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Literary Sources

Caesar’s Funeral

Julius Caesar (as everyone knows) was murdered on the Ides of March (15th March) in 44 BC.  His nephew, the young Gaius Octavius, was away from Rome at the time: he was with the legions that Caesar had mustered at Apollonia (in modern Albania) for a forthcoming campaign against the Parthians.  In Rome, while the assassins dithered,

  1. Mark Antony, Caesar’s erstwhile consular colleague assumed political control; while

  2. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar’s erstwhile Magister equitum (Master of Cavalry) and his chosen governor of Transalpine Gaul for 44 BC, maintained order using his army, which was conveniently based in the Campus Martius. 

Two days after the murder, as recorded by Appian:

  1. “[Mark] Antony, by means of a notice sent round by night, called the Senate to meet before daybreak at the temple of Tellus ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:126).  

During this meeting (which the assassins declined to attend):

  1. “... a decree was passed: that there should be no prosecution for the murder of Caesar; but that all his acts and decrees should be confirmed ... The Senate was thereupon dismissed ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:135).

This marked a compromise between those who welcomed the actions of the assassins and those (including the soldiers congregating in the city) who demanded vengeance and full posthumous honours for the deceased:

  1. the assassins were given an amnesty; while

  2. the confirmation of Caesar’s actions in office absolved him from the allegation of illegal tyranny (while usefully preserving the lucrative posts that Caesar had conferred on his erstwhile colleagues). 

A number of issues still demanded urgent attention, not least the arrangements to be made for Caesar’s body and the reading of his will.  According to Appian, after the meeting above:

  1. “... a number of senators collected around Lucius Piso [Caesar’s father-in-law], whom Caesar had made the custodian of his will, and urged him not to make the will public, and not to give the body a public burial, lest some new disturbance should arise therefrom.  [However, after a powerful speech by Piso] it was finally decreed that Caesar’s will should be read in public and that he should have a public funeral.  Thereupon the Senate adjourned” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:135-6).

Mark Antony convened another meeting of the Senate on 19th March, which Brutus and Cassius (the most prominent of the assassins) attended after receiving hostages in guaranter of their safety.  They were initially quite well-received.  However, Appian recorded that:

  1. “Caesar's will was now produced and the people ordered that it be read at once.  In it, Caesar adopted [Gaius Octavius], the grandson of his sister.  Caesar’s gardens were given to the people ... and 75 Attic drachmas went to every Roman still living in the city” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:143). 

Suetonius recorded other interesting details:

  1. “... [Caesar’s] will was unsealed and read in [Mark] Antony's house: Caesar had made [this will on] the preceding Ides of September at his place near Lavicum and put [it] in the care of the chief of the Vestals. ... In [this,] his last will, ... he named three heirs, his sisters' grandsons, [one of whom,] Gaius Octavius [received three quarters of his estate... . At the end of the will, Caesar adopted Gaius Octavius into his family and gave him his name” (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 83).

One wonders how Mark Antony had felt when he had first became aware that he had been replaced as Caesar’s chosen heir by a boy who was only eighteen years old.

The promised public funeral took place of 20th March.  Again, Appian gave a detailed account:

  1. “The people were ... stirred to anger [and remorse ?] when they saw [Caesar’s] will [i.e when they realised that he had made such lavish public bequests]....  When Piso brought Caesar's body into the forum, a countless multitude ran together with arms to guard it and, with acclamations and magnificent pageantry, placed it on the rostra.  ... [The mob] began to repent themselves of the amnesty [that had been granted to the assassins].  [Mark] Antony, seeing how things were going, did not abandon his purpose but, having been chosen to deliver the funeral oration,  ... spoke as follows ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:143).

There are conflicting records of what Mark Antony actually said and of the precise nature of the associated theatricals.  However, there is no doubt about the effect of it all on the crowds.  Cassius Dio, for one, was unimpressed:

  1. “[Mark] Antony aroused [the mob] still more by bringing [Caesar’s] body most inconsiderately into the forum, exposing it, all covered with blood as it was and with gaping wounds, and then delivering over it a speech, that was very ornate and brilliant, to be sure, but out of place on that occasion” (‘Roman History’, 44: 35).

Cicero (one of the leading critics of Mark Antony) was even more scathing in a speech he would have liked to have delivered in the Senate in September 44 BC (and which he circulated privately):

  1. “... you [Mark Antony] behaved with the greatest wickedness while presiding at the funeral of the tyrant [i.e. Caesar], if that ought to be called a funeral.  All that fine panegyric was yours, that commiseration was yours, that exhortation was yours.   It was you ... who hurled those firebrands [against the assassins and their supporters] ... . It was you who let loose those attacks of abandoned men, slaves... [that] we repelled by violence and our own personal exertions; it was you who set them on to attack our houses” (‘Philippics’, 2:90).

As Barry Strauss observed”

  1. “On March 17th, [Mark Antony] had supported amnesty, but now [on March 20th] he went for the jugular.  Without formally repealing the amnesty, he showed who really ran Rome.”

This was the point at which the assassins and most of their supporters wisely fled Rome.

After Mark Antony’s eulogy (again according to Appian):

  1. “The people returned to Caesar's bier and bore it as a consecrated thing to the Capitol in order to bury it in the [Capitoline] temple and place it among the gods.  Being prevented from doing so by the priests, they placed it again in the forum where stands the ancient palace of the kings of Rome.  There, they collected together pieces of wood ... for a funeral pile ... Then they set fire to it, and the entire people remained by the funeral pile throughout the night. There, an altar was ... erected ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 2:148).

Cassius Dio provided additional details:

  1. “... the throng was at first excited, then enraged, and finally so inflamed with passion that they sought [Caesar’s] murderers ... Then, [they seized] his body, which some had wished to convey [for burning] to the place in which he had been slaughtered [i.e. the Theatre of Pompey] and others to the Capitol; but, being prevented by the soldiers, who feared that the theatre and temples would be burned to the ground at the same time, they placed it upon a pyre there in the forum ... After this, ... [they] set up an altar on the site of the pyre (for the freedmen of Caesar had previously taken up his bones and deposited them in the family tomb), and undertook to sacrifice upon it and to offer victims to Caesar, as to a god” (‘Roman History’, 44: 50:1 - 51:1).

In other words, Caesar’s funeral culminated in his consecration by the Roman mob.

Election of a New Pontifex Maximus

In 63 BC, Caesar had famously bribed the electors to secure the post of Pontifex Maximus (head priest of the Roman state religion), a post that was held for life.  Cassius Dio recorded that, shortly before his murder, the Senate voted that:

  1. “... Caesar's son, should he beget or even adopt one, should [succeed him as] high priest” ‘Roman History’, 44: 4:3).

Thus, if Caesar’s posthumous adoption of Octavius had been confirmed, Octavius would have become the new Pontifex Maximus.  However, as Richard Weigel (referenced below, at p. 48) recorded:

  1. “This [very recent and] blatantly monarchical  provision was ignored by [Mark] Antony, as was the proper [alternative] procedure, [which required a public] election, presided over by a pontifex, [in which the voters chose] from a list of candidates provided by the pontifical college.  [Instead, Mark Antony, as consul] restored the [ancient] right of the [pontifical] college ... to select its [own] leader ... ”

For whatever reason, the pontifical college selected one of their own, Lepidus.   Richard Weigel (referenced below, at p. 49 and note 24) suggested that Lepidus was probably inaugurated before his departure for his province in March or early April, 44 BC.

Octavius was also a member of the pontifical college, although he could hardly complain that his colleagues had chosen the older man.  Nevertheless, he must have been frustrated that, by changing the arrangements for succession, Mark Antony had deprived him of yet another part of his inheritance.  However, it seems that, at least in hindsight, he blamed Lepidus rather than Mark Antony for the outcome: looking back on these events, he recorded that:

  1. “I declined to be made Pontifex Maximus in succession to a colleague still living [i.e. Lepidus] when [in 36 BC - see below] the people tendered me that priesthood, which my father [Caesar] had held.  Several years later [i.e. in 12 BC] I accepted that sacred office  when [Lepidus], who, taking advantage of a time of civil disturbance [following Caesar’s assassination], had seized it for himself, was dead ...” (‘Res Gestae Divi Augusti’, 10).

Octavius’ Arrival in Rome (April 44 BC)

Octavius quickly returned to Italy and signalled his intention to accept his inheritance by changing his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Caesar for short (although I call him ‘Octavian’ hereafter for the sake of clarity).  He finally arrived in Rome in late April 44 BC, when Mark Antony was away from the city.  He announced to the urban praetor, Gaius Antonius (Mark Antony’s brother) his decision to accept Caesar’s bequest.  Thus  Appian:

  1. “Octavian  ... sent around to his friends ... , asking them to come to the forum early in the morning and bring a crowd with them.  There, presenting himself to Gaius Antonius, the brother of Antony, who was the urban praetor, he said that he accepted his adoption by Caesar; for it is a Roman custom that adoptions are confirmed by witnesses before the praetors.  When the public scribes had taken down his declaration, Octavian went from the forum straightway to [Mark] Antony” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:14).  

Mark Antony returned to Rome in the middle of May, accompanied by a large number of Caesar’s veterans that he had recruited in Campania.  When he deigned to meet Octavian, things did not go well.  

  1. According to Plutarch:  

  2. “The young man greeted [Mark] Antony as his father's friend, and reminded him of the moneys deposited with him, for he was under an obligation to give 75 drachmas to every Roman, according to the terms of Caesar's will.  But [Mark] Antony, ... despising him as a mere stripling, told him that he was out of his senses and that, in his utter lack of good judgment and of friends, he was taking up [an impossible] burden in the succession of Caesar.  And when the young man refused to listen to this, and demanded the moneys, [Mark] Antony kept saying and doing many things to insult him” (‘Life of Mark Antony’, 16)

  3. According to Cassius Dio:

  4. “In the first place, [Octavian] entered the city ... as a private citizen with only a few attendants and without any display. ... he did not utter threats against anyone; nor did he ... [suggest that he] would take vengeance for [Caesar’s murder.  Indeed, so far from demanding of [Mark] Antony any of the money that he had previously plundered, he actually paid court to him, although he was insulted and wronged by him.  For [Mark] Antony did him many injuries both in word and deed, particularly when the lex curiata was proposed by which [Octavian’s adoption would be officially recognised] ... [Mark] Antony pretended to be doing his best to have it passed but, through some tribunes, he kept securing its postponement ... ” (‘Roman History’, 45: 5:2-3).

On 18th May,  Cicero wrote to Atticus about what had probably been Octavian’s first public speech made in Rome:

  1. “...concerning Octavian’s speech, I feel the same as you do: the preparations for his games and [the fact that he has secured the services of] Matius and Postumus as his procuratores (agents) are displeasing ...” (‘Letter to Atticus”, 15.2.3).

As we shall see below, these games were the Ludi Veneris Genitricis, which Octavian was to hold on 20th July, combined with (nominally private) funerary games for his ‘father’, Caesar.  Matius and Postumus, who had been prominent among Caesar’s financial advisers, had now apparently transferred their allegiance to Octavian and, since Octavian could not immediately access Caesar’s bequests, were presumably helping him to find other sources of finance for (inter alia) these games. 

Ludi of April 44 BC

Ludi Cerialis (normally early April)

As set out in the the page on Caesar’s Divine Honours, Cassius Dio recorded that, among the divine honours awarded to Caesar during his lifetime:

  1. “[The Senate] voted that [Caesar’s] golden chair and his crown set with precious gems and overlaid with gold should be carried into the theatres [during religious festivals] in the same manner as those of the gods” (‘Roman History’, 44: 4).

As set out un the page on Divus Julius, Mark Antony would not allow Octavian to exhibit Caesar’s golden throne and crown on this occasion, despite the fact that this divine honour had been awarded to Caesar before his death.  The identity of the games is uncertain. The surviving sources suggest that they were the Ludi Cerealia, but these games were celebrated in early April, so those of 44 BC would have taken place before Octavian arrived in Rome. However, it is possible that they had been delayed by the riots that had been taking place in the forum at that time (described above).

Parilia (21st April)

The ancient games known as the Parilia seem to have been held as usual on 20th April.  However, according to Cassius Dio, those responsible for them:

  1. “... were now holding ... the games in the Circus in honour of the Parilia in slight regard ...” (‘Roman History’, 45: 6:4).

These circus games had been added to the festival in 45 BC in celebration in Caesar’s victory at the Battle of Munda.  Cassisu Dio’s comment suggests that they were neglected in some ways (or perhaps not held at all) in 44 BC, presumably in case they provoked further  demonstrations.

If so the measure did not completely avoid demonstrations in honour of Caesar at the Parilia.  Cicero was outraged when he heard from Atticus that young Quintus, the son of Cicero’s brother and Atticus’ sister, had been involved:

  1. “Oh tell me o'er your tale again!  Our nephew Quintus wearing a garland [in honour of Caesar] at the Parilia? Was he alone?  You certainly also mention Lamia [a friend of Cicero’s], which utterly astonishes me, but I am eager to know who the others were: although I am quite sure that there was no-one [among them who] was not a traitor” (‘Letter to Atticus”, 14:14:1).

  2. “As to the men with the garlands, when [Quintus junior] was reproved by his father [Cicero’s brother], he wrote back to say that: he had [indeed] worn a garland in honour of Caesar; that he had laid it aside as a sign of mourning; and that he was quite content to be vilified for loving Caesar, even [now that he was] dead” (‘Letter to Atticus”, 14:19:3).

According to Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 64):

  1. “It is likely that those involved [in the demonstration] ... would have formed a procession from the Capitolium to the Circus, as was customary before [circus games], but that on this occasion they wore garlands in honour of victory Caesar’s and accompanied a statue of Caesar.  When they arrived at the Circus, they removed the garlands and mourned [his] death” 

Ludi Apollinaris (6th - 13th July 44 BC)

These games were particularly important since they were the responsibility of the Urban Praetor, Marcus Brutus, one of the leading assassins of Caesar.. He was living in self-imposed exile outside the city, but it seems that he  hoped that, by financing particularly impressive games, he could influence popular sentiment to the extent that he might be able to return.  Thus Plutarch:

  1. “The people, however, had their games, in spite of [Brutus’] absence, and these were very lavishly and magnificently appointed.  For Brutus had purchased a great number of wild beasts, and now gave orders that none should be sold or left behind, but that all should be used.  He himself went down to Naples and conferred with a very large number of actors; and regarding Canutius, an actor who enjoyed great fame, he wrote to his friends that they should persuade him to go to Rome; for no Greek could properly be compelled to go.  He wrote also to Cicero, begging him by all means to attend the spectacles” (‘Life of Brutus’, 21:4-5).

He had to suffer yet another indignity: in addition to his forced absence, he had to contemplate the fact that he was financing games in the month (Quinctilius) that had been renamed in Caesar’s honour shortly before his death.  Cicero, who heard from Atticus that the new name was to be retained in the official announcement of the games, expressed his outrage:

  1. “Is it really so? ‘Nones of July’ [the expression apparently used in the official announcement of Brutus’ games].  The gods confound them!  But one might rage all day long.  What could be a greater insult to Brutus than ‘July’ []?” (‘Letter to Atticus”, 16:1).

Brutus’ investment in the games proved to be unproductive: as Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2005, at p.  147) observed, he and his fellow assassins:

  1. “... failed to achieve their ultimate goal of being recalled to Rome.  Based on this outcome, we have to assume that [they] failed to communicate their message effectively.”

Given their enforced absence from the games, this outcome had probably been inevitable.

Ludi Veneris Genitricis (July 44 BC) 

These games are discussed in detail in the page on Divus Julius.  In summary, Octavian announced in May his intention to hold funerary games for his ‘father’, Caesar.  The contents of the announcement are unknown, but it seems that they began on 20th July as part of the Ludi Veneris Genitricis, which Octavian arranged at this time rather than on the usual date, 26th September.  There is no suggestion in the surviving sources that Mark Antony tried to block the games.  However, this was the second of the two occasions on which he prevented Octavian from exhibiting Caesar’s golden throne and crown.  Npnetheless, those who had been unable to honour Caesar’s memory fully at the Parilia (above) now had an excellent opportunity to do so.

These games became famous for the appearance of a comet, an event that Octavian/ Augustus apparently described in his memoirs:

  1. “During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen for 7 days, in the part of the heavens that is under the Great Bear.  It rose about the 11th hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth.  The common people supposed the star to indicate that the soul of Caesar had been admitted among the immortal Gods; [and thus] the star was placed on the bust [of Caesar] that had been lately consecrated in the forum” (reproduced by Pliny the Elder, ‘Natural History’, 2:23).

As John Ramsay (referenced below, at p. 255) pointed out, our main sources on its effect on the public - i.e not only Pliny the Elder but also Suetonius and Cassius Dio - probably all relied on Octavian’s memoirs, which were hardly unbiased.  Nevertheless, Adrian Goldsworthy (referenced below, at p. 99), for example, judged that: 

  1. “The story caught on and ... in many ways it built on the semi-divine honours awarded to [Caesar] during his lifetime and the altar to him [that had been] set up [in the forum after his funeral] but later knocked down on the consuls’ orders.”

Autumn 44 BC

Shortly after the Mark Antony and Octavian, under pressure from their respective supporters, were publicly reconciled.  Thus, Octavian supported Mark Antony (whom Caesar had designated as Governor of Macedonia for the 2 years following his consulship) when he obtained by plebiscite the substitution of the province of Cisalpine Gaul for Macedonia and the extension of provincial commands for consuls from 2 to 5 years.

However, relations between Octavian and Mark Antony subsequently deteriorated, although Mark Antony had to devote most of his attention to securing his new province before the period of his consulship ended.  Unfortunately, the incumbent, Decimuc Brutus (one of the most prominent of Caesar’s assassins, was unlikely to relinquish it, so he would have to take it by force.  Thus left for for Brundisium in November in order to receive with the legions that he had repatriated from Macedonia. 

Octavian, meanwhile, was recruiting in Caesar’s veteran colonies in Campania and also (through agents) subverting Antony’s efforts at Brundisium.  Since Octavian was still a private citizen, his recruitment of what was a private army was illegal.  He was later to recall this as the  start of his career, clearly (if disingenuously) implying that the ends justified the means:

  1. “At the age of 19, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army, by means of which I restored liberty to the Republic, which had been oppressed by the tyranny of a faction” (‘Res Gestae Divi Augusti, 1:1).

Octavian arrived back in Rome in November and installed his illegal army (even more illegally) on the Campus Martius.  Appian described a public address in which he then announced his intention to move against Mark Antony:

  1. “In this time of consternation, Cannutius, the tribune, an enemy of [Mark] Antony and hence friendly to Octavian, went to meet the latter.  Having learned of [Octavian’s] intentions, Cannutius addressed the people, saying that Octavian was advancing with real hostility towards Mark Antony and that those who were afraid that [the latter] was aiming at tyranny should side with Octavian, as they had no other army at present.  After speaking thus, he brought in Octavian, who was encamped before the city at the temple of Mars ... When Octavian arrived, he proceeded to the temple of Castor and Pollux [in the forum], which his soldiers surrounded carrying concealed daggers.  Cannutius addressed the people first, speaking against Mark Antony.  Afterwards Octavian also reminded them of his father [Caesar] and of what he [Octavian] had also suffered at the hands of Mark Antony ... He declared himself [and probably swore to be] the obedient servant of his country in all things, and said that he was ready to confront Mark Antony in the present emergency” (‘Civil Wars’, 3:41).

Cicero provides us with further details of contents of Octavian’s speech:

  1. “I have received ... many a prudent word from you [Atticus] under the head of politics, but never anything wiser than your last letter, [in which you wrote]:

  2. ‘Though that youth [Octavian] is powerful and has given [Mark] Antony a fine check, yet ... we must wait to see [how things] end [before we decide that he is a good thing]’. 

  3. Why, what a speech!  It has been sent to me.  He qualifies his oath by the words:

  4. ‘So may I [be permitted to] achieve the honours of my father’,

  5. and, at the same time, he held out his right hand in the direction of his [father’s] statue.  [He then expressed himself in Greek:] μηδὲ σωθείην ὐπό γε τοιούτου! [Heaven forfend that we should be saved by such a man!]” (Letter to Atticus, 16:15; the phrase in italics is from the translation of Geoffrey Sumi, referenced below, 2005, p. 164).

Octavian’s immediate purpose in having raised his private army was now clear: he was determined to secure in full his legacy from Caesar and the enactment of Caesar’s divine honours, which had been his (i.e. Caesar’s) by decree and which did not fall away now that he was dead.  If Mark Antony would not co-operate, then Octavian would achieve his objectives by force.  (Aspects of this that involved Caesar’s divine honours are discussed in the page on Divus Julius).

Towards the end of November, when the return of Mark Antony was imminent, Octavian wisely left Rome for Arretium (Arezzo), where he continued to recruit men for his army.  Appian described Mark’ Antony’s movements and intentions at this point:

  1. “[Mark Antony] convoked the Senate [on 24th November] in order to make complaint against the acts of Octavian [in raising a private army etc]  but, just as he was entering [the meeting], he learned that the so‑called Martian legion, one of the four [from Macedonia via Brundisium] ... had gone over to Octavian.  While he was waiting at the entrance, cogitating over this news, it was announced to him that another legion, called the Fourth, had followed the example of the Martian and espoused the side of Octavian.  Disconcerted ..., he: entered the [meeting], pretending that he had convened [it] about other matters; said a few words; and immediately departed to the city gates, and thence to the town of Alba, in order to persuade the deserters to come back to him.  They shot arrows at him from the walls and he retreated.  To the other [still loyal, but wavering] legions, he forwarded 500 drachmas per man.  With the soldiers he had with him, he marched to Tibur, taking the equipment customary to those who are going to war; for war was now certain, since Decimus Brutus had refused to give up Cisalpine Gaul” (Civil Wars’, 3:45).

Thus, Octavian’s gamble in raising his private army had succeeded, at least while Mark Antony was dealing with Decimus Brutus and while the Senate (or at least the influential Cicero) perceived Mark Antony to be the greater threat to the Republic.

Events of 43 BC

As described above, by the end of 44 BC, Octavian was clear that, if he wanted to secure his inheritance in full, he would have to fight for it.  He now needed to decide whom to fight first.  As it happens, events outside his control decided this for him. 

Battle of Mutina (April) 

When Mark Antony marched on Cisalpine Gaul in late 44 BC, Decimus Brutus took refuge in the town of Mutina (modern Modena) and Mark Antony laid siege to the city.  The new consuls, Gaius Vibius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius, duly took power at the start of 43 BC, but Cicero seems to have been the most influential member of the Senate.  Thus, after a period of dithering and failed negotiations, the Senate: declared a state of emergency: declared Mark Antony to be a public enemy: confirmed Decimus Brutus as governor of Cisalpine Gaul; and prepared to break Mark Antony’s siege at Mutina.  Octavian’s army was the only one available, and the Senate solved the problem of its illegality by giving Octavian propraetorian imperium.  He now became a senator and a praetor, with the right to seek other magistracies ten years earlier than was normal and, with these inducements, he agreed to put himself and his army at the disposal of the new consuls in the war to save one of Caesar’s assassins.

The battles that took place outside Mutina in April 43 BC were hard-fought and less than conclusive: both consuls died during them, but Mark Antony nevertheless decided to lift the siege of Mutina and retreat to Transalpine Gaul.  Decimus Brutus was now the senior officer in the army of the Senate, but neither Octavian nor his soldiers would accept his orders: thus, Decimus complained in a letter to Cicero in early May:

  1. “... if [Octavian] had listened to me and crossed the Apennines, I should have reduced [Mark] Antony to such straits that he would have been ruined by failure of provisions rather than by the sword.  But no-one can control [Octavian], nor can [Octavian] control his own army  ...” (‘Letters to Familiars’, 11:10).

Decimus was thus forced to pursue Mark Antony himself, albeit that, since his own army had been under siege for months, Octavian presumably provided him with reinforcements.  Thus, he sent the letter above  from Dertona (modern Tortona in Piedmont) during his pursuit of Mark Antony. 

In truth, Octavian had had no incentive to assist Decimus, since Decimus’ departure for Gaul left him in command of the legions that remained in northern Italy.

Octavian’s Coup (August)

Decimus’ failed in his attempt to prevent Mark Antony from reaching Transalpine Gaul, where he quickly formed an alliance with Lepidus (who, as noted above, governed this province).  This alliance was in place by late May, and led to the Senate’s declaration that Lepidus was also a public enemy.  

Incredibly, the Senate seems to have completely failed to recognise the strength of Octavian’s  position and the possibility that he might form an alliance with Mark Antony and Lepidus.  They were warned about his growing disenchantment: in a letter to Cicero on 24th May, Decimus (who was still only at Eporedia, near modern Turin) warned him that:

  1. “[Octavian] himself had no complaint to make against you, except as to an epigram that he said that you uttered:

  2. ‘that the young man must be complimented, honoured, and got rid of [perhaps better translated as: ‘praised, raised and erased’]’. 

  3. He said that he did not mean to give [you] the chance of getting rid of him” (‘Letters to Familiars’, 11:20).

After this and a series of other insults, Octavian and his eight legions marched on Rome.  In haste, the Senate changed tack and, on 19th August, Octavian became the youngest consul in the history of the Republic, with his uncle, Quintus Pedius, as his colleague.  Among his first acts, Octavian:

  1. reversed the amnesty that had been decreed for Caesar’s assassins, who were duly tried in absentia and pronounced guilty; 

  2. used public funds to pay the bonuses owed to his soldiers and the outstanding bequests to the Romans that Caesar had made in his will; and

  3. put in motion the formal process for the ratification of his own posthumous adoption by Caesar. 

Formation of the Triumvirate (November)

At about this time, two other men who had been prominent under Caesar joined the alliance of Mark Antony and Lepidus, who were still in Transalpine Gaul:

  1. Lucius Munatius Plancus, who governed the adjacent province of Gallia Comata; and

  2. Asinus Pollio,  who governed the province of Hispania Ulterior.

Thus, while Octavian was supreme in Rome, where he now controlled the Senate, he was vulnerable to attack by the resurgent Mark Antony from the north.  He was also threatened by:

  1. the exiled assassins, principally Brutus and Cassius, in the east; and

  2. potentially, Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey the Great, who had been reconciled with Mark Antony in the summer of 44 BC .  He was now securely based in Sicily with a naval capability that could cut off the grain supply to Rome.

Clearly, Octavian would have to form an alliance with one of these groupings against the other two.

Octavian marched north from Rome in late August, probably ostensibly to continue the war against Mark Antony.  However, his true intentions became clear soon after, when his consular colleague, Quintus Pedius, pressured the Senate to reverse the decrees that had outlawed Mark Antony and Lepidus: Octavian was clearly offering them an alliance.  The three men met on an island in a river near Bononia (Bologna) in late October 43 BC, where they agreed to form an alliance against the exiles Brutus and Cassius.  Octavian agreed to resign as consul and the three ‘Caesarians’ agreed to share power in a legally constituted triumvirate. 

In order to retain their soldier’s appetite for another war against fellow-Romans, the triumvirs agreed on a programme of confiscations that would facilitate their settlement after the expected victory,  Thus Appian recorded that, while they were still at Bononia:

  1. “To encourage the army with expectation of booty, [the triumvirs] promised, beside other gifts, 18 cities of Italy as colonies - cities that excelled in wealth and in the splendour of their estates and houses - which were to be divided among them (land, buildings, and all), just as though they had been captured from an enemy in war.  The most renowned among these were: Capua; Rhegium; Venusia; Beneventum; Nuceria [in Campania]; Ariminum; and Vibo.  Thus were the most beautiful parts of Italy marked out for the soldiers” (‘Civil Wars’, 4:3).

The three men than returned to Rome and the triumvirate was duly constituted on 27th November, with a mandate to rule for five years.  Octavian then consolidated the alliance by marrying Clodia, the step-daughter of Mark Antony.  The proscription of the triumvir’s enemies began even before their arrival in Rome, and Quintus Pedius died from the strain of trying to maintain calm in the city.  The confiscated wealth of the proscribed was used to finance the imminent war, although it seems to have been less than had been expected.  Cicero, who was perhaps the most important of the victims of the proscriptions, was executed on 7th December in the full knowledge that the Republic was dead and that his long political career had ended in abject failure. 

End of the Republic (October 42 BC)

Octavian’s First Naval Battle against Sextus Pompeius

Sextus Pompeius, the youngest of the sons of Pompey the Great, had escaped from the scene of Caesar’s two famous victories:

  1. at Pharsalus, in modern Egypt) in 46 BC, after which his father had been killed; and

  2. at Munda (in modern Spain) in 45 BC, the battle in which his older brother had been killed. 

Sextus had remained in Spain and continued to cause problems for the Romans until Lepidus in 43 BC, on behalf of the Senate, persuaded him to withdraw with honour.  

Appian described the events that led to his first confrontation with Octavian:

  1. “When the triumvirate was established, [Sextus Pompeius] sailed to Sicily and, since Bithynicus, the governor, would not yield the island, he besieged it, until Hirtius and Fannius, (two men who had been proscribed and had fled to [Sextius] from Rome) persuaded Bithynicus to surrender Sicily to Pompeius.   ... [Sextus now] had: ships; an island lying convenient to Italy; and an army, now of considerable size, composed of: his own men; those who had fled from Rome, ...; those sent to him by the Italian cities that had been [selected by the triumvirs] as prizes of victory for [their] soldiers; and ... many seafaring men from Africa and Spain, skilled in naval affairs ...  When Octavian learned these facts he sent [his ally, Quintus Salvidienus Rufus] with a fleet, as though it were an easy task, to come alongside of Pompeius and destroy him, while he himself passed through Italy with the intention of joining Salvidienus at Rhegium” (‘Civil Wars’, 4: 84 5)

Appian then described the ensuing naval battle in which Sextus’ more experienced seamen had the better of the fighting.

  1. “Salvidienus retired to the port of Balarus, ... where he repaired what was left of his damaged and wasted fleet.  When Octavian arrived, he gave a solemn promise to the inhabitants of Rhegium and Vibo [two of the towns selected for veteran settlement] that they should now] be exempt from the [list], for he feared them on account of their nearness to the straits [of Messina].  As Antony had sent him a hasty summons, he set sail to join the latter at Brundusium ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 4: 85-6). 

Mark Antony’s Victory at Philippi  (October 42 BC)

The most prominent of Caesar’s surviving assassins, Cassius and Brutus, had lived in exile in the east for much of the time since the murder and, by late 42 BC, they had confiscated sufficient wealth from the unfortunate provincials to buy the services of a large army made up principally from men who had fought under Caesar.  This army was assemble at Philippi, on the coast of Macedonia.

Lepidus was left in Rome when Mark Antony and Octavian embarked with a joint force from Brundisium across the Adriatic to  meet it.  At the first battle (3rd October), Mark Antony defeated Cassius and stormed his  camp, where Cassius, believing that Brutus had also been defeated, committed suicide.  In fact, Brutus had defeated the army led by Octavian and had captured the camp of Mark Antony and Octavian.  Octavian, who had not taken part in the battle, had fortunately left the camp in time: according to Plutarch:

  1. “[Octavian], as he himself tells us in his [memoirs], barely succeeded in having himself carried forth [from the camp] following a vision... of his friend, Marcus Artorius, [in which he was told to] ... rise up from his bed and depart ... [His departure went unnoticed and] he was thought to have been slain; for his litter, when empty, was pierced by the javelins and spears of his enemies” (‘Life of Brutus’, 41:7-8).

Brutus, perhaps unwisely, offered battle again on 23rd October, was defeated and committed suicide.

Appian ended his account of the battles as follows:

  1. “Thus did Octavian and [Mark] Antony, by perilous daring and by two infantry engagements, achieve an unprecedented  success.  Never before had such numerous and powerful Roman armies come in conflict with each other.  ... Nor was there ever such fury and daring in war as here, when citizens contended against citizens, families against families, and fellow-soldiers against each other.  The proof  of this is that, taking both battles into the account, the number of the slain mong the victors appeared to be not fewer than among the vanquished.  Thus the army of [Mark] Antony and Octavian confirmed the prediction of their generals, passing in one day and by one blow from extreme danger and famine and fear of destruction to lavish wealth, absolute security, and glorious victory.  Moreover, the result that[Mark] Antony and Octavian had predicted as they advanced into battle came about: their form of government was chiefly decided by that day's work ...” (‘Civil Wars’, 4: 137-8).

Cassius Dio reached a similar conclusion:

  1. “That this struggle ... surpassed all previous civil conflicts of the Romans would be naturally surmised  ... now, as never before, liberty and popular government were the issues of the struggle; ... one side was trying to lead [the Romans] to autocracy, the other side to self-government.  [Once the first side, led by Mark Antony and Octavian, had won], the [Romans] never again attained absolute freedom of speech, even though [they had been] vanquished by no foreign nation; ... [they] triumphed over and were vanquished by themselves, defeated themselves and were defeated, and consequently they exhausted the democratic element and strengthened the monarchical” (‘Roman History’, 47: 39).

In short, the Roman Republic had defeated itself.

Perusine War and Peace of Brundisium (41-40 BC)

After Philippi

As Cassius Dio pointed out, after the Battle of Philippi, almost all of Caesar’s assassins were either dead or shortly to die.

  1. “As for [Mark Antony and Octavian], on the other hand, they secured an advantage over Lepidus for the moment, because he had not shared the victory with them; yet they were destined before long to turn against each other.  For it is a difficult matter for three men, or even two, who are equal in rank and as a result of war have gained control over such vast interests, to be of one accord.  ... Thus, they immediately redistributed the empire, so that:

  2. Spain [from Lepidus] and Numidia fell to [Octavian]; and

  3. Gaul [excluding Cisalpine Gaul, which became part of Italy] and Africa [from Lepidus] to [Mark] Antony;

  4. and they further agreed that, if Lepidus showed any vexation at this, they should give up Africa to him.   This was all they allotted between them, since Sextus [Pompeius] was still occupying Sardinia and Sicily, and the other regions outside of Italy were still in a state of turmoil.  ... So, they left Italy and the places held by Sextus as common property. 

  5. [Mark] Antony undertook to reduce those who had fought against them [in the east] and to collect the money [there] necessary to pay what had been promised to the soldiers;

  6. [Octavian] undertook: to curtail the power of Lepidus, if he should make any hostile move; to conduct the war against Sextus [Pompeius]; and to assign to those of their troops who had passed the age-limit the land which they had promised them.

  7. ... After making these agreements..., putting them in writing and sealing them, they exchanged copies , ... so that, if any transgression were committed, it might be proved by these records.  Thereupon [Mark] Antony set out for Asia and [Octavian] for Italy” (‘Roman History’, 48: 1-2).

The situation facing Octavian when he returned to Rome was extremely fraught: the proscriptions had taken their toll; many of the towns and cities of Italy lived in dread of the confiscations that would be needed for the settlement of the veterans who had returned with Octavian; these veterans were impatient and very hard to control; and Sextus Pompeius was disrupting the supply of grain to Rome.  In addition, two supporters of Mark Antony, Lucius Antonius (his brother) and Servilius Isauricus, took office as the consuls of 41 BC, while Mark Antony’s wife and Octavian’s mother-in-law, the redoubtable Fulvia, pursued her own agenda.

It was in this difficult climate that Octavian began the process of land confiscation and veteran resettlement.  According to Laurence Keppie (at p. 61):

  1. “The method of acquiring land was simple and callous: wholesale confiscation from owners [who were] mostly innocent of any disaffection or disloyalty [to the newly-elected triumvirs].   With good reason could the dispossessed complain of the injustice of their plight.”

Lucius Antonius and the Perusine War (41 - 40 BC)

Lucius Antonius chose this moment to rebel against Octavian.  His reasons are much debated, but Appian seems to have put his side of the debate, taken from his memoirs, into the speech he made to Octavian while accepting defeat:

  1. “I [Lucius Antonius] undertook this war against you [Octavian], not in order to succeed to the leadership by destroying you, but to restore to the country the patrician government that had been subverted by the triumvirate, as not even yourself will deny.  For, when you created the triumvirate, you acknowledged that it was not in accordance with the law, but you established it as something necessary and temporary because Cassius and Brutus were still alive and you could not be reconciled to them.  When they ... were dead  ...  I demanded that the magistracies should be revived in accordance with the custom of our fathers, not even preferring my brother [Mark Antony] to my country, but hoping to persuade him to assent upon his return and hastening to bring this about during my own term of office.  If you had begun this reform you alone would have reaped the glory.  Since I was not able to persuade you, I thought to march against [Rome] and to use force, being a citizen, a nobleman, and a consul.  These then are the causes of the war I waged and these alone [i.e. Lucius’ desire to end the triumvirate and to restore the Romans’ ancient liberties]:

  2. -not my brother [Mark Antony]; nor Manius [a key supporter of Mark Antony in Rome]; nor Fulvia;

  3. -not the colonisation [needed for the settlement] of those who fought at Philippi, nor pity for the cultivators ... who were [as a consequence] deprived of their holdings, since I myself [as tribune in 44 BC] appointed the leaders of colonies of my brother's legions who deprived the cultivators of their possessions and divided them among the soldiers” (‘Civil Wars’, 5:43).

It seems as if Mark Antony was content to see how Lucius’ revolt played out before committing himself one way or the other, with the result that the generals whom he had left in Gaul gave Lucius only hesitant ineffective support.  His rebellion ended in failure after a dreadful siege in Perusia in February 40 BC, as set out in the page on the Perusine War.

Peace of Brundisium (early October 40 BC)

In the summer of 40 BC, Mark Antony appeared off the coast of Brundisium at the head of a substantial fleet.  When Octavian’s men prevented his landing there, he moved further along the coast and then laid siege to the city.  He also negotiated an alliance with Sextus Pompeius.  However, as Octavian approached with a substantial army and as both men realised that their respective armies would probably not fight each other, they settled their differences by negotiation.  The so-called Peace of Brundisium was sealed by the betrothal of Mark Antony to Octavian’s sister, Octavia.  Octavian now received Mark Antony’s Gallic provinces, making him master of the west, while Lepidus was left with Africa.  The ovation that Octavian received soon after was recorded in the Fasti Triumphales as: 

Imp. Caesar Divi f. (C. f.) IIIvir r(ei) p(ublicae) c(onstituendae)

ovans an. DCCXIII quod pacem cum M. Antonio fecit'

Imperator Caesar, son of the god [Julius],  triumvir for the regulation of the Republic)  

an ovation because he made peace with Mark Antony

Mark Antony had a brief affair with Cleopatra at about this time, and their twins were born in Alexandria on 25th December 40 BC.

Pact of Misenum (39 BC)

Infuriated by the Peace of Brundisium, from which he was excluded, Sextus Pompeius renewed his blockade of Italy. 

In 39 BC,the triumvirs  negotiated this pact with him: he agreed to end the blockade and, in return, his control of Sicily and Sardinia was recognised and he acquired Corsica.  He was promised a future augurate and consulship, and Octavian married his relative Scribonia, who was soon to become the mother of Octavian’s daughter, Julia.  The exiles who had taken refuge with him (except those implicated in Caesar’s murder) were allowed to return to Rome and to recover a quarter of their confiscated property.  This effectively marked the end of the proscriptions.

He divorced Scribonia immediately upon the birth of their daughter Julia (probably in October 39 BC) and, after an indecently short period, married the recently-divorced Livia (already the mother of Tiberius and pregnant with Drusus) in January 38 BC.

War with Sextus Pompeius (38-6 BC)

Sextus resumed his blockade of Italy in early 38 BC.  However, Menodorus, who held Sardinia for Sextus, defected to Octavian with 60 ships and 3 legions.  Octavian asked Antony (who was then in Athens with Octavia) to meet him at Brundisium.  Antony duly arrived but left again when (for whatever reason) Octavian failed to make an appearance. He apparently wrote to Octavian urging him to honour the Pact of Misenum.

Octavian nevertheless assembled two fleets for an invasion of Sicily, one under Calvisius Sabinus (who had been consul in 39 BC) and Menodorus, which set sail from Etruria and the other under his own command.  Before the fleets fcould meet up, that under Calvisius was checked and that under Octavian suffered an outright defeat.  Soon after, what remained of both of them was destroyed in a storm. 

In late 38 BC, Octavian sent Maecenas to Mark Antony with a request for another meeting in Italy. Antony and Octavian met at Tarentum in the spring of 37 BC.  Antony gave Octavian the 120 ships (and their commander,Titus Statilius Taurus) that he had brought from the east and received the promise of troops from Italy for his planned Parthian campaign.  The promises made to Sextus in relation to the augurate and consulship were formally rescinded.  The first five years of the triumvirate had expired at the end of 38 BC, so the two men renewed it (and probably backdated it to the start of 37 BC). 

When Menodorus deserted again, this time back to Sextus, Octavian relieved Calvisius Sabinus of his naval responsibilities and appointed Agrippa in his place.  During 37 BC, Agrippa (who was recalled from Gaul) spent much of his consular year building a magnificent artificial port (named Port Julius) near Puteoli, in which he assembled a new and powerful fleet for the invasion of Sicily. 

Octavian began his invasion of Sicily in July 36 BC, with three fleets: the one recently built and now commanded by Agrippa; the one that Mark Antony had donated, under Titus Statilius Taurus; and a third under Lepidus, which had sailed from Africa).  Their first attempt nearly met with failure, and Octavian found it expedient to send Maecenas back to Rome to ensure his position there.

The decisive naval encounter was a victory for Agrippa off Naulochus (September 36 BC).  Lepidus subsequently attempted to take over Sicily, but Octavian entered his camp and faced him down in front of his own army, which duly defected.  Octavian duly sent him into exile.

The ovation that Octavian received to mark this victory was recorded in the Fasti Triumphales as: 

Imp. Caesar Divi f. C. f. II, IIIvir r(ei) p(ublicae) c(onstituendae) II

ovans ex Sicilia idibus Novemb

Imperator Caesar, son of the god [Julius], triumvir for the regulation of the Republic)  

an ovation from Sicily, 13th November

Relations with Mark Antony (35-30 BC)

After his meeting with Octavian at Tarentum in 37 BC, Mark Antony crossed the Adriatic with the pregnant Octavia but, during their subsequent journey to the east, he sent her  back to Italy.  When he arrived in the east, he resumed his affair with Cleopatra.  He also embarked on his invasion of Parthia, a campaign that ended in disaster in 36 BC.  His daughter with Octavia (named Antonia) and his son with Cleopatra were both born in this year.

In 35 BC, Octavia travelled to Athens with supplies for Mark Antony: he accepted the supplies but refused to meet Octavia and ordered her return to Rome.

Antony finally broke with Octavian in 34 BC.  He celebrated a triumph against the Armenians in Alexandria, formally bestowed territories on Cleopatra and their three children (acknowledging paternity of the twins and naming them Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene) and proclaimed that Caesarion (Cleopatra’s first child) was the legitimate heir of Caesar.

33: Second Triumvirate runs out again; Octavian campaigns in Illyria

32: Octavian reads Antonyʹs will (which again declares Caesarion as Caesarʹs lawful heir) in the Senate. The Senate declares war on Egypt and authorises Octavian (who currently holds no magisterial office) as dux or leader of the war effort.

31: Octavian (now consul for the third time) and Agrippa are victorious over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium.

30: Octavian and his forces take Alexandria; Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide

29: Octavian celebrates a triple triumph at Rome (Illyria, Actium and Alexandria) on three successive days, August 13‐15, and attributes the success to Apollo.

28: Octavian dedicates a temple to Apollo on the Palatine Hill next to his home.

27: Octavian ʺhands the Republic back to the peopleʺ and in return receives the title Augustus and a proconsular province including Spain, Gaul, Syria and Egypt.





Read more:

B. Strauss, “ The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination”, (2015) New York

A. Goldsworthy, “Augustus: First Emperor of Rome”, (2014) New Haven and London

K. Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus”, (2005) New York

G. Sumi, “Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire”, (2005) Michigan

J. Ramsey, “Did Mark Antony Contemplate an Alliance with His Political Enemies in July 44 BC ?”, Classical Philology, 96:3 (2001) 253-68


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