LIV

MAY 30, 43 B.C.

LEPIDUS’S BETRAYAL

Contrary to the belief of Cicero and others, Mark Antony’s force was far from spent, and the new civil war was far from over. Antony had escaped over the Alps into Transalpine Gaul. His men had resorted to drinking muddy water from roadside puddles and stripping bark from alpine trees to feed their animals, but Antony, his cavalry, the reasonably intact 5th Legion, and remnants of several others had reached the green fields of Provence. At this point Antony apparently combined the remnants of the 5th Legion and the Alaudae Legion to create the 5th Alaudae Legion. On his way west, Antony had opened up slave barracks at every town and pressed the freed inmates into service as his soldiers. And at Vada, between the Apennines and the Alps, he had been joined by his friend the praetor Publius Ventidius, who had recruited three legions in Italy on Antony’s behalf then boldly marched them across the mountains to join him.

Marcus Lepidus, as governor of Nearer Spain and Narbon Gaul, had brought his five legions to the Var River border between Narbon Gaul and Transalpine Gaul, all the while writing to Cicero that he would faithfully serve the Senate and take action against enemy of the state Antony. On March 16, Assinius Pollio had written to Cicero to say that he was marching his two legions from Farther Spain to Gaul to also serve the Senate against Antony, assuring Cicero that he thoroughly despised Antony.¹ Cicero felt confident that both Lepidus and Pollio could be relied on.

Albinus, pursuing Antony over the Alps with his victorious legions, trusted neither “that shifty creature Lepidus,” as he described him, nor Pollio. “Lepidus will never act honestly,” Albinus wrote to Cicero. Besides, Albinus had heard that before Antony crossed the Alps he had assured his surviving men that he had “an agreement” with Lepidus.²

This was not surprising; Antony and Lepidus had been in league immediately after Caesar’s murder, and nothing had occurred since to damage that alliance. Pollio had been a dedicated Caesarian for years past, and Albinus wrote to Cicero that he saw through what he perceived to be Pollio’s pretense of support for the Senate.³

Lucius Munatius Plancus, governor of Transalpine Gaul, had been ordered by the Senate to prevent Antony’s escape. His five legions, which were “trim for war,” in his own opinion, were closing in on Antony’s force, which his scouts told him was twenty miles away at the Argenteus River, today’s Argens. Antony was camped opposite Lepidus’s legions, which had lately moved into Transalpine Gaul. For days, Plancus negotiated with Lepidus’s deputy, Laterensis, an earnest, trustworthy man who assured Plancus, to whom he was related, that Lepidus would remain faithful to the Senate and would demand Antony’s surrender.

In contradiction of those assurances, on May 29 Lepidus joined forces with Antony. The following day, Lepidus issued a proclamation claiming that his entire army had mutinied and compelled him to join Antony. Few Romans believed this claim, especially when it became known that Antony had given nominal command of their combined legions to Lepidus. Lepidus’s deputy Laterensis was so disgusted by his chief’s duplicity that he took his own life. Lepidus also would be declared an enemy of the state by the Senate, on June 30. Meanwhile, Antony’s and Lepidus’s combined army now advanced on Plancus, forcing him to retreat.

Suddenly the balance of power had swung back Antony’s way. Soon it would swing even farther his way. As Albinus had feared, Pollio and his two legions also would join Antony once they arrived from Spain. Then Pollio would convince Plancus to go over to Antony. And in a major reversal of fortune, Albinus’s own army would mutiny and change sides, with some of his legions going to Antony, others to Octavian.

Albinus would be forced to flee into the mountains with just ten men, intending to make for the East to join Brutus and Cassius. Albinus would be captured by Gallic bandits, whose chief, Camelus, would send envoys to Antony asking what he should do with Albinus. In reply, Antony would send troops to Camelus’s village. Albinus, one of Caesar’s chief assassins, would lose his head to Antony’s execution squad there in the Alps. “Thus he met his just deserts and paid the penalty of his treason to Gaius Caesar,” wrote Velleius seventy-three years later.

Within a few months, Antony was backed by more than twenty legions, and the only remaining hope of Cicero and the Senate for success in the West lay with young Octavian. Antony and Octavian now had just one thing in common: a pledge to punish Caesar’s assassins. But could the Senate trust Octavian?

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