DEBATING ANTONY’S FATE
On New Year’s Day, the new consuls Hirtius and Pansa took office. From this day forward, neither Antony nor Dolabella held consular power. A Senate sitting that would run for three days was inaugurated at the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, with the new consuls making sacrifices to the principal god of Rome.
With the scene set for dramatic change, Cicero took the Senate floor, delivering the latest of his Philippics, the fifth, which took the form of a broad condemnation of Antony and a plea for government of the people by the people. And in return for putting Albinus under siege at Mutina, Cicero proposed that the Senate declare Antony an enemy of the state, just as Caesar had been declared an enemy of the state by the Senate after he crossed the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to invade Italy in January 49 B.C. Once declared an enemy of the state, a Roman citizen was liable to be killed on sight.
Piso, Caesar’s father-in-law, who was looking after Antony’s business interests in his absence, sprang to a spirited defense of Antony in the House, a defense that was supported by a number of other speakers. Not only did they defend Antony against specific charges laid by Cicero, these senators also expressed the view that Antony should be given a hearing in person, “because it was not their custom to condemn a man unheard.” The debate continued, without any resolution, until nightfall, when the sitting was adjourned until the following day.¹
When the sitting resumed the next morning, Cicero again forcefully put the case for declaring Antony an enemy of the state, and others countered his argument as best they could, until finally a vote was called for. But before a vote on the resolution could be taken, one of the tribunes of the plebs, Salvius, imposed his veto, and the House rose without a resolution. Cicero and others reviled Salvius inside the Senate and outside it, and inflamed a crowd in the Forum so much that Salvius remained in the Temple of Jupiter for the time being to prevent his being physically attacked.²
At sunup on January 3, the Senate again came to order, and a variety of motions were proposed, debated, and voted on. In lieu of condemnation of Antony, a resolution was passed commending Albinus for refusing to give up Gaul to Antony. Many in the Senate were anxious to ensure that Octavian did not again ally himself with Antony, but at the same time the Senate wanted to make Octavian its servant, not vice versa. So a fresh resolution called on Octavian to share command with the new consuls, Hirtius and Pansa, of the legions he had at Alba Fucens.³
Specifically, Octavian was instructed to hand over command of the Marta and 4th legions to the consul Hirtius, on the basis that they were legions that had originally been raised on the Senate’s authority. Octavian would be permitted to retain command of the legion of veterans and a legion of raw recruits that he himself was raising. In return, it was agreed that the Senate would pay the five-thousand-sesterce victory bonus that Octavian had promised all his troops.⁴
A motion by Octavian’s stepfather, Philippus, for the erection of a gilded statue of Octavian was swiftly approved. Another resolution passed to grant Octavian a seat in the Senate, with the rank of ex-consul, against all precedent. On the motion of Albinus’s cousin Servius Sulpicius, it also was agreed that Octavian be permitted to run for election as a consul in ten years’ time, which would still be thirteen years ahead of the legal age for a consulship. The House then adjourned until the following day.⁵
It was widely believed that the resolution declaring Antony a public enemy would again be put up for debate the next day, and during the night the houses of the leading senators of Rome were visited by Antony’s mother, Julia, and his proactive wife, Fulvia, who brought with them Antony’s son Antyllus, who was perhaps four years old by this time. Antony’s womenfolk pleaded with the senators on his behalf.
The next morning, as the members of the Senate made their way to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus just before dawn, they found Julia and Fulvia at the temple doors, clad in mourning black. The women threw themselves wailing and lamenting at the senators’ feet as they entered the chamber, begging them not to declare Antony a public enemy. This performance visibly influenced some members of the House, who were reminded of “this sudden change of fortune.” Antony, the man who three days earlier had been the most powerful in the land, entrusted with the legal power over life and death, was now reduced to begging for his own life via his wife and mother. The debate about Mark Antony resumed, and a perturbed Cicero again called for Antony’s condemnation. And again Piso spoke in his defense.⁶
In the end, against Cicero’s wishes, a compromise resolution was agreed on by a majority of members. Under the olive branch of peace, a Senate delegation of three ex-consuls would go to Antony outside Mutina to inform him that the Senate had not approved of his acquisition of Cisalpine Gaul. The delegation also was to enter Mutina and thank Albinus and his troops for their loyalty before reporting back to the House with Antony’s response.⁷
It was a mild resolution, and its mildness ensured its safe passage. But friends of the Liberators had the House agree to nominate Cicero to draft the letter that would be carried by the Senate’s delegates to Antony. With a supposed eye to fairness, those delegates were to be Piso, as Antony’s man; Philippus, as Octavian’s man; and Albinus’s cousin Sulpicius. Of course, Cicero used the opportunity to write a sealed letter that, in the names of the Senate and consuls, demanded that Antony lift the siege of Mutina and stop plundering Gaul and raising troops; to relinquish Gaul to Albinus and withdraw south of the Rubicon River into Italy, but remaining no closer to Rome than two hundred miles; and to submit all his activities of the judgment of the Senate.⁸
After the Senate rose, Antony’s friends in the House congratulated themselves on preventing Antony from being declared an enemy of the state, and the Senate delegation made a hurried departure for Cisalpine Gaul. Later that same day, Cicero addressed a public meeting in the city at which, in his sixth Philippic, he revealed the contents of the demand being delivered to Antony. It was a demand that Cicero could not have expected Antony to agree to. In fact, he revealed in his speech that he had absolutely no confidence in the success of the delegation’s mission, and argued passionately that the only way to resolve this matter was with immediate military action to lift Antony’s siege of Mutina—by Octavian’s legions.