STATE OF EMERGENCY
The Senate’s delegation to Mark Antony had arrived back at Rome on February 2. It returned one man short. Albinus’s cousin Servius Sulpicius had died en route, apparently from a heart attack. Cicero would miss him greatly, having considered him a tower of strength among consulars who were otherwise almost entirely without energy or principle.
Not surprisingly, Antony had dismissed Cicero’s ultimatum out of hand, haranguing the delegates with “a long invective against the Senate and Cicero.” Antony had declared to the delegates, “I swear to you that these developments will put an end to our unlovedamnesty.”¹
In a letter that the delegates brought back to the Senate, Antony said that he would pursue Albinus for failing to give up Cisalpine Gaul and, as an example to all who had participated in Caesar’s murder, he would seek vengeance for Caesar by taking Albinus’s life, and Albinus’s life alone, considering him representative of a now “tainted” House dominated by Cicero.²
On the morning of February 3, the consul Pansa convened a sitting of the Senate to hear from the delegates. After considering Antony’s letter, the House again debated declaring Antony an enemy of the state, as Cicero continued to demand. But there were enough senators against the idea, notably all but one of the consulars, that again no such resolution could be agreed to. The exception among the ex-consuls was Julius Caesar’s cousin Lucius Caesar, who was firmly with Cicero and against Antony.
The best that Cicero could obtain from the House was a resolution declaring a state of emergency. This at least gave the Senate the power to instruct Hirtius and Octavian to prepare to take action in support of Albinus with their legions—which had already crossed into Cisalpine Gaul—and for the consul Pansa to prepare new recruits who had been enlisted and assembled to Rome to march north as soon as the winter weather improved.
Cicero now wrote a letter to Cassius in the East, to bring him up to date with the latest happenings. He still had not heard a word from Cassius since he left Italy, but rumors reaching Rome suggested that Cassius was “in Syria at the head of a force. ” Cicero hoped that to be the case, and that Cassius was finding as much success as Brutus—news that Brutus had taken control of Macedonia and Illyricum and made Antony’s brother Gaius a prisoner was by this time circulating on an excited tide at Rome. “Our friend Marcus Brutus has won extraordinary distinction,” Cicero wrote to him. “His achievements have been so substantial and so unexpected that, welcome as they are in themselves, they are magnified by their rapid succession.”³
“If you possess all that we think you do,” Cicero wrote to Cassius, “the props that support the Republic are strong. From the west coast of Greece all the way to Egypt we shall find support in governments and armies led by citizens of the greatest loyalty.” Yet the most immediate problem was resolving the situation at Mutina, where Antony continued to besiege Albinus. “If, as we hope, he succeeds in breaking out of Mutina,” said Cicero, “it appears that the war will be over.”⁴
Cicero felt confident that the senatorial forces now in Cisalpine Gaul and Italy could now deal with Antony. “Our friend Hirtius is at Claterna, Caesar [Octavian] at Forum Cornelium, each with a trustworthy army.” Octavian had consented to the Senate demand that he give it the Martia and 4th legions, now commanded by Hirtius. “At Rome, Pansa has collected a large force, raised by an Italian levy.”⁵
Despite all this, the lack of news from Cassius meant that there were fear and uncertainty in Cicero’s mind, which would only be exacerbated by the news that Dolabella had killed Trebonius at Smyrna and was marching for Syria, news that by March would reach Rome with Trebonius’s remains. Cicero’s hopes hung on Cassius achieving all that the Liberators’ friends hoped he was achieving. In concluding his letter to Cassius, Cicero prayed that Cassius’s valor would shine forth, “from wherever you are in the East.”⁶