ANTONY MAKES HIS MOVE
Cicero had returned to Rome on December 9. At this point neither he nor the rest of Rome had yet to learn of Brutus’s successes in the East. As for Cassius, there had been no word of him or his activities since he left Italy.
Cicero was banking on Albinus in Cisalpine Gaul defeating Antony by force of arms. For the moment, Antony’s army was camped just south of the border between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, with Antony, in his capacity as consul, sending Albinus demands to hand over the province to him in compliance with the law passed by the Comitia that gave Cisalpine Gaul to him.
Albinus was ignoring these demands. To begin with, he had led his legions up into the foothills of the Alps, in today’s Piedmont and Savoy, and sent them against warlike local tribes who had yet to submit to Roman authority. Albinus had feared that the loyalty of his troops might be purchased by Antony or Octavian, and, running out of funds himself after borrowing heavily from friends and relatives, his mountain campaign was all about giving his legionaries as much opportunity as possible to fill their purses. His men had stormed into the mountains with enthusiasm and had captured numerous villages and laid waste to great tracts of farmland as crops and animals were snaffled up. Albinus had even written to Cicero asking him to seek a Triumph from the Senate for him when it next sat, as a reward for this plundering expedition.
As far as Cicero was concerned, if this stalemate was to be broken, Albinus must launch offensive action against Antony. But legally Albinus could not lead his troops across his province’s border without Senate permission. Even if the Senate were convened for the purpose, there were a number of senators, including all but one of the former consuls—“the consulars,” Cicero called them—who did not favor authorizing Albinus to go to war with a sitting consul.
Anxious to spur Albinus into action, Cicero hosted a meeting at his house on Rome’s Palatine Hill. His guests were several of Albinus’s friends and relatives, including his cousin Servius Sulpicius Rufus, who had been a consul in 51 B.C. By the time this meeting ended, two of the attendees were on their way to Cisalpine Gaul to pass on Cicero’s sentiments to Albinus.
To make sure that Albinus was left in no doubt about his views, Cicero dashed off a letter to him and sent it north by courier. “The main point which I want you to grasp and carefully bear in mind,” Cicero wrote to Albinus, “is that in preserving the liberty and welfare of the Roman people you must not wait to be authorized by a Senate which is still enslaved. For, in doing so, you would be condemning your own act”—the assassination of Caesar. “You know that it was not by public authority that you liberated the Republic, and that makes the achievement all the more magnificent and glorious.”¹
Cicero goaded Albinus by reminding him that “the young man, or rather boy” Octavian had not waited for anyone’s approval before he took on Antony. Cicero was by this time calling Octavian “Caesar,” despite his earlier reluctance to do so. Nor, he said, had the Martia Legion or 4th Legion sought anyone’s approval but their own before they deserted Antony. “When its formal sanction is held back by intimidation, the wishes of the Senate should be considered the equivalent of official sanction. Lastly, you have twice chosen which side you are on, first on the Ides of March, and again recently when you enlisted new forces.” Albinus must not wait for orders, Cicero urged, but give them, and take action against Antony.²
Cicero also found a way to give Albinus moral support. In emergencies, the tribunes of the plebs could convene a sitting of the Senate without the presence of the consuls. Cicero was able to convince several of the tribunes to call just such an emergency meeting on December 20. Knowing that he did not have enough votes to censure Antony, Cicero proposed a resolution in which the Senate upheld all existing gubernatorial appointments. In this roundabout way, Albinus received an endorsement from the House, while Antony, and his ambition to unseat Albinus, received a rebuke.
In Cisalpine Gaul, once he received Cicero’s advice, Albinus ordered his force of four legions and his gladiator bodyguard to prepare to march out of the mountains and head toward Italy.
Octavian had hurried to Alba Fucens to take command of the Marta Legion and 4th Legion, the units that had defected to him from Antony, combining them with a legion of veterans he had by this time put together on his latest recruiting drive in the east and north. Combined, these units made up a formidable little army of some eighteen thousand men. Octavian had written to the Senate at Rome to offer his army in the service of the Republic, and had received a reply that the House would vote on what Octavian and his troops should do as soon as the new consuls came into office and convened a sitting.³
Centurions of his legions offered Octavian five lictors and fasces if he were to proclaim himself a propraetor. Octavian thanked them, but said that he could accept such an honor only if it were conferred by the Senate. Legally, he was much too young for such an appointment. The soldiers were determined to see him made a praetor and were preparing to send a delegation to Rome to urge the appointment on the Senate, but Octavian prevented them from going. The Senate would be more likely to make such an appointment “if they see your eagerness and my reluctance,” he sagely observed.⁴
The men were unhappy at this until Octavian let them into his thoughts. He told them that he believed the Senate was leaning his way, not because it wished him well but because he opposed Antony, and the Senate had no troops of its own until such time as the Liberators managed to raise an army. In the meantime, the Senate would use him, and he would use it. “If we snatch the magistracy, they will accuse us of high-handedness or violence,” he confided to his officers. “But if we show deference, perhaps they will freely bestow it through fear that I will take it for myself.”⁵
Octavian then went to watch the men of the two existing legions going through their training drills. Facing each other, the men of the Martia and 4th “unstintingly did all they had to do in a real battle except kill.” Octavian was so pleased with their enthusiasm that he presented every man with another two thousand sesterces from his seemingly bottomless cash box, and promised them that should it come to war and they were victorious, each of his troops would receive another five thousand sesterces.⁶
As soon as Mark Antony heard that Albinus’s troops were on the move, he acted to seize the initiative. As winter was descending on northern Italy, Antony led his legions into Cisalpine Gaul, claiming to be acting under the authority of the law of the Comitia.
The two armies marched toward each other. Albinus came down the Via Aemilia. Arriving at the city of Mutina, today’s Modena, he ordered his army to fortify the city and prepare to sustain a lengthy siege. Cattle were killed and salted and other provisions gathered as the local farmers flooded into the city for protection. The gates were closed, and Albinus waited. He did not have to wait long. Antony arrived with his army, and surrounded the city with entrenchments. The siege of Mutina had begun, and the Roman people were once again embroiled in civil war.