[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Book I
Chapter II

Book I: Octavius

 p19  Chapter I

Winter at Apollonia
(B.C. 45‑44)

The homespun cloak that muffled half his cheek

Dropped somewhat, and I had a glimpse — just one!

One was enough, whose — whose might be the face?

That unkempt careless hair — brown, yellowish —

Those sparkling eyes beneath their eyebrows' ridge

(Each meets each, and the hawk-nose rules between)

— That was enough, no glimpse was needed more!

Browning, "Imperante Augusto" —


The town of Apollonia on the Illyrian shore, an old colony of Corinth, was in the spring of the year 44 B.C. the centre of a varied life. It was a busy port, for it was one of the debouchments on the Adriatic of the great Via Egnatia, the highroad from Rome to the East; it was a military station; and for some years its bland air and its position as a half‑way house between East and West had drawn to it scholars whose fame brought them many pupils. As seaport, garrison and university town, it was a pleasant dwelling-place for youth.

Among those who walked its streets in the mild March weather there was one on whom many turned to look a second time, for he was the great-nephew of him who was now master of the world. But he was a young man who on his own account would anywhere have attracted notice. His name was Gaius Octavius Thurinus,1 and he had come to Apollonia in the previous autumn to complete an education which had been interrupted  p20 by the wars in Spain. He was now half‑way through his nineteenth year, having been born on the 23rd of September, 63, in the consulship of Cicero. In build he was small and slight, not quite five feet seven, but he was well-proportioned, and his short stature did not catch the eye. His features were so delicately modelled as to be almost girlish, for the Julian strain had a notable fineness, but the impression left on the spectator was not one of effeminacy. The firm mouth and the high-bridged nose forbade that, but above all the steady, luminous grey eyes. Wonderful eyes they were, so penetrating, so intense in their regard, that those on whom he bent them had to avert their gaze.2 His complexion was pale, for he had always been a delicate boy, but now and then he would flush delightfully. His voice was quiet and pleasant, and his whole air was of calm and self-control, with just a hint of suffering. For his years he seemed preposterously mature, and he had few youthful irregularities; he drank little wine, and ate no more than a bird, having a miserable digestion. But, though nothing of a boon companion, there was a grace about him which charmed, and a hint of latent power which impressed.

The Youth of Octavius He looked the scholar which he had been since his childhood. He had declaimed orations when scarcely out of his cradle, and during his teens he had been a serious student of what went in Rome by the name of philosophy. Like all the Roman youth he had given much time to rhetoric, the science which taught literary style and the arts of persuasion; but he had not been one of the younger set that Cicero despised, whose craze was for extravagant tropes and novel idioms. Like his great-uncle he had a dry taste in letters, preferring the Attic to the Corinthian manner. This same austerity appeared in his philosophical interests. An indifferent Greek scholar, he was not a devotee of any Hellenic master, but after the Roman fashion was something of a free‑lance and an eclectic. Like his great-uncle again, he  p21 had fallen under the spell of Posidonius,3 a Stoic who borrowed from many schools, and who tried to marry the thought of Greece and the East with Roman tradition, seeking what might be a universal creed for a universal empire. Unlike many of his young contemporaries, Octavius had no contempt for ancient Roman ways or any undue love of the exotic.

This discreet young man had brought with him a tutor, one Apollodorus, an ancient savant from Pergamum, whose chief task was to improve his halting Greek. But his friends were not limited to his fellow-students at the Academy. Six legions were quartered in Illyria and Macedonia, and, as befitted one who had been appointed to Julius's staff, he lived a good deal in military society. He was popular among the officers, for he could tell them at first hand of the recent Spanish campaign, and he had the glamour of his kinship and friendship with the chief soldier of the age. Also there was about him an air of high destiny, and the omens which had accompanied his birth and childhood were common talk in the mess-rooms. Once at Apollonia he had visited the astrologer Theogenes, who had been so overwhelmed by the splendour of his horoscope that he had flung himself in worship at his feet. The boy had in him a vein of superstition, and the incident had increased his self-confidence, as it had greatly enlarged his popular prestige.4

Besides his tutor Apollodorus, and another savant, one Athenodorus of Tarsus, he had several intimates of his own age. One was Salvidienus Rufus, whose friendship was destined to have a tragic end. Closer to him was Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, a man a few years his senior, who claimed to be sprung from the old royal house of Etruria. Maecenas was a striking figure, with hollow eyes, and strong, harsh features that lacked the Roman modelling. His manner, in spite of his rugged appearance, was oddly effeminate; sometimes his dress was fantastic, and his chief interest appeared to be in letters and connoisseurship. But Octavius valued his advice,  p22 given always with complete candour, and he had no doubt about his affection. The ambition of Maecenas seemed to be never for himself but only for his friends.

Closest of all was his exact coeval, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Of no proceed family, Roman or Etruscan, Agrippa had been already the comrade of Octavius in his brief campaign, and had won a love and confidence which were to remain unshaken for thirty years.5 He was a most impressive young man, with his straight eyebrows, his deeply-sunk penetrating eyes, his massive jaw, and his mouth as delicately modelled as that of Julius himself.6 He had all the sagacity of Maecenas, but already it was clear that he was more than a counsellor and diplomatist, and in a crisis might be a leader of men. The officers in the mess-rooms respected his military judgment, and found in him a spirit after their own hearts, and his devotion to Octavius exalted the latter in their esteem. He was not the great-nephew of the world's master, but he was himself the stuff of which masters of the world were made. This stripling of eighteen was one of the most competent of living men, but all his powers were laid on the altar of friendship. He is the supreme example in history of a man of the first order whom loyalty constrained to take the second place.

Ancestry Octavius had been born in Rome, in a house at the east end of the Palatine, but his family was of the provinces. His grandfather, a member of the plebeian Octavian clan, had been a banker in the Volscian town of Velitrae, a profession which in Roman eyes did not dignify those who followed it. His father, however, had raised the family into the official nobility, for he had served the state as quaestor, plebeian aedile, and praetor, and had governed Macedonia with honesty and competence, fighting several successful little campaigns against the hill tribes.7 More, he had allied himself by marriage with  p23 one of the proudest of the patrician houses, the Julian, for his wife Atia was the daughter of a Velitran bourgeois, M. Atius Balbus, and Julia, the sister of Gaius Julius Caesar. He might have been consul, had he not died in 58 at his villa at Nola, when his son was not yet five years old. The boy was brought up in the country, mainly at Velitrae, but also at the other country houses of his well-to‑do family. Presently Atia married again, the consular L. Marius Philippus, a son of the famous orator of that name, and a close friend of Cicero. But this association with the larger life of Rome was not allowed to interfere with the strictness of Octavius's upbringing. He was held close to his books, the regime of his life was Spartan, and he was rarely permitted to visit the capital. Once only before he assumed the dress of manhood did he appear in public, when at the age of twelve he delivered the customary eulogy at the funeral of his grandmother Julia, and Roman society looked with interest at the modest, handsome child, kin to a great man who had no son of his own.

Julius For in those days Julius was striding towards the first place in the world. While Octavius was with his tutor at Velitrae or Nola or at his stepfather's Campanian villa, the struggle with Pompey was at its height. The stepfather was a moderate Pompeian in his sympathies, but his family connections kept him neutral, and the household was never drawn into the war. When, in 49, Julius crossed the Rubicon the boy was fourteen, living in the depths of the country; but, as the campaign proceeded and Italy fell into the conqueror's hands, he was brought more often to Rome and treated with some of the respect due to a prince of the blood. After Pharsalus, when scarcely sixteen, he officially entered upon manhood, and about the same time was elected to the college of pontifices, a significant honour for so young a man. He now undertook certain public duties, occasionally presiding, as the pontifices were entitled to do, in the praetorian courts, but he still lived a retired life under his mother's stern eye, and this seclusion and mystery increased the popular interest. For he was now very generally regarded as the heir apparent of one who had made himself  p24 to all intents the monarch of the world.

It was a situation which might well have turned a lighter head. But the young man kept his own counsel and appeared content to be dutiful and obscure. Yet his mind was very full of his great-uncle and he longed ardently for his return. In all his life he had scarcely seen him, for Julius had gone to Gaul when he was still a little child, and it is not likely that the two met in the feverish months before the former embarked for the campaign that ended at Pharsalus. But when the victor returned from Alexandria in the autumn of 47 there was a meeting, and the heart of the older man went out to the handsome youth, who was the chief male left of his race. He would have taken Octavius with him to Africa, and Octavius longed to go, but his health at the time was weak and his mother forbade the journey. But after Thapsus he became virtually a member of the dictator's household, though he was not as yet formally adopted.8 He shared in his triumph, riding in a chariot close behind him; he induced him to pardon Agrippa's Pompeian brother, who had been made prisoner in Africa; he stood by his side at the sacrifices and sat by him in the theatre; he took precedence of all his suite, and seemed destined, in spite of his years, to be the dictator's constant associate and his virtual chief of staff.

But his health served him ill. The hot weather in Rome brought on a fever, and he was a sick man when Julius started for Spain in December 46 to fight his last battle. Early in the new year he was sufficiently recovered to follow him, and after a dangerous and difficult journey he joined him at Calpe on the morrow of Munda. With him he crossed to Carthage, and shared in the preliminary councils about the new ordering of the empire. He returned alone to Rome, where he had now to walk discreetly, for he was courted on all sides as the intimate of the conqueror. A Parthian campaign was in prospect, and as one of the two masters of the horse he was in the heart of the business. Moreover, the Senate, at Julius's  p25 request, had made him a patrician. But in those difficult months Octavius moved so warily that he made no enemies, and committed himself to no faction or intrigue. He was Julius's great-nephew, but he was only a youth, he said, with his education still to complete, and all business must wait on Julius's return. For a moment in September he met the master of the world, when he came home to see about the reconstruction of the empire. But presently he left with his tutor for Apollonia — probably by his own desire. He had become the object of a great man's affection and the confidant of his schemes, but his mind was still in a turmoil. He needed leisure to reflect upon those tremendous problems of government of which he had now an inkling, and on what seemed to be his own high but unpredictable destiny.


To most men at the time the world appeared a tangle of knots waiting to be cut by the sword. But Octavius had imbibed sufficient philosophy to distrust the sword as a cure for all ills, he had in his bones the Roman sense of the past, and his mind in those quiet months had been working back upon the long record of his people, and striving to assess the many elements upon which Rome's future depended.

He saw behind him one of the miracles of history. A little fortified town, the centre of a community of yeomen, had within four centuries of her foundation made herself the mistress of all Italy. Two centuries later she controlled the shores of the Mediterranean and a large part of the empire of Alexander; her inconsiderable hills had become as famous as the Acropolis or the Pyramids; the mountain torrent which washed her walls was a name as familiar to men as the River of Egypt; and her commercial expansion had kept pace with her conquests. The hammer-blows of fate seemed not to weaken but to temper her strength, and to quicken it to fresh achievements. But in this amazing development there had been  p26 no corresponding adjustment of her constitution.9 She still maintained the antique forms of the old city-state, forms continually transgressed or disregarded, but still in theory inviolate. A municipality attempted to govern half the world, and a most curious and delicately balanced municipality at that. The extension of her boundaries had been achieved rather by accident than by design, for it was her desire to be secure in Italy that had forced an empire into her reluctant hands. Her settled policy had always been anti-expansionist, which explains her slowness to revise her mechanism of government.

Republic and Empire In that government the cardinal principle, since the Law of the Twelve Tables, was the sovereignty of the Roman people. But the people were only the ultimate authority, and they reigned rather than governed — inevitably, since in practice they meant only the half-million dwellers within the city boundaries. Their power lay in the choice of magistrates, and the actual work of government was in the hands of these magistrates, and of the Senate which represented the collective wisdom and the essential tradition of Rome. The old distinction of patrician and plebeian had now little meaning; the new aristocracy was a nobility of office, made up of those families which had held high posts in the state. The aversion of such a body to foreign conquests is intelligible enough when it is remembered that a new province meant an additional governor, and that an increase in magistrates by swelling its numbers diminished its exclusive pride and effective control.10

Destiny proved too strong for the Senate, and undesired conquests tumbled into its lap, for there was in  p27 Rome a fierce instinct of growth which defied limits. It made halting efforts to preserve its ancient prestige. The number of praetors was increased, and the system of pro‑magistracies enabled it to give the existing officers double duties. But this did not solve the problem, for the number of foreign governorships soon exceeded the desired quota. If human ingenuity fails in an urgent task, fate may take a hand. There was still a residuum of power in the Roman Assembly, and in a crisis which seriously affected them the Roman people could insist on appointing some favourite general or politician to a special and overruling command. With this innovation the Republic in its strict sense came to an end. The new empire had grown too big and too difficult for the old machine. When the Senate or People appointed a great man to meet some urgent need and gave him an army, the ancient governance was sapped in its foundations. An emergency expedient, tacked on to the old forms, proved more potent than them all.

These were facts which every thinking Roman of the day admitted. A vast empire had been unwillingly won, an empire of which the natural frontiers were recognized as destined sooner or later to be the Atlantic, the African desert, the Euphrates, the Danube, and the Rhine. In the East there was the menace of Parthia, and the thunder-cloud of the Germanic peoples hung darkly in the North. Inside the Roman bounds many of the provinces were muttering volcanoes. No serious mechanism of provincial government had been evolved. There was no permanent civil service. The governors were changed annually, and it depended wholly on their individual characters whether their terms of office were equitable or oppressive. The revenues from the provinces, which were the chief source of Rome's income, were farmed out to joint-stock companies of Roman capitalists. There was inadequate control by the Senate; indeed, the fact that money and men could be got from the provinces without the Senate's authority was a direct peril to the Senate's prestige. The Roman people had no craving for a dapper uniformity, and, being raw to the business, were content to accept any system that would  p28 work; "they value," said one of their later historians, "the reality of empire and disregard its empty forms."11 But some principles there must be, however elastic, and serious system there was none. "All the provinces are mourning," Cicero told his countrymen; "all the free people are complaining. . . . The Roman people can no longer withstand . . . their complaints, their lamentations and their tears."12

The High Commands Rome herself had been for a century the arena of struggle between the Optimates, the conservative nobility of office which desired to perpetuate the rule of the Senate, and the Populares, the radical reformers who sought change by the medium of the Assembly. Both claimed a constitutional warrant for their deeds; both consistently crashed through the fundamentals of the constitution. The chief weapon of both was the emergency appointment of a High Command, a special magistrate with dictatorial powers,13 a Sulla, a Pompey, a Caesar — always permissible in a crisis, but now a regular practice. The extreme medicine of the constitution, in Burke's phrase, had become its daily bread. For four hundred years the centre of gravity had been in the Senate; now it was shifting no man could say whither. "The accretions of the ages had changed a curious but comparatively simple type of policy into a jumble of constitutional law and custom, through which even the keen eyes of a Roman jurist could not pierce, and which even his capacity for fictitious interpretation and the invention of compromises could not reduce to a system."14 But the theoretic anomaly mattered little compared with the practical breakdown. The Assembly could not govern at all, and the Senate, with the twin tasks of administering an empire and curbing the new democracy, failed in both. Slowly it was realized that the necessary reforms could only come from the quarter where the true power now resided — the High Command, the individual who had  p29 been given an overriding authority and had an army behind him.

It must come in the end to the sword — this the most pacific and legally-minded had been forced to admit. Between the conservatives who would not bow to the logic of facts, and the radicals who demanded changes which they did not clearly envisage, there was no hope of compromise. Armies, a new kind of army, had become the only arbiter. In old days every citizen had been a soldier, who served unpaid in the little wars. According to Livy, the protracted siege of Veii first compelled the payment of troops. The struggle with Carthage and the consequent Spanish wars inaugurated a long-service system; the defeat of Hannibal imposed on Rome the penalty of an empire, and grandiose campaigns for which the citizens were most unwillingly conscripted. Marius accordingly made the army a volunteer force, enlisted under a particular general for a particular campaign, and so fundamentally changed its character. The fortunes of the soldiers were now linked with those of their commander; he alone could procure them their due reward, and their loyalty was owed to him rather than to the state. A popular general who could raise men and attract their allegiance had a weapon so potent that it wholly upset the balance of the constitution. Rome had no standing army in Italy and only small forces in the provinces; only a general of repute could get recruits, and for that service he could make his own terms. The Senate had no hold upon an army's loyalty. The High Command, ever since distant wars began, had become a recognized part of the state machinery. Sulla, Pompey and Julius had revealed it as the major part. Was the ancient civic constitution destined to give way to a military satrapy?

Octavius — he was not for nothing the scion of banking stock — looked beyond the political conundrum to the economic problems of the land. These in the stress of wars and tumults had been forgotten, but they were there in the background, an eternal irritant. The Roman economy was unbalanced. The importation of  p30 cheap grain had ruined the old peasant proprietors. Some had turned successfully from wheat to olives and vines, but many had gone under, and what had once been arable land was now rough pasture, farmed by joint-stock companies or individual capitalists by means of slave labour. Rome was not self-supporting, and depended precariously for her food upon the continual command of the sea. The system of cornº doles had pauperized her citizens. The city itself was a centre of world-wide financial operations — as a banker's grandson he knew them well; the north side of the Forum was a nest of banks and stock exchanges; but her industrial life was meagre, and her commerce, at least in Roman hands, was on a narrow scale. The merchant had little purchase in the state, for he had never succeeded in getting the harbour at Ostia improved, and for his larger vessels was compelled to use Puteoli, a hundred and fifty miles away; while most people did not think him quite respectable. In a slave-owning society trade and industry are always at a discount. The public finance was grotesque. In Italy there was no direct taxation; the revenue came from the rents of public lands, the sale monopoly and one or two small duties; the bulk of the state income was provincial tribute collected on so preposterous a system that scarcely half of what the provincials paid came to the exchequer. The total Roman income was perhaps three million pounds, and the meagreness of the result was commensurate with the crudity of the methods. Octavius was enough of a financier to have little respect for Rome's financial apparatus.

He was enough of a moralist and philosopher, too, to be uneasy about less ponderable things. In the lower classes the old Roman stock was nearly extinct, and the men who voted in the Assembly were a conglomerate of all races. It has been calculated that some ninety per cent were of foreign extraction,15 and their source of origin was largely the East. The poorer citizens were little more than parasites, fed with free state bread,  p31 amused by free state shows, superb material for the demagogue. The middle classes were rarely industrialists or merchants in the honourable sense; the rich among them made their fortunes chiefly by farming the state rents and taxes, by army contracts, by dealing in slaves, and by a kind of banking which might be better described as speculative money-lending.16 The aristocrats by birth had either joined the "new men" in the race for wealth, or had become stiff relic-worshippers and pedants of ancestry. As sprung himself from the bourgeoisie, Octavius had suffered from their loutish arrogance. Except in the rural districts and a few old‑fashioned city homes the traditional Roman "gravitas" and "pietas" had become things of the past.

A Constitution in Chaos It was not a pleasing picture to contemplate for a young man, country-bred, gravely educated, a lover of a life that seemed to be vanishing and of a past separated by a great gulf from the present. One thing was clear. The elaborate checks and balances of this constitution had resulted only in the loss of all responsibility. That constitution was "the chaotic result of attempts to arrest internal revolution, and of feeble and undirected efforts to adjust the relation of outworn powers. A state in which three popular assemblies have each the right of eliciting the sovereign will of the people, possesses no organization which can satisfy the need for which constitutions exist — the ordered arrangement of all the wants of civic life by means of a series of acts possessing perpetual validity."17 The position of the Senate was no less anomalous and impotent. The power of the holders of successive High Commands was a return to barbarism. The whole of Rome's government had broken down, and what was to replace it? Could it ever be replaced? Could a people that had failed to rule a city rule the world? Had not Rome's success been her ruin?

He had heard the Senate's defence, put magisterially by Cicero and angrily by the ordinary conservative. It  p32 was simply that the Republic had worked well enough till the machine was put out of gear by the triumvirate of Julius and Pompey and Crassus. The constitution was a balanced thing, as the Greek Polybius had long ago argued, an adroit mingling of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The magistrates, with their right of initiative in Senate and Assembly, had ample executive powers, which were tempered by the Senate's authority in matters of policy. The veto of the tribunes protected the individual. The Senate represented the embodied ability and experience of the state, while the popular election of magistrates gave public opinion a constitutional means of expressing itself.18 Let Rome return to the beaten track, to the old ways, and all would be well. But to the young man's clear mind it was plain that there could be no such returning. The traditional machine had been cranky for a century and was now damaged past repair. So long as there was an empire the High Commands must remain, and with them the dictatorial armies with whom the power lay. Was there any solution? Must the choice lie between the dynasts and the bombasts, between barbarism and muddle?

The Creed of Julius These were academic meditations, Octavius suddenly reminded himself, for he had forgotten Julius. The dynast, who was his great-uncle, had driven all others from the field, and had the Senate awed into stillness by his shadow and the world quiet under his hand. This man had a new way of life for Rome. Octavius had heard him expound it during late watches in the camp in his quiet reedy voice, when the eyes in the lean face seemed in the lamplight to have the masterful luminosity of Jove's eagle. He had heard the matter discussed by Julius's friends. Word had come during later weeks to Apollonia of edicts which were the first steps in the new  p33 policy. He tried to piece the fragments into a body of doctrine.

Law and order must be restored. The empire must be governed, and there must be a centre of power. The Roman world required a single administrative system. This could not be given by the People, for a mob could not govern. It could not be given by the Senate, which had shown itself in the highest degree incompetent, and in any case had no means of holding the soldiers' loyalty. Only a man could meet the need, a man who had the undivided allegiance of an army, and that the only army. A general without an army was a cypher, as Pompey had found, and, since an army was now a necessity, he who controlled it must be the master of the state. The idea of a personal sovereign, which had come from Greece and the East and had long been hovering at the back of Roman minds, must now become a fact, for it was the only alternative to anarchy.

This was Julius's cardinal principle. It followed from it that the old autocracy of the Optimates and the Senate must disappear. That indeed had happened. Julius had always denied — it was one of the few charges that annoyed him — that he had destroyed the Republic; he had only struck at the tyranny of a maleficent growth which had nothing republican about it. He had already quietly shelved the Senate, though he treated it with elaborate respect. He and the new civil service which he was creating would be the mechanism of rule. He himself would appoint all the provincial governors and would be responsible for their honesty and competence. He would rebuild the empire on a basis of reason and humanity.

It was to be a new kind of empire. Something had been drawn from the dreams of Alexander, but for the most part it was the creation of his own profound and audacious mind. There were to be wide local liberties. He proposed to decentralize, to establish local government in Italy as the beginning of a world-wide system of free municipalities. Rome was to be only the greatest among the many great and autonomous cities. There was to be a universal Roman nation, not a city with a host  p34 of servile provinces, and citizenship in it should be open to all who were worthy.19 The decadence of the Roman plebs would be redeemed by the virility of the new peoples.

It was a great conception, and, as expounded in Julius's eager, winning voice, with his famous "facultas dicendi imperatoria," it had at first fired the young man's fancy. It was practical too, not the whimsy of a philosopher but the policy of an experienced statesman. Combined with it were elaborate legal and financial reforms. There was a broad scheme of economic development, of which Octavius was getting word from correspondents who knew his interest in such things: colonizing on the grand scale, state help for Italian agriculture and empire commerce, new ports and harbours, the reclamation of waste lands, a ship canal through the isthmus of Corinth, the rebuilding of derelict cities which were commercial key‑points. The spirit which had conquered a world was busy re‑shaping that world.

Popular Sentiment The first impact of this policy on Octavius's mind had left it in bewildered and docile admiration. But, as he thought over it during the winter months, he had begun to doubt not the wisdom but the feasibility of some of it. He did not care greatly for the imperial citizenship idea. He believed that the Italian race was immeasurably the superior of any other, and he did not wish to see it lost in a polyglot welter. He came of a business stock which prided itself on its tact des choses possibles. Conservative stock, too, for at least half of his kin had been on the side of the Optimates. He loved the old ways of the land, and had no natural craving for revolution. Militarism in itself he distrusted. So did Julius, who had often declared that no nation could be permanently ruled by martial law; but was the military element not dominant in his great-uncle's plan? He had cordially disliked the wild talk he had heard in the camp from excited  p35 soldiers and in Rome from Caesarian demagogues. As he read the case, the world demanded peace and law, not liberties and privileges. That meant a return to the settled ways with which men were familiar, which in turn meant the restoration in some form of the Republic. Now to the ordinary Roman the Republic was meaningless without the Senate, and the Senate Julius had turned into a farce. There was a deep-seated public opinion which even genius could not flout with impunity. If Julius had not had this preponderantly on his side after he crossed the Rubicon he would never have defeated Pompey. In the long run popular sentiment would wear down the glory of any conqueror. The tough, exclusive urban conservatism of the old city-state was still a potent thing. Was it wise to begin by neglecting it? Could not some way be found to preserve at any rate the old forms, and to conciliate the aristocracy, for some governing class there must be, even if it were on a new and better basis? He found himself almost in agreement with old Cicero, whom Julius was apt to treat with a kindly contempt.

As Octavius puzzled over the matter one reflection haunted his mind. His great-uncle had already begun his work. Many things had been achieved which could not be undone. Rome was committed to a course which involved some kind of personal sovereignty. Julius was now a man of fifty-eight, and the ailments of age were crowding upon him. Who would succeed him in the government of the world? Rome would not tolerate a hereditary monarchy in the ordinary sense, but it was certain that Julius must nominate a successor, and many little things of late had suggested on whom his choice would fall. With a thrill in which pride and fear were mingled the young man realized that the world's next master might be himself.


The Ides of March On an afternoon in late March a freedman of his mother's household arrived in Apollonia with a letter  p36 for Octavius. It contained fateful news. The date was the 15th of March, and it told him that on that very day Julius had been murdered in the Senate-house. It did not say by whom, only by "his enemies." "The time has come," Atia wrote, "when you must play the man, decide, and act, for no one can tell the things that may come forth." Grave words for one who did not use inflated speech.

The news leaked out, in an hour the town was full of it, the soldiers heard it, and that evening Octavius's lodgings were thronged by those who proffered help. The citizens promised him a safe asylum, the troops their help to avenge the murdered Julius and win the heritage that was his by right. Gently he put them by, and till late in the night he was closeted with his friends. Some, like Agrippa and Salvidienus Rufus, would have had him strike at once, and march on Rome at the head of the Macedonian legions.20 Others — perhaps Maecenas was among them — counselled him to play for safety, to go forthwith to Italy and spy out the land before committing himself. He chose the latter course. It took a day or two to get a ship, and when found, it was a poor one, and it was over yeasty seas that he crossed to Hydruntum (Otranto), the nearest point on the Calabrian shore. Already he had adopted a policy of caution, for he avoided the populous Brundisium.

The day on which Atia's freedman brought the letter was the last of Octavius's youth. The news shattered his ease and fevered his mind. For the great Julius he had felt something more than the hero-worship of a boy and the pride of a kinsman; he had formed for him one of the rare affections of a nature not easily kindled to love. The thought of him, pulled down like a noble stag by curs, maddened him and made his first impulse one of hot revenge. That passion he curbed at once. Revenge there would be, but it must be a careful and calculated thing. At present he knew little. He did not know who were the murderers, and he suspected that he might find strange figures in the conspiracy. He did not know if he was Julius's heir; he was his next of kin, but there had  p37 been no formal adoption. He put aside the entreaties of Agrippa and the legions, for he knew little of war, and had no reason to think that he had any special military talent. To appear in Italy as an amateur dynast might end in a grim fiasco. He realized that he stood on a razor edge. He was resolved to win through to fortune, but he must first discover his tools. Somehow or other he would wear the Caesarian mantle, but he must wait for the right moment to don it. Infinite caution, tight-lipped, unshakable patience, these must be his rule.

Up till now he had been open in manner, easy of access, a little quick of temper but readily appeased, with an engaging boyishness which matched well with his handsome face. Now the gaiety of youth died in him. His countenance became a mask. As a token of mourning he let his beard grow,21 and did not shave for six years. His health declined and his skin grew blotched. He buttoned himself up, and kept his thoughts secret from even his dearest friends. The seal which he used bore the image of a sphinx.22 All the forces of his being were massed behind one imperious resolve.

The Author's Notes:

1 The cognomen, which he never used, was given him in memory of his father's victory over a band of runaway slaves at Thurii. Suet. Div. Aug. 7.


"geminas cui tempora flammas

laeta vomunt."

Virg. Aen. VIII.680.

3 For Posidonius see Bake's edition of the fragments (Leyden, 1810); Schmekel's Die Philosophie der mittleren Stoa (1902); and Bevan's Stoics and Sceptics, ch. III.

4 Suet. Div. Aug. 94.

5 It seems probable that these young men of humble origin, Agrippa and Salvidienus Rufus, had already attracted the attention of Julius, who had attached them to Octavius. Other examples were P. Ventidius Bassus and Cornelius Gallus.

6 See especially the Butrinto bust, C. A. H.IV (Plates), 154.

7 For the elder Octavius see Suet. Div. Aug. 3; Vell. II.59; Cic. ad Q. fr. I.1.21,º  2.7;º C. I. L., 279.

8 In spite of Nicolaus, 8, it seems clear that Julius never adopted him in his lifetime. Cf. Dio XLV.3; Vell. II.59; Livy, Epit. 116.

9 It should be noted that the failure of the Republic to govern an empire was due to defects in the administrative machine, not in doctrine and principle. The special court, administering the jus gentium, was established as early as 242 B.C. The theory behind this remarkable innovation will be found in Cicero's famous definition of true law, de Rep. III.2, one of the few passages in the work which, previous to the discovery of the Vatican palimpsest in 1822, was known to the world through its quotation by Lactantius.

10 This point has been fully treated by Prof. Marsh in The Founding of the Roman Empire, ch. I.

11 Tac. Ann. XV.32.

12 in Verr. III.87.

13 For the extra-ordinary commands see Hammond, The Augustan Principate, 14 sqq.

14 Greenidge, Rom. Public Life, 146.

15 This is the view of Tenney Frank (based upon vol. VI of the C. I. L.), Econ. Hist. of Rome, 213. Cf. Cic. pro Flacco 17.

16 See Warde Fowler, Soc. Life at Rome, ch. III. The locus classicus is Polyb. VI.17.

17 Greenidge, op. cit., 261.

18 Cicero in his de Republica and de Legibus, basing himself upon Panaetius and Polybius, found the nearest approach to the ideal "mixed" polity in the pre‑Gracchan Republic — "Tenuitº igitur hoc in statu senatus rem publicam temporibus, illis ut in populo libero pauca per populum, pleraque senatus auctoritate . . . gererentur, atque uti consules potestatem haberent tempore dumtaxat annuam, genere ipso ac jure regiam." de Rep. II.56. Cf. Polyb. VI.3711.

19 He gave the franchise to Cisalpine Gaul, while it remained a province, which shows that he saw no inconsistency between provincial status and full Roman citizenship. For the very different attitude of Augustus see the story of Suet. Div. Aug. 40.

20 Vell. II.59.5; App. III.10; Nic. 16.

21 That is to say, he postponed the ceremony of the "depositio barbae," which in the great Roman families accompanied the attainment of manhood.

22 Suet. Div. Aug. 50.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 3 Aug 18