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ANTONY AND THE ASSASSINS

On the night of March 15, Mark Antony, the sole remaining consul now that Caesar was dead, dined with Gaius Cassius, leader of the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar, as the dictator’s corpse lay across town in his mansion on the Sacred Way. Simultaneously, Marcus Brutus, another leading conspirator and Cassius’s brother-in-law, dined at the house of Marcus Lepidus, Caesar’s former master of horse and chief deputy.

After the murder, the more than sixty conspirators had congregated on Capitol Hill, guarded by a troupe of gladiators in the employ of General Decimus Brutus Albinus, one of the murderers. Antony began to negotiate with them, and to show his good faith he had given his infant son Antyllus as a hostage to the conspirators. That night, at the two dinners, a deal designed to prevent Rome from lurching back into civil war was hammered out.

The next day, March 16, Antony convened a meeting of the Senate, which passed his motion that an amnesty against prosecution be granted to all the assassination conspirators. On March 17, another Senate meeting agreed to government appointments for both conspirators and Caesar supporters, including Antony.

That same day, another component of the peace deal was implemented. The 7th Legion, which had been camped outside the city on Tiber Island as it waited to escort Caesar to Syria for the Parthian offensive, withdrew east to the town of Alba Fucens, modern Albe. At the same time, the gladiators at the capitol marched for northern Italy as General Albinus set off to take up his appointment as governor of Cisalpine Gaul. Now there were no armed men at Rome to use the power of the sword to either influence or prevent the return to republican democracy envisaged by Caesar’s assassins.

Caesar’s funeral took place in the Forum at Rome. Cassius had been against it; he’d wanted a quick, private affair, to make sure there were no public demonstrations. But to show good faith, Brutus, as urban praetor, had given his permission—funerals and burials normally had to take place outside the city. It was a mistake. Antony used the funeral oration to condemn Cassius and Brutus, inspiring Shakespeare’s famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech—and to incite a riot against the conspirators.

Cassius and Brutus had grabbed up their families and left town in a hurry. By July they’d set sail from Velia south of Salerno for a covert journey to the East, with Brutus leaving the ship at Athens and Cassius sailing on to Syria. Both then began gathering the resources they needed to raise an army to go against Antony.

Meanwhile, Caesar’s widow, Calpurnia, had sent her husband’s personal secretary, Quintus Faberius, to Antony with Caesar’s seal and private papers for safekeeping, no doubt at Antony’s suggestion. This enabled Antony to issue orders and appointments headed “Memoranda of Caesar,” declaring they’d been decreed by Caesar before his death. To back his forged edicts with military muscle, Antony recruited six thousand men, all ex-legionaries, into a resurrected Praetorian Guard. This ancient corps, traditionally the protection force of the praetor and later the consuls of Rome, had fallen into disuse by the first century B.C. Using his authority as sole surviving consul to reform the Guard, Antony personally chose its members and had them swear loyalty to him.

Having created these paper and steel instruments of power, Antony should have been able to rule without hindrance, but now a new figure appeared on the scene, and the picture changed. Caesar’s eighteen-year-old great-nephew Octavius arrived at Rome from Apollonia in Greece, where he’d been studying, accompanied by a close friend and fellow student, nineteen-year-old Marcus Agrippa. As the dictator’s heir, Octavius not only inherited three-fourths of Caesar’s estate but also legally took his name, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Historians would call him Octavian.

Antony, Octavian’s guardian, was obstructive when the young man tried to lay his hands on the money and possessions left him in Caesar’s will. Antony tried to freeze him out of the picture, but he underestimated the youth. He was not alone; the influential Cicero was to write to his friend Atticus about Octavian, “I do not trust his age and I do not know what he is after.”

But surprising Antony and many others with his ability, the teenaged Octavian courted and began to win key supporters, not the least being Cicero, who, month upon month, delivered stinging speeches in the Senate against Antony. According to Cicero, Antony was as bad as Caesar, and should have been killed at the same time as the dictator. Gradually public opinion turned against Antony.

By the late summer, when the Senate refused his demand to allocate him Albinus’s province of Cisalpine Gaul, Antony chose to take it, and ordered five of the six legions stationed in Macedonia—the Martia, 2nd, 4th, 5th Alaudae, and 35th—to be shipped across the Adriatic, to Brindisi. In the fall, Antony marched the legions up the eastern coast of Italy to forcibly remove Albinus. The Senate met, and in the first week of February declared a state of emergency. Soon it would declare Antony an enemy of the state, in the same way that Caesar had been outlawed back in 49 B.C. A senatorial army was put together to relieve Albinus, commanded by the new consuls for the year, General Aulus Hirtius, Caesar’s former aide and biographer, and General Gaius Vibius Pansa, one of Caesar’s generals.

Two of Antony’s legions, the Martia and the 4th, had lost faith in him after he’d decimated them for mocking him in an assembly at Brindisi, and they came over to the Senate, or, more precisely, to young Octavian, joining the 7th at Albe. To placate these legions, the Senate made Octavian a major general, but subordinate to Hirtius and Pansa.

To bolster the defenses at Rome while Hirtius and Octavian marched to Cisalpine Gaul and Pansa raised three new legions in southern Italy, the Senate sent orders for two of the four legions stationed in the two African provinces to sail for the capital. Which legions made the journey, landing at Ostia, is not recorded. But the 14th, despite its reputation with other units as an unlucky legion, would have been first choice as the most experienced legion at the station. The two legions from Africa landed and joined new recruits digging in on the outskirts of Rome in the late spring.

After General Albinus holed up at Mutina, modern Modena, with three legions, Antony arrived with his three remaining legions and surrounded the city with trenches. Reinforcements for Albinus were soon on their way from the south, but on April 14, Antony’s 2nd and 35th Legions met and mauled the Martia and three legions of new recruits eight miles south of Modena as they were led north by General Pansa to join Hirtius and Octavian outside the city. Pansa himself was hurried away, mortally wounded.

Antony’s jubilant troops hailed him imperator in the style of old, in recognition of the success, but that afternoon, as Antony was withdrawing, his legionaries singing as they marched, he was met on the road near Forum Gallorum, modern Castelfranco, by Hirtius with the 4th and 7th Legions. This time it was Antony’s turn to be savaged, taking heavy casualties. Only nightfall, the marshes, and his cavalry saved him from total defeat.

That night, Major General Servius Sulpicius Galba, Pansa’s deputy, wrote to his friend Marcus Cicero, telling him of the Castelfranco battle: “Two eagles and sixty standards of Antony’s have been brought in. It is a victory.”

A week later, an assault by Hirtius designed to break Antony’s encirclement and lift the siege of Modena failed. Hirtius himself died in the attempt. But Antony suffered such heavy casualties that he abandoned the siege, withdrew north, and marched his men across the Alps into southern France. At the Var River near Nice, he was confronted by Marcus Lepidus, who had orders from the Senate to eliminate him. But led by the men of the 10th Legion, Lepidus’s four legions from Nearer Spain and three from Gaul went over to Antony, and Lepidus had no choice but to do the same.

Caesar’s former aide Major General Gaius Pollio soon arrived from Farther Spain with his two legions and threw in his lot with Antony. Pollio convinced General Marcus Plancus, who had three legions in Transalpine Gaul, to also desert the Senate. On top of that, Major General Publius Ventidius, a current praetor, enlisted three new legions of his own accord and promised to support Antony—who would soon reward him with a consulship. Potentially, an army of eighteen legions could now march for Antony.

Instead of going head to head with Antony, in the fall of 43 B.C. the pragmatic Octavian sat down to negotiate a deal. The end result was the Board of Three for the Ordering of State, or the Second Triumvirate, as historians would call it. Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus divided control of the Roman Empire among them, and agreed to a list of three hundred senators and two thousand knights opposing them who would be executed. At the top of Antony’s murder list was Marcus Cicero.

All through this period of the spring and summer of 43 B.C. the 14th Legion and its fellow legion from Africa had sat just outside the capital, bored by the inactivity but amused by the sights and sounds of Rome that they could see and hear across the Tiber River from their camp in Julius Caesar’s former gardens on the Janiculum Hill, today’s Gianicolo. Now that the Second Triumvirate had done its deal, these two legions were ordered to pack up and return to Africa. They were to go in company with the general appointed by Octavian to take over the governorship of the two African provinces, Titus Sextius.

The governor appointed by Caesar in 46 B.C., Sallust, had gone back to Rome a year later, and replacing him as governor in Africa and the 14th Legion’s commander had been General Gaius Calvisius Sabinus, who had commanded the 28th Legion in Greece for Caesar. The following year a new governor arrived, Major General Quintus Cornificius. Caesar’s quartermaster in Albania and Greece in 48 B.C., he’d led the 11th and 12th Legions on a difficult campaign in Illyricum during 48-47 B.C. General Cornificius was still in the governor’s mansion at Utique in Africa as the 14th Legion set sail from Italy to return to Tunisia.

Octavian’s new appointee General Sextius had served Caesar during the Gallic War between 54 B.C. and 50 B.C. and had been one of the generals responsible for recruiting the fresh, post-Atuatuca enlistment of the 14th Legion in 54 B.C., along with the new 15th and 16th Legions. He’d also led the 13th Legion with distinction during the Vercingetorix Revolt. He was a man the legionaries of the 14th could respect.

General Sextius arrived at Utique with the two legions, sending General Cornificius instructions to hand over his command. But Cornificius stubbornly refused, declaring he didn’t recognize the authority of the Board of Three and ordering Sextius out of his province. To solve the impasse, the generals went to war. The 14th and the three other legions of the Africa station found themselves roped into the conflict. Cornificius had the larger force, with the two legions that had remained in Africa plus numerous auxiliaries.

Cornificius’s deputies laid siege to Sextius’s forces at Cirta and Zama. But Sextius was reinforced by King Arabio, who’d recently overthrown King Bocchus of Western Mauretania and also killed the mercenary leader, Publius Sittius, absorbing Sittius’s men into his own army. Arabio had served with the Pompeians in the civil war, but on Caesar’s death he’d given his allegiance to young Octavian. With the king’s help, the 14th Legion and General Sextius’s other units drove opposition forces all the way back to Utique.

General Cornificius came out of Utique with his legions to do battle but was outwitted and outfought by the opposition cavalry and by a commando force of volunteers from the 14th and Sextius’s other units, which scaled the sea cliffs to take the legion base outside Utique behind Cornificius’s back. Cornificius died on the battlefield. Several of his deputies committed suicide. His leaderless legions broke up and withdrew inland; Sextius would pardon them and restore them to the Africa garrison with the 14th.

At last the 14th Legion had shone, even if only in a sideshow. Sure enough, the 14th had been unlucky—for Cornificius. Their success gave the men of the legion new confidence that they could restore the legion’s reputation for good and all when orders arrived from the Board of Three shortly after the end of the Cornificius dispute for the 14th to be shipped to Italy for a major operation.

During 43-42 B.C. Cassius and Brutus took over the legions in the East that Caesar had readied for the Parthian operation and those left with Cleopatra in Egypt. Raising a number of others locally, they built an army of twenty-two legions plus thousands of auxiliaries and cavalry, and then led their men into Macedonia, equipping them from an arms cache Caesar had built up at Demetrias for his Parthian expedition.

Camping with twenty legions at Philippi in Macedonia, astride the Egnatian Way, the military highway linking East and West, the pair attracted many leading Romans who still cherished the ideal of a democratic Roman republic, men such as Major General Marcus Favonius, who’d stayed with Pompey till his death, and General Marcus Messalla, who would speak proudly of serving Cassius even after he’d reconciled with Octavian. There, Brutus and Cassius waited, daring Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus to take them on.

In the fall of 42 B.C. Antony and Octavian convoyed twenty legions from Italy to Greece. The 14th was one of those units. An earlier convoy had landed an advance force of eight legions that had skirted Philippi and occupied the mountain passes of Thrace in Brutus’s and Cassius’s rear, cutting them off from overland reinforcement and resupply and forcing them to rely on transport by sea via the nearby port of Kavala.

By the beginning of October, leaving one legion to guard their baggage, Antony and Octavian had arrived at Philippi with nineteen legions. More than one hundred eighty thousand men faced each other outside Philippi. Antony soon turned a commando action into a full-scale battle without consulting Octavian. The men of the 14th and Octavian’s other units, lined up in battle order outside their camp, watched open-mouthed as Antony’s units, including the 4th and the 10th, charged across the plain, cut through Cassius’s troops, and successfully stormed his camp. This gave Brutus the opportunity to outflank Antony, savage the 4th Legion on his left wing, and then outflank Octavian’s forces. Cutting through Greek mercenaries on Octavian’s wing, Brutus seized the joint camp of the two triumvirs.

As Brutus’s troops sacked the camp and murdered all the noncombatants sheltering behind its walls, the 14th and their colleagues were forced to abandon it and pull back. It was a chaotic day, and by the end of it, Cassius, having seen his camp taken by Anthony and in the confusion thinking all was lost, committed suicide.

Unbeknownst to Cassius, Brutus had inflicted heavy casualties on the triumvirs, but the loss of Cassius, an experienced and respected general, was a major blow to the morale of Brutus’s troops. Both sides withdrew to lick their wounds, but three weeks later, Brutus’s officers convinced him to again do battle with Antony and Octavian, and this time his troops were routed. Brutus retreated with just four legions, and when they refused to continue the fight, he, too, took his own life.

Among the officers who died with Cassius and Brutus during the Philippi battles was Marcus Cato, son of Cato the Younger and cousin of Brutus. Among those who survived was a twenty-two-year-old tribune in one of Brutus’s legions, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, a farmer’s son from central Italy, a young man with protruding ears and poetic ambitions who would become famous as the great poet Horace.

Now, at last, with the Philippi victory and the death of Brutus and Cassius, the triumvirs had unchallenged control of the empire. Now, too, as Octavian returned to Rome, Antony was able to cross over into Asia to take up command of the Roman East.

After Philippi, the 14th Legion was shipped back to Africa, which was now considered its home base. Marcus Lepidus, increasingly sidelined by his fellow triumvirs, was given the two African provinces by Octavian. The rest of the empire was divided between Octavian and Antony. General Sextius was replaced as governor by Lepidus’s man Gaius Fuficius Fango, a former centurion made a senator by Caesar.

The following year, 41 B.C., the consul Lucius Antony, Mark Antony’s brother, who had been on Antony’s staff during the Modena battles two years earlier, unilaterally authorized Sextius to resume his African command, deliberately snubbing Lepidus. In a repeat of the Cornificius episode, Fango refused to vacate his position, out of loyalty to Lepidus. As before, two forces of indeterminate content—but including the 14th Legion on one side or another—went to war in North Africa. But even though both sides took the other’s camp, Fango committed suicide, and General Sextius resumed command of the two African provinces and their once more combined military forces.

Over the winter of 41-40 B.C., with Antony in Alexandria sharing Queen Cleopatra’s bed, in Italy his wife, Fulvia, and brother Lucius attempted a coup against Octavian. They had early success, attracting thirteen of the triumvirs’ legions to them in the Perugia region, but as Octavian surrounded the rebels with three separate legionary armies the coup dissolved. Fulvia fled to Greece. Lucius surrendered to Octavian, who pardoned him.

Wary of the loyalty of six legions that had supported Lucius Antony, Octavian sent them to Africa with Marcus Lepidus, giving the 14th a lot of company in 40 B.C. The 14th Legion’s strength—five thousand men after the second Atuatuca battle—had drastically declined over the years via illness and battle casualties. Just a thousand men now remained in its ranks, to share their camp with the newcomers.

In Greece, Antony’s wife, Fulvia, fell ill and died. Under Roman law, Antony could not marry a foreigner, so as much as he might have wanted to make Cleopatra his wife, in 39 B.C. he entered into an obviously political marriage, taking as his new bride Octavian’s sister Octavia. It was a pragmatic way to shore up the alliance of the two triumvirs. The pair also redistributed the empire between them. Antony was to control all territory east of the Balkans as far as the Euphrates, while Octavian’s domain would be the West. Lepidus, left with just Africa, was not a happy man. Dismissing General Sextius, Octavian’s governor of Africa, he personally took charge of the 14th and the other units in Tunisia and Numidia.

Over the winter of 39-38 B.C., which he spent in Athens, Antony sent Major General Gaius Furnius to Africa to take several legions to Asia, which Furnius was to govern, in preparation for an offensive Antony was planning against the Parthians. It seems that Lepidus refused to hand them over, and Furnius continued on, empty-handed.

In late 38 B.C. the 14th Legion was due to undergo its first reenlistment since 54 B.C. With manpower stretched to the limit, four thousand men at most were enrolled for the 14th Legion in this 38 B.C. draft. Everything points to the new enrollment taking place in the legion’s original Cisalpine Gaul recruiting grounds, the Veneto and Lombardy regions. As recruits of the new 38 B.C. enlistment went into camp in Italy to await transfer to Utique, Lepidus followed Caesar’s practice, failing to discharge the thousand 14th Legion veterans in Africa, retaining them in service with promises of big rewards.

The delays—in permitting the veterans to retire, and in shipping the new recruits to Tunisia to join their unit—were the direct result of the ambitions of Pompey the Great’s youngest son, Sextus, for in 38 B.C. Sextus Pompey threatened to disrupt Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus’s club of three.

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