THE NAME OF CAESAR
Octavius, Agrippa, Salvidienus, and a handful of servants were carried across to Italy from the Greek coast in a small boat hired for the urgent journey. The craft was probably one of the six-oared fishing boats that were common in these times. Warned by his mother and stepfather to be as inconspicuous as possible, instead of putting into Brundisium, the major port from which he had left Italy to travel to Greece six months before, and a city in which troops were known to be quartered, Octavius had the boat land him and his party at the little fishing village of Lupiae, nearby.¹
From Lupiae, Octavius sent messengers galloping to Rome to obtain more information from his family. He sent other servants to Brundisium to sound out the mood of the troops in the city and to ensure that no trap had been laid for him there by Caesar’s murderers. From Rome came a package of documents by hurried return. This package contained a much more detailed letter from his mother and stepfather, a copy of Caesar’s will, and copies of senatorial decrees published since the Ides of March. Now Octavius learned that Caesar had made him his son and principal heir, learned the identities of the assassins, and discovered that they and Caesar’s friends had come to an accommodation since the murder that had seen the conspirators pardoned.²
In their latest letter, Atia and Philippus “warned him still more solemnly to beware [of ] Caesar’s enemies, because he was Caesar’s [adopted] son and heir, and advised him to renounce both the inheritance and the adoption.”³ At age three Octavius had lost his father, Gaius Octavius, who had fallen ill and died in 63 B.C. while on his way back to Italy after serving as governor of Macedonia. Atia had married Philippus, a consul, in 56 B.C., when her son Octavius was five. But despite having been raised by Philippus, Octavius had never been close to his stepfather. By age sixteen he had become Caesar’s favorite, and had returned his great-uncle’s affection.
Now, said Velleius Paterculus, who knew and served under Octavius in later years, Octavius “preferred to trust the judgment, concerning himself, of a great-uncle, who was Caesar, rather than that of a stepfather, saying that he had no right to think himself unworthy of the name which Caesar had thought him worthy.”⁴ This decision was confirmed for Octavius when he set off from Lupiae to Brundisium and was met on the road by soldiers from Brundisium whose job was to provide security for official baggage, military pay, and tax revenues that passed through the city to and from the provinces. These men spontaneously greeted him as Caesar’s son. Once in Brundisium he made a temple sacrifice to Caesar’s memory and formally adopted his name.⁵ He was no longer Gaius Octavius, but Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus—Octavian, as we know him.
Word quickly spread that Caesar’s adopted son was in Brundisium, and people began flocking to the city to pay their respects to him. Some did so merely out of regard for the late Caesar. Others were Caesar’s retired former soldiers, or slaves or ex-slaves of the Dictator. Encouraged by this, Octavian and his friends set off on the road for Rome, “accompanied by a remarkable crowd which increased every day.” At each of the military colonies he passed through, Octavian received a hearty welcome from Caesar’s retired veterans resident there. These men expressed their grief at Caesar’s murder and vented their frustration over the fact that Antony had failed to avenge his fallen leader with the blood of the assassins.⁶
But at other towns along the way Octavian found that the welcome was not so warm; in nonmilitary communities sympathy was strongly with Brutus and the Liberators, and against Caesar.⁷ Undaunted, Octavian pushed on toward Rome.