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Book II
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,
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Book II
Chapter III

Book II: Caesar Octavianus

 p76  Chapter II

East and West
(B.C. 42‑37)

I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,

Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me.

Hamlet.

I

Philippi saw the end of the army of the Republic. Its leaders were now refugees or condottieri. Murcus carried some of them to Sextus Pompeius: so joined Ahenobarbus, who with seventy ships took to piracy in the Adriatic; some fell on their swords, some were executed, many were pardoned. The subordinate officers were for the most part admitted to grace, including the son of an Apulian freedman, a youth of twenty-three, one Quintus Horatius Flaccus, who had left his college classes at Athens to follow Brutus.

The first task before Antony and Octavian was to reduce their swollen army, the forty-seven legions made up of their own forces and the surrendering enemy. The second was to pacify the disbanded with bounties and land. The third was to get funds into the depleted treasury, for gigantic liabilities loomed ahead. The fourth was to crush the last elements of disaffection — Sextus Pompeius in the West, the republican oddments in the East — and to re‑establish the authority of Rome among the Eastern protected princes. In this task there was no time to spare, for it was Julius's delay after Pharsalus which had led to Thapsus and Munda. Lastly, there must be some readjustment among the triumvirs, for Lepidus had proved a failure. As consul he had been under the thumb of the terrible Fulvia, and he was strongly suspected of being in treaty with Sextus Pompeius. In any case, he had never been more than  p77 a cipher, important only for the legions which he brought into the pool,

a slight, unmeritable man

Meet to be sent on errands.

The disbandment of the troops was soon accomplished. A military colony was founded at Philippi, the precursor of a vast colonizing activity in the West. Eleven legions, which were willing to continue their term of service, were retained under arms; six went to Antony, and Octavian sent him two of his five in exchange for two that had been left in Cisalpine Gaul. Then came a re‑division of the provinces. Cisalpine Gaul dropped out of the provincial category and became part of Italy. Antony retained Celtic Gaul, and took over the Narbonese from Lepidus; Octavian was given Africa and Spain, with the dubious addition of Sicily and Sardinia which were now in the hands of Sextus Pompeius. There was to be a later readjustment if Lepidus proved less treacherous than was suspected.1

The Division of the World It was an unequal division, for Antony had not only the lion's share of the spoil but the easier task for the future. He was the true hero of Philippi, and to him the soldiers looked as their commander. Octavian, though he had done creditably in the second battle, had been a sick man during most of the campaign, and was now so feeble that he could only make short daily journeys, and looked so ill that news of his death was already being whispered in Rome. His malady seems to have been a nervous stomachic disorder to which he was always subject, and which became acute in times of stress. How could this ailing youth compete in the eyes of legions with the magnificent Antony, overflowing with the zest of life and in the prime of his bodily strength? The latter had all the cards in his hand. He had the pick of the victorious expeditionary force. There was in the Gauls a second great army, eleven legions under Fufius Calenus and thirteen under Ventidius Bassus, Asinius Pollio and Plancus, and these generals were his creatures.

 p78  Moreover, he had the more grateful task. He had to restore order among the petty princes of the East, but that was no difficult business for Roman arms. He had to raise money in the only region where money could be had. He had the control of that treasure-house of old civilizations to which Roman eyes had long been turning. In the East, too, lay the only practical extension of the empire. He had inherited Julius's plans for a Parthian campaign, and this grandiose dream was always at the back of his mind. The view that Antony chose the East because of a sensual craving for its luxury does not set with the character of the man. He chose it because it was the beau rôle, the natural weapon for ambition and the true reward of a conqueror.

Soldier Settlement Far different was Octavian's part. With slender forces he had to face the formidable Sextus, and in all likelihood others, for he cannot have believed that Antony's satellites would readily take orders from him. He had to restore the reign of law in a distracted and impoverished Italy. With no funds except those with which Antony could provide him, he had to undertake a huge business of soldier-settlement, and find half a million acres of good land in Italy — a thing which involved either disappointing the veterans or embittering the forcibly dispossessed. He had a faint popularity with the legions, but he was cordially disliked by most other classes, who preferred Antony's cheerful brutality to Octavian's cold and condescending rigour. This pallid, dyspeptic young man undertook a task which might well have daunted the most stalwart.

According to Appian his selection was determined by his health,2 but the explanation is manifestly absurd. The East was a far easier sphere of duty for an invalid than the turbulent West. Octavian took what he was given, for he had no choice. But as his litter jolted along the Egnatian Way, he may have seen light at the end of his path. It is clear that from the beginning he had instincts which were later to develop into principles of government. A proof is his hankering from the start after the office of tribune; he realized what lay in the  p79 tribunician power. He saw that if he could succeed in his seemingly hopeless task, and pacify Italy and win her to his side, he would have achieved something far greater than any resounding Eastern triumph. Unlike Julius, he believed that in Italy lay the imperial centre of gravity, and that only on the Italian race could a new empire be built:3

Sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago.

So, while Antony smiled at the fool's errand on which he had despatched his colleague, thereby precluding him from further rivalry, that colleague was not wholly malcontent. He had been given the chance of securing what was to be the future foundation of his power.

II

Travelling slowly and painfully, with many halts for rest, Octavian reached Rome early in the year 41. He found Antony's brother Lucius, the consul, fresh from celebrating a triumph for some trivial success in Gaul, and Antony's wife Fulvia in control of the government, with Lepidus as her slave. He exhibited his written compact with Antony, but for the rest left politics alone, for he was called to an urgent task. Italy was in chaos. The settlement of soldiers had been going on for a year, and the results were disastrous. Old tenants had been evicted, and the roads were thronged with vagabondage; all landowners were in fear, and many were bankrupt; deputations from every town and city were thronging to Rome to protest against spoliation. He had the clamorous legions which he had brought with him still to satisfy, and there were hordes of veterans in Italy to whom he had made promises which awaited fulfilment. With an anxious heart he appointed commissioners and surveyors, and set about the business of land distribution.

It was his first big administrative task, performed against time and under enormous difficulties, and he  p80 showed his quality in it, as he had already proved his talents in the tangled diplomatic game. Where state domains were available the business was simple, but there was little free state land. But there were wide municipal territories, and nineteen Italian towns were selected and a third of their estates marked out for settlement. There were also further confiscations of property owned by recalcitrant republicans. Existing owners or tenants, against whom no political charges lay, were to be compensated, but they had to wait for their money, since as yet Octavian had no funds. Hard cases were innumerable, and his enemies made the most of them. Humble folk suffered heavily. Horace, escaped from Philippi, found that his father's little estate had vanished, and had to earn his bread in the lower ranks of the civil service. Virgil's small property near Mantua was threatened, but was for the moment saved by the aid of his patrons, Asinius Pollio and Cornelius Gallus, and somewhat prematurely he blessed Octavian as the god who had intervened.4 In Umbria two other poets, Tibullus and Propertius, found their families beggared.a Octavian was on delicate ground. He had to keep faith with the soldiers and to retain their allegiance, but not less he had to win the confidence of the civilian classes, on whom depended the rebuilding of the state. He dared not spoil the weapon for which he would soon have further need, but also he dared not wreck the ultimate purpose for which that weapon was to be used.

On the whole he succeeded in balancing his duties. The soldiers were not estranged, and civilian grievances did not become so clamorous that Lucius and Fulvia could use them against him. He was clement whenever he could be clement with safety, and he began to pardon the proscribed.5 If he could not pay for all the land which he commandeered, he endeavoured to meet hard cases.6 His mind was easy, too, about the economic  p81 consequences. The huge conglomerations of land were being broken up, and most of the soldiers to whom the allotments were made were country folk drawn originally from the farms. Such were the legions he had himself recruited in Italy — in Campania and in the north: such were the troops levied by Ventidius Bassus and Decimus Brutus, by Hirtius and Pansa. It was a clear gain that there should be several hundred thousand men with little holdings carved out of Italian soil.

His success alarmed Fulvia and Lucius. They saw him winning popularity in Italy, while Antony was far away. Ample opportunities for mischief lay to their hand. They claimed to be the voice of hardly treated civilians. They maintained that Octavian had favoured his own legions at the expense of Antony's, and that the right of allotting land belonged to Lucius, who, as consul, claimed powers which clashed with those of the triumvir. The motive of Lucius, under the guise of fraternal loyalty, was plain ambition, that of Fulvia perhaps the jealousy of a distracted wife, who sought by violent means to win back an errant husband. The situation was complicated by something very like famine in Rome, since the fleets of Sextus and Ahenobarbus played havoc with the cornº supply. Octavius was in a dilemma. He was compelled to make concessions to property owners, especially of the senatorial class, and every concession threatened mutiny among the troops. Moreover, Antony's legates in the West proved hostile, and refused to permit the passage through Gaul of the legions he sent to Spain. It was one of the most critical moments in his career. He tried to bring Fulvia and Lucius to reason, protesting his loyalty to his agreement with Antony, and offering to submit every matter of controversy to the arbitration of the Senate. But they would have none of it, and set themselves to organize a fighting force, Fulvia occupying Praeneste, and, girt with a sword, issuing orders like an army commander.

Perusia This appeal to arms was a fortunate thing for Octavian, since it drove his own legions to take up his quarrel. They forced a meeting at Gabii which Octavian alone  p82 attended, Lucius and Fulvia declining to appear before what they called a "parliament in puttees."7 They relied on Antony's legates in Italy and Gaul, Calenus, Ventidius Bassus, Plancus and Pollio. But these proved broken reeds, for they did not know what were Antony's real desires. A clash was inevitable, and Octavian moved swiftly. He sent a legion to Brundisium to prevent the descent of Ahenobarbus from the sea; he left Lepidus with two legions to garrison Rome; he recalled the troops destined for Spain under Salvidienus Rufus; and he gave Agrippa, as his first command, a flying force to harry Lucius. The latter flung himself into the old hill town of Perusia (Perugia), which was believed to be impregnable, and waited to be relieved by his brother's legates. But these legates were running no risks, and relief did not come. All autumn and winter the place was closely beleaguered, much on the plan which Julius had followed at Alesia, and by the end of February in the year 40 B.C. Lucius was compelled to surrender. Octavian was merciful to the Antonian leaders, as he was bound to be, and Lucius and Fulvia were permitted to leave scot-free, to be of no further account till their death. But the town was burned, apparently by accident, and the republican remnants of the garrison and the senatorian refugees were put to death. To Octavian it was the last stage in the avenging of Julius's murder, and the coup de grâce of the moribund conservative cause. He saw no reason to be merciful towards irreconcilables.8

The fall of Perusia left Octavian in control of Italy. A rising in Campania, led by Tiberius Claudius Nero, was easily put down, and Nero and his wife Livia fled to Sicily. The two legions of Plancus came over to the  p83 conqueror. Pollio retired northward, and Bassus hung around Brundisium. Calenus in Gaul opportunely died, and Octavian, hastening thither, took over his eleven legions, which he put in charge of Salvidienus Rufus. He could now pacify Lepidus with the African province and six of the Gallic legions. The two dangers which remained were Sextus and Antony, whose alliance he feared, for, though he had now forty legions more or less under him, these two held the sea and could devastate the coast of Italy. His first move was towards Sextus. He had already been twice betrothed — in his early youth to a daughter of Julius's colleague, Servilius Isauricus, and at the age of twenty to Claudia, Antony's stepdaughter. Neither marriage had been consummated, and now, through the diplomacy of Maecenas, he espoused Scribonia, a much-married lady, the sister of Scribonius Libo, whose daughter was Sextus's wife. She is remembered only as the mother of his daughter Julia.

Antony and Cleopatra Meanwhile what of Antony, who held the key of the problem? Since Philippi, so far as Rome was concerned, he had gone beyond the horizon, and only stray rumours of his doings reached the capital. He had a considerable task before him which he faced with his old energy, while at the back of his head was the dream of a Parthian conquest which had been the ambition of his great master, and which he believed could alone right the economic disequilibrium of the empire. He made a royal progress through the province of Asia, Syria and Palestine, receiving the honours of a god, collecting vast sums as tribute which he paid away as soon as he received them, rewarding those who had opposed the republicans and punishing those who had aided them, and settling the succession in the client-kingdoms. In Bithynia he met Herod of Judaea, who impressed him with his ability, and whom, though he had befriended Cassius, he set up as tetrarch. There was another client-monarch, Cleopatra of Egypt, who had been a friend of Julius. Her the triumvir summoned to meet him at Tarsus in Cilicia in the late summer of 41 B.C.

 p84  Antony is one of the prime instances in history of divided natures. His face, which, if we may judge from his coins, was for all its strength disharmonic and misshapen, was an index to his character. His features stammered, as sometimes his tongue did. He had the Roman gifts of courage in adversity and resource in difficulties; when the east wind blew he was a man and a soldier. He had a real talent for administration, and much of his reconstruction of the East was to endure. But there was no balance in his soul. When the sun shone on him he was apt to sink into sloth and indulgence. His customary geniality could change with his moods into sheer brutality. His vanity was inordinate, and he had all the weaknesses of a vain man. In Rome, that hotbed of gossip, his enemies perverted his every act, and his inactivity during the Perusian war was set down to drunkenness and debauchery, when all the time he was busied with affairs of imperial import. Slander has followed him into history, for Plutarch is uniformly hostile, and Dio, who seems to have used the memoirs of Augustus, is naturally unsympathetic, though traces may be found in Appian of the impartiality of the lost work of Pollio.

As for Cleopatra, the scandal-monger has had a clear field. She was the only human being, except Hannibal, who ever put fear on Rome, and she has come down to us as a priestess of lawless love, a supreme seducer of virtue, a sexual degenerate, a nymphomaniac, a mistress of all the unholy arts of the East. There is reason to revise that view. She was no Oriental, being by descent half Greek and half Macedonian, with not a drop of Egyptian blood. So far from being love's plaything, she was from beginning to end the politique, pursuing the game of high ambition with a masterly coolness. She may have been in love with Julius, but it is unlikely that any other man ever had her heart. She was highly educated, and her fight was not only for her kingdom of Egypt but for a certain type of Hellenic culture of which she believed herself to be the last champion. With every charm of the woman, she had the tenacity of will and the courage of the strongest man. Above all, she  p85 had an abounding magnetic vitality. The quality of her high-coloured ancestors flowered in this ultimate child of their race into something like witchcraft. More feminine than other women, she had more steel and fire than any man, so that like Viola in Twelfth Night, she was all the brothers as well as all the daughters of her father's house.

She staged her arrival with consummate art. Plutarch — and after him Shakespeare incomparably — has described her voyage in her galley up the Cydnus, the scented bride-sails and the flutes, the attendant Loves and Nymphs and Graces. She was twenty-nine, which Balzac thought a woman's most dangerous age, not beautiful in the common sense but with a face which no man could forget, and a wooing voice which cast a spell on all who heard it. Antony had seen her as a girl of fourteen, when he was a young cavalry officer with Gabinius in Egypt, and he must have often met her when she was in Rome as Julius's mistress. But now came a revelation. He had the intellectual vanity of the half-educated and he posed as a philhellene, and her coming seemed like a re‑enactment of an old divine legend, the birth of Aphrodite from the foam. Hitherto he had taken his pleasure lavishly and coarsely among women, but this woman, all air and fire, was of a different kind from fleshy Roman beauties and Syrian dancing-girls. His imagination and his intellect were ravished by her, for he had the wit to recognize her audacious spirit. He docilely followed her to Alexandria.

There in the winter, while Perusia was starving, she played an adroit game. She was a genuine Egyptian patriot, and, so far as our evidence goes, showed notable talent in her administration of the land. She was endeared to the native Egyptian people, for she spoke their tongue, was respectful to their gods, and had about herself a divine aura as a reincarnation of Isis. She desired to make her country the richest and most cultivated on earth, and for that she must have the support of the Roman legions. The bait was the conquest of Parthia, which to Antony seemed vital to Rome and for which the wealth of Egypt would provide the funds. Therefore  p86 her task was to make herself indispensable to Antony, and during the winter of 41‑40 B.C. she wove her enchantments. She was his boon companion, his partner in fantastic adventures, but she did not forget her purpose. She fostered his ambitions but gave him nothing, neither funds from her treasury nor her love, till she was certain that he would pay her price.

Antony and Octavian News from Italy slowly filtered eastward. It did not reach Antony till he had torn himself from Cleopatra and gone north into Syria at the word of a Parthian invasion. There he found that the client-kingdoms were in chaos, and the enemy armies led by Roman deserters. His first business must be to get more troops, and, as this dawned on him, he had tidings of Perusia. With Lucius and Fulvia he had no sympathy, for they had prejudiced his cause by their folly and lost him the good-will of the Caesarian veterans. But Octavian's seizure of Gaul was another matter, for it was to the legions there that he looked for reinforcements in the coming campaign. He was prepared to be loyal to Octavian, but Octavian in turn must be loyal to him. He crossed to Athens, where he found Lucius and Fulvia and heard their tale of woe. It moved him little, but envoys from Sextus were also there. If Octavian was playing him false order must be taken with him. Pollio was in north Italy and Ventidius was hanging around Brundisium, and Ahenobarbus with his pirate fleet was on his side. These, with Sextus, enabled him to argue with Octavian, and if the young man would not hear reason he would join with Sextus to punish him. Accordingly with Sextus and Ahenobarbus he sailed for Italy.

He found Brundisium closed against him by Octavian's garrison, who would have no dealings with Ahenobarbus as one of Julius's murderers. He blockaded the town, and seized Sipontum which lay on the coast to the northward, while Sextus expelled the small force of Octavian from Sardinia and threatened southern Italy. Agrippa recovered Sipontum and Octavian confronted Antony at Brundisium. But the soldiers on both sides were averse to war; and Antony, with the entanglements of the East in mind, had no wish to coerce them.  p87 The death of Fulvia made things easier. He sent Ahenobarbus to govern Bithynia and induced Sextus to return to Sicily. Octavian was no less compliant, and in the first days of October, 40 B.C., with the help of Maecenas and Pollio, peace was patched up between the triumvirs at Brundisium. There was a new division of the empire, Octavian being allotted all the West except for Lepidus in Africa, and Antony all lands from the Ionian sea to the Euphrates. Octavian was given a free hand against Sextus unless he could make peace with him, and Antony was to have five of the Gallic legions for Parthia, and an equal right with Octavian to recruit in Italy. Salvidienus Rufus, who had been appointed to succeed Calenus, had proved a traitor, as Antony revealed, and on his exposure had committed suicide, and Octavian saw the transfer of his legions without regret, for he cannot have been sure of their loyalty.

The Pact of Misenum The new friendship was cemented by Antony's marriage to Octavian's sister Octavia, the widow of Gaius Marcellus, and one of the few attractive figures among the Roman women of the time. Beautiful and wise, she was of "too holy, cold and stiff conversation" to hold for long the flamboyant Antony. The triumvirs paid a visit to Rome, but their ovation was marred by the discontent of the city mob, starved by the failure of the corn supply. It was very necessary to destroy or come to terms with Sextus and his fleet. The latter plan was the first tried. There was an abortive interview at Puteoli, and finally in the early spring of 39 B.C. an arrangement was reached at Misenum at the southern point of the bay of Baiae, when Sextus agreed on terms to withdraw his men from Italy and let the corn-ships alone. There were elaborate festivities on board the fleets and in Rome, and Sextus's daughter was betrothed to Octavia's son by Marcellus. Antony departed eastward, and Octavian hurried to Gaul to install Agrippa as governor of that province. That fine soldier was at last fairly set on the cursus honorum. He had been urban praetor in 40 B.C., and was consul designate for the year 38 B.C.

Octavian, now in his twenty-fourth year, had surmounted another of the enormous hazards of his youth.  p88 He had peace with Antony, at any rate for a time, and in that breathing-space he might put order into Italy. His character, now that the watery sun of fortune was making a faint warmth about him, was slowly mellowing. He was still liable to sudden sicknesses, but he had left behind him the chronic anaemia and indigestion which had crippled his adolescence. He no longer stood alone; the companions of his youth had become in the full sense his coadjutors, for the genius of Agrippa for war and of Maecenas for diplomacy was now plainly revealed; he had the loyalty of the bulk of the armies, in whose eyes he wore Julius's mantle, and of the great mass of ordinary citizens, who were beginning to look to him as the only refuge of the law‑abiding. There seemed to be in him a stability and a plain good sense which were not in Antony, and still less in the trivial Lepidus. It was Octavian, not the conservatives, who might be looked to to bring back the good old days.

Historians have pictured him as at this time universally detested, an ogre of cold cruelty, jealous, morose, and implacable, who ruled only by fear, spending his days between public terrorism and private debauches. There is no evidence for such a view. The character of Augustus did not miraculously spring full-bodied into being; it was already developing in Octavian. He had had to forswear his youth and play a hard, close-lipped game, and he was to bear the scars of it till his death. He had as yet little of that untranslatable thing called "blanditia," an easy, forthcoming civility. But he was slowly unbuttoning himself, and, having been long compelled to live for the day, he was beginning to see at last a prospect and a horizon. He was devising a strategy as well as a tactics of power. The picture of him as an orgiast is simply inconceivable.9 For revelries he had neither the health nor the time, since with a weakly body he was forced to "toil terribly." Such tales had been rife on his first coming to Rome, but Cicero had described  p89 him then as a bright example of old‑world chastity,10 and the orator would never have dared to incur public ridicule if his repute had been notoriously otherwise. The morals of Octavian were not higher than those of his age, but assuredly they were no worse. It is too often forgotten that the charge of sexual vice was "common form" in Rome, and did not imply any foundation in fact. Abuse of an opponent's morals was an accepted oratorical practice, which need not be taken seriously.11 It was like the "flyting" among the Scottish makars, partly a literary convention, partly a tradition with its roots in old religion, like the abuse levelled against a general at his triumph to avert from success the jealousy of the gods. We find Cicero corresponding in the friendliest terms with men like Piso and Vatinius whom shortly before he had pilloried as enemies of mankind.

The Fourth Eclogue A proof that Octavian was growing in public favour in is Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which was composed not later than the year 39 B.C. It is a paean over the pact of Brundisium and the new hope of peace. Whether the child who is to be born to inaugurate the Golden Age be the son of Pollio, or of Antony and Octavia, or of Octavian and Scribonia,12 Octavian is the centre of the picture. The fastidious puritanism of Virgil would never have brought into his translunary dreams a man regarded generally as a monster of wickedness. A new hope was slowly coming to birth in the Roman world. The old things were passing away; politics, once Rome's chief preoccupation, had disappeared in the clash of arms; the grandees no longer flaunted their wealth in exotic entertainments, for most were dead or bankrupt. With the bad had gone the good; the temples were falling into  p90 ruin;13 the people were starving; the religion of the state, to which Scaevola and Cicero had clung,14 was disintegrating, and the new creeds from Greece had given Rome nothing in its place. But after years of materialism and misery men were beginning to look into their souls, and with that inquisition came a sense of sin, a new reverence and a new hope. The mind of the age was being solemnized; we see the disillusionment in the men of letters, in Sallust, in Livy's great preface to his history, in the early verses of Horace,15 and Virgil we find the breaking of light. Salvation could not come from the high austerities of Lucretius, or the cosmic reconciliation of the Stoics, or the antiquarian ingenuity of syncretists like Varro. It lay in a return to the old simplicities. Happy the man "qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas," but happier he "deos qui novit agrestes."

III

Sextus was not done with. He had legitimate grievances, for in the Peloponnese, which was to have been one of his provinces, he was prevented by Antony from collecting the revenue. But his prime complaint was that he was not recognized as an equal by the triumvirs, and he presently resumed his depredations on the corn-ships and the Italian coast. It was a menace which Octavian was bound to face, for there could be no peace in Italy with this pirate controlling the sea. War was inevitable, and Octavian appealed to Antony for help and counsel. Antony came to Brundisium, but, finding that Octavian had been delayed, he returned forthwith to Greece, contenting himself with the meaningless advice to his colleague to respect the Misenum pact. This Sextus had already broken, and Octavian was compelled to prepare for a campaign, hurrying troops from Gaul, establishing naval depots at Brundisium and Puteoli, and building ships to supplement his exiguous navy. He published the terms of the treaty of Misenum  p91 to prove his good faith, and, since the hollow alliance with Sextus was now at an end, he divorced Scribonia on the very day of Julia's birth.

Octavian's Marriage The divorce was a matter of politics, but it had another motive. A new element had come into his life which was a sign of his recovered youth. He had fallen deeply in love. This was not the "honourable affection" — Mommsen's delightful phrase16 — with which Julius had regarded his consorts, but a passion which endured to his dying day. The lady was Livia, a daughter of Livius Drusus, the stout anti-Caesarian who had died after Philippi. She was born of the ancient nobility, was beautiful, virtuous and devouringly ambitious, and she was only nineteen.17 She had been married very young to another aristocrat, Tiberius Claudius Nero, whom Cicero had once sought to espouse to Tullia, and, when scarcely more than a child, had borne him a son who was to be the emperor Tiberius, while a second son, Drusus, was born only three days before her marriage to Octavian on January 17, 38 B.C. She and her husband had been in Perusia during its siege, and had escaped to Sextus in Sicily. They speedily wearied of Sextus's ways, and moved to Sparta, whence they came back to Italy when things became more settled. Octavian probably met Livia on his return from Gaul towards the close of September, 39 B.C. He fell violently in love, and shaved his beard to improve his looks.18 The wooing prospered and the husband proved complaisant; Livia went to live in Octavian's house, and the wedding ceremony was performed under a special licence from the pontiffs.19

This marriage, based upon love, had profound political consequences. It brought Octavian into close contact with the haute noblesse of Rome and the remnants of the senatorial party. It solidified the alliance which he had always desired between the less truculent conservatives  p92 and the Caesarian military democracy. It was a conciliatory manifesto, a call to a new alignment of political creeds. On the personal side, it gave him a wife who for fifty years was his wise counsellor and steadfast helpmate; but it also brought into his circle the strain of the Claudii, brilliant, unaccountable, tainted with some deep congenital madness, one of the ablest and most tragically fated of the greater families of Rome.20

The campaign against Sextus started badly, for it was like the legendary fight between wolf and shark, fought by opponents whose strength lay in different elements. Also Octavian had none of his great-uncle's mastery of war, and he had the wisdom to know it. He had not Agrippa's power of seeing a campaign as a whole and working on a large strategic plan — the highest form of military talent; nor had he Antony's gift for the leadership of men and his tactical skill in an actual engagement. His gifts were wholly those of the civilian. Fortunately Sextus was no better endowed, being the eternal condottiere, who could win battles but not a war.

The long and critical campaign which began in 38 B.C. has little importance either for the military or the political student. It was an awkward obstacle which had to be surmounted, the penultimate menace which Octavius had to face in his stride towards power. Our only authorities, Dio and Appian, manifestly did not understand what they were writing about, so it is impossible to reconstruct the details with any certainty. Menas, the freedman of Sextus who held Sardinia, brought the island and three legions over to Octavian. The latter appointed him and Calvisius Sabinus, the ex‑consul, as his two admirals, and prepared to attack Sicily, while his land forces were stationed at Rhegium. Sextus was not caught napping. At Cumae there was an indecisive action, but Octavian was too slow and cautious: he was checked in the straits by Sextus's ships, and next day a storm completed his disaster. He lost half his fleet, and Sextus was left to crow triumphantly in sea‑green robes, and to proclaim himself the son of Neptune. Happily the pirate was as  p93 poor a general as the triumvir, and made no attempt to follow up his victory.

Octavia The year 38 B.C. therefore had a dark close. For 37 B.C. Octavian made more ample preparations. He summoned from Gaul the consul-elect, Agrippa, and put him in supreme command. Agrippa had just won notable successes against the Germanic tribes, and, first of Roman generals since Julius, had carried the eagles beyond the Rhine; but, with characteristic good breeding, he refused a triumph at a moment when Rome was on short commons and Sextus was unbeaten. He had still to learn the art of naval war, but his acute mind told him that the first task was to provide a safe harbour as a base and a training-ground. Accordingly he joined the shallow Lucrine lake in the bay of Baiae with the deeper lake Avernus, and dug a broad channel connecting them with the sea. Also Octavian sent Maecenas to Antony in Greece to beg for help. The help was given. In the early spring Antony arrived at Tarentum with a powerful fleet, accompanied by Octavia, whose persuasions overcame the not unnatural suspicions of her brother. It was agreed to renew the triumvirate for another period of five years.21 Antony was to give his colleague one hundred and twenty ships, while Octavian in turn was to furnish twenty thousand legionaries for the Parthian war. Octavia and her child remained with Octavian, and Antony set his face eastward.

He had now virtually handed over to his colleague the ordering of the West, while he himself took the East in fee. His general plan of settlement there was to bolster up client-monarchs, often on insecure thrones. But his chief preoccupation was the threat from Parthia, that strange power, largely Scythian in stock, which had been one of Alexander's satrapies, but which had long ago expelled the Seleucides, and established its own Arsacid dynasty. The Roman renegade Labienus had,  p94 as we have seen, invaded and occupied Syria, and after the truce of Brundisium, Antony had sent his lieutenant Ventidius to deal with him. Ventidius was successful: he defeated and killed Labienus in 39 B.C. and next year did the same by Pacorus, the son of the Parthian king Orodes. At the same time an invasion of Macedonia by the Illyrian Parthini was repelled first by Censorinus and then by Pollio. But Parthia had been checked, not defeated, Antony could not fully trust Ventidius, and he was compelled to make a hurried journey eastward to support Herod against his rival Antigonus. After his meeting with Octavian at Tarentum he returned to Syria to prepare in earnest for a major Parthian campaign.

For three winters he had lived happily with Octavia at Athens. If Cleopatra's wit and daring had been a revelation to him of what a woman could be, Octavia showed him the charm of simple goodness. She was as highly educated as the Egyptian queen, and infinitely more restful. He became a decorous husband, and took up the study of philosophy. But the old Adam was still strong in him, and he had outbursts of folie des grandeurs, when he permitted some of his eastern subjects to worship him as the god Dionysus. Had Octavia's child been a son things might have gone otherwise, but by the autumn of 37 B.C. he had grown weary of respectability. He had been loyal to Octavian, more loyal than Octavian had been to him, and his discontent with his colleague was extended to his colleague's sister. He was tired of Octavia's "modest eyes and still conclusion," and was beginning to bethink himself of a headier vintage. But chiefly he thought of the new posture of affairs. He realized that the task which he had laid on Octavian, and which he had believed would crush him, had in truth made his fortune. He had unwittingly surrendered to him the control of Rome and the western world. The disconsidered underling was in danger of becoming his master. The balance could only be redressed by a resounding triumph in the East, and his eyes returned to Parthia. He had only twenty-four legions, though more were due from Octavian, but his  p95 main need was money. This could be got only from Cleopatra, whom for nearly four years he had neglected. The recollection of her usefulness was perhaps as potent with him as the memory of her charms; if in his retrospect he fell in love with her person he was also assuredly in love with her fortune. He summoned the queen of Egypt to meet him in Antioch, and thereby entered upon the last tragic stage of his career.


The Author's Notes:

1 For an examination of the conflicting statements of Dio and Appian, see Rice Holmes, I.218‑19.

2 V.3.

3 See on this point S. Dimarzo, "Augusto e l'Italia" in N. Ant. (1932), 312.

4 Ecl. I.6‑10.

5 Dessau, 8393.

6 It is clear, I think, that we cannot take the claim in Mon. Anc. I.16‑19, that he paid for all land taken, to refer to the colonization after Philippi.

7 "senatus caligatus."

8 The Perusian war is full of uncertainties. Octavian appears to have had four veteran legions with him, besides the six under Salvidienus. Lucius had the six which he raised as consul, and counted upon eleven in Cisalpine Gaul, which were of no use to him. Agrippa seems to have been mainly responsible for the tactics of the siege: but see Reinhold, M. Agrippa, 18‑20. The authorities are Suet. Div. Aug. 14; App. V.24 sqq.; Dio XLVIII.12 sqq.; Vell. II.74. The story of the human sacrifices ("arae Perusinae") reported by Suetonius and Dio and by Seneca (de clem. I.11), is demonstrably false; cf.  J. S. Reid, "Human Sacrifices in Rome," J. R. S. II (1912), 41‑4.

9 The authorities for the charges are Suet. Div. Aug. 70; Dio LVI.43; Seneca, de clem. I.10. Ferrero, who has a taste for garish colours, accepts them implicitly (III.247).

10 Phil. III.15.

11 Most of the lesser Latin authors whose works have accidentally survived were eager to relieve their dull pages by retailing ancient scandal, like the stories of Trajan's addiction to wine and boys, and the blameless Nerva's "vinolentia."

12 The first is the view of Ferrero (III.237); the second of C. A. H. (X.69); the third, to which I incline, is fully discussed in The Messianic Eclogue of Virgil by Mayor, etc. (1907). See also J. Carcopino, Virgile et le mystère de la IVe Églogue (1930), and Rose, Handbook of Lat. Literature, 242 n.

13 Augustus had to restore no less than eighty‑two. Mon. Anc. IV.17.

14 Cf. Augustine, Civ. Dei IV.27.

15 e.g.  Epod. XVI.

16 "eine ehrliche Zuneigung."

17 "genere, probitate, forma Romanarum eminentissima," Vell. II.75.

18 Dio XLVIII.34.

19 The whole question of dates is discussed, and certain traditional scandals refuted, by J. Carcopino, "Le mariage d'Octave et de Livie," Rev. Hist., CLXI (1929) 325‑36.

20 Livia was herself of the Claudii, for her father, M. Livius Drusus Claudianus, was a Claudian who had been adopted into the Gens Livia.

21 It is not clear how far this arrangement received legal confirmation. There had been a lex to establish the first triumvirate, and there seems to have been a plebiscite, obtained by the legally minded Octavian, to confirm the second. But Appian and Dio contradict each other and the former contradicts himself. The subject is fully discussed by W. Kolbe, Hermes XLIX.274 sqq.


Thayer's Note:

a Propertius was definitely from Umbria; probably from the area around Asis and Mevania (the modern Assisi and Bevagna): for details see my note to the Encyclopaedia Britannica article Mevania.

Far less is known about Tibullus, however, and to the point, he is not known to have had any connection with Umbria, either with the modern region by that name or with the larger region of Roman times. He is often said to have been from Gabii in the Latium, but that rests on a modern scholar's emendation, to my mind unconvincing, of a passage in Suetonius' one-paragraph blurb on the poet (Vita Tibulliq.v.). We further read, as a given, that Tibullus had something to do with the little town of Pedum — site unknown, although somewhere in the southern Latium, not in Umbria — but nothing could be less certain here either: the conjecture is based on a passage of Horace (Ep. 1.4.2) which has been taken to refer to Tibullus although he is not explicitly named in it; scholars have long debated the question. The passage at any rate gives us no warrant to go further and claim that Tibullus was a landowner in Pedum. See Dorothea Roberts' Latian Summers (a partial translation of Gregorovius' Wanderjahre in Italien), p60, my notes e and f.


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