XXI

MARCH 21, 44 B.C.

ANTONY CONSOLIDATES HIS GRIP

As soon as Mark Antony learned that Brutus, Cassius, and other leading Liberators had left town overnight, he moved quickly to consolidate power. One of his first acts was to visit the Regia with his lictors. He would have previously consoled Calpurnia, Caesar’s widow, over her loss; this time he had come on business.

As consul, Antony asked Calpurnia to hand over all of Caesar’s papers from the Regia archive, together with his seal. Among those papers were drafts for future decrees that Caesar had been planning just prior to his death. Calpurnia instructed Caesar’s secretary Quintus Faberius to comply with Antony’s request. Antony also called on Calpurnia to hand over Caesar’s gold coin and valuables, which he promised to keep safe. These were worth ten million sesterces.¹ Under Roman law, a widow could as a rule inherit only the equivalent of her wedding dowry from her dead husband’s estate, making Caesar’s bequests to his male heirs the norm. This also meant that Calpurnia had no lawful reason not to hand over the contents of Caesar’s estate to Antony, who was both a consul and executor of Caesar’s estate.

At the same time, Antony removed seven hundred thousand sesterces that Caesar had lodged in the shrine to Ops in the Regia.² Antony, wielding unquestionable authority as a consul, and supported in his administration by his brothers Gaius, a praetor, and Lucius, a tribune of the plebs, now had Caesar’s riches and implements of power in his hands. And he fully intended exploiting them.

For the moment, there were still sufficient senators remaining in the city, Cicero among them, who were for order and against anarchy. At the day’s Senate sitting a resolution was approved by which an investigation was launched into the riot that had followed Caesar’s funeral. This investigation would result in several men being arrested for attempting to set fire to the houses of the Liberators. No arrests were made in the case of the murder of the unfortunate Helvius Cinna.

That evening, Decimus Brutus Albinus received a visit from consul-elect Aulus Hirtius. Albinus had remained at Rome; he at least had his gladiators to protect him. Hirtius, who had served as Caesar’s aide throughout the Civil War and was marked down to become a consul in 43 B.C., was very much in the Caesarian camp and was felt to have some influence with Mark Antony. But he also was close to some of the Liberators, including Albinus. So Albinus took the opportunity to quiz Hirtius on Antony’s intentions.

Next morning, Albinus would write to Brutus and Cassius at Antium, “Let me tell you how we stand. Yesterday evening Hirtius was at my house. He made Antony’s disposition clear.” That disposition, said Albinus, was “as bad and treacherous as can be.” Antony had told Hirtius that he could not permit Albinus to take up his appointment as governor of Cisalpine Gaul.³ Cisalpine Gaul was a wealthy province, but more important than that, it was garrisoned by three legions. That wealth, and that army of eighteen thousand men, right on Italy’s doorstep, were not things that Antony was prepared to let fall into Albinus’s hands. As would soon become clear, Antony had his eye on Cisalpine Gaul for himself.

Hirtius told Albinus that Antony “thinks none of us is safe in Rome with the soldiers and populace in their present agitated state of mind.” Albinus wrote to Brutus and Cassius, “I expect you can see the falsehood of both contentions.” Hirtius made it evident to Albinus that Antony was afraid that if the Liberators’ position was enhanced even moderately, Antony and those who followed him “would have no further part to play in public affairs.” Considering himself in a predicament, Albinus asked Hirtius to seek free commissions from the Senate for himself and for the rest of the Liberators, which would allow them to leave Italy, officially on Senate business.

“I can get that agreed to,” Hirtius assured Albinus.

But Albinus had no confidence that Hirtius would succeed, “in view of the general insolence and vilification of us,” as he wrote to his friends.

“Even if they give us what we ask, I think it will not be long before we are branded as public enemies, or placed under a prohibition order.” Albinus, clearly intimidated by Antony, had lost hope of overcoming him, for he believed that Antony, who had power as a consul, and his ally Lepidus between them commanded the allegiance of the military and the ex-military. “I think we must give way to fortune, leave Italy, go to live in Rhodes or anywhere under the sun,” he wrote despairingly to his colleagues.

To Albinus’s mind, the matter of who governed Rome would be decided by military might. With Antony preventing Albinus from taking up command of the legions in Cisalpine Gaul, and expecting all of Caesar’s former legions to throw their loyalty behind Antony and Lepidus, Albinus could see just two slender hopes for the Liberators gaining military support. One was via Pompey the Great’s youngest son, Sextus Pompeius, who, leading a small but faithful band of followers, was still fighting a guerrilla war in western Spain against Caesar ’s governor there, Pollio.

The other potential supporter was Caecilius Bassus. The year before, Bassus, an affirmed republican and former subordinate of Pompey the Great, had led a mutiny of a legion left in Syria by Caesar, in the process killing the governor, Caesar’s relative Sextus Julius Caesar, and took over control of the province. Caesar had appointed Lucius Staius Murcus to recover Syria for him. Murcus, who had joined the Liberators immediately following Caesar’s murders, had only just set out for the East to take up that appointment. Albinus hoped that Bassus would throw the weight of the legions in Syria behind the Liberators.

In Albinus’s view, whether they linked up with young Pompey or with Bassus, the Liberators would have to leave Italy to build their armed support, living in the meantime in exile. “I imagine their hands will be strengthened when this news about Caesar gets through,” Albinus wrote to Brutus and Cassius of Pompeius and Bassus. “It will be time enough for us to join them when we know what their power amounts to.”

Hirtius departed from Albinus’s house undertaking to return by mid-morning the next day with news of what concessions, if any, Antony would agree to. The news would not be good. Antony was in the box seat. He had no need to make any concessions to his political opponents, and he would make none.

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