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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 14
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

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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Ch. 16

 p149  Chapter XV
Events of the year following the Assassination of Julius Caesar

The last public act of Julius Caesar affecting the Roman Province was the despatch of Tiberius Claudius Nero — the first husband of Livia, and father of Tiberius and Drusus — with fresh batches of Roman colonists, mostly veteran soldiers, to plant new or re-inforce existing colonies in Gaul. Of these only two, Narbonne and Arles, are mentioned by name, but the context1 expressly implies that there were others besides.

That Frejus was among them can hardly be questioned. For on that 'claustrum Galliae' alone was bestowed the distinction of being called after the conqueror Forum 'Julii.'

From having been at the outset a naval and military station settled amidst a native population, Forum Julii was now raised to the full rank of a Roman Colony. It is first mentioned B.C. 43 (the year following the death of Julius Caesar) in the correspondence of Cicero with Munatius Plancus, Proconsul of Gallia Comata.

To enable the reader to appreciate the importance of the events, of which the Roman Province was now to become the scene, it is necessary to take a general view of the political situation after the disappearance of Julius Caesar from the midst of the Roman world.

Notwithstanding that Caesar was Dictator at the time of his assassination (with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus  p150 for Master of his Horse), Marcus Antonius and P. Cornelius Dolabella, son-in‑law of Cicero, were associated with him as Consuls.

The dictatorship having fallen to the ground, the supreme power in the state devolved upon the Consuls, who at first took opposite sides.

While Marc Antony stood forth as the champion of Caesarism, Dolabella, under the influence of Cicero, maintained the cause of the Senate, which was that of the assassins of Caesar. He even went the length of removing the column and altar, which the partisans of Caesar had erected in the Forum in his honour, and caused those of the intending worshippers on whom he could lay hands either to be hurled from the Tarpeian rock or be crucified. Dolabella, however, was shortly after got rid of, accepting as he did the bribe of the proconsulship of Syria, proffered him by Antony.

Meanwhile a more formidable rival to the championship of Caesarism arrived in the person of the young Octavianus, who was pursuing his studies of Greek at Apollonia, when the news of his great-uncle's death reached him. On his arrival at Rome, he presented himself before Antony, claiming to be recognised as the testamentary heir of his uncle and father by adoption.

But as Antony had already spent in bribery the bulk of the 4000 talents (about 1 million sterling) which Calpurnia, the widow of Julius Caesar, had handed over to him, as Caesar's relative and representative (for Antony's mother was a Julia), he received Octavianus with such coldness as to drive him into the opposite camp.

Welcomed by Cicero and the party of the Senate, Octavianus proceeded notwithstanding to summon to his standard the veteran soldiers, dispersed all over Italy on farms granted them by his uncle.

When towards the end of the year B.C. 44, Marc Antony, before the expiration of his consulship, left Rome for Gallia Cisalpina with the object of expelling  p151 from the governorship of that Province Decimus Brutus, who had been confirmed in his appointment originally made by Caesar himself, Octavianus put himself and his veterans at the disposal of the Senate to lend a hand in putting down Antony.

Invested with the rank of praetor, and acting in concert with the consuls of the year, Aulus Hirtius and Vibius Pansa, Octavianus in the spring of B.C. 43 marched at the head of his veterans into Gallia Cisalpina, where Marc Antony was laying siege to Mutina (Modena), within the defences of which ancient fortress Decimus Brutus had taken refuge.

Although the fighting in the neighbourhood of Mutina resulted in the total defeat of Antony and the consequent relief of Brutus, both consuls by some unfortunate fatality lost their lives in the operations. As their deaths occurred most opportunely for Octavianus, who was known to have coveted the consulship, some suspect of connivance at their deaths fell upon their youthful associate. When Octavianus subsequently declined to join Decimus Brutus in a vigorous pursuit of Antony, it soon became evident that he had a game of his own to play, which was not that of Cicero and the Senate.

The correspondence of Cicero2 with the three generals commanding in the three Gallic provinces at the moment of Antony's defeat enables us to follow step by step the events there enacted, which led directly up to the overthrow of the republic. It is a bit of history, which only the light of local colouring can bring into full relief.

Of the three generals ostensibly commanding for the Senate in the Gauls, Decimus Brutus in Gallia Cisalpina, Lucius Munatius Plancus in Gallia Ulterior, and Aemilius Lepidus in Provincia Narbonensis, only the first was a genuine republican. The other two, Plancus and Lepidus, were political trimmers, without any fixed principles, and only bent on finding themselves on the winning  p152 side. Both however in their letters made strong professions of their devotion to Cicero and the republic. It would appear that Cicero was deceived by them both, while Decimus Brutus, who distrusted Lepidus from the beginning, continued to believe in the loyalty of Plancus to the last.

Such were the men, on whose decision the future of the republic depended at this important crisis.

Octavianus in the meanwhile kept in the background, intriguing all round, and displaying even at that age — he was not yet turned 20 — the remarkable sagacity, for which he was distinguished during his whole career.

The first letter in the series, which sets forth the situation after the defeat and flight of Antony from Modena, is one addressed to Cicero by Decimus Brutus, from the camp Dertona, May 5, B.C. 43.

If the reader will take the trouble to glance at the Map of the Riviera at the beginning of the volume, he will observe that Dertona (Tortona) whence the letter is dated is situated at the junction of two Roman roads — the Via Postumia leading to Genoa, and the Via Aemilia Scauri leading to Savona. Having two days' start of Brutus, Antony had just passed through Dertona on his flight from Modena through Placentia to Vada Sabata.

"I want you to know where that place is," writes Decimus Brutus to Cicero; "It lies at the point of junction of the Alps and Apennines3 and in a most difficult line of country to march through."

When in B.C. 109, Aemilius Scaurus, the Censor, carried the Etrurian coast-road known as Via Aurelia onwards through Pisae and Luna4 under the name called from himself 'Aemilia,' he made Vada Sabata its terminus on the coast, though he continued it inland across the Apennines to Dertona.

 p153  The pass over the Apennines behind Vada (Savona) being the lowest to be met with along the entire Riviera, the Romans adopted it in preference to that by way of Genoa, as the main thoroughfare of their communications between Gallia Cisalpina and Liguria. They established a Castra Stativa there, which remained their headquarters on the coast till the time of Augustus.

It was by this pass and this road that Antony had outstripped his pursuers in reaching the coast at Vada, where he was joined by his lieutenant Ventidius with the seventh, eighth, and ninth Legions, and by his brother Lucius Antonius, with a force of five thousand cavalry, which had escaped with its entire strength from before Modena.

Dertona, whence the letter of Decimus Brutus is dated, is described by Strabo as "a considerable city (ἀξιόλογος), lying half-way between Genoa and Placentia." The Roman city, at the foot of which the modern Tortona stretches out, was built on heights, forming spurs of the Apennines thrown out towards the Po. It was a strategic position of great importance, being the first of a succession of natural fortresses, thrown out en échelon as if to defend the approaches to Placentia from the west.

Between Vada Sabata and Dertona it is still possible to come upon some traces of the inland prolongation of the Via Aemilia Scauri. As no local information is to be got, and the guide books are absolutely silent on the subject, I will endeavour to supply sufficient data to guide the steps of any further traveller who may be tempted to explore the region.

Driving from Savona5 through its western suburb to Vado, where the tradition of the Roman camp survives in the name Quintana, still retained by one of its streets, you cross the plain to the village of Quiliano, where at the foot of the hills the carriage road ends, and a  p154 rough track continues up the valley in a north-easterly direction.

Induced by a preliminary study of the Itinerary of Antonine and the Table of Peutinger to strike the Apennines at Quiliano, I was encouraged to proceed by the easiness of the ascent, and the report that I should shortly come upon traces of three bridges.

In less than an hour, I had encountered the first of the trio. I was however totally unable to judge of its age as it had lately received a thick coating of plaster. Crossing it, I mounted the zig-sags, by which the track is carried onwards up steep and grassy slopes to a higher level, where I was confronted by bridge No. 2 of unmistakeably Roman construction. Although a mere footpath leads up to either end of the bridge, there is a 9 ft. wide roadway still well preserved on the bridge itself. I have no doubt that this determines the passage of the Via Aemilia Scauri.

About half-an‑hour further up, the valley divides into two branches, the left hand one having been followed by the Roman road, as is proved by the ruins of bridge No. 3, the massive concrete piers and arches of which have alike collapsed and block up the narrow bed of the stream.

The whole distance from Quiliano at the foot of the Pass to the village of Cadibona on the summit may be accomplished in less than three hours, giving time for examination of the bridges. As Cadibona is on the high road from Savona, a carriage may be sent on to await the traveller there. On the south side of the Apennines I know of nothing but the remains of these bridges to declare the former passage of the Via Aemilia Scauri. On the north side however, between the modern Acqui (Aquae Statiellae) and Tortona, I followed the road itself for at least two miles continuously in the territory of the Commune of Sezze.a

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Roman bridge, on Via Julia Augusta, between Vado and Cadibona — the village seen through the arch.

Under the name of 'Via Levata' (raised road) it crops up in the plain between the rivers Bormida and  p155 Orba and is carried in a straight line through the crops. Although its crown is uniformly 9 ft. wide and its base a foot or two wider, it appears to be entirely disused and leads nowhere, ending abruptly in a cornfield.º I could however distinctly trace the line of its onward course through the standing corn up to the bank of the River Orba, where there is no longer a bridge to carry it over.

There is no sign of pavement left anywhere along the road, which consists of loose stones and gravel, resting on what has proved a practically indestructible substratum of concrete.

There is a commodious and clean Inn at the village of Sezze, which is a convenient centre for visiting the battlefield of Marengo, as well as exploring what remains of the Via Aemilia Scauri.

The 'Sindaco' and the Schoolmaster at Sezze are both obliging and enlightened guides to the honours of the place, and will readily point out the course of the 'Via Levata' through the communal territory.

The Author's Notes:

1 Suetonius, Tiberius, c. 4.

2 Epist. ad Fam. X, XI, passim.

3 I have given my reasons in a former chapter for placing the junction of the Alps and Apennines elsewhere.

4 Strabo, p217.

5 Savona, where fair accommodation is afforded at the Albergo Srizzera,º will be found the most convenient headquarters for exploring the region.

Thayer's Note:

a The only Italian comune now called Sezze is hundreds of kilometers away: the ancient town in the Lazio (Setia in Roman times); Sezze here is an older name for Sezzadio. Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand-Book to Italy (1865, Vol. X), describes a branch rail line ascending the Bormida, "following the track of the Via Aurelia Posthuma" from Alessandria to Acqui and Savona, and puts the railway station of "Sezze" on it, at 16 km out from Alessandria.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 17