THE FIRST ASSASSIN TO FALL
Toward the end of spring, tubby, self-confident, twenty-six-year-old Dolabella, Caesar’s former favorite who had been assigned the province of Syria by the Senate, had traveled east overland, picking up the legion left for him in Macedonia via his deal with Antony. He had entered Asia at the beginning of winter.
The province of Asia was governed now by Gaius Trebonius, one of the leading Liberators. Even though they had been on the same side while Caesar was alive, Trebonius and Dolabella loathed each other. When Dolabella attempted to enter the towns of Pergamum and Smyrna to gain supplies in late December, he had found the gates barred to him, on Trebonius’s orders. Trebonius, who was himself inside Smyrna, the provincial capital, had condescended to permit Dolabella, who then still had some days to run in office as consul, to purchase provisions outside the town walls.
Dolabella exploded with rage at this insult and had his legion attack Smyrna’s walls with missiles. To stop this, late in the day Trebonius sent a message to say that he would give Dolabella permission to enter the town of Ephesus, some distance away. Dolabella immediately led his legion down the road in the direction of Ephesus as the sun was setting. Trebonius, who apparently had raised a legion locally to police the province, sent several of his cohorts to shadow Dolabella. After they had followed Dolabella for some distance, the majority of these troops returned to Smyrna, leaving a handful of scouts to continue following Dolabella’s column.
In the darkness, Trebonius’s inexperienced scouts stumbled into an ambush laid by Dolabella; all were captured without a fight. Dolabella disarmed these men before having them executed on the spot. He then led his legion on a silent return to Smyrna in the night. Arriving in the early hours of the morning, they found the town’s gates closed, but no sentries on the walls. Dolabella selected an assault party from the men of his legion, who quickly set up scaling ladders. Without a sound, these legionaries mounted the walls and flooded into the town undetected. Trebonius was in his bed when a group of Dolabella’s legionaries burst into his bedchamber. They dragged him from his bed and to his feet.
“ Take me to Dolabella,” Trebonius demanded, showing no fear. “I am quite willing to go with you.”¹
One of the centurions leading the group sneered in reply, “Go where you like, but leave your head behind. Our orders are to bring not you, but your head.”²
There in his bedchamber, Trebonius was pressed to his knees on the cold tile floor. Without another word, the centurion swung his sword and cleaved Trebonius’s head from his shoulders. At daybreak, Dolabella entered Smyrna. On being presented with Trebonius’s severed head, he ordered it displayed on the governor’s tribunal in the town, from where Trebonius had only recently been issuing life-and-death rulings as chief magistrate of the province.
Dolabella permitted the men of the legion, and the camp followers who thronged into the city in their wake, to do what they wanted with Trebonius’s remains. His body was “treated in various degrading ways,” while his head was removed from the tribunal and thrown “like a ball from one to another across the town paving” amid much laughter until inevitably it fell to the flagstones.³
Using his authority as consul, Dolabella added Trebonius’s legion to his own, then left Smyrna and continued the march toward Syria with his expanded army. Once the troops had gone, the locals collected Trebonius’s remains and sent them back to Rome to enable his family to conduct a funeral. “This was how Trebonius, the first of the murderers [of Caesar], was punished,” Appian was to write with satisfaction.⁴