LV

AUGUST 19, 43 B.C.

OCTAVIAN CHARGES CAESAR’S MURDERERS

Octavian was just nineteen years of age, but he had the old men of Rome quaking. Antony, Lepidus, and their multitudinous legions stood poised to invade Italy. The Senate had shipped two of Caesar’s old legions from the province of Africa and dug them in, together with a legion of recruits, around Rome’s outskirts. But it was Octavian’s now eight legions that would make the difference. For weeks the Senate had been sending envoys to Octavian, and Octavian’s legions had been sending centurions to Rome demanding a vacant consulship for their teenage commander, but the Senate had refused that demand. So Octavian marched on the capital. And when he arrived, the three senatorial legions defending the city defected to him; their humiliated commander committed suicide. Rome was defenseless, and at Octavian’s mercy.

Octavian, now commanding eleven legions, entered the city with a large bodyguard. He was greeted by the leading men of Rome “with every sign of friendliness and spineless readiness to serve” him. Cicero was the last to come to him, reminding Octavian that he had recently proposed to the Senate that Octavian and he be allowed to run for the consulship as colleagues. Octavian would have the consulship, but not with Cicero at his side. He had the consular election immediately brought on, with his cousin Quintus Pedius and himself as the sole candidates, despite Octavian’s youth. The Senate made no complaint.¹

On August 19, Octavian and Pedius were elected consuls of Rome. Octavian’s first act was to immediately have his adoption by Caesar validated by a law of the Comitia. He promptly had another law passed making the murder of Julius Caesar a crime and canceling the previous Senate- and Comitia-endorsed amnesty for the assassins. Murder charges were laid at once, not only against Brutus, Cassius, and those who had struck the blows on the Ides of March, but also against sympathizers who had not even been in Rome on the day of the murder. Apparently on Octavian’s orders, Cicero was not one of those charged.

The cases against the accused were combined, and all were heard on the same day. All were found guilty, most in their absence. A single juror voted to acquit, and his name was duly noted by Octavian. Under a law introduced by Pedius, all the convicted men were sentenced to banishment from Italy and loss of all their property.²

But if lovers of democracy thought they now had a powerful champion, they were in for a rude surprise.

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