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Book I
Chapter I

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Augustus
by
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!

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Book II
Chapter I

Book I: Octavius

 p38  Chapter II

The Disputed Inheritance
(B.C. 44‑43)

Je suis jeune, il est vrai : mais aux âmes bien nées

La valeur n'attend point le nombre des années.

Corneille, Don Rodrigue.a

I

When Octavius, not yet nineteen, landed in Calabria on a day in mid‑April,1 he had one fixed resolution: but it was an emotion and not a policy, for he had as yet no exact knowledge.2 He was resolved to avenge the one great man he had ever known, a man of his own blood who had treated him with a father's tenderness and had kindled his imagination by his dreams. He was determined, also, himself to play a major part in Roman affairs, for Julius had awakened his ambition. But that, with Julius dead, would be no easy matter. He was conscious that, without the Caesarian mantle to dignify him, he was only a provincial bourgeois with a tincture of noble blood; well-to‑do, but not with one of the great fortunes; without powerful connections, inexpert in the business of politics, and deplorably young. His was the case of a stripling advancing against giants. The thought of his impotence maddened him, but, if we may judge the youth by the man, he gave no sign of it to his intimates, but awaited fuller news with a frozen calm.

News from Rome That news, which reached him when half‑way to Brundisium, was startling enough. The murder had  p39 been shared in by Julius's old companions in arms, like Decimus Brutus and Trebonius, but the leaders had been the ambitious arriviste Gaius Cassius, and Marcus Brutus, Cato's nephew, whom Julius had respected for his portentous gravity. When the deed had been done, the assassins' nerves had cracked and they had fled to the Capitol. Mark Antony, the senior consul, had taken charge of the city with the assistance of Lepidus, the master of the horse. Calpurnia had handed over to him her husband's papers and ready money, and he had summoned a meeting of the Senate for March 17, which had proclaimed a general amnesty and ratified Julius's decrees, both those enacted and those only proposed. That very day, too, he had entertained the murderers at dinner. But wild doings had followed. At the funeral three days later, the veterans of the Caesarian armies had taken charge of the proceedings. The ivory bier had been brought to the Forum, with singers chanting the verse of an old poet, "I saved those who have been my death." Then Antony from the Rostra had spoken words which roused the mob to fury.3 A pyre had been raised in the Forum itself, and the body of Julius became ashes in the midst of such a scene of frenzy and lamentation as Rome had rarely witnessed. Thereafter there had been savage rioting, led by a bogus nephew of Marius, and a hasty exodus of all who had something to lose — Brutus and Cassius, Cicero, Cleopatra, and a medley of nobles and senators.

Antony was in control, and he was playing a subtle game. He had stirred up the mob, and then chastised it. He seemed determined to be no man's enemy. He cultivated the Caesarians, allowing Dolabella to succeed Julius as consul, though he had once violently opposed the appointment, and winning the support of Lepidus by procuring his irregular election as Pontifex Maximus. But he was also conciliatory to the Senate; he himself  p40 proposed a decree abolishing the dictatorship for ever; he secured for Brutus permission to be absent from Rome beyond the statutory time permitted to the urban praetor; he even made friendly overtures to Cicero. But he was busiest in another way, for he had much of Julius's wealth in his hands, and from his papers he was perpetually finding new enactments which the Senate had by anticipation given the force of law, which enriched him and consolidated his power, but which most men believed to be forgeries. The more Octavius thought of Antony's doings the less he liked them.

But there was one item of news which outweighed all others. Julius by his will had adopted him as his son. After providing for lavish bequests to every Roman citizen, he had left him three-fourths of his huge fortune, the remaining fourth going to his other great-nephews, Lucius Pinarius and Quintus Pedius.4 Antony, Decimus Brutus and several others were named as alternate legatees, in case any or all of the nephews declined the bequest. The tidings moved Octavius deeply; the great man, whom he was already sworn to avenge, had singled him out as his successor, the legatee, as he saw it, not only of his name and his wealth, but of his dreams. The Caesarian mantle was now on his shoulders, and no man should pluck it from him.

His resolution was soon put to the test, for at Brundisium he found letters from his mother Atia and his stepfather Philippus, urging him to refuse the inheritance. His mother begged him to come at once to her. Philippus was an old Pompeian, and a timorous being; to him he replied that he could not disgrace the name of which Julius had thought him worthy. Atia, whose counsel meant much to him,5 he answered in the famous words in which Achilles replied to his mother Thetis: "Now go I forth that I may light on the destroyer of him I loved: then will I accept my death whensoever  p41 Zeus and the other immortals will to accomplish it."6 But he hastened to fulfil her commands. She and Philippus were at Puteoli; so also was Cicero, and Caesarians like Balbus and Hirtius and Pansa, and a crowd of Roman notables. He would go there and spy out the land. Meantime he must walk warily. He was the heir of Julius, but none the less a person of small account, and Antony was in power and, said rumour, busy helping himself to that part of his inheritance which Julius had deposited in the temple of Ops to his private order. He was already encumbered by offers of help from Caesarian veterans who thronged around him and begged him to lead them to avenge the murder. He gently put aside such appeals. His first business was to go to Rome to give notice to the urban praetor that he accepted the inheritance, declare in a public assembly his plans for administering the will, and have his adoption officially ratified. One important step he did take with a view to future possibilities: as Julius's heir, he sent to Asia for the treasure which Julius had stored there for the Parthian campaign. For the rest he was a private citizen, concerned only with his personal rights and duties. His "pietas," his devotion to his kinsman's memory, was the flag under which he must enter public life.7

Octavius at Puteoli To Puteoli he journeyed by the Appian Way, receiving on the force embarrassing attentions from colonists and veterans, some of whom continued in his train. He was obliged to allow himself to be addressed as Caesar. He reached his stepfather's villa about the 18th, and found that, though Philippus was still opposed to his course, his mother's heart was with him. Next day he met Balbus and told him his intentions: that loyal Caesarian was the first outside his family circle to know of them. That day, too, he called upon Cicero, and the statesman of sixty‑two and the stripling of nineteen delicately maneuvered for position, and sought to read each other's minds.

Octavius and Cicero Cicero was the last of the philosophic republicans. For  p42 a time he had been Julius's friend; had he not once written, "I burn with love for him"? In the final struggle he had half-heartedly gone over to Pompey, because his cause was more or less the cause of the Senate: but after Pharsalus Julius had treated him kindly, and the old man had turned to letters in a new fever of composition. Julius's death had opened vistas to a mind which had little contact with reality. He had passionately approved the murder, made gods of Brutus and Cassius, and laboured to stiffen the purpose of bewildered conspirators. But Antony's sinister figure had blocked the road to a restored republic, and now he sat in his country villa, hurling letters at a multitude of friends, sometimes buoyant with hope, oftener shrill with despair, striving to steady his thoughts by writing his treatise on "Old Age," planning with his inexhaustible zest a new work on "Duty," a philosopher who had lost all philosophic balance. He was consumed with most human hates, and tantalized by dreams of being once again, as in Catiline's day, his country's savior. Octavius had known him slightly in Rome, had studied his de Republica and his de Legibus, and had learned from them certain doctrines which he was always to remember.8 As a student himself of Panaetius and Posidonius, he revered a master in their craft. There was much in Cicero's creed with which he agreed, and he hoped to get from him some notion of the purpose and strength of the faction which had been the death of Julius.

So, as a respectful youth who had no thought beyond his family duties, he approached the old statesman. He addressed him as "father," avoided all controversial matters, sadly declared that the present situation was intolerable, and humbly sought guidance. He made a favourable impression, which was somewhat lessened by his entourage of many Caesarians. Cicero wrote to Atticus that the young man seemed quite devoted to him, though he could not see how it was possible for one with such antecedents to be a good citizen. He considered  p43 him harmless and colourless; it maddened him to think that this youth could go to Rome in safety while his heroes, Brutus and Cassius, dare not show their faces there: but he found a slightly malicious comfort in the thought that he would have a tussle with Antony before he got his inheritance.9

From Cicero Octavius got more enlightenment than he gave. He realized that he himself was still an inconsiderable person, a mere claimant who had to translate his rights into facts. The republicans were not greatly concerned about him; the humbler Caesarians might crowd around him, but the Caesarian leader, Antony, was plundering his heritage. Cicero had been cordial, because he saw in this stripling a wedge which might split the faction of his enemies. The task which he had entered upon had suddenly taken on a new magnitude. He would have to fight, not only the assassins, but the friends of Julius. Wariness was more than ever his duty. In the long run he must range himself implacably against the "liberators," but first he had to checkmate Antony, and for that the republicans might be useful temporary allies. Therefore he must keep close to Cicero, in whom new qualities seem to have been born. The latter's conservatism, partly a lawyer's reverence for ancient things, partly the sentiment of a provincial for the old aristocracy, had become a fighting creed. He had lost his former dream of a concordia ordinum, and had become a furious partisan. His personal vanity had been transmuted into something nobler, an ambition to save the state a second time from brigandage, and for that end to face the uttermost risks. Courage, a desperate courage, was already, in spite of temporary hesitations and fears, becoming the breath of the old man's being. Beyond doubt Cicero must not be neglected.

Octavius went on to Rome, which he reached by the end of the first week of May. He found the city quiet for the moment, and was warmly greeted by the mob, who were beneficiaries under Julius's will and who looked to his heir for the money, and by old soldiers of the Gallic wars. A halo round the sun, as he entered the  p44 city, seemed to promise the favour of the gods. There were three Antonies in office, Marcus the consul, Gaius the praetor, and Lucius the tribune. To Gaius he formally announced his acceptance of the adoption, while Lucius introduced him to the statutory public meeting. There he made a discreet speech, promised to pay every citizen at once the bequest of Julius, and to celebrate, if necessary at his own expense, the games in July appointed for Julius's victories. On the amnesty to the murderers he was silent, thereby grievously disappointing Cicero.10 Nothing untoward occurred except that at some games postponed from April he was forbidden by a tribune to use Julius's gilded chair, and the applause of the middle class spectators told him that the republicans had still many well-wishers in Rome. Lucius Antonius, too, proved curiously obstructive in the matter of the law required to ratify his adoption.

Mark Antony But it was the conduct of Mark Antony that gave him concern. The consul had shown his view of the unimportance of Octavius by leaving the city in the last week of April11 before his arrival. He was now busy in Campania, recruiting a bodyguard of veterans and Syrians, some of whom he was sending on in batches to Rome. Octavius must await his return to get cash to pay Julius's legacies. He had a large fortune of his own, and he could also draw upon his mother, but in view of what the future might require he was not inclined to deplete his private account. He was now the owner of the bulk of his great-uncle's estate, but most of it was in real property and slaves, and threatened, too, with many claims at law. The ready money was that deposited at the temple of Ops, and the big sum which Calpurnia had handed over on the night of the murder; the formerº Antony had annexed, and the latterº he was using to pay his debts and purchase partisans. He must have an early settlement with this man who now straddled his path like a Colossus.

The character of Mark Antony is no easier for the historian to assess than it was at that moment for Octavius. The latter had met him often, for Antony  p45 had patched up his quarrel with Julius, had ridden by the conqueror's side after Munda, had been his colleague in the consulship, and had been often spoken of as his destined heir. Handsome in the heavy Roman way, gross in habit, inordinate in appetites, through a youth of debt and debauchery he had preserved what Shakespeare makes Brutus call his "quick spirit." As a soldier he had not the professional talents of Labienus or Quintus Cicero, but he had something of the "Caesariana celeritas."12 He had a hasty temper, but it was easily appeased, and his humour, good fellowship and zest for life gave him a ready popularity and a genuine power of leadership. Octavius had neither trusted nor liked him. He suspected, as many did, his loyalty to Julius. This magnificent blustering human animal made no appeal to a fastidious youth in delicate health. To him Antony seemed the faux bonhomme; he was not a great soldier, he had not the rudiments of culture,13 though he had a kind of rough eloquence, and no one had hitherto suspected him of statecraft. But now, within sight of his fortieth year,14 he seemed to have changed his character. As Octavius reviewed what he had been told of his recent doings, he must have reflected that he had played his part with notable moderation and skill. He had kept his hold on the Caesarians without breaking finally with the republicans, and had made himself the first power in the state. He had used Julius's money to buy himself allies, and now he was in Campania recruiting a bodyguard from Julius's old soldiers. Rumour spoke of him as showing the effect of his past in a violent irritability and bouts of neurotic excitement, and of exhibiting a novel anxiety about his personal safety.15 However that might be, he had so far made no mistakes. What he had won he would not readily let go. The one hope was that in the long game a cooler  p46 head and a more disciplined mind might outplay this brilliant creature of temperament.

Antony returned to Rome about May 20, with his bodyguard of armed veterans who would also vote in any popular assembly. He had purchased with Octavius's money the alliance of Cicero's son-in‑law, the ruffianly Dolabella. At once the city became a hot‑bed of rumours. Antony meant to disregard the amnesty to the murderers; he was hoping to make himself dictator; he meant to juggle with the high offices at his pleasure; he was publishing imaginary decrees of Caesar to suit his convenience. The "liberators" were in a panic, and Cicero despaired of the state. A meeting of the Senate had been called for June 1, but few senators put in an appearance. Antony accordingly chose a simpler and more rapid procedure. He had a plebiscite carried extending the provincial commands of the consuls from two to five years. He secured for himself Macedonia and its legions, and Syria for Dolabella. Brutus and Cassius, to whom these provinces had been assigned by Caesar, were offered instead commissionerships of the cornº supply, and, when this insulting offer was rejected, they were allotted the minor governments of Crete and Cyrene. Meantime he got his brother to introduce a new agrarian law to conciliate the veterans.

For Octavius he professed only contempt. He spoke of him slightingly as the "boy" and sneered at his money-lending ancestry. He refused to hand over Julius's fortune, so that the heir had to pay the legacies out of his own pocket. He blocked his candidature for the tribunician power, by insisting upon a legal objection which had been often disregarded. He granted him an interview in Pompey's old house, but kept him waiting in an anteroom, and in his short talk treated him with studied discourtesy.16 The young man was stirred to a carefully calculated energy. He had his own band of veterans, and in the streets of Rome he denounced Antony as a traitor to Julius's memory, since he had done nothing to  p47 avenge him, and had embezzled the monies which should have gone to the people. He declared that he himself would pay the legacies if it cost him his last penny. With a view to the future he wrote to his friends in the Macedonian legions, telling them of his infamous treatment. The climax came in July when the games were celebrated in honour of Julius's victories. Octavius tried again to introduce the gilded chair and was forbidden by Antony, though this time popular feeling was on his side. The Sidus JuliumOn the last day a comet appeared in the heavens, the sidus Julium, which the populace took as a sign of Julius's reception among the gods, and which even the calm Octavius welcomed as a happy omen.17 Antony at last awoke to the facts. This young man had a real following among the more ardent Caesarians, and it would be wise to conciliate him. His bodyguard had already remonstrated with him for his cavalier treatment of Julius's heir. He had now secured by a plebiscite in exchange for Macedonia the command of Cisalpine Gaul,18 together with the Macedonian legions, and, with this trump card in his hand, he could afford to be generous. He agreed to a formal reconciliation.19

The friction with Antony had one good result; it strengthened the position of Octavius with the republicans. He had the wisdom to keep in close touch with Cicero, and the opinion of Cicero weighed heavily with the conservatives. The old statesman was now in a sad frame of mind, torn between duty and self-interest. He was making plans to return to Greece, and then hesitating to leave his native land. His mood was much that of the famous sentence written after his daughter's death: "The long ages when I shall be no more are more important in my eyes than the brief span of present life, which indeed seems all too long."20 His chief dread was Antony, and his chief hope, in spite of the doubts of  p48 Brutus, was now Octavius. He wrote of him to Atticus in June, calling him for the first time Octavianus, and thereby acknowledging Julius's adoption:

I see clearly that he has brains and spirit, and is as well disposed to our heroes as we could desire. But we must carefully consider the degree of reliance that can be placed on him, taking into account his age, his name, his position as Caesar's heir, and his upbringing. He must be trained, and above all he must be alienated from Antony. . . . He has an excellent disposition, if it only lasts.21

Octavius's Strategy After some months of doubt and waiting, Octavius, aided by the sagacity of Agrippa and Maecenas,22 had devised a policy, a strategic plan which would permit of much opportunism in tactics. His main purpose was to avenge Julius and to carry on his work, which meant that sooner or later he would find himself in implacable opposition to the republican conservatives. Antony shared in the first part of his purpose; but it was now certain that Antony would not, if he could help it, admit him as an ally, but would labour to make himself de facto Julius's heir and successor. To bring Antony to reason two things were needed. He must acquire an armed following of his own, by lavish expenditure and adroit propaganda, for after all his name, his adoption, and his heirship made a strong emotional appeal to the Caesarian veterans. In the second place he must keep on good terms with all who feared and distrusted Antony. To these he must appear as a young man seeking only his legal rights, an admirer of Julius but also imbued with a sober republican sentiment. He must continue to speak the "liberators" fair whatever he felt about them in his heart. His rôle must be that of a mild Caesarian, but a stout anti-Antonian. Gaius Marcellus, the husband of his sister Octavia, was a valuable trait d'union, and so was Cicero.

Antony was nervous about this silent, self-contained young man. It was true that Octavius had supported his claim to Cisalpine Gaul as against Decimus Brutus,  p49 but, since the later was one of the principal assassins, he was bound to do so or lose caste with every Caesarian. But he feared his growing popularity with the extreme among the veterans. He was beginning also to lose his temper. Cicero came to Rome at the end of August, and delivered in the Senate the speech known as the First Philippic, which was a dignified criticism of his recent doings and did much to rally the conservatives. Antony showed his nervousness by a preposterous charge against Octavius of attempted murder, for which he could produce no evidence. The young man ridiculed the accusation, and presently all Rome joined in the laughter.23

Yet Antony's position might well have seemed impregnable. He had ousted Decimus Brutus from Cisalpine Gaul and next year would also have Celtic Gaul. His friend Dolabella would have Syria, and, if Decimus received Macedonia, it would be without the legions. Brutus and Cassius were disconsidered wanderers. Most of the provincial governors, who had armies at their command, were Caesarians, and likely to be his friends — Plancus in Celtic Gaul, Asinius Pollio in Further Spain, and Lepidus who would presently have Hither Spain and the Narbonese. Things were moving towards a crisis, and the vital matter was the control of armies. His first business was to get one of his own. He had already his Campanian levies of veterans and condottieri, and four of the Macedonian legions assigned to him were on the sea. On October 9 he set out for Brundisium to meet them. His wife Fulvia went with him; she had once been the wife of the gangster Clodius, and was one of those terrible women produced now and then by the Roman stock, unsexed, implacable, filled with an insane lust of power. She and his brother Lucius, a feebler version of himself, were now his chief advisers.

It behoved Octavius to act at once. His reconciliation with Antony had been shattered by the bogus assassination  p50 charge, and the two now stood in the public eye as declared enemies. He sent agents to negotiate with the Macedonian legions and distribute leaflets setting forth his case, and he himself made a tour of the colonies of old soldiers in Campania, summoning them in Julius's name to re‑enlist, and offering each man a bounty of twenty pounds sterling. He must have either retrieved some of the ready money which Antony had embezzled, or disposed of some of the real estate for cash, for it does not appear that he entrenched upon his own or his mother's private fortune; from now onwards he never seems to have suffered from financial embarrassment. He raised three thousand troops, afterwards organized in two legions. It was a bold step, for he had no legal military command, and no mandate from Senate or people, and appropriately it is the first deed recorded in the Res Gestae, that summary of the main events in his life: "At the age of nineteen years, on my own authority and at my own cost, I raised the army by means of which I liberated the republic from the oppression of a tyrannical faction." The army, the same army with which he was to triumph at Actium.24 He had taken the first step in his campaign of vengeance.

Antony was less fortunate. At Suessa he purged his levies by executing a number of soldiers whose loyalty he distrusted. At Brundisium he found that only three legions had arrived, the II, the IV and the Martian, and that Octavius's propaganda had done its work among them. They were in a difficult temper, angry with Antony for his apparent supineness as Julius's avenger, and contrasting his meagre bounty with the largess of Octavius. Antony proceeded to put to death several officers and some three hundred men, and for a moment seemed to have quelled the mutiny. He selected a bodyguard with which he pushed on to Rome, picking up on the way the Lark,25 that famous unit of the Gallic wars,  p51 and bidding his other legions follow by the coast road to Ariminum, which was the way to Cisalpine Gaul.

A Critical Decision Octavius had now to face a delicate problem. He had got an army of a kind, but what was he to do with it? His strength was far inferior to Antony's, unless he could win over the Macedonian legions to his side. His power lay with the Roman populace and the veterans who worshipped the memory of Julius, and with a considerable part of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy which distrusted Antony. But he was trying to drive two ill‑mated horses in the same harness. The first stood for vengeance on the murderers, the second either adored the "liberators" or shrank from civil war. In his opposition to Antony he must not alienate those who, while well disposed to Julius's heir, were on Antony's side against the "liberators": in cultivating the Caesarians he must somehow keep the confidence of the classes who saw in him a conservative force not inimical to a restored republic. What must be his next step? Should he remain in Campania with his levies, or should he march to Rome and put his fortune to the test?

It was a difficult decision for a young man of nineteen, but Octavius did not hesitate. He bombarded Cicero with letters asking for advice, but his resolution was already fixed. In this decision he showed his capacity for extreme boldness, as in his relations with Cicero he revealed his gift for patient diplomacy. Cicero himself was in a divided mind. He was in favour on the whole of the move to Rome, for Octavius seemed the only defence against Antony, and he had promised to act through the Senate. But the old man was troubled. Octavius was begging him to come to the capital, and save the republic as he had done once before — a shrewd piece of flattery which did not fail of its mark; but he was afraid of Antony, and did not wish to leave the sea‑coast and the means of escape abroad, and he could not be quite certain about the young man's policy. He poured out his troubles to Atticus.26 Octavius was a mere boy. He would oppose Antony, but was it for the sake of the Republic or for himself? The one thing plain was that  p52 a new war was imminent, and he longed for Brutus and Cassius, now exiles beyond the sea.

To Rome Octavius went on November 10 with his three thousand, and at once found himself on precarious ground. At the temple of Caesar he held a public meeting, where a tribune savagely attacked Antony; he followed in the same vein, dwelling on Julius's great deeds and the indignities he had himself suffered at Antony's hands. The speech was one of his few blunders, for it pleased nobody. His soldiers, many of whom had served with Antony, jibbed at the attack on their old leader, and Octavius was forced to disband those who wished to go home, and to pay further bounties to those who remained. The conservatives, already scared by the youth's audacity, were offended by his eulogy of Caesar and all that it implied, and by the ominous words about "attaining the honours of my father." Cicero liked it least of all. In the last letter to Atticus which we possess, he exclaims, "What a speech!"27 But he found himself now forced by private reasons of finance to come to Rome, and, with a courage the more admirable because of his natural timidity, the old man girded his loins for his last battle.28

Octavius could not remain in Rome, for Antony with his bodyguard and the Lark was at its gates. He was on more treacherous ground than ever, for he was beginning to lose the confidence of the Caesarians, and the conservatives did not take him seriously. He and Agrippa — for he had no other adviser except half-hearted relatives like Philippus and Marcellus — two young men not yet twenty, were defying the most noted soldier of the age, who could dispose of formidable armies and who appealed to the same popular emotion as they did themselves. At the same time they were courting the alliance of an aristocracy whose politics they detested and who were laughing at them as children playing at war. Antony, too, was busy with slanders, sneering at Octavius's humble birth, and spreading tales of unmentionable  p53 vices.29 Octavius was playing the only game permitted him, but when he left Rome for Etruria, where by a lavish further expenditure he collected further recruits, he must have seen little light in his path.

Antony's Blunder Suddenly the situation changed. Antony entered the capital about November 20, in full military panoply, having left most of his troops at Tibur, but bringing a bodyguard sufficient to overawe the citizens. He was in a vile temper, and issued an edict abusing Octavius and summoning a meeting of the Senate for the 24th. That day he did not appear; Cicero says he was drunk, but the natural explanation is the news which he had from Tibur. For the Martian legion, remembering its old kindness for Octavius and swayed by his propaganda, had disobeyed orders and turned off the coast road to Ariminum, and was now at Alba Longa. Antony hastened thither, and was met by closed gates and a shower of arrows from the walls. He attended the postponed meeting of the Senate on the 28th, where he hustled through a number of decrees and allotted certain vacant provinces to his own supporters. Then he hurried to Tibur, where he had word that the IV legion had followed the example of the Martian. With his new recruits, the Lark, and the II legion he started for Ariminum, leaving his brother Lucius to bring on the remaining Macedonian legion, the XXXV, which had now arrived in Brundisium.30 He had already ordered Decimus Brutus to hand over Cisalpine Gaul. Decimus replied that he held his province at the commands of the Senate and the People; but, realizing that he could not meet Antony in the open field, and must wait upon help from Rome, he marched south, and about the middle of December shut himself up in Mutina (Modena) and prepared to stand a siege.

Octavius had become the sole hope of the republicans,  p54 a more stalwart hope, for he had got himself a considerable army — two legions of Campanian veterans, one of Etruscan recruits, the IV and the Martian. Moreover, he had been in treaty with Decimus Brutus, following his habit of leaving no possible ally unconciliated.31 He discreetly acquiesced in the election of one of the principal assassins, the "envious Casca," as tribune. The "liberators" ceased to jeer at his youth, and now saw in him a saviour, the republic's sole champion. Cicero when he reached Rome found himself the civilian leader in the absence of both consuls, and Cicero had now decided that Julius's heir must be trusted.

So, while Octavius slowly marched northward on the track of Antony, many fateful things happened in Rome. Dread of a new civil war lay on all parties, even on Antony, who was busy maneuvering for position, and intriguing with the governors of the western provinces, Lepidus, Plancus and Pollio, and who had non desire for an immediate clash of arms. Only Octavius and Cicero were determined on what they believed to be inevitable. The PhilippicsCicero, indeed, had cast all literary preoccupations behind him, and was now eager to ride the storm. In the words of Ferrero, "the audacious figure of the old orator stood amidst the universal vacillation like a huge erratic boulder in the midst of a plain."32 He had become in his own eyes the guide towards that state which he had drawn in his de Republica. His Second Philippic against Antony had been published, and he was busy corresponding with the western proconsuls on whose decision he saw that the issue must ultimately depend. On December 20 he delivered his Third Philippic, a moderate speech in which he proposed votes of confidence in Decimus and Octavius, and carried a resolution providing for a meeting of the Senate on January 1, under the new consuls Hirtius and Pansa, to annul Antony's disposition of the provinces. In the Fourth Philippic, spoken on that day to the people, he flung down to Antony the gage of battle.

Cicero was now clearly pledged to Octavius's support.  p55 He had addressed him publicly as "Caesar." January 1 came and the Senate met under the protection of armed guards. There was a long debate in which Antony's more moderate friends urged that before declaring him a public enemy an embassy should be sent to negotiate. Cicero replied in that masterpiece of invective known as the Fifth Philippic, in which he inveighed against Antony and pinned his faith to Octavius. "What god," he asked, "has given to the Roman people this god‑like youth?" He compared his exploits with those of the young Pompey. He took upon himself to guarantee his good faith:

I know intimately the young man's every feeling. Nothing is dearer to him than the free state, nothing has more weight with him than your influence, nothing is more desired by him than the good opinion of virtuous men, nothing more delightful to him than true glory. . . . I venture even to pledge my word that Gaius Caesar will always be as loyal a citizen as he is to‑day, and as our most fervent wishes and prayers desire.33

The Senate stuck to the embassy proposal but agreed to continue military preparations, and appointed one of the new consuls to take supreme command of the army. Honours were decreed for Octavius: he was given the rank of senator; the state would pay the bounties he had promised to the two Macedonian legions which had joined him; he was to be entitled to stand for the consulship ten years before he attained the statutory age; a gilded statue was to be set up in his honour;34 he was joined with the two consuls in command of the army, with the "imperium" of a pro‑praetor. His position was now regularized, though, since he had the consuls as colleagues, he had not the chief authority for which he had hoped. On January 7 he assumed the fasces, the symbol of his command.35 He had already been offered  p56 them by his troops, but had prudently declined, preferring to wait for the Senate's grant.36

II

The first months of the year 43 B.C. were full of feeble maneuvering for position. The Senate, in spite of Cicero, was unwilling to declare Antony an enemy of the state and so formally embark upon war. Antony, though he could beyond doubt have crushed Decimus had he acted at once, was anxious to strengthen his forces and make certain of the western proconsuls, so he was very willing to protract negotiations; Mutina he must have believed that he could take whenever he pleased. He replied to the senatorian embassy by announcing his willingness to give up Cisalpine Gaul, if he were given Celtic Gaul with six legions till the end of the year 39, if his veterans were rewarded, all his decrees confirmed, and no question raised about the monies he had taken from the state treasury. When this reply was received, the Senate, under the compulsion of Cicero, decreed on February 1 a state of war. But the Antonians managed to protract proceedings, and Pansa, the other consul, did not march till March 19.

Octavius during these weeks had grave cause for anxiety. His colleague Hirtius was a sick man, and wholly supine. He was not too certain of the loyalty of his own command. While Antony was jeering at his youth,37 he was also writing to him privately, warning him that Cicero would play him false, and that no anti-Caesarian could ever be his friend.38 On this latter point  p57 Octavius had much confirmatory evidence. Their negotiations with Antony showed how half-hearted the conservatives were in the cause in which he had become their ally. Cicero's burning Philippics were proof of his detestation of Antony, but remarks of his were now being circulated which showed his lukewarmness towards Octavius. Moreover, the news from overseas was putting a new complexion on affairs. Brutus and Cassius had been assigned Macedonia and Syria; the former province Brutus had occupied and had got himself a formidable army, while Cassius was on his way to do the same thing with Syria, and he had been entrusted with the punishment of Dolabella, who had murdered the governor of Asia. With these new senatorial armies in the East the conservatives might soon be in a position to dispense with himself. Further, though Lepidus spoke with an uncertain voice, Plancus in Celtic Gaul seemed to be firmly on the Senate's side. There was every reason to fear that presently he, who had been only accepted as a weapon, would be discarded. Octavius never showed more notably his amazing self-command than in this difficult time. He took no hasty step; he realized that his first business was to clip Antony's wings and make himself formidable. So he behaved as a dutiful servant of the state, waiting on orders, and occupied his too ample leisure in improving his literary and oratorical style.39

The War in the North But the march northward of Pansa towards the close of March put an end to the time of waiting. Decimus in Mutina informed Octavius by carrier pigeons40 that his garrison was starving, and, unless at once delivered, must surrender. We need not linger over the details of the slipshod campaign that followed. MutinaMutina, on the Aemilian Way, was about equidistant from Parma in the west and Bononia (Bologna) in the east, towns now in Antony's hands. Hirtius lay eleven miles east of Bononia, with Octavius some nine miles off on his right flank. Ventidius Bassus, the praetor, a supporter of Antony, was enrolling three legions of veterans, and Antony awaited their arrival. But the news of Pansa's  p58 march northward on March 19 stirred him to action, for he was in danger of being outflanked and surrounded. He left Bononia, and drew his lines closer to Mutina, placing at the same time two legions, the II and the XXXV, at Forum Gallorum in the swampy country between the two towns, in order to hold up Pansa's approach. His mistake lay in permitting the latter with his raw recruits to debouch unhindered from the Apennine passes. For on April 14 Pansa reached Bononia. He moved at once to join Hirtius, and on the 15th fell in with Antony's ambuscade at Forum Gallorum. It was a fight principally between Antony's veterans and the Martian, and at first the former's superior numbers told. But Hirtius from nearer Mutina moved east in support, and, as Antony's troops retired in undisciplined triumph, he attacked them with twenty veteran cohorts, while Octavius defended the camp. Antony was checked, and fell back in the direction of Mutina; Pansa was fatally wounded, he and Hirtius and Octavius were hailed as Imperatores by their troops. A week later, on April 21, Antony again offered battle, for his opponents were threatening to raise the blockade. Decimus sallied from Mutina, while Octavius routed two of Antony's legions and drove them back to their camp, into which Hirtius penetrated and died on the ramparts. Antony, decisively beaten and in grave peril, took the Lark and the remnants of his other legions and fled by the Aemilian Way to Transalpine Gaul. On the 22nd, Pansa died of his wounds at Bononia. Decimus's starving garrison was too weak to pursue, and the men of Octavius had been roughly handled, so Antony, now joined by Ventidius Bassus and his new legions, was left unmolested. He showed again the old Caesarian "celeritas," and by the middle of May he was beyond the mountains and safe in Forum Julii (Fréjus).41

The two consuls were dead — "good men," Cicero wrote, "but no more." To the Senate, Forum Gallorum  p59 and Mutina seemed final victories, and it summoned confidence to disclose its true prepossessions. Antony was at last declared a public enemy. Decimus was made the hero of the northern battles and voted a triumph. Sextus Pompeius, Pompey's son, was summoned from Marseilles to be head of the navy and warden of the coasts of Italy. Brutus and Cassius were confirmed in their provinces, and given an over-riding command in the empire east of the Adriatic. The Senate believed itself triumphant. It was confident of the loyalty of the western governors, Lepidus and Plancus and Pollio, and with their help, leaving Octavius out of account, it could number over twenty legions against Antony's handful, while Brutus and Cassius held the East with seventeen. The Republic on the old lines seemed already restored.

To Octavius, waiting at Bononia while Decimus toiled painfully across the mountains on Antony's track, it was very clear that presently he would be set aside. An epigram of Cicero's came to his ears, that he was to be "lauded, applauded and discarded,"42 and the discarding seemed to have begun. He was ordered to hand over Pansa's legions, and his own IV and the Martian, to Decimus Brutus. He was not mentioned in the vote of thanks to the army. He was given no place on commission appointed to revise Antony's decrees. He was refused a triumph and even an ovation. The conservatives were circulating all manner of rumours about him, such as that at Mutina he had shown the white feather, and was responsible for Pansa's death. Moreover, the Senate was attempting to treat with his troops behind their general's back. It was all very well for Cicero to write of the young Caesar's "wonderful natural strain of virtue,"43 but the old man was clearly his friend only so long as he was content to be his tool.

Octavius, casting up his accounts, realized that he had now achieved one‑half of his purpose. Out of the scrambling Mutina campaign he alone had won benefits. He had made himself sufficiently formidable for Antony to treat him with respect. He held Cisalpine Gaul and led the only army in Italy. Nothing stood between him and  p60 Rome. If Julius was to be avenged, it he was to have a hand in remaking the empire, the time had come to sever the unnatural alliance with the republicans and make peace with Antony. So he decided to hand over his legions to Decimus, and he refused to join in Antony's pursuit. He sat still and waited. One thing he had yet to get before he broke with the Senate. To meet Antony on equal terms, he must be consul and legally head of the state. Therefore for a month or two he continued to negotiate, using as his medium the half-distraught Cicero.

The key of the situation lay with the western proconsuls and their armies, Lepidus in the Narbonese, Plancus in Celtic Gaul, and Pollio in Spain. The Senate believed them to be loyal to its interests; Antony was convinced that he could certainly win over the first and probably the other two, and that was why he was now north of the Alps. These three we shall meet again in this narrative. No one of them was a commanding character. Lepidus, "that weathercock of a man,"44 now Pontifex Maximus by Antony's favour, was vain, unstable, self-indulgent, a lesser Antony. Plancus was a selfish time-server, "afflicted with a chronic disease of treachery,"45 whose only creditable achievement was the founding of Lyons. Pollio, a more reputable figure, was petit maître rather than soldier. Octavius believed that they would be clay in Antony's hands, and his forecast was right. On the 29th of May Lepidus came over to Antony's side. Plancus, who was joined by Decimus Brutus, made at first some show of resistance, and all summer there was marching and counter-marching beyond the Alps. But neither Antony nor Octavius had any doubt about the ultimate issue. Most of the troops were Caesarians, and would force their commanders to join the Caesarian side as soon as its leaders had made their peace.

The news of the defection of Lepidus caused the Senate to declare him a public enemy, and to commission  p61 Octavius to protect Italy. The latter, while busy negotiating with Antony through the medium of Lepidus, did not forget the situation in Rome. About the middle of July he sent an embassy from his troops thither to settle certain points about the bounties and to request the consulship for their general. The latter question had been already raised by Cicero, but the Senate took refuge in the technical difficulty; both consuls being dead and a praetor not being able to create a higher authority than his own, it would be necessary to wait till the new year, when, as the phrase went, the auspices would revert to the Conscript Fathers. This was the answer given to the deputation from the legions, who were also refused the bounties which they had claimed.

The March on Rome To the mind of Octavius the moment had come for swift action. The Senate had shown itself patently hostile to him, and he could not afford to be put off by a technicality which in the past had been disregarded.46 With his eight legions he crossed the Rubicon, like his great-uncle before him, and marched on Rome. Resistance collapsed; the three legions there, two of which had come from Africa, declared for him; after assuring himself of the safety of his mother and sister, he entered the city and found himself its master. The Senate hastened to do his will. The urban praetor nominated two proconsuls to hold the election, and on August 19, along with his cousin, Quintus Pedius, he was duly elected consul. Twelve vultures, as in the case of Romulus, obligingly attended his first taking of the auspices. From the public treasury he paid the promised bounties to his troops. The law necessary to confirm his adoption, hitherto blocked by Antony, was passed, the amnesty of March, 44 B.C., was rescinded, and a special court was established to outlaw the murderers of Julius. Cicero left Rome, never to return. His nerve was broken, and he wrote a pathetic last word to Octavius thanking him for his leave of absence, and trusting that it meant forgiveness for the past and indulgence for the future.47

Octavius was now consul at a younger age than  p62 Pompey, twenty-four years before the statutory date. With eleven legions he was master of Rome and of all Italy. He had on his side not only Caesarian loyalty, but the sympathy of many of the middle classes who saw in him the sole alternative to Antony. For the moment he was secure; some day he must fight Brutus and Cassius, but they were far off and had still to combine their armies, and when that day came he hoped to have Antony by his side. He had made himself so formidable that the latter must accept him on equal terms, and between them they would achieve his first purpose, the avenging of Julius. What lay beyond was still on the knees of the gods; in these difficult times one must live by the day. Three striplings — Octavius and Agrippa were just nineteen and Maecenas a few years older — had to their credit an extraordinary achievement, and the chief actor had been Octavius himself. He had patiently unriddled a situation of extreme complexity, feeling his way with a precocious prudence, trimming his sails to catch every favouring wind, but never forgetful of his ultimate port. He had sunk his pride and made himself the servant of his enemies, till through them he had won purchase with his natural allies. He had compelled those who were most ready to betray him to be his unwitting tools. He had won a repute for a balanced sagacity, so that men forgot his youth. He had shown at once an uncanny self-restraint and a supreme self-confidence; in the happy phrase of Aulus Gellius he was "lifted high on the consciousness of himself."48 Above all, he had won the Caesarian glamour, which for the Rome of that day was what the Napoleonic legend was in the nineteenth century for France. His name was now by Roman custom Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. More important, to the legions and to the people he was Caesar.


The Author's Notes:

1 Gardthausen, I.52‑3.

2 For the mind of Octavius during this year we have little direct evidence. The chief sources are Cicero's general correspondence, and a few references in the Res Gestae. Suetonius is fairly informative, but Plutarch's lives of contemporaries like Cicero, Brutus and Antony cast little light on the main figure. Dio is rhetorical and diffuse. For actual events Appian is the best guide, since he used not only the memoirs of Augustus but the lost work of Asinius Pollio.

3 Suetonius (Div. Jul. 84) denies that Antony made a speech, and Ferrero (III.27 n.) accepts his denial on the ground that Cicero does not mention it in his contemporary letters. But see ad Att. XIV.10. All other historians accept the speech: App. II.143‑7; Dio XLIV.35‑49; Plut. Ant. 14.

4 They surrendered their shares to Octavius, having no wish for such a damnosa hereditas.

5 Tac. Dialog. 28. The Dialogus appears anonymously in the manuscript which contains Germania and Agricola, but I incline to its Tacitean authorship. Cf., however, C. Marchesi, Tacito (1924), 301 sqq.

6 Iliad, XVIII.98 sqq.

7 M. A. Levi, Ottaviano capoparte, I.88 sqq. On the meaning of Julius's will, see C. A. H., IX.724‑6.

8 For the influence of Cicero's thought upon Augustus, see A. Oltramare's "La réaction cicéronienne et les débuts du Principat" in Rev. des É. L. (1932), 58‑90.

9 Cic. ad Brut. I.17.5; ad Att. XIV.10, 11, 12.

10 ad Att. XV.2.

11 ad Att. XIV.15; cf. Rice Holmes, I.190.

12 Cic. ad Att. XVI.10.

13 For his bad Latin, see his letter to Cic., ad Att. XIV.13a,º and Cic. Phil. XIII.43. There are many tributes to Octavius's literary fastidiousness, e.g. Aul. Gell., XV.7; Dio XLV.2.7; Tac. Ann. XIII.3.

14 The year of Antony's birth is uncertain; it may have been 83, 82 or 81 B.C. App. V.833; Gardthausen, II.5 n.

15 Cic. ad Att. XV.20 — "iste qui umbras timet"; Phil. I.11.27.

16 App. III.14; Nic. 28; Plut. Ant. 16; Vell. II.60.3. Antony had not Caesar's tact, who, when he kept Cicero waiting, made ample apology, ad Att. XIV.1.

17 Pliny N. H. II.93. Malcovati, 63.

18 The date of the lex de permutatione provinciarum is uncertain. Ferrero (III.85) places it after the conclusion of the games, but it was more likely promulgated in the first half of June. See Levi, Ottaviano capoparte, I.77.

19 Dio XLV.8; Nic. 29; Plut. Ant. 16.

20 ad Att. XII.18.

21 Ibid., XV.12.

22 Nic. 31.

23 Cicero believed the story and approved; but the wish was father to the thought. ad Fam. XII.23. It is rejected by Nic. 30, App. III.39, and Plut. Ant. 16.

24 See Hardy's ed. of Mon. Anc., 27.

25 It is not clear where Antony found Alauda; perhaps they were the veterans whom he had re‑enlisted in his journey through Italy in May. For this legion see Suet. Div. Jul. 24, and Pauly-Wissowa, I.1295, XII.1208.

26 ad Att. XVI.8, 9.

27 ad Att. XVI.15; cf. Tyrrell, VI.xviii, n.

28 He arrived on Dec. 9. I follow Rice Holmes (I.204) in his interpretation of ad Fam. XI.5.

29 Cic. Phil. III.vi.15; VIII.21; Suet. Div. Aug. 68. The youth of Octavius was a target for scandalous tales, which carry their own refutation, for it is difficult to see how a young man in poor health, with desperate problems daily confronting him, could have had the time or the inclination for excesses. See p88 infra.

30 See Rice Holmes, I.201‑2.

31 Dio XLV.15.

32 III.129.

33 Phil. V.16, 43, 50, 51.

34 An honour granted in the past three centuries only to Sulla, Pompey and Julius. Vell. II.61.

35 C. I. L. X.8375.

36 App. III.48. January 7 was to Octavius the "dies accepti imperii." Mon. Anc. I.3‑5; C. I. L. XII.433. The exact meaning of imperium and its different connotations have involved scholars in disputes in which the legal merges with the metaphysical. It has been argued that he inherited Imperator as a praenomen from Julius, and used it as soon as he accepted his adoption. (Momms. Staatsr. II.2.767, based upon Dio LII.40‑1; cf.  Suet. Div. Jul. 76.) For different views see C. A. H. IX.728; Greenidge, op. cit. 337 n.; and McFayden, Hist. of Title Imperator (1920). I think it improbable that Octavius accepted the praenomen at the start, for, if so, Cicero would have mentioned it. See p100 infra.

37 Cic. Phil. XIII.11.

38 The letter is preserved in the Thirteenth Philippic.

39 Suet. Div. Aug. 84.

40 Pliny N. H. X.110.

41 The action at Forum Gallorum has been reconstructed by Rice Holmes, I.51‑4, basing himself on App. III.66, 67, the scattered references in Cicero (ad Fam. X.3033; Phil. XIV), Suet. Div. Aug. 10, and Dio XLVI.37. About Mutina we know almost nothing.

42 Cic. ad Fam. XI.20.

43 ad Brut. I.3.

44 "homo ventosissimus," a phrase of Decimus Brutus. Cic. ad Fam. XI.9.

45 "morbo proditor," Vell. II.83.

46 e.g. in 49 B.C.

47 Preserved by Nonius, 436; see Tyrrell, VI.354.

48 "conscientia sua subnixus."


Thayer's Note:

a Don Rodrigue is actually the speaker, not the title of the work. The work is Corneille's best-known play, Le Cid.


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