterans had been called up to honor the terms of their discharge and serve for up to four more years in emergencies, but it is likely they would have voluntarily taken the field anyway, to avenge the murder of Caesar. In the same way, veterans of the 10th had rejoined their legion from retirement at their colony at Narbonne as Lepidus marched through the town.
Despite their thirst for revenge, the 6th’s veterans would have hoped that this would involve just a short period of service, until Caesar’s murderers were dealt with and this current period of frustrating political instability had been brought to an end. It would have frustrated the veterans, too, to have to serve one of Caesar’s loyal deputies and confront Antony, another of his deputies, when their principal objective was the punishment of Caesar’s chief assassins, Cassius and Brutus.
Lepidus was an insipid and uninspiring military commander. There was a Roman saying, “He is great in trifles,” and so it was in the case of Marcus Lepidus. Led by the famous 10th, which, like the 6th, was considered to have had a special relationship with Caesar, all seven of Lepidus’s units, including the 6th, turned their backs on him and defected to Antony when he set up camp on the far side of the Var. With no other choice, Lepidus then also allied himself with Antony. Soon the two legions stationed in Farther Spain crossed the Pyrenees on Senate orders to tackle Antony. But they, too, led by General Gaius Pollio, Caesar’s former staff officer, also joined Antony. Then another three legions—led by Major General Marcus Plancus, the general who had settled the men of the 6th in Gaul—sent by the Senate to shadow Antony, refused to go against him. And Major General Publius Ventidius, with three legions he had raised on his own authority as a current praetor, threw his support behind Antony.
Only weeks before, Antony had led a disheveled and beaten force over the Alps, drinking dirty water from alpine puddles at the roadside to survive. Now he could call on upward of twenty legions, some of them the most famous in the Roman army, including Caesar’s 6th and his favorite 10th, together with several of Rome’s leading generals.
Instead of going head to head with Antony, the astute young Octavian, who himself had ten legions at his disposal, subsequently sat down with Antony and Lepidus in north-central Italy and worked out a deal. Now that they controlled all Rome’s legions in the West between them, the three men agreed to share power, in what became known as the Second Triumvirate, and to sideline the now powerless Senate. One of the first acts of the “triumvirs” was to draw up a list of 300 senators and 1,000 knights they wanted to eliminate. Each man submitted his own list of 100 senators and some 330 knights to create the grand execution list. A price of 100,000 sesterces was offered for the head of each proscribed man. If a slave delivered up a wanted man, he would not only be paid, he also would receive his freedom and Roman citizenship. At the top of Antony’s list of the men he wanted dead was his bitter enemy Marcus Cicero. Octavian initially argued against Cicero’s execution but eventually gave in to the determined, vengeful Antony.
In November 43 B.C., the three triumvirs arrived in Rome, leading a single legion each and the Praetorian cohorts, bent on spilling the blood of their foes and seizing their property. Controlling more than thirty legions among them, they could ignore the law and discard all sense of propriety as they eliminated adversaries and critics. “Laws are silent in the midst of arms,” as a Roman saying goes, and such was the case during these bloody months of the 43-42 B.C. pogrom of the triumvirs.
Most of the men on the extermination list were subsequently hunted down by Praetorian death squads sent by Antony and Octavian and executed wherever they were found. Some of the wanted men managed to escape, a number to Sicily, a few to Brutus and Cassius in the East, several by dressing as centurions, but Cicero was not among the lucky ones who kept their heads. Antony had ordered that not only should Cicero’s severed head be delivered to him, he wanted to see his right hand as well—the hand that had written the speeches, the Philippics, that were highly critical of him.
Cicero fled, but guided by an informant, his hunters found him near the port town of Caieta, modern Gaeta, a little north of Naples, on the western coast of Italy. His execution squad was led by Tribune Popillius, a man whom Cicero had successfully defended in court when he’d been charged with murder. On December 7, 43 B.C., sixty-three-year-old Cicero, lawyer, author, general, statesman, considered the greatest orator of his day, was beheaded by a blow from the sword of Popillius’s deputy, Centurion Herennius. The head and both hands of Cicero were duly brought to Antony, and were later displayed on the rostra at Rome for all the world to see. Antony was so delighted to have Cicero’s head that he paid Tribune Popillius ten times the reward that had been offered for it; the tribune walked away an instant millionaire.
Hundreds more suffered Cicero’s fate. As Seneca wrote a century later, Antony had “the heads of his country’s leading men brought to him at the dinner table, identifying the hands and liquidated features during banquets marked by sumptuous magnificence and regal pomp, still thirsting for blood when filled with wine.” With the vast majority of their opponents and critics out of the way, the Board of Three for the Ordering of State—as Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus now called themselves—turned their attention to dealing with Brutus and Cassius, who had been beyond their reach.
The two Liberators had by this time taken full control of the Roman East. Cassius had won the loyalty of twelve legions, including those Caesar had left in Egypt with Cleopatra, and assembled a powerful navy provided by Eastern maritime cities. He led his army against Dolabella, trapping him and his two legions—the Deiotariana and the late General Trebonius’s 36th—inside Laodicea in Syria. Uninspiring Dolabella was subsequently betrayed by one of his own centurions, who opened one of Laodicea’s smaller gates to Cassius. As Cassius’s troops flooded into the city, Dolabella showed courage enough to have one of his bodyguards behead him rather than fall into the hands of the vindictive Cassius. Adding Dolabella’s legions to his growing army, Cassius set about occupying Syria. When four predominantly Jewish cities of the Middle East—Gophna, Emmaus, Lod, and Thamna—closed their gates to him, Cassius took them by storm, and sold their inhabitants into slavery.
Cassius then successfully invaded the island of Rhodes, where he had been brought up, the island that had provided Julius Caesar with the flotilla of warships that had performed so well for him during his Egyptian campaign. Rhodes had refused to support Cassius, and paid a savage price for its defiance after Cassius’s fleet defeated its ships in two sea battles and then his legionaries stormed the famous island. Cassius subsequently marched his army through the provinces of the East, crossed the Dardanelles, and arrived in Macedonia, where he linked up with Brutus, who had taken control of eight legions in the region and levied several new units. Between them, the pair now commanded twenty-two legions, many auxiliaries, and thousands of cavalry.
The Liberators marched most of their troops to the Macedonian town of Philippi, today’s Filippoi. There they blocked the Egnatian Way, the military highway linking East and West, by building extensive fortifications for a mile across the valley traversed by the highway, linking their two fortified camps, each on a hill on either side of the highway. Entrenchments dug by their troops ran all the way to the coast, eight miles away.
Mark Antony, in a letter to Hyrcanus, Jewish high priest at Jerusalem, which would be quoted by Josephus, said of Brutus and Cassius’s tactic of digging in at Philippi, “They seized on the places that were proper for their purpose and as it were walled them around with mountains to the very sea, and where the passage was possible only through a single gate.”
In the summer of 42 B.C., Antony and Octavian shipped an advance party of eight legions from Italy to Greece, and these units skirted around Philippi and blocked access to the Liberators’ army from the East. Leaving Lepidus in charge at Rome, Antony and Octavian then took a convoy to Greece loaded with another twenty legions, these units being split evenly between the two commanders. The 4th Legion, filled out by a new enlistment since its surrender at Thapsus, was in Antony’s army. He also had a 6th Legion in his force, and from its subsequent posting this is likely to have been Caesar’s by now famous 6th—the Ferrata, as many of its men had come to call it, bolstered by its veterans who had been recalled from retirement at Arles.
As for the second 6th Legion, the unit that was re-formed by Caesar from the men of the original 6th who had survived the Battle of Thapsus, Octavian and Antony had left three legions sitting outside Rome, with Lepidus, and the second 6th may have been among those units now guarding the capital.
Despite the fact that the Liberators had a powerful naval force at their disposal, the vast convoy of Antony and Octavian managed to reach Greece without being intercepted. With Octavian falling ill, Antony left one of his legions at Amphipolis to guard the baggage and pressed on to Philippi with the remaining nineteen. Octavian had only just rejoined him when, in early October 42 B.C., the first of two Battles of Philippi was launched by an unheralded charge by Antony’s nine legions, while Octavian’s surprised troops stood by and watched. Brutus’s legions counter-charged without waiting for orders from their generals. The legion on Brutus’s extreme right almost wiped out Antony’s 4th Legion, the old marching companion of the 6th, which became overextended on Antony’s left wing. The 4th fought bravely, if in vain, to halt Brutus’s advance, taking heavy casualties, and following the battle the survivors of the 4th would call their legion the 4th Macedonica in remembrance of this bloody day on the Macedonian plain. In time, the title would become official.
The drive by Brutus’s troops overran the triumvirs’ camp, and Octavian narrowly escaped with his life. But, at the same time, Antony took Cassius’s camp, and Cassius and his staff hurriedly withdrew up the hill behind it. In all the confusion and clouds of dust kicked up by the tens of thousands of infantry and cavalry, on seeing Antony’s troops in his headquarters below him Cassius thought the battle lost. Toward the end of the day Cassius, survivor of Carrhae, admiral under Pompey, senior judge under Caesar, and subsequently chief architect of his assassination, committed suicide on the hilltop.
In reality, the Liberators’ army had come off better from the day’s fierce fighting in terms of number of casualties. Brutus withdrew a distance and regrouped, and a week later was convinced by his subordinates to do battle again in an attempt to win total victory. But this time Brutus’s army fared much worse. Forced to retreat, he was surrounded. His remaining fourteen thousand men from four legions refused to continue the fight, and sought peace terms. On a lonely Macedonian hill, Marcus Brutus, “son” of Julius Caesar, also took his own life—by having an associate run him through. While Brutus’s head would be displayed at Rome, Octavian had the rest of Brutus’s remains cremated, and sent the ashes to Brutus’s mother, Servilia.
After Brutus’s devoted though neurotic wife, Porcia, who’d waited anxiously back in Italy for news of him, learned of her husband’s death, her servants put her on a suicide watch. But she outwitted them, swallowing hot embers from the fire in her room and dying a horrible, self-inflicted death. Cassius’s wife, Brutus’s sister Junia, would live to ripe old age, at least into her eighties and perhaps older, dying, of natural causes, an extremely wealthy woman in A.D. 22, during the reign of the emperor Tiberius. Roman historian Tacitus would note that Junia would mention many leading Romans in her will, but contrary to custom the emperor Tiberius, stepson of Octavian, was not one of them. In Junia’s funeral cortege, says Tacitus, the busts of many of her family members would be carried, as was the custom at Roman funerals. But the busts of Brutus and Cassius were notably absent—on orders from the emperor, it would seem.
Many other leading men of Rome apart from Brutus and Cassius also perished as a result of the defeat at Philippi. Some fell on the battlefield, some committed suicide, others were executed after the battle by the victors. Among them were Brutus’s cousin and Porcia’s brother Marcus Cato Jr., and Brutus’s best friend, the fiery young general Marcus Favonius. Before long, not one of the senators who had participated in the murder of Julius Caesar would still be alive.
Mark Antony wrote to Hyrcanus at Jerusalem after the Philippi victory: “We have overcome that confused rout of men, half mad with spite against us.” The revenge the men of the 6th Legion and other Caesarian veterans had sought had been obtained. “We have taken vengeance on those who had been the authors of great injustice toward men, and of great wickedness toward the gods,” Antony told Hyrcanus. He added that Brutus “became a partaker of the same destruction as Cassius. And now that these men have received their punishment, we suppose we may enjoy peace for the time to come.”
With that sentiment in mind, and with Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus now indisputable rulers of the Roman world, many of the legions of the Liberators were disbanded, as were some of the triumvirs’ legions. The remaining units were now divided among Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus. Octavian would control the West, Antony the East, with Lepidus left the crumbs—the province of Africa, and the post of Pontifex Maximus for life. Of these legions, the 6th Ferrata went with Antony to the East, to be based in Syria, and the second 6th came under Octavian’s control—by 40 B.C. it was stationed in Spain.
The veterans who had come out of retirement to serve during the short war were now discharged, and the triumvirs’ veterans given land grants. According to Appian, Antony only wanted to give land to men of the twenty-eight legions that had served the triumvirs in Macedonia against the Liberators, but Octavian, who took charge of the land allocations in Italy, also included six legions that had been left in the West. Even so, other Second Triumvirate legions, such as the 14th, which was back at its Africa station following Philippi, were not included in the discharge and settlement of veterans, which some estimates suggest involved up to thirty-two thousand retirees.
When the veterans had been recalled the previous year, they had been promised land in the eighteen rich Italian cities nominated publicly for confiscation by the Triumvirs in 43 B.C. A number of retirees from the 6th did not go back to Arles, but instead were now allocated farms outside one of those eighteen Italian cities, Beneventum, fifty miles east of Capua in Campania. Prosperous Beneventum, modern Benevento, sat astride the Appian Way on a ridge between the Sabato and Calore Rivers, northeast of Naples. The 6th’s new settlement program was again supervised by General Plancus. The size of each land grant at Benevento was some fifty acres per retiree, with most allotments valued at 50,000 to 60,000 sesterces.
So it was that men who had gone over to Caesar at Farsala and saved his skin in Egypt and at Zela took up new land grants in the Benevento region in the spring of 41 B.C. Until land surveying was completed, the veterans camped on the Field of Mars outside Rome. Then, when each city was ready to receive them, the retirees were marched to the places in question. Octavian himself led at least one of these marches, ignoring the thousands of dispossessed farmers who flocked to Rome to protest the loss of their land.
There at Benevento the men of the 6th Ferrata occupied their farm holdings and spent the rest of their days, having more than served out the four extra years they were expected to put in once they had served their full enlistments. Many of the men of the 6th would have played leading roles in the civic affairs of Benevento, especially during the year’s many religious festivals. The more ambitious among them would be elected to the town senate, to become big fish in a small rural pond.
Among the numerous tombstones of men of the 6th Legion found in the area in recently modern times none were of centurions, or even of standard-bearers. This is not to say that no NCOs lived and died among the retired 6th Legion veterans of Benevento, but that is a possibility. Perhaps the veteran NCOs continued to serve in the army—one in five veterans did choose to continue in service with the legions after Philippi—or perhaps they were given more substantial land elsewhere; we don’t know. We do know that former centurions were regularly appointed to serve as lictors, or official attendants, of magistrates at Rome, and it is highly likely that the NCOs of the 6th Ferrata who survived the civil wars took up such official posts at Rome and other large cities once they received their military discharges.
From their farms around Benevento, the retired veterans of the 6th would have followed unfolding events and the adventures of their former unit with acute interest, for both 6th Legions were to play roles in the tumultuous affairs of the next ten years.
The veterans would have learned, with immense satisfaction, that the last conspirators involved in the murder of Julius Caesar were dead by the time they were taking up their land grants in 41 B.C. That same year they also heard an intriguing story about Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen they had kept under lock and key in Alexandria.
They would have come to know that immediately following Caesar’s death Cleopatra had hurried back to Alexandria with her brother Ptolemy XIV and son Caesarion. Under the terms of Caesar’s will, his estate on the Gianicolo where the Egyptian party had been staying became the property of the Roman people on his death, and the hillside Gardens of Caesar were to become a feature of the city. With all the political infighting at Rome following Caesar’s death, there would have been no way that the shocked and distraught Cleopatra would have wanted to remain there.
In July, shortly after the return to the Egyptian capital of Cleopatra and her entourage, her younger brother Ptolemy died, poisoned. The men of the 6th would have had no doubts that Cleopatra had been behind his murder, particularly as she now named Caesarion, her infant son by Caesar, her new coruler, giving him the title of Ptolemy XV. Cleopatra was now in effect sole ruler of Egypt, and although Roman legions were then still stationed at Alexandria, she was pretty much free to do what she pleased. Her independence increased even more when Cassius took the legions based in Egypt into his army and led them to Macedonia to join Brutus’s force.
Cleopatra remained there at Alexandria, sitting on the fence, holding back the rejuvenated Egyptian navy, and not supporting any one party while she waited to see who would emerge from the turmoil as Rome’s new strongman. Now, in 41 B.C., she received a summons from Mark Antony. He wanted her to explain to him, to his face, why she hadn’t been more supportive of the triumvir’s war efforts against Caesar’s murderers Cassius and Brutus and their “madness of arms”—as he described their Eastern campaign in a letter to the people of Tyre in Syria quoted by Josephus.
After stalling for a time, Cleopatra arrived at Tarsus in Cilicia, where Antony was then staying. She made her arrival in a golden barge and promptly seduced Antony. Totally smitten with her, he’d gone back to Alexandria with Cleopatra, where the pair lived a life of total hedonism, calling themselves the “inimitable livers” as they dined and drank for days on end. Meanwhile, back in Rome, Antony’s wife, Fulvia, was blithely promoting his interests and fermenting revolt against Octavian. When she died in 40 B.C., Antony returned to Rome, where, to cement his relationship with Octavian, he married his colleague’s sister Octavia, with whom he was to have several children. Although this was a political marriage, Antony was, according to Appian, very much in love with Octavia to begin with.
In 39 B.C., Antony’s deputy in the East, Lieutenant General Publius Ventidius, went to war against the Parthians, who had successfully invaded Syria in partnership with Quintus Labienus, the son of General Titus Labienus, Caesar’s onetime deputy who’d defected to Pompey and perished at the Battle of Munda. Labienus Jr. had sided with the Liberators in 43-42 B.C., and prior to the Battle of Philippi had been sent by Cassius to meet with the king of Parthia, Orodes II, with hopes of convincing him to provide the Liberators with aid for their war against Octavian and Antony. Quintus Labienus had been in the middle of discussions with the Parthians when news of the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi reached the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon.
Only death as a proscribed person awaited Labienus in Roman territory, so he remained at the Parthian court and made a deal with King Orodes under which Labienus invaded Syria with a Parthian army, serving as cocommander with Pacorus, son of the king, and the Parthian generals Barzapharnes and Pharnapates. Initially, the Parthian invasion was virtually bloodless, with the Roman troops then stationed in Syria going over to Labienus in remembrance of his father and of the Liberators. While Pacorus and his Parthian troops advanced south into Palestine, Labienus and his mixed Roman/Parthian force moved north, planning to roll up Rome’s allied states and provinces of the East.
As Labienus occupied Cilicia and southern Anatolia, Antony gave the colorful but very capable General Ventidius the job of ejecting him. A man in his fifties, Publius Ventidius had risen from being a prisoner as a boy during the civil war between Sulla and Marius and then a mule contractor as a young man to become a consul of Rome, a career path made possible by sheer ability. His current appointment was also a product of his steadfast loyalty to Antony. Among the numerous legions assigned to Ventidius for this job in the East were the 6th Ferrata and the 3rd—the 6th’s former Pompeian marching partners in Spain prior to and in the early stages of the civil war.
While General Ventidius’s Eastern campaign was launched under Antony’s direction from afar, the triumvirs had other problems to deal with closer to Rome, problems all to do with a Pompey; for between 39 and 36 B.C., Pompey the Great’s surviving son, Sextus, threatened to break the Second Triumvirate’s grip on power.
Sextus Pompey had emerged from the dust of the conclusion of the civil war in Spain in 45 B.C. to conduct a troublesome guerrilla war in western Spain, so Marcus Lepidus, then governor of Nearer Spain, had negotiated a deal with him that Antony pushed through the Senate: in exchange for 50 million sesterces in compensation for property owned by his father, Pompey the Great, that had been seized by Caesar during the civil war, plus command of a Roman fleet in the western Mediterranean, Sextus agreed to leave Spain. These measures had been designed to keep Pompey quiet and prevent him from becoming a rallying point for men who still harbored affection for the old republican ideals. And for a time these objectives were achieved.
Sextus had spent several years building a power base, using his fleet to dominate the western Mediterranean and convincing three legions stationed on Corsica and Sardinia to swear allegiance to him, taking control of the two islands. By 39 B.C., Sextus was securely installed in Sicily, the governorship of which had been promised to him by the triumvirs but never given. A number of legions came over to the last son of Pompey, who had been joined by many republicans who had fled the proscriptions of 43-42 B.C. and family members including his sister Pompeia and her children; when Pompeia’s husband, Lucius Cornelius Sulla Faustus, son of the late Roman dictator Sulla, had been killed after the Battle of Thapsus in Africa, Caesar had allowed Pompeia to sail to Spain to join her brothers.
To Sicily, too, came Tiberius Claudius Nero, Caesar’s former quaestor and naval commander when the 6th Legion had been fighting in Egypt. Nero had fallen out with Antony and Octavian, and, fearing for his life, sought refuge with the Pompey family. But while Pompeia was kind to Tiberius Nero, her brother Sextus would not even talk to him, and Tiberius Nero had to continue his flight. Eventually he would receive Octavian’s pardon.
After a series of naval battles through 38-37 B.C. in which Octavian had fared badly and nearly lost his life, the triumvirs had decided to take the battle onto land, where they would have a marked superiority in troop numbers. In 36 B.C. Octavian and Lepidus landed on Sicily with twenty-four legions to dislodge Sextus. The second 6th Legion was one of Octavian’s units during these operations.
On land the triumvirs gained the upper hand, but in 36 B.C. the deciding battles were fought on the water, with twenty-six-year-old Octavian’s best friend, Marcus Agrippa, in command of his fleet and decisively defeating the thirty-year-old Pompey that same year. Sextus fled to the East with his few remaining warships and threw himself on Mark Antony’s mercy, to no avail; in 35 B.C. one of Antony’s deputies, General Marcus Titius, executed him. With Sextus’s death, so, too, died the Pompey dynasty.
In Sicily, Lepidus, suddenly finding himself with dozens of legions—his own plus Sextus’s surrendered units—made a grab for power, convincing all the troops to vow allegiance to him, and him alone. Young Octavian had then come to Lepidus’s huge camp and won over the troops. After that, Lepidus retired into semi-exile in southern Italy, and his fellow triumvirs again carved up the empire between them, with Octavian to control the West, including Africa, and Antony the East.
Meanwhile, in the East, General Ventidius had repulsed Quintus Labienus’s army in the Battle of the Cilician Gates in 39 B.C., a bloody encounter in a mountain pass leading into Cilicia in which Labienus Jr. himself was killed. The next year, 38 B.C., Ventidius lured the army of the Parthian prince Pacorus into battle, and his legions, including the 6th Ferrata, had killed Pacorus and won another resounding victory over the Parthians, this time at Mount Gindarus.
With Labienus dead and the surviving Roman troops who had followed him going over to General Ventidius, the Parthians were driven from all Roman territory, with Ventidius reclaiming Cilicia and Syria for Rome. Ventidius returned home to Rome that same year and celebrated a Triumph, the first since Caesar’s 45 B.C. Spanish Triumph. This Triumph, like the last, celebrated a victory in which the 6th had played a leading role. Ventidius died shortly after. His loss would impact severely on Antony’s future fortunes.
Antony returned to Alexandria following Ventidius’s successes in the East and resumed his relationship with Cleopatra, who was to bear him three children. In 36 B.C., Antony, determined to prove that he was a better general than Ventidius, invaded Parthian territory with sixteen legions, having recruited a number of additional units in the East—he is known to have had at least twenty-three legions operating in various parts of the East. Again, among the units taking part in operations against the Parthians were the 6th Ferrata and 3rd Legions.
Later historians would assess Antony as a brave soldier but inept general who was served by often exceptional underlings such as Ventidius. Antony’s Parthian campaign, conceived and led by him, turned into an unmitigated disaster. All went well at first, as Antony’s army of a hundred thousand men advanced through Armenia into Media, a country allied to Parthia. A Parthian counteroffensive was led by the new king of Parthia, Phraates IV, who had killed his father, Orodes, to take the throne. Antony reached the Median city of Phraata and lay siege to it. But in his impatience to reach Phraata he had allowed his massive baggage train, which included all his artillery and a battering ram eighty feet long, to fall behind him on the march. The Parthians circled behind Antony, cut off the baggage train, and slaughtered all ten thousand soldiers and noncombatants traveling with it. Without supplies or the right equipment, the long siege of Phraata fizzled, and as the weather deteriorated, Antony finally conceded that he would have to withdraw to Roman territory.
When Antony finally managed to extricate himself from Media, after a bloody retreat that had lasted weeks, he had lost twenty-four thousand men to starvation, to appalling winter weather, and to King Phraates, who pursued him relentlessly with his heavy cavalry and famous mounted archers. Good men of the 6th numbered among those whose bodies were left where they fell on that horrendous retreat. Antony in fact owed his life to the 3rd Legion, whose rearguard action saved the entire force from another disaster of the magnitude of Carrhae seventeen years before.
Having divorced Octavia by this time, Antony returned to Cleopatra, and, despite his bloody Median reverse, in 34 B.C. celebrated a fantastic pseudo-Triumph in Alexandria, as if he had won a great victory against the Parthians. In this Triumph Cleopatra and Antony were carried through the streets seated on golden thrones, accompanied by their three young children and Caesar’s son, Caesarion. To Caesarion, Cleopatra gave the title king of kings, and to herself, queen of kings. Antony had by this time given her a variety of Roman territories throughout the East, which incensed many in Rome, not the least of whom was Octavian, who was also deeply offended at the way Antony had treated his sister Octavia.
There was little that Antony would not give Cleopatra. By some accounts they even married, although under Roman law such a marriage was illegal. Only once did he deny her. In 40 B.C., while Antony was back in Rome, Cleopatra had entertained Herod, son of the late Jewish leader Antipater, at Alexandria. Herod had paid Antony to have the Roman Senate make him king of Judea, but Cleopatra had her covetous eyes on Judea as well. She even tried to seduce Herod, but he rejected her advances, which infuriated her. So she tried to convince Antony to give her Herod’s territory. But Antony was Herod’s firm friend. Despite all Cleopatra’s persuasive powers, while she did convince Antony to give her Arabia and a small part of Judea, Cleopatra never got her hands on the richest parts of Herod’s kingdom, for which Herod was for the rest of his days grateful to Antony.
Octavian had put up with Antony and Cleopatra long enough, and he decided to act to eliminate them. First, he failed to renew the Second Triumvirate when the latest five-year agreement expired. Before long, in 31 B.C., he declared war—not on Antony, a Roman, but on the foreigner Cleopatra and her Egyptians.
Antony moved most of his land forces to Macedonia, then to southern Greece, where he linked up with Cleopatra and their combined naval forces. When Octavian and his deputy Agrippa arrived with land and sea forces, Antony and Cleopatra chose to break out at Actium and flee back to Egypt. To achieve that breakout, their fleet had to fight the Battle of Actium, a naval battle, on September 2, 31 B.C. The breakout cost them the majority of their ships and troops. Antony’s abandoned legions on shore surrendered a week later.
Octavian now disbanded many of his legions and legions that had marched for Antony, sending his own veterans into retirement in colonies throughout the Roman world. The legionaries he retained were non-Italians, men from the provinces, for it was Octavian’s policy that Italians from south of the Po River should not have to serve in the Roman army—that would fall to provincials from now on, he decreed. The only exception was to be the Praetorian Guard, which, under Octavian/Augustus and many of his successors, would be recruited exclusively in Italy south of the Po.
When Octavian, now thirty-two, marched into Egypt in the summer of 30 B.C., the garrison at Pelusium surrendered to him—on Cleopatra’s orders according to Octavian himself, unbeknownst to Antony. Antony’s remaining troops put up only mild resistance outside Alexandria, and he, realizing that it was all over, fell on his sword, dying slowly and painfully. At first Cleopatra negotiated with Octavian, but, dreading the prospect of being dragged through the streets of Rome in Octavian’s inevitable Egyptian Triumph, remembering how her sister Arsinoe had suffered that fate in 46 B.C. in Caesar’s Egyptian Triumph, she, too, took her own life. The reputed suicide method was the bite of an asp, but most historians think she also took poison, as both her female attendants did.
Through years of uncertainty and threat during her childhood, years that had made her and her siblings mature fast, Cleopatra had developed a finely tuned instinct for survival. As she realized her talent for manipulation, she had gone from a clever but vulnerable teenager to a scheming and covetous vixen who didn’t know where to stop. Even in her last days she tried to seduce Octavian, and only when that failed did she realize that her career and her life had reached their inevitable ends.
As Octavian had advanced into Egypt, Cleopatra had sent the son she had by Caesar, Caesarion, a.k.a. Ptolemy XV, who was now seventeen—and closely resembling his father in appearance and gait, according to Suetonius—fleeing south. Caesarion went into hiding at the port of Berenice on Upper Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Soon betrayed by his tutor, Caesarion fell into Octavian’s clutches. Once Caesarion was in his control, Octavian promptly had him strangled. In doing so, Octavian eliminated a potential rival who may have had, in the eyes of some, stronger claims to Caesar’s inheritance than his own. The three children of Antony and Cleopatra—the only girl, Cleopatra Selene, and the boys Alaexander Helios (meaning the Sun) and the youngest, another Ptolemy, were sent to Rome by Octavian, where they were taken into the home of Octavian’s sister Octavia, Antony’s deserted second wife, who raised them with her own children.
Octavian was now sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and, like Caesar, he now had the keys to the fabulously rich Egyptian treasury. Unlike Caesar, he turned Egypt into a Roman province and emptied the treasury—the contents went to Rome, to be used to pay his retired troops’ overdue pay and retirement bonuses. Funds left over were enough to finance Rome’s standing army for years to come. Among the twenty-eight legions that now made up that standing army were the two 6th Legions: the 6th Ferrata and the second 6th.
In 30 B.C. the 6th Ferrata was stationed at the Syrian port city of Laodicea. Shortly it would move southeast to build a new permanent camp for itself at Raphaneae, near the Euphrates River. From there it could maintain a permanent watch on the Parthians as one of the complement of four legions now permanently assigned to the Syria station under the command of the governor of Syria, who had his headquarters at the provincial capital, Antioch. The second 6th went back to Farther Spain, which was now its permanent station.
By 30 B.C., a decade after the 6th Ferrata veterans had taken up their land grants around Benevento, veterans of the 30th Legion also were settled in the Benevento region, in overdue mass discharges in the wake of Octavian’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. These men of the 30th, originally recruited in Italy, had fought against the 6th in Spain in 49 B.C., with them at Munda in 45 B.C., and with them again under Antony’s command following Caesar’s death, before the 30th Legion ended up in Octavian’s army. The parents of some of the 30th Legion’s Italian veterans moved onto their farms with them, suggesting that the original family homes had not been too far from Benevento. This had not been the case with the 6th Legion veterans, whose parents were far away in Spain.
Nine tombstones of the tough veterans of the original 6th Legion—nine of the famous nine hundred—survived in the Benevento area to modern times; and names are only visible on seven. Legionary Publius Sertorius was buried there by his brother Marcus, Legionary Quintus Tetarfenus by his brother Marcus. Legionary Gaius Figilius married once he was discharged, and he was buried here by his wife. Legionary Gaius Numisius was buried by his freedmen, his former slaves, several of whom were later interred around him. We don’t know who buried Legionary Lucius Caienus. Legionary Lucius Acilius married local girl Marcia Tertia once he retired, and it was she who buried him.
On the Via Appia east of Benevento, Legionary Lucius Labicius’s tombstone was raised. His was the only one of all the 6th Legion tombstones to include the title Ferrata in its inscription. Labicius had obviously been immensely proud to be an Ironclad, one of the nine hundred Roman soldiers who had become Cleopatra’s kidnappers and who changed Roman history.