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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 15
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. 17

 p156  Chapter XVI
Meeting of Antony and Lepidus
on the River Argens

I have explained in the preceding Chapter that Vada Sabata, where Marc Antony made a brief halt in the permanent camp, was at that time the terminal coast station and inland turning point of the Via Aemilia Scauri. It was his last chance of procuring supplies from a Roman base, on the Italian side of the Maritime Alps, which had never yet been scaled by a Roman army.

But no ordinary depot could have nearly sufficed to meet the extraordinary call now made upon it. Not only had the motley and disorderly crowd now gathered around Antony, consisting of demoralized legionaries, jail-birds and casuals pressed into the ranks during his flight from Modena to the coast, to be provided for, but the three fresh legions brought in by Ventidius and the body of 5,000 cavalry by L. Antonius.

If Antony could have reckoned on being joined by the legions which Ventidius Basus his able legate had recruited amongst Caesar's veterans and his native Picenates and brought unexpectedly from the shores of the Adriatic into Liguria, he would have been less eager to fill up the ranks of his own legions with such worthless material. At Vada Antony found himself once more at the head of a considerable force, but not of strength sufficient to turn round and face Decimus Brutus, who had arrived at Acqui with 7 legions in pursuit of him.

 p157  There was nothing for it then but to continue his flight into Gallia Narbonensis, across the Maritime Alps and the hardly less formidable Esterel mountains lying between the Alps and Forum Julii.

If he could but once reach the Roman Province, Antony fully reckoned on bringing over to his side his old associate Lepidus.

But to attempt to carry an unprovided force of 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry for about 100 miles first along an arid strip of coast, presenting a succession of precipitous headlands, and then over a double range of mountains destitute of food or water-supply, was a task which only a general in desperate circumstances would have undertaken.

Both Pompey and Caesar, when it became necessary to march armies into Gaul over the Alps, deliberately avoided the coast-road.

How Antony and his followers paid desperately for their temerity we read in Plutarch's life1 of him:—

"Antony, in his flight, was overtaken by distresses of every kind, and the worst of all of them was famine. But it was his character in calamities to be better than at any other time. Antony, in misfortune, was most nearly a virtuous man. It is common enough for people, when they fall into great disasters, to discern what is right, and what they ought to do; but there are but few who in such extremities have the strength to obey their judgment, either in doing what it approves or avoiding what it condemns; and a good many are so weak as to give way to their habits all the more, and are incapable of using their minds. Antony, on this occasion, was a most wonderful example to his soldiers. He, who had just quitted so much luxury and sumptuous living, made no difficulty now of drinking foul water and feeding on wild fruits and roots. Nay, it is related they ate the very bark of trees, and,  p158 in passing over the Alps, lived upon creatures that no one before had ever been willing to touch."

That any of the troops which followed Antony and his legate Ventidius Bassus along the Riviera and across the Alps should have survived the terrible ordeal, is harder to understand than that many of them perished in the attempt. For of those who safely achieved the passage of the Alps many must have succumbed, exhausted in the deep gorges of the Esterel, choked as they are with the impenetrable thicket for which that range has always been remarkable. To what extent the passage of the Esterel may have been facilitated by the existence of the road, which the Massiliots were under obligation to construct along the shore, we have no means of judging.

That no classical writer should as much as even mention the name of the Esterel may be taken as a proof that as a rule the Romans gave it a wide berth. The name Esterel is said to be derived from "Sueltri" — a Ligurian tribe marked in the Table of Peutinger above Forum Julii. As I have reminded the reader more than once, Roman armies were in the habit of reaching Forum Julii by sea. But Antony was entirely without ships to carry him even from Monaco, where Roman armies sometimes embarked for Gaul and Spain, after marching so far, as we know that the unfortunate Consul C. Hostilius Mancinus did.2

The starving and draggled condition of Antony and his followers, as they emerged into the open from the tangled thickets of the Esterel and presented themselves like so many scarecrows at the gates of Forum Julii, can be more readily imagined than described.

The date of Antony's arrival at Forum Julii is fixed by a letter from L. Munatius Plancus to Cicero written in the latter half of May B.C. 43, from the neighbourhood of Grenoble:—

"Antony with the first division of his army reached  p159 Forum Julii on May 15. Ventidius is within 2 days' march of him. Lepidus is encamped at Forum Voconii, a place which is 24 miles from Forum Julii."3

A letter from Lepidus himself to Cicero, dated:—

In camp at the Bridge of the Argens May 22, B.C. 43. (In castris ad Pontem Argenteum XI Kal. Jun. — A. V. C. 711) M. Lepidus Imp. Iter. Pont. Max. S. D. M. Tullio Ciceroni.4

"As soon as I heard that Antony, having sent ahead his brother Lucius with part of his cavalry, was making for my province with his army, I broke up my camp at the confluence of the Rhone and Durance and advanced to meet him. Marching without intermission, I came to Forum Voconii, and pitched my camp beyond on the banks of the Argens, opposite that of Antony. Ventidius has joined him with 3 legions . . . He has a large force of cavalry, which is intact, not having been engaged. It is at least 5,000 strong. As far as this war is concerned, I shall not be found wanting either to the Senate, or the Republic."

A fortnight's rest in the fertile plain of Frejus worked a marvellous change in the appearance and condition of the troops, the cavalry finding abundance of the forage for which the place is still noted. With ranks replenished and fitted out afresh the army of Antony and Ventidius proceeded to march up the valley of the Argens to its meeting with Lepidus. It is hardly too much to say, that on the result of that meeting depended the fate of the Roman Republic.

Although Plutarch represents Antony as approaching Lepidus in the garb of a suppliant, with long and disordered hair and beard unshaved since his defeat, it seems highly improbable that so haughty a character as Antony could have condescended to adopt such an  p160 attitude in the presence of one so immeasurably his inferior as Lepidus. It appears indeed morally certain that from the first there was a complete understanding in both armies that there was to be no fighting. For even supposing that Lepidus had attempted to redeem the pledge he had given to Cicero that he would stand by the Senate and the Republic, it is almost certain that he could not have carried his army with him.

For the feeling in favour of Caesarism was almost as universal in the Roman army at this period as it was in the French army, when Napoleon appealed to it on his escape from Elba in 1815. Perhaps the only convinced republican in the camp of Lepidus was the Senator Laterensis, who was the accredited representative of the Senate and who took his own life at the Pons Argenteus rather than survive what he considered an act of base treachery. His was indeed the only drop of blood which tinged the limpid waters of the Argens.

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Mediaeval bridge, replacing Roman Pons Argenteus.

Meanwhile L. Munatius Plancus, who had been hovering with his army among the spurs of the Basses Alps and had approached within two days' march of Forum Voconii (or Vocontii as it is sometimes written), on hearing of the understanding between Antony and Lepidus thought it prudent to return to Grenoble to await the further turn of events. For it was clear that until Octavianus had definitely declared himself, it would be risky to take a side. He had besides to reckon with the determined attitude of Decimus Brutus, who lay with his army of seven legions at Eporedia (Ivrée) at the foot of the Little St Bernard, ready at any moment to cross the Alps and hold him true to his pledge to the Republic.

It was not long however before it became clear to Munatius Plancus that it would be agreeable to Octavianus that he should abandon Cicero and the senatorial party, and throw in his lot definitely with that of Antony and Lepidus. He accordingly joined his forces to theirs.

For in the month of August, B.C. 43, Octavianus, having got himself elected Consul with Quintus Pedius  p161 for his colleague, succeeded in passing a law styled 'Lex Pedia,' which declared all the murderers of his uncle Julius Caesar to be outlaws.

Amongst these was Decimus Brutus, whose position in Gallia Cisalpina now became desperate. For the combined armies of Antony Lepidus and Plancus threatened to bear down upon him from Gaul beyond the Alps, while Octavianus, who was commissioned to put the 'Lex Pedia' into execution, was marching towards the Po valley from the South.

Worse than all, he could no longer rely on the loyalty of the majority of his legions. There was nothing then left for Decimus Brutus but to make an attempt to join his fellow outlaw Marcus Brutus in Macedonia. He was however waylaid at Aquileia at the foot of the Julian Alps, and put to death by order of Antony.

Meanwhile, the decrees which had been passed by the Senate acting under the influence of Cicero earlier in the year declaring Antony and Lepidus enemies of their country had been duly repealed before Octavianus effected his junction with them at Bononia.

It was on an island in the river now called the Reno, which flows into the Po beyond Bologna, that the meeting took place, which resulted in the appointment of C. Caesar (Octavianus), M. Antonius, and M. Lepidus as Triumvirate for regulating the affairs of the Republic for a period of five years (Reipublicae Constituendae per quinquennium).

It is notorious that the first act of this body was to agree upon a list of victims, each of the Triumvirs besides handing over their respective enemies to the executioner obliging their colleagues by the sacrifice of some personal friend or relative.

Cicero, who had been the mouth-piece of the Senate and by the recent delivery of his Philippics had rendered himself especially obnoxious to the vindictiveness of Antony, was amongst the first to pay the death penalty.

The head of the illustrious orator and his right hand  p162 were severed from his body by orders of Antony, and affixed to the Rostra, the scene of so many of his former triumphs. It is related that Fulvia the wife of Antony ran a gold pin through the dead orator's tongue.

In the appointment of their respective spheres of government amongst the Triumvirs, Gaul was assigned to Antony, as one of his provinces. He does not however appear to have ever resided there, preferring the charms of Cleopatra and the luxuries of an Oriental life.

It was reserved for Augustus, after the defeat of his rival at the battle off Actium B.C. 31, to organize finally the administration of the Gallic provinces.

While Lyons (Lugdunum) became the Roman capital of Gallia Comata, the Provincia Narbonensis was administered separately from the rest of Gaul, at first by Augustus and afterwards by the Senate.

It was never Gallic at heart, the Provincials having shown more sympathy with the rebellion of Sertorius in Iberia than with that of Vercingetorix in Gaul. It was at Lugdunum that the representatives of the 60 'civitates' of Gallia Comata met, under the presidency of an elected High Priest, to worship at the famous altar of Augustus and Rome, which competed successfully with Druidism.

The colossal monument erected in honour of Augustus at Turbia commemorates his final victory over the Alpine tribes (B.C. 12) and the opening up of a safe road to traders over the Maritime Alps, which, as so recently conquered, were placed under the orders of a Prefect, directly appointed by the Emperor.

The Author's Notes:

1 The extract is from Clough's Edition (Nimmo, 1893).

2 Val. Max. I.6.7.

3 Cicero, ad Fam. X.17.

4 Cicero, ad Fam. X.34. The bridge over the Argens is within one mile of the station Les Arcs, where all the expresses stop between Toulon and Cannes.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16