XL

SEPTEMBER 23, 44 B.C.

OCTAVIAN’S NINETEENTH BIRTHDAY

To many in the Roman Senate, it hardly seemed credible that this boy Octavian, who this day turned just nineteen years of age, could rein in Mark Antony’s bid for supreme power. Yet the boy had presided over the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris at the end of July and honored his dead great-uncle despite Antony’s antipathy. Again Octavian had sought permission to display Caesar’s golden throne, that time at Caesar’s games, and again Antony, as consul, had refused to give his permission. Undaunted, Octavian had presided at the games, and had received the accolades of the crowd. The renewed feud with Octavian actually won Antony friends in the Senate. Not a few senators disliked and distrusted Octavian, thinking him but a boy with too much money to throw around and with jumped-up ideas about his station in life just because he was Caesar’s heir.

Octavian, meanwhile, now buttressed by Cicero’s vocal support, had begun to promote a bid by a friend of his, Flaminius, to be elected to the vacant position of tribune of the plebeians—the vacancy caused by the murder of the unfortunate Helvius Cinna by the mob back on March 20. As the day set down for the election approached, the word around Rome was that Octavian actually wanted the post for himself, and many people said out loud that they intended casting their vote for him. This was contrary to the law; not only was Octavian much too young to run for election to any office, he also was a member of the patrician upper class, Rome’s traditional aristocracy, whose members were barred from running for election as tribunes of the plebeians.

Many senators were made uneasy by the rumor, not wishing to see this young upstart gain such a powerful position; under the republican constitution, tribunes of the plebeians not only had the power to put legislation before the Comitia, they also represented the common people in the Senate, where any one of them could veto a resolution.

But Mark Antony was even more unsettled by this rumor about Octavian’s intention to run for election, and he issued a consular decree that “if Octavian attempted anything illegal he would use the full power of his authority against him.” Antony’s edict only incensed many voters, and there was a swell of support for the election of Octavian as tribune in defiance of Antony’s order. In the end, to put a lid on the affair, Antony used his authority as consul to cancel the election.¹

This battle of wits between Antony and Octavian continued to trouble the officers of Antony’s Praetorian bodyguard. Again the military tribunes asked for a meeting with Antony, and again they expressed their unhappiness at the conflict between their commander and the late Dictator’s adopted son. After all, the tribunes said, surely both Octavian and Antony had the same object, that of avenging the murder of Caesar.

In response, Antony declared that he had never lost sight of the goal of making Caesar’s murderers pay. “We shall avenge him, deploying all our powers of body and determination to do so,” he assured his officers. Antony also claimed that he was playacting with the Senate until he could get what he really wanted: vengeance for Caesar.²

By the end of the meeting, the Praetorian tribunes were convinced that Antony possessed “genuine hostility to the murderers and a desire to outwit the Senate.” Just the same, they wanted to see a united front against Caesar’s assassins and their supporters, and won agreement from Antony that he would again reconcile with young Octavian.³

Not content with just a promise, the Praetorian officers promptly brokered a meeting between Antony and Octavian in the sacred environs of the Capitol. There, in front of the military tribunes and Octavian’s friends, the two men shook hands and agreed to again act in alliance against Caesar’s murderers.

It would later be reported that the night after Antony and Octavian came to their new accommodation on the Capitoline Mount, Antony had an unlucky dream in which his right arm was struck by lightning.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!