THE RISE OF THE LIBERATORS
While the focus at Rome had been on Antony, Octavian, and Albinus, in the Roman East Brutus and Cassius had not been idle. Sympathy and support they had aplenty. The one thing they lacked was money. As Octavian and Antony were proving in the West, it took money, and enormous amounts of it, to secure and equip troops. In the late days of autumn, word had reached Brutus at Athens that a friend of his, Marcus Apuleius, who had served as quaestor of Asia until recently handing over to the quaestor of the province’s new governor, Marcus Trebonius, was coasting around the Aegean toward Greece from Asia with a convoy of warships and cargo vessels laden with treasure he intended to deliver to the Treasury at Rome.¹ This money was the result of official Roman tax-gathering in eastern provinces for the year, which traditionally took place in the summer.
Brutus hurried to Carystus, a small port on the eastern coast of Greece, in time to meet Apuleius and his treasure fleet after they had put in there. And Brutus persuaded Apuleius to hand over the ships and their contents to him rather than continue on to Italy with them. What’s more, Apuleius joined Brutus’s staff, becoming one of his chief recruiting officers. All the quaestors of the provinces of the Roman East would subsequently endorse this handover of tax monies to Brutus, much to the disgust of later Roman official Velleius Paterculus.² According to Plutarch, this financial coup netted Brutus as much as two hundred million sesterces.³ Now Brutus and Cassius could finance a war.
Cassius immediately set off for Syria, taking the lion’s share of the loot with him as his war chest, for there were as many as ten legions stationed in Syria and Egypt whose loyalty would need to be bought. Brutus was left with some forty million sesterces.⁴Brutus, appointing Cicero’s son Marcus and the other young Romans who had been studying at Athens his military tribunes, headed up into Thessaly and Macedonia and began building an army.
Brutus’s first rank-and-file recruits emerged from towns and villages along his route. These turned out to be legionaries of Pompey the Great who had taken refuge with the locals following Pompey’s defeat by Caesar at Pharsalus in Thessaly four years before. Ever since, these men had been living among the sympathetic Greeks, who retained deep affection for Pompey. When they heard that Brutus was raising an army to restore the Republic, Pompey’s former soldiers “joyfully” flocked to him.⁵
Using his little fleet of ships, Brutus proceeded to intercept a flotilla of cargo vessels carrying five hundred auxiliary cavalry to join Dolabella, who had by this time arrived in Asia, and brought them under his own command. Next, putting in at the Greek port of Demetrias, Brutus seized the vast arms cache that Caesar had created there for his campaign against the Getae and Parthians, just as preparations were being made to ship those arms to Antony in Italy. Now Brutus had both money and arms.⁶
Landing in Macedonia with his growing fleet, plus funds, war matériel and the nucleus of an army, Brutus was greeted by Quintus Hortalis Hortensius, the ex-praetor who was governing Macedonia in Antony’s name. Hortensius happily handed control of Macedonia and its resources over to Brutus and put himself under his command. Those resources did not extend to a large number of troops. The province had been denuded of the six legions until recently stationed there—Antony had by this time shipped five to Italy, and when Dolabella recently came through Macedonia, he had picked up the sixth of the legions and taken it with him to Asia, with intentions of confronting the province’s new governor, Trebonius the Liberator.
Brutus soon gained support from another quarter. When all the kings and potentates of the region heard that Brutus had taken possession of Macedonia, they came to him and offered their services, and those of their ethnic troops. Mark Antony they disliked, Octavian they did not know. But like the ordinary peoples of the region, eastern kings and potentates held Pompey’s memory in high regard, and equally, they respected Brutus’s reputation as a man of integrity.
Word then reached Brutus that Antony’s brother Gaius had crossed the Strait of Otranto and had landed in Epirus, on the western side of Greece. Gaius had landed with only a modest body of troops—apparently the Praetorians that his elder brother had handed over to him. Learning that Brutus had gained control in Macedonia, Gaius decided to march up the western coast of Greece to take over the three legions that the governor of the province of Illyricum, Publius Vatinius, had recently stationed at Apollonia and Dyrrhachium, today’s Durres in Albania. Brutus, realizing Gaius’s intent, decided to make a dash across Macedonia to beat him to Dyrrhachium, just as Pompey had beaten Caesar to Dyrrhachium four years before.
The winter snows were falling as Brutus made his forced march west with his cavalry and few infantry. His pace, and the difficult weather, saw his baggage train lag farther and farther behind, and he pressed on without provisions. As he approached Dyrrhachium, having won the race, Brutus fell ill. His servants went on ahead to the town and begged bread from the sentries. When the sentries heard that it was Marcus Brutus who needed food, they deserted their posts and came to him with bread, meat, and drink. Brutus subsequently occupied the town.⁷
After Gaius Antonius reached Apollonia, south of Durres, the town from which Octavian had set off for Italy the previous March after hearing of Caesar’s murder, Brutus advanced south, forcing Gaius to retreat. In the process, three of Gaius’s infantry cohorts were “cut to pieces” by Brutus’s cavalry. Brutus was not yet fully recovered from his illness, so he gave the command of his forces to young Marcus Cicero, “whose conduct he made use of often and with much success.”⁸
Marcus fought a pitched battle with Gaius’s mauled force, and Gaius was cut off in marshland with his bodyguard. Brutus came riding up just as young Cicero’s troops were clamoring for the kill, but Brutus talked Gaius’s men into surrendering themselves and their commander. In this way, Mark Antony’s brother Gaius became Brutus’s prisoner, while Gaius’s troops were welcomed into Brutus’s army.
This was an ironic near-repetition of events during the Civil War. In 49 B.C., Gaius Antonius had attempted an amphibious landing in Illyricum for Caesar, but his flotilla had been intercepted on the Adriatic by a republican battle fleet, and all seventy-five hundred of Gaius’s Caesarian legionaries had defected to Pompey. Apparently Gaius had given his parole to Pompey that he would not play any further part in the war, which he did not, and was allowed to return to Rome. And here, five years later, he was again taken prisoner by the other side after the surrender of his troops and in much the same area as before. This time Gaius was not released. But Brutus did not put him in irons; instead he showed his high-ranking prisoner “all marks of honor and esteem.”⁹