XVIII

MARCH 18, 44 B.C.

THE LIBERATORS GAIN THE ADVANTAGE

Marcus Cicero had arrived back in the capital. Summoned by a note informing him of Caesar’s death, he had returned from one of his many country estates. It turned out that Cicero was overjoyed at Caesar’s murder. Yet, as he wrote to his best friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus, he considered it “a fine deed, but half done.” Had Cicero been consulted prior to the Dictator’s assassination, he would have counseled dispatching Mark Antony at the same time. Antony, to Cicero’s mind, posed a major threat to the restoration of the Republic, and a dagger to his heart on the Ides of March would have been a great service to the Roman people. In Cicero’s view, a living, breathing Mark Antony was a major obstacle to the return of democracy.¹ Cicero was to be proven all too correct.

The Comitia met first thing that morning, to ratify the previous day’s Senate resolution granting amnesty to Caesar’s killers. Cicero joined the assembly, and after the resolution was read aloud he gave a powerful, carefully wrought speech in favor of the amnesty. Cassius Dio, writing of Cicero’s address three hundred years later, put a long, invented speech in Cicero’s mouth. But in saying that Cicero called on his listeners to regard the murder of Caesar as a hailstorm or deluge that had done its damage and then quickly passed, and to accordingly consign the event to oblivion, the third-century historian was probably not far from the mark.²

Cicero had said, according to Dio, that anybody could lay much of the blame for Caesar’s death at the feet of Caesar himself. Even if some people thought that his killers deserved punishment, Cicero implied that the two factors canceled each other out.³ And this was a view that quickly caught on, for Cicero was considered one of Rome’s most influential figures, and many a Roman would have been waiting to hear what position he took on the assassination. So once Cicero signaled that he supported amnesty for the murderers, so, too, would a large swath of the population.

The members of the Comitia, commoners all, influenced by Cicero’s speech and pleased with the turn of events, which presaged reconciliation and peace between the Caesarians and the Liberators, wholeheartedly supported the amnesty. The Comitia subsequently sent a message up to the Capitol, inviting Brutus, Cassius, and the other Liberators down from the sanctuary.

The Liberators were still suspicious of Antony and Lepidus, and demanded hostages to guarantee their safety before they would set foot outside the Capitoline complex. So, pressed by Senate and commoners, Antony sent his three-year-old son Antyllus, and Lepidus sent his teenage son Marcus Lepidus the Younger. Both boys were retained on the Capitoline Mount, under the watchful guard of Albinus’s gladiators, as Brutus, Cassius, and the others finally came down from their place of refuge.

When the Liberators’ party was seen coming down into the Forum, there was much gleeful shouting and applause from many thousands of waiting Romans, Caesar’s former soldiers among them. Antony and Dolabella, while still personal enemies, had, as the two recognized consuls now, become enforced allies against the Liberators. From the Rostra, this pair tried to make speeches to the crowd as each attempted to gain control of affairs and sway the population his way. But both were shouted down, as the people urged them to first shake Brutus and Cassius and their colleagues by the hand and reconcile with them.

The two consuls, whose “resolution was severely shaken” by the crowd reaction, had no choice but to comply with the shouted demands, and there were handshakes all round among Antony, Dolabella, Brutus, Cassius, and the other Liberators. Despite the outward signs of reconciliation, Antony and Dolabella were far from happy, for, as Appian observed, the Liberators seemed to have gained “the political advantage over them.”

Antony and Lepidus, anxious not to be relegated to the role of bystanders by the swelling popularity of the Liberators, extended invitations to Brutus and Cassius to dine with them and discuss the future. All the remaining members of the Liberator faction were invited to dinner by friends and acquaintances among the senators. That evening, Brutus dined with Antony at Antony’s house, and Cassius with Lepidus at Lepidus’s house. Meanwhile, the sons of Antony and Lepidus remained hostages on the Capitoline Mount.

Brutus went to Antony’s house in the city’s Carinae district very much aware that this had previously been the city house of Pompey the Great and that Antony had taken special delight in acquiring it after Pompey’s murder by the Egyptians in 48 B.C. Antony would have learned that on the eve of the Civil War, Pompey had considered him nothing but “a feckless nobody.”

According to Cassius Dio, a wary Antony said to Brutus soon after the chief Liberator arrived at the Carinae house for their dinner engagement, only half in jest, “Have you perchance a dagger under your arm even now?”

“ Yes,” Brutus replied, “and a large one, should you, too, desire to make yourself a tyrant.”

As the four men ate at the homes of Antony and Lepidus and guardedly discussed the next possible steps, the one thing on which they fully concurred was the need to remove armed men from the city without delay. For the Liberators’ part, they would agree to Albinus’s gladiators—their one physical safeguard—being withdrawn from Rome only if Antony and Lepidus agreed that the retired veterans of Caesar’s legions then at Rome who already had land allotted to them were “sent out immediately to the colonies,” further reducing the number of potential belligerents at the capital.

That night, after dinner, Brutus and Cassius returned to their homes, and both men reunited with their worried wives. Porcia in particular must have been frantic for her husband’s safety over the past four days. With the Liberators unharmed and safe in their own houses, it was then, it would seem, that the sons of Antony and Lepidus were freed by the gladiators at the Capitol and allowed to return to their families.

Caesar’s assassins slept in their own beds that night, for the first time since the murder, but with their doors securely bolted and guarded.

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