ANTONY’S LEGIONS REBEL
The rumors at Rome that Antony was heading for the capital with a large body of troops soon proved to be accurate. In the fourth week of November, within days of Octavian’s departure for the northeast, Antony arrived at the Field of Mars with upward of seven thousand men, and made camp.
Earlier in the month, Antony had set off from Brundisium with his new Praetorian cohort and the Alaudae Legion, a unit whose men, apparently, had been the least troublesome of his legionaries in the port city—perhaps because they were natives of Transalpine Gaul, not Italians, like most of Antony’s other legionaries.¹ Antony had headed northwest along the Appian Way, but he had ordered the three remaining legions to march north from Brundisium via the coast road to Ariminium, today’s Rimini, on the Adriatic. Ariminium was just south of the Rubicon River, which served as the border between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. Antony’s intent—to threaten Albinus in Cisalpine Gaul—was clear.
Antony entered Rome with his armed Praetorians and went directly to his home in the Carinae. His bodyguard surrounded the house and stood guard in successive three-hour watches, treating the mansion as a military camp and refusing to admit anyone who did not know a daily password.²
On November 23, Antony called a meeting of the Senate for the next day. But then stunning news had arrived. The Legio Martia, or Martia Legion, marching up the coast road to Ariminium from Brundisium on Antony’s orders, had, on reaching the town of Alba Fucens in the Picenum region of eastern Italy, revolted against its senior officers and, to a man, had vowed loyalty to Octavian. The origins of the Martia Legion seem to have gone back to the Marsi, the Italian tribe that inhabited the Picenum region and made Corfinium their capital, and it is possible that on reaching their home territory, the men of the Martia Legion were influenced by the locals to revolt against Antony. Antony immediately sent subordinates to verify this report about the Martians, and postponed the Senate sitting until he knew more.
On the afternoon of November 28, senators were notified that there would be an emergency meeting of the Senate that evening. When the members of the House arrived after dark—a highly unusual time for the Senate to meet—Antony called the meeting to order, then quickly dealt with seemingly minor pieces of business. Once this business had been resolved, Antony terminated the sitting, hurriedly took his leave, went directly to the city gate, passed through it, and joined the troops on the Field of Mars.³ In his wake, some members of the House were left bemused; others, confused.
When senators awoke the next morning, it was to find that Antony had departed for Alba Fucens. Now, too, the senators learned why Antony had made such a rushed departure. Not only was it true that the Martia Legion had revolted against Antony, it also was now revealed that just as Antony was about to go into the Senate meeting, he had received a dispatch informing him that the 4th Legion, marching up the road several days behind the Martia, also had rebelled against Antony and gone over to Octavian once it reached Alba Fucens.
Antony was marching rapidly east to Alba Fucens, intent on regaining the loyalty of the two legions, which had set up camp in the town. In Rome there was both astonishment and anger at this turn of events. Widespread astonishment was registered because half of Antony’s troops had deserted him. The anger came from many senators who were indignant that the revolting legionaries had declared their loyalty to young Octavian, who was merely a private citizen and had no official authority, and not to the Senate of Rome, under whose authority Rome ’s legions were raised, paid, and discharged.
When Antony arrived outside Alba Fucens, he found the town gates closed against him and its walls lined with the rebellious men of the two legions. When he attempted to approach the walls, the troops sent a rain of javelins in his direction, and Antony was forced to hurriedly withdraw out of range. “Deeply disturbed, ” Antony returned to Rome, from where, to secure their loyalty, he sent two thousand sesterces to every man still serving him, including the legionaries of the Alaudae and those of the other legions from Macedonia, the latter still on the road to Ariminium accompanied by the auxiliary cavalry.⁴
When Cicero found out about the defection of the two legions, he was overjoyed. In December he would write to Albinus in Cisalpine Gaul crowing that the men of the Martia and the 4th had “branded their consul a public enemy and rallied to the defense of theRepublic.”⁵ The two legions had not exactly done the former, and it remained to be seen if they would do the latter.
Again Antony departed from Rome. But this time he went dressed in military uniform and armor, and wearing his sword, signaling that he was going to war. He only marched his Praetorians and the Alaudae Legion a short distance east along the Via Tiburtina Valeria, to the summer resort town of Tibur, modern Tivoli, on the slopes of the Sabine Mountains. There he set up camp and sent recruiting officers ranging far and wide to enroll more retired soldiers. From military colonies as far away as Samnium and Apulia, thousands of retired veterans of the 5th Legion answered his call.⁶
Realizing that Antony was still on their doorstep, and with a formidable and growing force, hundreds of senators flooded out of Rome to Tibur—almost the entire Senate, according to Appian. With them came the majority of the members of the Equestrian Order and the leading plebeians. Apparently fearful that Antony would lead his troops into Rome and let them plunder the city, they had all come “to pay their respects” to him.⁷
They arrived in a mass, to find Antony swearing his existing troops, along with a large number of veterans who made up his reconstituted 5th Legion, to an oath of allegiance to him. He then called on the senators and their companions to take the same oath. So even the men who had so recently cursed Antony during the public meeting convened by Cannutius and Octavian outside the Temple of Castor and Pollux now publicly took an oath, administered by Antony, “that they would never cease to give him their goodwill and loyalty.”⁸
Antony then set off for Ariminium with his Praetorian cohort, the Alaudae Legion, and the new, understrength 5th Legion, to join the other legion from Brundisium that had remained loyal to him. There, too, he would be joined by the last of the five legions from Macedonia, which had finally landed at Brundisium.⁹ By the middle of December, despite having lost two legions to Octavian, Antony would be in a position to threaten Albinus’s four legions in Cisalpine Gaul with a force of equal size.