XLV

NOVEMBER 18, 44 B.C.

THE ROAD TO WAR

Marching up the highway from Campania to Rome came Octavian and his friends, leading an army of ten thousand men. All were ex-soldiers recruited from military colonies with the payment of bonuses of two thousand sesterces a man, and marching behind a single standard. Arriving on the Field of Mars outside the capital, the column made camp.¹

Inside the city, there was considerable apprehension. Word had been received that Antony also was marching north, with his four legions. One rumor had even put him as close as Capua on the night of November 9, but that had proven to be false. But there was no doubt that Antony was approaching the capital. And here was Octavian on the city’s doorstep with an army of experienced troops, although not a well-organized or well-equipped army, it would transpire. Some Romans feared Antony and supported Octavian; others felt just the opposite. There were even those who felt that since Octavian and Antony had sworn an alliance on the Capitol’s sacred soil, their enmity since was a sham and they would soon link up and jointly seize power.²

Cannutius, the tribune of the plebs who had shown himself to be an unabashed enemy of Antony, went out of the city to meet Octavian on the Field of Mars and discover his plans. When Cannutius returned, he called a meeting of the Comitia, where he announced that he was convinced that Octavian was openly hostile to Antony. If the people feared an unconstitutional seizure of power, said Cannutius, they had better throw their support behind Octavian, “because they had no other military force at the present moment” with which to defend Rome from Antony.³

Cannutius then brought Octavian into the city to address the people at the 440-year-old Temple of Castor and Pollux, which stood in the Forum directly opposite the spot where Caesar’s body had been cremated in March and where a temple would later be built to Caesar. Octavian entered Rome with a strong bodyguard from his freshly recruited army of veterans. These troops, armed with sheathed swords, in contravention of the law that banned all weapons inside the city, surrounded the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

From the top of the temple steps, Cannutius addressed the large crowd that soon gathered, and with a speech that attacked Antony. When it came Octavian’s turn to speak, he reminded the crowd of Caesar’s cruel murder and his funeral almost on this very spot. Then he, too, attacked Antony, reminding his listeners of the humiliations he had suffered at the hands of Antony since his return from Apollonia. And many leading men in the crowd cursed Antony out loud. This, said Octavian, was why he had assembled this force that was now encamped on the Field of Mars, to protect himself and to serve his country. And with these men, he said, he was ready to face Antony and, if necessary, fight him.

As the crowd dissolved, abuzz with conversation, Octavian was approached by representatives of his soldiery; the crowd may have been impressed with the young man’s speech, but the veterans were not. The ex-soldiers’ delegates told Octavian that they and their comrades had accepted his bounty and signed to serve him because he had led them to believe that he planned to take revenge on Caesar’s murderers. Some even believed that Octavian intended reconciling with Antony. But now Octavian had announced that he was prepared to do battle with Antony, which was quite contrary to what he had led them to believe, and they wanted no part of it. Like them, Antony had served Caesar, and he had commanded their legions during the Civil War. He was now a consul. Many of these men were simply not prepared to raise a sword against him.

A number of Octavian’s troops now asked permission to go home, some ostensibly to fully equip themselves with their own weapons and then return. To save face, Octavian called an assembly on the Field of Mars and announced that those of the veterans who wished to leave could do so, some to collect arms and return, others to remain at home if they so chose. Before these men took their leave of him, he gave out another gift of money, hoping to buy their continued loyalty, and promised to reward them even more richly in the future and to employ them more as friends of Caesar than as soldiers.

Overnight, as these men tramped away, back to their homes to the south, Octavian’s army on the Field of Mars dwindled from ten thousand men to no more than three thousand. Realizing that his force would now be outnumbered ten to one by Antony’s men in any confrontation, and that he had to find more recruits, Octavian also departed. After filling wagons with more cash, he led his much-reduced force away, toward the Etruria region. Over the coming weeks he would visit military colonies throughout central, eastern, and northeastern Italy in quest of more men from among the retired soldiers there.¹

Octavian’s progress would take him as far north as Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast. All along his route he would hand out cash and urge veterans to arm themselves and meet him at the town of Arretium in the northeast, which he made his assembly point.¹¹Strategically placed on the Via Cassia military highway, Arretium, which also was home to retired soldiers, was not far from Cisalpine Gaul. From there, Octavian could, in theory, link up with Albinus and his four legions, to combine forces against Antony. Meanwhile, a number of the veterans who returned to their farms after leaving Octavian at Rome soon had second thoughts, and set off to join him in the north.¹²

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