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Chapter XVIII

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter XX

 p332  Chapter XIX

From Autocracy to Dyarchy

The death of Caesar. To Greeks and Romans there was nothing shocking in the thought of assassinating tyrants. It was supposed that republics could not survive otherwise. The national song of Athens, which all Romans knew, was a hymn that honored Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and two of Rome's most distinguished families, the Junii and the Servilii, rested their fame on the suppression of "tyrants." Marcus Brutus was considered to be the last scion of both of these families, and as far back as the first "triumvirate" it was rumored that he belonged to a group of young nobles who were considering the possibility of removing both Pompey and Caesar by use of the dagger. The rumor seems to have been baseless, but it reveals the attitude of Romans on the question. Devotion to the republic and to liberty was wellnigh a religion among the older families that carried on the ancient traditions. If men of such families should be fully convinced that Caesar would not restore the Republic, and that he intended to hand down autocracy to his heir, thereby making it permanent, they would consider it their sacred duty to remove him by force, and hesitation would only convict them of cowardice.

Caesar had been too astute to announce his plans, for he knew Rome's feeling thoroughly. After the great triumph in 46, which had made the older senators wellnigh lose hope, Caesar had ostentatiously recalled several of his most bitter opponents, thereby again winning respect for a season. Cicero was, for the moment, so optimistic that in a speech in the Senate he suggested that the time was near at hand when the restoration of the Republic  p333 might be looked for. But in 45 Caesar's acts, one by one, revealed a constant trend toward autocracy. His acceptance of divine honors could, to Romans who knew the kingdoms of the East, mean only one thing. When he heard of Caesar's statue placed in the temple of Quirinus, Cicero for the first time uttered the fatal word. He could only wish the tyrant's death. Then Caesar began to prepare forces for the Parthian expedition and rumors had it that before his departure he was to be declared rex, at least over the East. The significance of this Parthian expedition was not lost. There had been no actual provocation for it unless Caesar chose to find it in a desire to punish the enemy for the old disgrace at Carrhae. The collection of sixteen legions could only mean a vast plan of military conquest and an aggressive imperialism that would elevate Caesar to the position of an Alexander in the east, and make a senatorial republic permanently impossible. Caesar talked also of extending the Macedonian and Thracian frontiers to the Danube and the Gallic frontier deep into Germany. The Senate knew well that the empire was too large for the old constitution. A man as clear of vision as Caesar could not plan such expansion unless he had firmly determined upon autocracy.

How the conspiracy arose we are not told, for the conspirators naturally kept silence as they had sworn to do. Furthermore, the historians of the late Empire who wrote most fully were apt to distort the facts, since under the emperors tyrannicide had come to be the blackest of crimes. Men like Brutus, who were respected for their other virtues, were then represented as inveigled into the deed against their will. The most significant fact is that, aside from Cassius, the most distinguished members of the conspiracy were two Junii and two Servilii. Such men were influenced chiefly by family traditions and a sense of duty toward the Republic. That some conspirators acted from other motives  p334 we can hardly doubt. Young men who had expected to enter politics as a permanent career could not well view with complaisance the absolute control of all elections by one man. Others found themselves shoved aside for men who were more subservient to the master. But the conspirators could not afford to scrutinize motives. They naturally invited the aid of all whom they discovered to be dissatisfied with Caesar's régime, and some sixty men joined in the plot. The directing minds were those of Brutus and his brother-in‑law, C. Cassius Longinus, both praetors of the year 44, and Decimus Brutus, a relative of both.

The plan to do the deed at the elections of February fell through, but at the Senate meeting of the Ides of March 44, a meeting called, it is said, to declare Caesar rex just before his departure for Parthia, the last opportunity was at hand. Tillius Cimber was chosen to present a plan for his brother's recall from exile, the conspiring senators approached Caesar as though to add their entreaties, at a signal they drew their daggers and struck him down.

Antony's ambitions. The city was full of Caesar's veterans, some to receive allotments of land, others merely to bid farewell to their hero. Their anger was roused, and Mark Antony, the older of the consuls, was quick enough of wit to take advantage of the situation. When he saw that the conspirators were greeted by hisses in the Forum and were forced to withdraw to the Capitoline for safety, he decided that it might be possible to establish himself in Caesar's place. He at once seized Caesar's papers and ready money, an immense sum, entered into agreement with Lepidus, Caesar's master of horse, who had command of the soldiers in the city, and awaited developments. Numerous partisans gathered on both sides so that neither dared take the offensive. Finally having secured the reins of power, Antony offered to call a meeting  p335 of the Senate and agree to a decree of amnesty for the "liberators" if the Senate in turn would accept the validity of Caesar's acts and accord Caesar an honorable burial. This arrangement was accepted. At the funeral, however, which took place a few days later, Antony read Caesar's will to the crowd in the Forum, revealing the fact that their hero had given them his gardens and had left a sum of 300 sesterces to each individual. Then in a stirring harangue he related the exploits of Caesar, described the murder, and displayed the mangled body, rousing the mob to such fury that they dashed with any weapon they could seize to find the guilty. The conspirators made haste to leave the city and Antony pursued undisturbed and unguarded his plans for strengthening his control. There seemed to be only two serious difficulties in his way. Decimus Brutus had been assigned to Cisalpine Gaul as governor and had now gone to take possession. If Antony dared declare himself dictator Decimus would, of course, march down with his army. Antony, therefore, decided to follow a more patient course. In June he cajoled the people into voting him the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul for the next year, and, fearing that Decimus might not give it up, he also asked them to put him in command of the four legions which had been quartered beyond the Adriatic in preparation for the Parthian war. The liberators took this to mean that Antony was preparing to cross the Rubicon at his convenience at some future time. Marcus Brutus sailed off to France where he had many friends, and Cassius went to Syria where he had once commanded the legions stationed at Antioch. Their plan was to bide their time, and if Antony should attack their comrade in Gaul before his term was ended, they would be stationed where they had the best chance of raising forces.

However, Caesar's grandnephew and heir, Octavian or, as he was known after his adoption, C. Julius Caesar, stood  p336 in Antony's way.​1 This lad of eighteen was near the eastbound legions at Apollonia studying rhetoric and philosophy with his tutors while awaiting Caesar's arrival. He was a quiet and apparently modest young man about whose existence the liberators had not concerned themselves. They probably did not know that he was to be Caesar's heir. Antony knew him better, and knew, too, that he might become a political force if he should happen to appeal to Caesar's veterans. But Antony at the funeral made himself the friend of the veterans, and he had stripped Octavian, he thought, of power to do harm, by seizing Caesar's ready money in the name of the state-treasury, to which he kept the keys. It seemed quite possible to overawe the young man. When Octavian heard of Caesar's death he at once set out for Rome to claim his inheritance, stopping on his way at Cumae to see Cicero who, as a senator not implicated in the murder, might be a convenient friend. When Antony refused to give up Caesar's treasures, Octavian sold his own possessions and the real property of Caesar, paying the donations required by the will, and this deed naturally made him very popular. When Antony sent for the four legions beyond the Adriatic, Octavian, who knew the officers intimately, succeeded by promising lavish pay in enticing two of the legions to revolt and to withdraw to a strong position and await his command. Thus he hoped to force Antony to recognize him as Caesar's heir. In these daring, not to say well-nigh treasonable acts, Octavian had the approval of Cicero, who saw in the young man the only chance of keeping Antony from the dictatorship.

Cicero as leader of the Senate. At the end of the year Antony marched into Gaul with the two legions that remained  p337 faithful to him and demanded that Decimus Brutus surrender him his province at once, though it apparently had been granted him by Caesar till March first. Brutus refused, and Antony undertook to besiege him at Mutina. Now the state was in a turmoil again. Marcus Brutus, who had apparently been attending philosophic lectures at Athens, called upon the officers of the Macedonian legions to put themselves at his disposal, and they did so. Cassius issued a similar decree in Syria with equal success. Cicero, their friend, though holding no office, came to Rome and assumed the leadership of the Senate, old and out of harness though he was. But his presence was essential because the two young consuls of the year, Hirtius and Pansa, both former officers of Caesar and friends of Antony, were none too reliable. It was only the constant influence of Cicero that could hold them true to the Senate. The amazing energy of the old orator, who planned and coaxed and pleaded for loyal support, is revealed by the fourteen Philippics delivered in this year, and the scores of semi-official letters in which he urged the many lukewarm governors of the various provinces to declare in favor of the Republic and against Antony. Since the Senate had no army with which to aid Decimus against Antony, and the efforts of Hirtius and Pansa to build up a new army made little progress, Cicero had the Senate give Octavian praetorial powers and recognize him as commander of the two legions that he had enticed away from Antony. Brutus and Cassius were raising strong forces, but could not come West until they had cleared the province of Asia, which was held by Antony's partisan, Dolabella. Furthermore, it was considered inadvisable for them to appear, since their presence would cool the ardor of Caesar's veterans, who made up a large part of the new recruits and of Octavian's army.

In April, 43, an indecisive battle was fought between Antony and the senatorial forces, at which Pansa was mortally wounded. A few days later the decision in favor of the  p338 Senate came at Mutina, but in this battle Hirtius fell. The result was disastrous. Octavian, who had willingly lent his forces to Hirtius and Pansa, refused to work with Decimus Brutus, who had been one of Caesar's murderers, and Antony accordingly succeeded in escaping with a large remnant. He fled to Transalpine Gaul, where his old friend Lepidus had command of strong forces, and was received.

The triumvirate. The Senate gave the command of the senatorial forces in Gaul to Decimus Brutus. Octavian, fearing that he would merely be set aside by the Senate, which naturally sympathized with Brutus and Cassius, appealed to his soldiers to support his position, and though he was not yet twenty years of age, sent a demand to the Senate that he be given the consulship. The Senate refused and summoned Brutus and Cassius home. But Octavian had the advantage of being nearer at hand; he marched upon Rome with his legions, meanwhile inviting Antony and Lepidus to make common cause with him. The Senate yielded perforce; he was elected consul with his cousin Pedius, and immediately proposed a law declaring all the murderers of Caesar to be outlaws. But his perils were not yet over. Antony and Lepidus, who had meanwhile scattered the forces of Decimus Brutus, were entering Italy with 17 legions. Octavian was therefore not yet sure of his prize. The three met on a small island of the river near Bologna, and after much bargaining — for Antony was inclined to look upon Octavian as a youthful upstart — they came to terms. They agreed that they should be "triumvirs for settling the affairs of the commonwealth" (Triumviri Reipublicae constituendae) for a period of five years, Antony and Octavian were to wage the war against Brutus and Cassius, Antony was to have command of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul, Octavian of Sicily and Africa, while Lepidus was to govern Spain and look after Italy in the absence of the other two. The division shows that Octavian fared badly. The older men were apparently giving him the least  p339 possible portion, and that only because he had the favor of Caesar's veterans.

What followed this settlement was one of the coldest deeds of cruelty in Roman history. As Octavian had demanded the outlawing of the conspirators, so the other two demanded the death of their enemies. It is however pertinent to comment that while the Roman moral code would recognize as reasonable Octavian's desire to avenge the death of his uncle, no one would consider legitimate a decision to exact the death penalty for mere political hostility. Unfortunately the need for money overrode all reason. The three generals had gathered their legions only by means of lavish promises of money, and since all the East was in the hands of the republicans and the Roman treasury was empty, they knew that they must at once get funds by confiscation, or their soldiers would desert them. They accordingly drew up a proscription list of 300 senators and 2,000 equites, taking into consideration not only acts and words of hostility, but also the wealth of each. They pretended that history had proved in the case of Sulla and Caesar respectively that cruelty and firmness offered a safer policy than clemency. The terror in the city during November and December, when the lists were posted, was indescribable. Soldiers hunted out the marked persons, cut off their heads and brought them in, receiving gold for each head. Even slaves were rewarded for betraying their masters.

Among the rest Cicero fell a victim to Antony's vengeful hatred. Finding himself among the proscribed, he escaped from the city, and, securing a boat, had himself rowed down the coast of Italy; but he had no heart to go to Brutus, who had unfairly charged him with having made the initial mistake by accepting the services of Octavian. Deciding that his usefulness was ended he returned and went up to his villa at Formiae. When the murderers came his servants placed him in a litter and tried to rescue him, but they were  p340 overtaken. To save his attendants he forbade them to resist and gave himself up. Antony, to the horror of Rome, had Cicero's head nailed to the Rostra.

The responsibility for this policy of terror has usually been laid upon Mark Antony, and no doubt rightly. He was a strange combination of cool efficiency, of sentimentality that revealed itself in persuasive speeches to the people, and of ungovernable storms of passion. Seldom have such excellent natural qualities been corrupted by failure to submit to discipline. Antony was at this time a man of thirty-nine years. Lepidus was forty‑six — the oldest of the three — but he had never been a man of decision, having been advanced by Caesar because, while representing a very old family, he was willing to serve the master in any cause. Antony employed him for the present because of the provincial army which he had. Octavian, it is difficult to estimate. It is not likely that he viewed these deeds with complaisance — the rest of his life reveals very few traces of a cruel disposition. Shrewd he was, calculating, and ambitious; and his life during his impressionable years, so close to his imperious uncle, had given him no opportunity to enter into normal human relationships. He had grown up to accept the belief taught him by Caesar's career that the strong man, the superman, takes what he can and what he desires, and having a deep faith in his capacity to accomplish as much as Caesar had, he had assumed that he might become Caesar's heir in power as well as property if he would but lay out his course wisely. At the conference at Bologna his elders attempted to push him aside. He was so young that this seemed possible. He decided not to be trodden under foot, and through the loyalty of Caesar's old soldiers who had grown used to personal devotion, he was able to hold his place, though it was an inferior one. But he was hardly in a position to oppose the policy of cruelty that Antony insisted upon, and not having the moral courage to sacrifice his future for a principle, he acquiesced in the deeds of horror,  p341 and prepared to bide his time. That he did not risk everything to save the life of Cicero, who had vouched for him, is the greatest blot on his career.

The Battle of Philippi. The next task of the triumvirs was to subdue Brutus and Cassius. Brutus now had command of five legions in Macedonia. Cassius was in Syria, having gathered a force of nearly twelve legions from the garrisons of the eastern provinces. Since Dolabella, Antony's partner, held the province of Asia between Brutus and Cassius, it seemed wise to them to remain in the east and clear this province before marching westward, especially as Cicero then seemed to have the war with Antony well in hand. Cassius besieged Dolabella through the summer of 43, and Brutus marched into Thrace in the autumn to make sure that the land-road between them was passable. Meanwhile Octavian's sudden coup had changed the aspect of things at home. The triumvirate was formed very quickly and it controlled immense forces that could not possibly be met in Italy with an unorganized army. Brutus and Cassius therefore spent the winter of 43 in subduing Rhodes and Lycia, which had espoused the cause of the triumvirs. Unfriendly tribes and cities left in their rear might prove very troublesome by providing ships, provisions, and landing places for the enemy. They also exacted huge sums from the cities of Asia with which to pay their troops. These exactions were considered as forced loans authorized by the Senate and supposed to be paid back later. Since the republicans ultimately lost and the triumvirs naturally would not repay these loans — in fact they demanded an indemnity for aid given "to rebels" — the provincials suffered very severely through the war. In the summer of 42 the two republican armies set out westward for the final contest and met the forces of Antony and Octavian at Philippi in northern Macedonia just above modern Kavala. The republicans, having command of the sea, desired to put off the battle, but the Thracian and Asiatic auxiliaries  p342 proved refractory and Brutus urged haste. In the first contest Brutus' right wing facing Octavian won an easy victory, but Cassius on the left yielded before Antony's superior attack, and believing the day lost had himself put to death. Three weeks later the decisive battle was fought; Brutus, completely defeated, fell upon his sword, and his surviving officers surrendered their forces to the triumvirs.

It was perhaps as well that it ended so. Brutus and Cassius, had they won, would certainly have attempted to restore the old outworn city-state constitution; for they were both devoted to the conservative aristocracy. The Senate, deprived by the proscription of all its leading men, would have been more unfit than ever and it is doubtful whether Brutus was not still too much of an idealist and dreamer to apply the stern measures that Rome's government needed. In a day of higher political standards Brutus might have become a leader of great distinction. He possessed all the prestige of powerful family connections, his probity and moral courage​2 lent great weight to his word among his friends, he proved also to have skill as an administrator in Gaul, and as a general at Philippi. His decisions and judgments during the critical period in 43‑2 prove to be sound when rightly understood. That he had not prepared to cope with the trickery and ambition of Antony immediately after the Ides of March is perhaps his only serious blunder, but that miscalculation was well-nigh inevitable in a man who had no means of imagining the devious ways of a scoundrel. His failure now was in the main due to the fact that he had lost touch with the people he had to deal with, lost it by an incapacity to stoop to their level to comprehend them. Octavian, who had seen only civil war and bloodshed and trickery, comprehended fully the game that was being played, and was himself not incapacitated by too strict a conscience from participating  p343 in that game. Fortunately he was soon rid of Antony and could then grow to the full measure of his task.

After Philippi a new division of provinces was agreed upon. Lepidus was sent to Africa to be out of the way. Octavian took charge of Italy with the disagreeable task of finding land for 170,000 soldiers. Antony chose the East, where responsibilities would be light, where he would be far from the families of the senators and knights he had murdered, and where there were abundant opportunities to satisfy his extravagant love of pleasure. He also promised to exact money with which Octavian might purchase lands, but very little of this ever reached Rome. Octavian set about his task at once, and with cold directness. Sixteen cities selected by the triumvirs as unfriendly to their cause lost their land, which was given to the discharged soldiers. The distress of the evicted, among whom were three young men destined to become the greatest poets of the period, Vergil, Horace, and Propertius, was poignantly described in the first Eclogue of Vergil. The poor victims fled to cities to find work, where all the work was already in hands of slaves, or they drifted to Rome to beg enough grain at the public crib to keep body and soul together, or, as Vergil pictures them, they migrated to new lands, Africa or Britain, to begin life anew.

To make matters worse the consul Lucius Antonius, the brother of Mark Antony, and Fulvia, Mark Antony's wife, took advantage of the confusion and played upon the distress of the evicted, pretending that Octavian had done the deed contrary to the wishes of Mark Antony. It would seem that they hoped for an opportunity to overwhelm Octavian and bring back Mark Antony as dictator of Rome. Their real motives are difficult to determine in the confusion of charges made by historians, some going so far as to assert that the affair was but a stratagem on Fulvia's part to bring Antony west, away from Cleopatra's influence. At any rate, Lucius Antonius gathered an army of  p344 the discontents, and seized Rome, but was driven out by Octavian's general Agrippa. He was finally besieged at Perusia (Perugia) during the winter of 41‑40 and compelled to surrender.

Antony meanwhile had marched through Asia exacting indemnities of the cities that had aided Brutus and Cassius, and had begun his revels with Cleopatra so vividly dramatized by Shakespeare's paraphrase of Plutarch. In Egypt he remained while the Parthians overran his province of Syria, and while his wife and brother were being besieged at Perusia. Finally he bestirred himself. Sending Ventidius, a trusted lieutenant, against the Parthians, he mustered a large fleet and sailed against Italy, arriving only after the fall of Perusia and the death of his wife. A new civil war seemed imminent between Octavian and Antony, but mutual friends intervened and peace was made between them (the peace of Brundisium, 40 B.C.). The pact was sealed by Antony's marrying Octavia, the sister of Octavian, and Vergil celebrated the auspicious peace by writing the fourth Eclogue. For three years Antony lived at Athens with Octavia and directed the affairs of his provinces with laudable attention to duty, while his legatus, Ventidius, drove back the invading Parthians in two successive campaigns.

War with Sextus Pompeius. Octavian, on the other hand, was constantly occupied in a naval war with Sextus Pompey, who still controlled Sicily and refused to allow grain to be shipped to Rome. In 38 Octavian lost his whole fleet — a large part in a defeat at the hands of Pompey, and the remnant in a storm. He then decided to construct a great naval base where he could conveniently build a fleet as well as protect it from storms and sudden attacks. For this purpose he chose the beautiful crater-lake of Avernus — Vergil's famous description pictures it as he had seen it before this transformation — connected it with the sea by means of a canal, and covered its banks with docks and  p345 piers. After the renewal of the triumvirate for another five years, in 37, he set out again with 300 ships in 36 to end the war with Pompey. After another disaster in a storm, in which Octavian nearly perished, the decisive battle of Naulochus in September sent Pompey fleeing to Asia, where he was put to death by Antony's officers. This battle also marks the end of Lepidus' part in the triumvirate, for he seized the opportunity of attempting to take possession of the evacuated island, was intercepted by Octavian and sent to Rome to live as a private citizen. Octavian meanwhile went on with his work. His steady and evenhanded rule in Italy gained him the confidence of all classes. He encouraged talent wherever he could find it, gave aid to young poets like Vergil and Horace, watched over the courts, rebuking laxity and rewarding industry; and he led the army in person to pacify the frontiers still disturbed in Dalmatia and Pannonia.

The war with Antony and Cleopatra. Antony, however, had again fallen into evil ways after the renewal of the triumvirate. Octavia at that time returned to Rome, and Antony immediately betook himself to Cleopatra's court. A renewed invasion of the Parthians in 36 brought him out only to be shamefully defeated. He returned to Cleopatra to forget his disgrace. Now he began to assume the position of an Oriental royal divinity and pose as the husband of Cleopatra. To the queen he actually gave the Roman dominions of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and a large part of Cilicia, on the pretext that they had once belonged to the Ptolemies, and he finally went so far as to bestow the title of king upon the two sons that Cleopatra had borne him, setting apart in his will certain Roman provinces to be their domain. This was, of course, treasonable, and the facts were disclosed at Rome by men who in disgust deserted Antony. Antony's will was opened and the damning facts made known at Octavian's order. Since the term of the triumvirate came to an end in 32, the Senate brought matters to a crisis in that  p346 by declaring war on Cleopatra, the purpose being not only to avoid the appearance of civil war but also to lay a basis for annexing Egypt so that the temptations of this dangerous kingdom should not again lure a Roman from his duty. The opposing forces met at Actium in 31. Octavian led the land forces, while Agrippa commanded the navy. The victory was easily won, since Cleopatra, seeing that her chances of success were meager, gave orders to her sixty ships to flee as soon as the contest began. Antony followed hastily. After a few months spent in the eastern cities Octavian invaded Alexandria. Antony receiving a false report of Cleopatra's death — apparently sent by her in order to be rid of him — committed suicide. She hoped to find Octavian as amenable to her charms as she had found Caesar and Antony, but a conference with him convinced her of her mistake, and hearing that she was being reserved for the position of captive queen in his triumphal procession she took her own life.

Octavian assumed control of the kingdom of Egypt, and control there was almost equivalent to ownership, since the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies after them had claimed personal ownership of all lands that their irrigation system watered. He had no intention of leaving this rich country open to any possible rival, for its wealth and position were such that it might sustain very large forces. He therefore appointed his personal representative, the poet Cornelius Gallus, as prefect to govern it and manage its extensive state monopolies. He received into his own hands the enormous annual revenues, which he employed wherever he saw fit to the best advantage of the Roman treasury. He spent some months organizing Egypt and its business establishments, even ordering improvements in the irrigation system. Then going through the eastern provinces on a tour of inspection, he returned home to celebrate his triple triumph in the autumn of 29, showering such distinctive honors upon his young nephew Marcellus (his only child was a daughter,  p347 Julia) that men concluded the boy was designed to be his heir.

Octavian's position in the state. Octavian's power at this time rested on no constitutional basis, since the second period of the triumvirate had come to an end in the year 32. But he proceeded on the slim basis of the consulship, to which he was being reëlected annually, and on the prestige which his victories and factitive control of the armies gave him. That the Senate was willing to grant him any and every office that he chose to accept, and even the divine honors formerly accorded Caesar, everyone knew, since after Actium the Senate had voted that when public libations were poured to the divinities Octavian's name should also be mentioned. Octavian did not refuse this honor, nor did he make known what he thought of it. For the present Octavian quietly and sagaciously kept his own counsel, waiting until his plans for a practicable constitution should be complete. He set about restoring the temples and public buildings which had been neglected during the wars; the great temple to Apollo, with its public library, was dedicated in 28. But he revealed the trend of his thoughts when, employing his censorial powers, he cut down the Senate by 200 unworthy members and honored it by requesting that he be elected to the old republican position of princeps senatus. The surviving members of the Senate saw in all this a respect for old institutions very different from the antagonistic attitude of Julius Caesar.

Finally, on the 13th of January, 27, Octavian went before the Senate, declared that he desired that the Republic be restored, and that, while retaining the consulship to which he had just been elected for the seventh time, he would surrender his command over all provinces, including the armies and revenues of the provinces, and all privileges and powers not consonant with the position of a republican  p348 consul. The Senate immediately voted him proconsular powers and control of the provinces where there still seemed to be need of armed intervention, namely, Syria (bordering on Parthia), Gaul, upper Spain, and Egypt (where the prefect was suppressing Nubian invaders). Then it proceeded to vote him the title and name of Augustus (the revered), and in his honor changed the name of the month Sextilis to Augustus, a name it has since borne. This would of course give a distinct connotation to the word, since the other months that bore special names all had divine appellations. These honors Augustus, as he was henceforth called, accepted with thanks. He had surrendered all extra-constitutional power, he had in a very regular way received back the command of Rome's most important armies, and he could of course by means of these become whatever he might choose at Rome. He was then thirty-five years of age.

This act of self-abnegation has been endlessly discussed. Was Augustus playing a well-pondered rôle? Had he arranged with his closest advisers, Maecenas and Agrippa, what offices should be given to have if he placed himself at the mercy of the Senate? Was he actually eager to see a restoration of the Republic, or was he made silencing criticism by shifting from an extra-constitutional to a legal basis? These questions cannot now be definitely answered. Augustus doubtless knew that the Senate, which had very few of the republican nobles left and which had for twenty years become accustomed to obedience, would certainly not accept complete independence. The Senate would hardly dare propose it, if it should prove that Augustus was simply testing their loyalty. On the other hand, certain facts show clearly that Augustus had definitely turned his back on Caesar's autocracy, that he desired the Senate to become a responsible body and share in the burden of rule. For instance, his elevation of the Senate in the preceding year, his selection of the best possible men for the consulship, his  p349 abolition of the custom introduced by Caesar of granting the consulship for only a few months, his consistent refusal to invite unquestioned deification, his moderation in accepting merely the proconsular power when he might have had the dictatorship or any other office for life, and finally his immediate departure from Rome for nearly three years, giving the Senate every opportunity to prove its capacity — these things all tell strongly in favor of the theory that Augustus was sincere in his offer. Even if he agreed with his advisers beforehand that the proconsular power in some provinces should be returned to him, he cannot be charged with duplicity. That arrangement gave the Senate a chance to manage domestic affairs and several less dangerous provinces, thus growing into their responsibilities without being so overburdened as to fall into immediate disaster. And it gave the people comfort in the thought that partial failure on the part of the Senate would not end in civil war. Whether or not Augustus actually desired a "restoration of the Republic," he clearly did not intend to follow Julius Caesar, he certainly invited the old republican government to accept a considerable share in the new régime, and he gave it an opportunity to prove its capacity.

Soon after this Augustus set off for the west with an army. It was thought at the time that, besides pacifying some revolting tribes in Gaul and finally bringing the unruly tribes of Spain to complete subjection, he might also re‑invade Britain, which had repudiated all connections with Rome. The immediate call came from Spain, where Rome's legatus had found the Cantabrians beyond his power. The guerilla warfare in the Pyrenees proved a tedious task, and Augustus very soon fell ill. For two years he lay ill at Tarraco, directing the campaigns through his legati and conducting a census and reorganization of Gaul. Meanwhile Maecenas, holding a semi-official prefecture, kept him well informed of affairs at Rome, and his friend Agrippa, a man of much practical experience, kept the people  p350 well satisfied by directing the imperial building program, erecting the Pantheon and the elaborate "baths" and playgrounds named after him.

The Dyarchy. Augustus returned in 24, comprehending well that the Senate had had its opportunity to no purpose. It had never made any decisions without first ascertaining his will, and whenever he sent proposals for senatorial action the Senate had answered that his word should be law without action on the part of the Senate. His absence had not even served the purpose of a safety valve, for in 23 Murena, his colleague in the consulship, the brother-in‑law of Maecenas, conspired with some friends to put Augustus out of the way. For such reasons, it would seem, Augustus now arranged a new division of powers with the Senate. About the middle of the year he resigned from the consulship (which he did not again accept for eighteen years) and accepted in its place the tribunicia potestas for life, an office of humbler rank but of larger possibilities. Henceforth he controlled the frontier provinces, which contained the standing army, by right of the proconsular imperium, a gift of the Senate, and he controlled the legislative and veto power through the tribunicia potestas, a gift of the people. He could, therefore, afford to dispense with the consular office which formally bestowed executive power only in Rome and Italy. The ancient forms of a republic were perhaps even more respected than before by this arrangement, while Augustus' powers were made supreme in the two vital departments of the government. By this act Augustus virtually notified Rome that he would hold the reins of power for life, but that he still invited the Senate to a dignified share in the administration. The government thus constructed has well been called a Dyarchy, and it was on this basis that the government continued at least in form for the next three hundred years. From this time (23 B.C.) on, the inscriptions upon public buildings show that Augustus dated a new era by specifying in each the number  p351 of years that he had held the tribunicia potestas. Thus inscriptions of Augustus made in 10 B.C. all bear (after about July 1) the legend "Trib. Pot. XIII." And it has become customary in most modern histories to begin the story of the Roman Empire with the year 23 B.C. It must be admitted, however, that the change was made so quietly that very few men at Rome supposed the event epochal; and the people at large were quite unaware that anything worth a second thought had at that time transpired. It is only fair to the spirit of history therefore to continue the story of this chapter to another event that did impress Rome as epochal, even though it proved afterwards to have been of little political significance.

The administration of Augustus. The year 23 brought great grief to Rome because of the death of the much beloved Marcellus, Octavia's son, whom men had begun to look upon as Augustus' probable heir. Those who have read the sixth book of Vergil's Aeneid know what a loss the state sustained in this death. In the next year Augustus set out on a tour of the provinces again, going first to Sicily to see what could be done by way of procuring a food supply for Rome, since the harvests were now constantly poor and grain prices high. Apparently the soldiers settled by the triumvirs on the choicest lands of Italy were not succeeding as farmers. And Sicily had not improved under the rule of the degenerate son of Pompey. From Sicily he proceeded to the East, his chief purpose apparently being to make a demonstration against the Parthians, who had long ago promised under threats of war to return the standards that they had captured from the luckless Crassus thirty years before. It was quite contrary to Roman traditions that any foreign people should be allowed to flaunt trophies captured from a Roman army. The new threats now succeeded, and Augustus was able to return in the year 19, bringing with him the rescued standards. Meanwhile he had, through wise diplomacy, settled disputes in many of  p352 the client states, thereby avoiding the devastating wars which republican governors had too frequently invited for the sake of acquiring booty and triumphs. In fact the provincials were already learning that whether or no Rome enjoyed having a monarch they at least lived to see a day of better governments.

On his return Augustus made full use of his tribunicia potestas in proposing a series of reform laws, particularly touching the improvement of social and family institutions. He was deeply concerned about the number of divorces, the evidences of what we have come to call "race suicide," the unwillingness of men and women to assume the burdens of family life and the rearing of children. The chief cause for this condition was probably a general pessimism and a change of attitude towards civil duties that came on during the proscriptions and the terrors of the civil wars. Men began to suspect that they could hardly be in duty bound to rear large families only to see them destroyed in civil strife; and the uncertainties of life and of property made it very problematical whether the children of the next generation could survive. As we have intimated, the legal status of the family at Rome also had something to do with the problem. The Romans could not approach such social problems in the modern spirit, for the evolution of their family institutions was wholly different. We still consider the family in a large measure from the viewpoint of a church that ordained marriage as a religious duty and forbade divorce, and canon law has in this matter strongly influenced civil law. At Rome a marriage had been a contract under patriarchal care which the state need bother little about except in determining questions of inheritance and of legitimate citizenship. And now that patriarchal rule was weakening under the general growth of national legislation, the family, still unprotected by law, was, as it were, left in the air. Something needed of course to be done, but Augustus, who saw the need, was still too much influenced  p353 by Roman tradition to think of the possibility (if indeed it was a possibility) of placing the institution wholly under civil control. He did what seemed most reasonable by trying as a first experiment the imposing of penalties upon those who did not choose to marry, and by giving special privileges to those who reared families. He did not choose to have the civil authorities perform the marriage or say when to refuse a divorce. His law, so far as we know it, had these several provisions. Inheritance privileges and the right to attend public functions were restricted for those who did not marry after a certain age, for married persons who had no children, and for widows who did not remarry within a year. On the other hand, mothers of three children were given the property rights of men and freed from the potestas of their husbands and guardians. And furthermore, in order to invite women of property to marry, clauses were added securing to them protection of their dower-portion. There was also a somewhat surprising clause recognizing the citizenship of children born of the union of citizens and ex‑slaves (except in cases involving senators). Augustus was apparently not afraid of "race mixture." Finally, severe penalties were imposed for adultery. To allay the criticism evoked by the law a respite of three years was given before it went into effect. This, we see, is very much in line with new experiments that have been tried in some European countries since the Great War.

Besides these laws de maritandis ordinibus, many of the clauses of which we presumably do not possess, we also have brief and vague notices regarding a sumptuary law, and a corrupt practices act which was invited by the heavy election expenditures that were made at the polls during his absence in the East. Finally, he attempted a complete reconstitution of the membership of the Senate. For this he adopted an elaborate scheme whereby the Senate was enabled to select the best men of the state with as little interference from him as possible. Each of thirty first chosen were to select five,  p354 and out of this 150, thirty were to be chosen by lot, and this process was to continue till 600 had been chosen. To be sure this long drawn‑out process evoked such envy and ill feeling that he had finally to finish the job himself, but the Senate list was at any rate thoroughly revised and the inferior element excluded.

Peace seemed now to be established, the government was running in good order and the most essential reforms made. Augustus wished Rome to have an impressive celebration and to take time to consider her present greatness in the light of the past. By an intricate system of calculations he convinced the Senate that this was the proper time for hundred-year celebration of Rome's birth (certain saecula were for the purpose calculated at 110 years instead of 100). Splendid games were given, gifts distributed to the people, very solemn sacrifices performed by day and by night, and the poet Horace was asked to write a hymn to be sung by boys and girls. We have this song (the Carmen saeculare) among the Odes of Horace, and not many years ago there was found the great inscription on stone which gives a full description of the ceremony. The people participated with great rejoicing, thoroughly impressed and fully convinced that never before had a nation risen to such dignity through such heavy trials, and that the rule of Augustus had fully justified their faith in him.


The Author's Notes:

1 His name after adoption should have been C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, but the latter cognomen he never employed. Yet since contemporaries frequently spoke of him as Octavian and historians have since continued to do so in order to avoid ambiguity, we may be permitted to employ that name. After the year 27 contemporaries generally called him Augustus.

2 It has recently been shown that the severe criticism usually directed against his financial transactions was by no means deserved.


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