NO PLAN, NO THOUGHT, NO METHOD
By June 6, Cicero had left Rome. Spending the night at villas along his route, by late morning on June 7 he was nearing Antium, on the western coast of Italy.
At a June 5 sitting of the Senate, Mark Antony had made another surprise move. Although failing to receive Senate endorsement for his law that would deprive Albinus of the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul, Antony had put a fresh motion before the House that seemed to many on the Senate benches to be both reasonable and conciliatory. Antony proposed that Liberator leader Brutus should be made governor of Crete, and his colleague Cassius governor of Sicily, for the following year. A provincial governor was immune from prosecution while in office, so these appointments offered protection for Brutus and Cassius against a prosecution for the murder of Caesar should Antony somehow be able to reverse the Senate and Comitia resolutions that gave all the assassins amnesty from prosecution.
These gubernatorial appointments were readily approved by the Senate, which also endorsed a resolution by the Liberators’ friends that Brutus and Cassius be appointed corn commissioners in the province of Asia, in modern Turkey, until they took up their provincial governorships. ¹ The grain commission appointments, which came into immediate effect, would allow the pair to leave Italy at once, without restriction, with staff, at State expense, and also be immune from prosecution.
Cicero must have known that these appointments suited Antony’s plans. They would remove Brutus and Cassius from Italy, getting them out from under Antony’s feet. Notably, no legions were stationed in either Crete or Sicily, meaning that neither Brutus nor Cassius would have access to military forces with which they could challenge Antony. But at least the appointments, especially those of corn commissioners, would give Brutus and Cassius the excuse and the opportunity to find safety abroad.
Cicero was anxious to learn what Brutus and Cassius would do once they learned of these appointments, for he considered his future to be bound up with theirs. He himself was contemplating leaving Italy. He had learned en route to Antium that his loyal former son-in-law Dolabella had appointed him to join his consular staff when he went to the East to take up the governorship of Syria. If Cicero accepted the appointment, it also would give him the freedom to travel without restriction.²
Determined to ignore the fact that Brutus had been at odds with him of late, Cicero headed for Antium. Cicero had recently been writing and speaking in praise of Octavian, and Brutus was not well pleased by that. Brutus was not as trusting of Octavian as was Cicero, nor did he see him as a naive youth who could be easily manipulated, as Cicero seemed to think him to be. Brutus, who was awake to Octavian’s ambitions, had written angry letters to Cicero, telling him that in siding with Octavian against Antony to avoid a civil war, Cicero ran the risk of facilitating “a dishonorable and infamous peace,” and that in aiding Octavian to subvert Antony he would only replace one tyrant with another.³
Cicero arrived at Antium a little before noon. Brutus came to the door to greet him and was clearly pleased to see him, with the bitterness of his recent letters forgotten. Tidings of the June 2 law and the June 5 appointments had preceded Cicero—Brutus’s close friend Marcus Favonius also was at the Antium villa, and it seems that he had galloped all the way from Rome with the news.⁴
Brutus escorted Cicero into a room where all the houseguests were gathered. Favonius was here, as were Brutus’s pale wife, Porcia, and Cassius’s wife, Brutus’s sister Tertullia. Brutus’s mother, Servilia, also was present; she had been staying not far away at a villa outside Neapolis, modern-day Naples. Cicero thought it highly incongruous that Servilia, who was Caesar’s former lover and still remained intensely loyal to his memory, was staying at the house of Pontius Aquila, the tribune of the plebs who had been one of Caesar’s most fervent assassins. Aquila was at this time serving on the gubernatorial staff of Albinus in Cisalpine Gaul.
“What do you think I ought to do?” Brutus asked Cicero in front of the others, who all listened intently to the conversation.⁵
“I gave the advice I had prepared on the way,” Cicero was to write to his regular correspondent Atticus. “Accept the Asiatic corn commission,” he told Brutus. “Your safety is all that concerns us now; it is the bulwark of the Republic itself.”
Cicero was elaborating on this theme when Cassius walked in. For Cassius’s benefit, Cicero repeated his advice to Brutus, that the pair take up their appointments abroad and live to fight another day.⁶
Cassius, “looking most valorous,” in Cicero’s opinion, “the picture of a warrior,” declared that “he had no intention of going to Sicily.” “Should I have taken an insult as though it had been a favor?” Cassius added. The appointment as governor of Sicily had been good enough for Porcia’s revered father, Cato the Younger, to accept just prior to the Civil War, but Cassius, an experienced military commander, was not interested in governing an “unarmed province,” especially not in these dangerous times.
“What do you mean to do then?” Cicero inquired.
“I will go to Greece,” said Cassius firmly.
Cicero turned to Cassius’s colleague. “What about you, Brutus?”
“To Rome, if you agree,” Brutus answered.
“ But I don’t agree at all!” Cicero came back, horrified by the thought. “ You won’t be safe there.”
“Well, suppose I could be safe. Would you approve?”
“ Of course. And what’s more, I would be against your leaving for a province either now or after your praetorship [which ended on December 31]. But I cannot advise you to risk your life in Rome.”⁷
Brutus seemed to have some vague plan in mind for providing protection for himself at the capital, but if he did, he refrained from sharing it with Cicero. Both men knew that there were high expectations among the populace at Rome that Brutus would appear at the Circus Maximus in July to take credit for organizing the Ludi Apollinares, the seven-day festival that ran between July 7 and 13 each year. Sacred to the god Apollo, these games were intended to appease the god and avoid great national disasters.
It fell to the urban praetor to organize this festival, whose last day featured spectacles and chariot races at the circus. And despite the fact that he had absented himself from Rome, Brutus was determined to fulfill his duties in respect to the Ludi Apollinares, as great credit fell to the man who staged these games—and paid for them from his own pocket. According to Plutarch, the people of Rome “longed for the return of Brutus, whose presence they expected and hoped for at the games and spectacles which he, as praetor, was to exhibit.”⁸ If Brutus could safely be present to receive the crowd’s accolades, this would provide him with a springboard to the leadership of efforts against Antony, and regain the momentum for the democracy movement.
For these upcoming games, Brutus had already organized, at his own expense, large numbers of wild beasts to be used in the hunting spectacles in the circus. He had sent word to Rome that to give the crowds the maximum entertainment, none of these wild beats was to be spared for later shows. He had also recently traveled to Neapolis to secure a large number of excellent Neopolitan players for the stage performances that would occupy the first six days of the festival. And he had written to friends urging them to secure a rising star among Italy’s actors named Canutius for the festival.⁹
Cicero could not accept that Brutus would be safe at Rome while Antony commanded a large Praetorian bodyguard of experienced soldiers, and told him so. A great deal of talk followed among Cicero, Brutus, and Cassius. Both the Liberators, but Cassius especially, complained bitterly about opportunities that had been let slip. Albinus in particular came in for severe criticism.¹⁰ Had Albinus marched south from Cisalpine Gaul with his three legions soon after arriving there, while Antony was away from Rome in April-May and before he had recruited his Praetorian Cohorts, Albinus could have occupied Rome with his troops and restored republican control. Instead, Albinus had remained in Cisalpine Gaul, surrounding himself with his troops, apparently intent on protecting his own neck. This was much to the displeasure of Cassius and Brutus, for “they placed most confidence in” Albinus, who had come to represent the Liberators’ last hope of military intervention.¹¹
After Dolabella had put Bassus’s power in doubt now that the Senate had approved Dolabella’s Syrian appointment, and with Sextus Pompeius expected to agree to cease hostilities and accept two hundred million sesterces and command of the Roman navy in the western Mediterranean, Albinus’s legions were all that stood between Antony and total power. And yet, as Cassius and Brutus complained, instead of marching on Rome, Albinus had marched his troops into the Alps, away from Italy, and launched a campaign against fractious Alpine tribes. Now that Antony had surrounded himself with his Praetorian Cohorts and was likely to bring five legions to Italy from Macedonia, he would soon achieve military domination of his political opponents.
“To that I said it was no use crying over spilled milk,” Cicero wrote to his friend Atticus. “But I agreed all the same.” Cicero went on to put his own views to Brutus and Cassius on what should have been done. He confessed that his ideas were not original—he was only giving voice to “what everyone is saying all the time,” although he did not voice his opinion that Antony also should have been murdered. He told Brutus and Cassius that they “should have summoned the Senate, girded the popular enthusiasm to action with greater vigor, and assumed the leadership of the entire Republic.”¹²
“Well, upon my word!” exclaimed a female voice behind Cicero. He turned to see Brutus’s mother, Servilia, sitting with a scowl on her face. “I never heard the like!” she added.¹³
“I held my tongue” after that, Cicero was to tell Atticus. Out of respect for Servilia, and for her affection for Caesar, Cicero did not again broach the subject of the Dictator’s death or of anything connected with it in front of her. The past was left behind, as the topic of conversation returned to the future. Cicero wrote, “It looked to me as though Cassius would go” to Greece, as he had at first announced. “Brutus was soon persuaded to drop his empty talk about wanting to be in Rome.” Brutus reluctantly accepted that the July games would have to be held in his absence, although under his name. “It looked to me as though he wanted to go to Asia direct from Antium,” Cicero confided to Atticus.¹⁴
The conversation continued over dinner, but nothing changed, and Cicero was deeply depressed by the whole affair. He had come to Antium feeling obliged to see Brutus out of affection for him and a sense of duty. “Nothing in my visit gave me any satisfaction except the consciousness of having made it,” he revealed in the glum letter he wrote to Atticus that night. “I found the ship going to pieces, or rather its scattered fragments. No plan, no thought, no method.”¹⁵
To Cicero, it beggared belief that neither Brutus nor Cassius, otherwise highly intelligent men, had properly thought through measures to cover the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, that they had not made provision for a takeover of power until elections restored the Republic and its democratic institutions. After all, Rome’s most senior officials on the Ides of March, including Antony as consul and Dolabella as consul-designate, had been appointed by Caesar, who had himself seized power in a military coup.
Neither Antony nor Dolabella had been elected. Constitutionally, neither man was entitled to wield any authority at this moment. But who was going to tell that to Antony, or his Praetorians? Velleius Paterculus, whose parents lived through this era, was to say, “The state languished, oppressed by the tyranny of Antony. Everyone felt resentment and indignation, but no one had the power to resist.”¹⁶
From Antium, the disheartened Cicero wrote to Atticus, “I am now all the more determined to fly from here, and as soon as I possibly can.” His last words were ominous: “I have a feeling that the sands of time are running out.”¹⁷