XLI

SEPTEMBER 28, 44 B.C.

THE PLOT TO ASSASSINATE ANTONY

Just days after Octavian and Antony had renewed their alliance on the sacred soil of the Capitol, word flew around Rome that a murder plot had been discovered. Octavian had paid to have

Mark Antony assassinated, or so the story went. Most people believed the story. Cicero believed it; he even heard that Antony “had caught the executioners in his own house.”¹ Octavian’s later biographer Suetonius also believed reports of the plot, writing that “Octavian actually engaged assassins to murder Antony.”²

The report of the murder plot did not reflect well on Octavian. The people of Rome could understand that he had good reason to do such a thing, but Antony’s position, especially in these uncertain times since Caesar’s death, made the thought of another murder of one of Rome’s leaders all the more repugnant to them. “The majority,” Appian was to write, “seeing the insults and losses which Octavian had suffered every day, thought the slander might be true, and considered it sacrilegious and intolerable that a plot had been laid against the life of the consul Antony.”³

“Mad with anger,” and proclaiming his innocence, Octavian hurried around Rome confronting anyone who doubted him, “and kept declaring that he himself was the victim of a plot by Antony to deprive him of the favor of the people” by inventing this murder plot. Finally, Octavian went to Antony’s house. Standing outside the Carinae mansion’s open double doors, and with a crowd gathering in the street behind him, Octavian called on the gods to bear witness to his innocence, swearing all manner of oaths, and, shouting now, challenging Antony to bring a case against him in court.

When no one appeared in the doorway to Antony ’s house, Octavian called, “I agree to be judged by your friends.” He then tried to make his way inside, but Antony’s hall porters barred his passage. Again he called out, abusing Antony, and becoming angry with the servants who would not let him pass, claiming they were preventing him from being called to account. Rebuffed, Octavian turned to the watching crowd. “Witness that if anything happens to me, my death will be due to Antony’s treachery,” he called.

No proof would come to light that the murder plot existed, but Antony soon after assigned much of his Praetorian bodyguard to “his friends,” which would have included his brothers, “on the grounds that they [the Praetorians] had been accomplices in a plot of Octavian’s against him.” Some cynics believed this to be part of a new campaign by Antony to blacken Octavian’s name. But the tribunes of Antony’s Praetorian cohorts had twice recently shown their dissatisfaction and impatience with Antony’s treatment of Octavian, making it quite possible that there may have been a willingness among some Praetorians to be rid of Antony. That Antony had lost confidence in his entire bodyguard would within days become quite evident.

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