LIII

MAY 7, 43 B.C.

CASSIUS OVERRUNS SYRIA

When Cassius arrived in Syria after parting from Brutus in Greece, he had landed with a considerable amount of cash and high hopes, but little else. He found that the pro - Liberator senator Lucius Staius Murcus had arrived in the province several months earlier to claim the gubernatorial appointment given to him by Caesar. Combining with Marcius Crispus, the governor of Bithynia, Murcus had laid siege to Caecilius Bassus, the former Pompeian officer who had taken control of Syria, at the garrison city of Apamea.

In a remarkable piece of statesmanship, Cassius was able to convince Murcus and Crispus to cease hostilities against Apamea and to hand their legions over to him. The legion under Bassus in Apamea subsequently deserted to Cassius. Overnight, Cassius found himself with two good generals, eight legions, and control of Syria. News of Cassius’s success, combined with the fact that Brutus now controlled Macedonia and Illyricum, would encourage Cicero to put a resolution before the Senate at Rome that, by the end of April, was approved, officially giving Cassius the government of Syria and confirming Brutus’s command in the provinces he controlled.

Meanwhile, Dolabella, after executing Trebonius in Asia, had sent one of his officers, Aulus Alienus, to Egypt, to bring the four legions stationed there to join him in Syria. Alienus had subsequently marched into Syria with these legions, but once again Cassius proved enormously persuasive; Alienus joined the Liberators and put his legions under Cassius’s command.

On May 7, Cassius wrote to Cicero at Rome, bringing him up to date with his startling progress in Syria. As Cassius was finishing this letter, he received word that Dolabella had arrived in Cilicia, a Roman province northwest of Syria, with two legions, intent on taking control of Syria. At this point, neither Dolabella nor Cassius knew that the governorship of Syria had only a few weeks before been taken from Dolabella and given to Cassius by the Senate. Neither did young Dolabella yet know that Alienus had handed the four legions from Egypt over to Cassius, or that Cassius now commanded a massive army of twelve legions—more than seventy thousand soldiers—versus his two legions.

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