A DREADFUL STATE OF AFFAIRS
One of the tribunes of the plebeians, Cannutius, had called Antony before a public meeting in the Forum on October 2. An undisguised opponent of Antony and a supporter of Octavian, Cannutius took Antony to task for his actions as consul since the death of Caesar. According to Cicero, Antony “came off in sore disgrace” as a result of Cannutius’s speech, but not before he made a bitter defense. Standing on the Rostra where he had only recently dedicated his new statue of Caesar, which bore the inscription “To Father and Benefactor,” Antony raged against Brutus, Cassius, and their fellow conspirators.¹
“He spoke of the country’s saviors [the Liberators] in terms that applied to traitors,” Cicero was to complain in an October letter to Cassius, who was now somewhere in the East—Cicero knew not where—having parted from Brutus at Athens. Cicero was at this point feeling betrayed by Octavian as a result of the alliance the young man had made with Antony at the Capitol, and had renewed his hopes that the Liberators would emerge as the champions of liberty.²
Cicero wrote to Cassius that Antony had gone on to declare unequivocally that everything that Cassius and Brutus did and that Cannutius the tribune was now doing were on Cicero’s advice. “The lunatic declares that I was the ringleader in that noble achievement of yours”—Caesar’s murder. “Would to heaven that I had been! He would not be giving us any trouble now.”³
The union between Antony and Octavian had taken the political ground from beneath Cicero’s feet. “What a dreadful state of affairs!” Cicero lamented to Cassius. “We who could never tolerate a master [Caesar] are slave to our fellow slave [Antony]. Yet, while my wishes are stronger than my hopes, hope still remains in your fortitude. But where are your forces?”⁴
Where indeed? On the other hand, Mark Antony’s forces were by this time at Brundisium. By September, four of the five legions that Antony had ordered from Macedonia had marched to the Adriatic, boarded a fleet of ships, and crossed to Italy. They had remained quartered at the port city awaiting Antony’s orders. The fifth of these legions was still on its way. Now, on October 9, Antony and his staff set out from Rome for Brundisium to join the legions. According to Cassius Dio, Antony also took his wife, Fulvia, with him.⁵
Tellingly, Antony’s Praetorian cohorts also departed the scene at this point. Some, Antony appears to have taken south with him. But once Antony left town, some of his Praetorians—apparently men he had given over to his friends after the discovery of the plot to murder him—simply went home to their farms.
And while Antony departed from Rome for southern Italy, his fellow consul Dolabella made his way to the East, encouraged by Antony to take up his appointment as governor of the province of Syria and ensure that neither Brutus nor Cassius nor Octavian nor anyone sympathetic to any of them gained control of the legions in the province. Also in Antony’s party heading south to Brundisium went his brother Gaius, with orders from Antony to continue on to Greece and take charge there. The indications are that Gaius took the majority of his brother’s Praetorians with him—at least four cohorts.
As both consuls were now absent from Rome, there was no one to convene or preside over the Senate. With the House apparently emasculated by the consuls’ absence, and with numerous public holidays on the calendar in October and November, many senators drifted away from the capital to country homes. Cicero, for one, set off for his seaside villa at Puteoli.
As soon as Octavian learned that Antony had left Rome for the south to link up with the waiting troops, he himself left the city, taking with him his friends and a long wagon train laden with trunks full of cash. His destination was the Campania region, not far south of Rome, home to military colonies recently established for Caesar’s veterans, where his agents had already secured many pledges of support from recently retired legionaries.
War had been predicted by Cicero. His prediction seemed close to being realized. Now, in despair, and feeling powerless, Cicero wrote to Cassius, “What can be done to counter force without force?”⁶