XXVI

APRIL 11, 44 B.C.

OCTAVIAN MEETS WITH ANTONY

As the sun rose over Rome, Octavian was joined in the Forum by Agrippa, Salvidienus, and many other friends. On the southeastern side of the Forum, in the Julian Basilica, a massive colonnaded building erected by Caesar, the praetors were holding court during the single business day that separated the Ludi Megalenses and Ludi Ceriales festivals. There, Octavian sought out Mark Antony’s brother Gaius, one of the praetors, who was, at Antony’s direction, carrying out the formal duties of the city praetor in Brutus’s absence.

Octavian informed Gaius Antonius that he wished to make a legal declaration. As the praetor’s legal clerks noted down his words in shorthand on wax tablets, young Octavian declared that he accepted adoption as Caesar’s son. In front of Octavian’s massed friends, Mark Antony’s brother Gaius officially witnessed the declaration.

Learning that Mark Antony was at that moment in the Gardens of Pompey, which Caesar had given to Antony, Octavian then made his way directly there and announced that Caesar wished to see the consul Antony—Octavian was now using his adoptive father’s name. He was kept waiting outside the gate to the walled gardens for some time. Octavian himself would later put the delay down to Antony’s aversion to him.¹

Finally, Octavian, and Octavian alone, was admitted to Pompey the Great’s former gardens and led to the consul. Several day before, while on his way to Rome, at Tarracina, fifty miles from the capital, Octavian had learned that Antony was acting like a monarch of old. Using Caesar’s seal and papers, Antony had “made many erasures and many substitutions.” Then, under the heading “Memoranda of Caesar,” he had issued a host of decrees including these erasures and substitutions, claiming them to have been prepared by Caesar prior to his death. In this way he had recalled men exiled by Caesar, and enrolled into the Senate others who were Antony’s own supporters. Other men he deprived of money and offices. Others still he granted citizenship in return for payment. And all the while “pretending that in doing so he was carrying out Caesar’s wishes.”²

Antony also had recently implemented some other cunning measures. To cement his alliance with Marcus Lepidus, Antony had betrothed one of his daughters, Antonia, to Lepidus’s son, Marcus Lepidus the Younger.³ And with the office of pontifex maximus vacant with the death of Caesar, Antony issued a decree transferring the election of the high priest from the people to the college of priests, of which he was a member. He then had the priests elect Marcus Lepidus pontifex maximus, a post Lepidus would hold for life. Rushing through the ceremony, Antony personally consecrated Lepidus as high priest.

As part of their deal, Lepidus then left Rome, hurrying off to Nearer Spain, a province whose governorship he continued to hold under Caesar’s decree. Importantly, as far as Lepidus’s ally Antony was concerned, once there Lepidus would take command of the four legions based in Nearer Spain, with which the pair could counter Albinus’s three legions in Cisalpine Gaul.

Antony, at the height of his powers now, and with his various schemes falling into place, was in no mood for interference from a teenager whom Caesar had seen fit to make his chief heir. Antony greeted Octavian with brusque familiarity. He “despised” Caesar’s young heir, considering him “a stripling” and “inexperienced in business,” and it showed in the haughty way he treated the handsome, fine-boned youth. After each man had made the customary inquiries about the other’s health, Octavian politely but promptly went to the point of his visit and asked Antony to be so good as to hand over his inheritance from Caesar.

Antony was taken aback by the youth’s forthrightness. His annoyance soon gave way to amusement and disdain. According to Appian, Antony patronizingly referred to Octavian as “my lad,” claimed that Caesar’s estate was nowhere near as large as Octavian imagined, and declared that he did not have the money himself. After a brief and ineffective interview, Octavian was dismissed by Antony and escorted back to the street.

As the gates banged shut behind him, Octavian “was furious.” But he would not be put off. As had been the case when his great-uncle had crossed the Rubicon River in January 49 B.C. to launch war against his own country, the die had been cast, and the young man would gamble everything on winning.

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