ANTONY OUTSMARTS THE SENATE
Antony was determined to wrest control of the province of Cisalpine Gaul, and its three crack legions, from Decimus Brutus Albinus. Antony knew that he did not command sufficient support in the Senate to have Albinus’s province reassigned to him, but now that he had made an ally of young Octavian, he decided to sideline the Senate and use Octavian’s popularity with the plebeians to push a law through the Comitia that achieved his purpose. Cicero and his fellow centrists, who planned to block Antony’s measure in the Senate, half-expected him to attempt to circumvent them using this tactic, but were confident that the tribunes of the plebs would veto any law that Antony put before the Comitia.
On the evening of June 1, Antony discreetly sent out summonses to all the voters of the Assembly, and before dawn on June 2, with the voting place roped off by Antony’s Praetorians to prevent members of the Senate from getting to them, the voters assembled. Standing by the rope as they arrived was Octavian, who urged the plebeians and Equestrians to support the measure, for he was just as anxious as Antony to deprive Albinus of his province and his legions. Octavian also felt that his support would put new ally Antony in his debt.
Antony, meanwhile, had bribed the tribunes of the plebs, who did not intercede their veto. The law depriving Albinus of Cisalpine Gaul was passed by the Comitia. The Senate would not endorse this new law, and Albinus would take no notice of it, in defiance of Antony. Despite this, Antony felt that in the Comitia’s law he had a legal pretext for removing Albinus by force. But Albinus’s experienced legionaries stationed in Cisalpine Gaul outnumbered Antony’s Praetorians by at least three to one. Antony needed more troops, and quickly.
Back in April, Antony’s fellow consul Dolabella had railroaded a law through the Comitia that took the governorship of Syria from Liberator-supporter Staius Murcus and gave it to himself, even though Murcus was already on his way to take up the appointment. Dolabella managed to gain Senate endorsement for that law by convincing a majority of senators that, as governor of Syria, he would take up where Caesar had left off and invade Parthia with the legions that Caesar had assembled for that very operation. Dolabella was so personally unpopular among senators of all persuasions that many would have voted in favor of his appointment just to remove him from Rome, perhaps even hoping that it would result in his death at the hands of the Parthians.
At the same time, Antony had won Senate approval to take up the governorship of Macedonia. His opponents would have been happy to vote for a measure that removed such a threatening figure from Rome. Besides, Dolabella’s appointment had the rider that he would command all the legions assigned by Caesar to the Parthian campaign, no matter where they were camped. This took the six legions in Macedonia out of Antony’s control. Antony had further lulled the Senate into a false sense of security by proposing a resolution that the post of Dictator be permanently declared illegal, with the penalty of death for anyone who proposed to appoint a Dictator and for any man who accepted the post. To optimists, this had sounded as if Antony was turning over a new leaf and that democracy might have a chance of surviving after all.
Antony went further. At the prompting of Marcus Lepidus, who was heading to Spain, and in emulation of the proposal originally put by Cassius, Antony recommended that Pompey the Great’s son Sextus, still fighting a guerrilla war against Caesar’s general Pollio in western Spain, be recalled to Rome, paid two hundred million sesterces in restitution for the property of his father seized by Caesar during the Civil War, and given command of Rome’s navy in the western Mediterranean.¹ Young Sextus, like his late father, was seen as the embodiment of republicanism, and Antony’s proposal seemed to signal reconciliation among all sides, cementing divisions created by the Civil War. Many senators almost fell over themselves in their eagerness to support this resolution.
Antony’s proposals regarding the dictatorship and Sextus Pompeius had been ringingly endorsed, with speaker after speaker in the Senate praising Antony to the skies. Yet anyone who had read Decimus Brutus Albinus’s mind, or his correspondence, would have known that Albinus and other leading Liberators were counting on Bassus in Syria and Sextus in Spain as potential allies. With Dolabella and Antony countering Bassus and embracing Sextus, both Bassus and Sextus were potentially removed from the equation, leaving the Liberators with nowhere now to turn for military support.
Now, six weeks later, after a rumor swept Rome that the Getae, having heard of Julius Caesar’s death, had invaded Macedonia, Antony asked the Senate to give him command of the legions in Macedonia, the province it had allocated to him, so he could direct a campaign against the Getae and throw them out of Macedonia. The Senate had in the meantime sent a commission to Macedonia to investigate the truth of the Getae rumor. But after Dolabella—whom the Senate thought to be Antony’s enemy—agreed to assign command of five of the six legions in Macedonia to Antony, retaining just one for himself, the Senate approved Antony’s proposal before the commission of inquiry returned from Macedonia to report its findings.
When the commissioners did return, they reported that although the people of the province were afraid that the Getae might attack Macedonia once the legions left, there was no sign of the Getae in Macedonia at this time. But Antony now had his legions, five of them. And it is likely that the rumor of a Getae invasion had been planted by him. If not planted by Antony, it was certainly craftily exploited by him. Now Antony had the muscle he needed.