Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

The Story of Rome From the Earliest Times to the End of the Republic

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When Cæsar had planned to go to Parthia, he sent in that direction some of his legions, which wintered at Apollonia, just over the Adriatic, opposite Brundusium, and with them went the young and sickly nephew whom Cæsar had mentioned in his will as his heir. While the young man was engaged in familiarizing himself with the soldiers and their life, a freedman arrived in camp to announce from his mother the tragedy of the Ides of March. The soldiers offered to go with him to avenge his uncle's death, but he decided to set out at once and alone for the capital. At Brundusium he was received by the army with acclamations. He did not hesitate to assume the name Cæsar, and to claim the succession, though he thus bound himself to pay the legacies that Cæsar had made to the people. He was known as Caius Julius Cæsar Octavianus, or, briefly, as Octavius. [Footnote: Octavius was son of Caius Octavius and Atia, daughter of Julia, sister of Julius Cæsar, and was born Sept. 23, B.C. 63. His true name was the same as that of his father, but he is usually mentioned in history as Augustus, an untranslatable title that he assumed when he became emperor. His descent was traced from Atys, son of Alba, an old Latin hero.] Cæsar had bequeathed his magnificent gardens on the opposite side of the Tiber to the public as a park, and to every citizen in Rome a gift of three hundred sesterces, equal to ten or fifteen dollars. These provisions could not easily be carried out except by Antony, who had taken possession of Cæsar's moneys, and who was at the moment the most powerful man in the republic. Next to him stood Lepidus, who was in command of the army. These two seemed to stand between Octavius and his heritage.

Octavius understood the value of money, and took possession of the public funds at Brundusium, captured such remittances from the provinces as he could reach, and sent off to Asia to see how much he could secure of the amount provided for the Parthian expedition, just as though all this had been his own personal property.

Thus the timid but ambitious youth began to prepare himself for supreme authority. When he reached Rome his mother and other friends warned him of the risks involved in his course, but he was resolute. He had made the acquaintance at Apollonia of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, then twenty years of age, who afterwards became a skilful warrior and always was a valuable adviser, and now he determined to make a friend of Cicero. This remarkable orator had already been intimate with all the prominent men of his day; had at one time or another flattered or cajoled Curio, Cassius, Crassus, Pompey, Antony, and Cæsar, and now, after thoroughly canvassing the probabilities, he decided to take the side of Octavius, though he was loth to break with either Brutus or Antony. His weakness is plainly and painfully presented by his own hand in his interesting letters, which add much light to the story of this period. [Footnote: James Anthony Froude says: "In Cicero, Nature half-made a great man and left him uncompleted. Our characters are written in our forms, and the bust of Cicero is the key to his history. The brow is broad and strong, the nose large, the lips tightly compressed, the features lean and keen from restless intellectual energy. The loose, bending figure, the neck too weak for the weight of the head, explain the infirmity of will, the passion, the cunning, the vanity, the absence of manliness and veracity. He was born into an age of violence with which he was too feeble to contend. The gratitude of mankind for his literary excellence will forever preserve his memory from too harsh a judgment."--"Cæsar, a Sketch," chapter xxvii.]

Octavius gathered together enough money to pay the legacies of Cæsar by sales of property, and by loans, in spite of the fact that Antony refused to give up any that he had taken. He artfully won the soldiers and the people by his liberality (that could not fail to be contrasted with the grasping action of Antony), and by the shows with which he amused them. Thus with it all he managed to make the world believe that he was not laying plans of ambition, but simply wished to protect the state from the selfish designs of his rival. In this effort he was supported by the oratory of Cicero, who began to compose and deliver or publish a remarkable series of fourteen speeches known as Philippics, from their resemblance to the four acrimonious invectives against Philip of Macedon which the great Demosthenes launched at Athens during the eleven years in which he strove to arouse the weakened Greeks from inactivity and pusillanimity (352-342 B.C.).

Cicero entered Rome on the first of September, and delivered his first Philippic the next day, in the same Temple of Concord in which he had denounced Catiline twenty years before. He then retired from the city, and did not hear the abusive tirade with which Antony attempted to blacken his reputation. In October he prepared a second speech, which was not delivered, but was given to the public in November. This is the most elaborate and the best of the Philippics, and it is also much more fierce than the former. The last of the series was delivered April 22,

  1. Antony was soon declared a public enemy, and Cicero in his speeches constantly urged a vigorous prosecution of the war against him.

Octavius gained the confidence of the army, and then demanded the consulate of the senate. When that powerful office had been obtained, he broke with the senate, and marched to the northward, ostensibly to conquer Antony and Lepidus, who were coming down with another great army. Instead of precipitating a battle, Lepidus contrived to have a meeting on a small island in a tributary of the Po, not far from the present site of Bologna, and there, toward the end of October, it was agreed that the government of the Roman world should be peaceably divided between the three captains, who were to be called Triumvirs for the settlement of the affairs of the republic. They were to retain their offices until the end of December, 38, Lepidus ruling Spain; Octavius, Sicily, Sardinia, and Africa; and Antony, the two Gauls; while Italy was to be governed by the three in common, their authority being paramount to senate, consuls, and laws. This is known as the Second Triumvirate, though we must remember that the former arrangement, made by Cæsar, Pompey, and Crassus, was simply a private league without formal sanction of law. The second triumvirate was proclaimed November, 27, 43 B.C.


The first work of the three rulers was to rid themselves of all whom they feared as enemies, and we have to imagine them sitting down to make out a list of those who, like the sufferers at the dreadful time of Marius and Sulla, were proscribed. Among the prominent men seventeen were first chosen to be butchered, and on the horrid list are found the names of a cousin of Octavius, a brother of Lepidus, and an uncle of Antony. To the lasting execration of Octavius, he consented that Cicero, who had so valiantly fought for him, should be sacrificed to the vengeance of Antony, whom the orator had scarified with his burning words.

This was but the beginning of blood-shedding, for when the triumvirs reached Rome they issued list after list of the doomed, some names being apparently included at the request of daughters, wives, and friends to gratify private malice. The head and hands of Cicero were cut off and sent to be affixed to the rostra, where they had so often been seen during his life. It is said that on one occasion a head was presented to Antony, and he exclaimed: "I do not recognize it, show it to my wife"; and that on another, when a man begged a few moments of respite that he might send his son to intercede with Antony, he was told that it was that son who had demanded his death. The details are too horrible for record, and yet it is said that the massacre was not so general as in the former instance. In this reign of terror, three hundred senators died, and two thousand knights.

While these events had occurred in Rome, Brutus and Cassius had been successfully pursuing their conquests in Syria and Greece, and were now masters of the eastern portion of the Roman world. When they heard of the triumvirate and the proscription, they determined to march into Europe; but Antony and Octavius were before them, and the opposed forces met on the field of Philippi, which lies nine miles from the Ægean Sea, on the road between Europe and Asia, the Via Egnatia, which ran then as now from Dyrrachium and Apollonia in Illyricum, by way of Thessalonica to Constantinople, or Byzantium, as it was then called. Brutus engaged the forces of Octavius, and Cassius those of Antony. Antony made head against his opponent; but Octavius, who was less of a commander, and fell into a fit of illness on the beginning of the battle, gave way before Brutus, though in consequence of misinformation of the progress of the struggle, Cassius killed himself just before a messenger arrived to tell him of his associate's success. Twenty days afterwards the struggle was renewed on the same ground, and Brutus was defeated, upon which he likewise put an end to his own life. If the murderers of Cæsar had fought for the republic, there was no hope for that cause now. The three rulers were reduced to two, for Lepidus was ignored after the victory of his associates, and it only remained to eliminate the second member of the triumvirate to establish the monarchy. For the present, Octavius and Antony divided the government between them, Antony taking the luxurious East, and leaving to Octavius the invidious task of governing Italy and allotting lands to the veterans.

Thousands of the inhabitants of Cisalpine Gaul were expelled from their homes to supply the soldiers with farms, but still they remained unsatisfied, and Italy was filled with complaints which Octavius was unable to allay. Antony, on the other hand, gave himself up to the grossest dissipation, careless of consequences. At Tarsus, he had an interview with Cleopatra, then twenty-eight years of age, whom he had seen years before when he had accompanied Gabinius to Alexandria, and later, when she had lived at Rome the favorite of Cæsar. Henceforth he was her willing slave. She sailed up the river Cydnus in a vessel propelled by silver oars that moved in unison with luxurious music, and filled the air with fragrance as she went, while beautiful slaves held the rudder and the ropes. The careless and pleasure-loving warrior forgot every thing in his wild passion for the Egyptian queen. He forgot his wife, Fulvia, but she was angry with Octavius because he had renounced his wife Claudia, her daughter, and stirred up a threatening revolt against him, which she fondly hoped might also serve to recall Antony from the fascinations of Cleopatra. With her supporters she raised a considerable army, by taking the part of the Italians who had been dispossessed to give farms to the veterans, and by pretending also to favor the soldiers, to whom rich spoils from Asia were promised. They were, however, pushed from place to place until they found themselves shut up in the town of Perusia, in Etruria, where they were besieged and forced to surrender, by the military skill of Agrippa, afterwards known as one of the ablest generals of antiquity.

Meantime, Antony's fortunes in the East were failing, and he determined upon a brave effort to overthrow Octavius. He sailed for Brundusium, and laid siege to it; but the soldiers on both sides longed for peace. Fulvia had died, and mutual friends prevailed upon Octavius and Antony to make peace and portion out the world anew. Again the East fell to Antony and the West to his colleague. Antony married Octavia, sister of Octavius, and both repaired to the capital, where they celebrated games and festivities in honor of the marriage and the reconciliation. This was at the end of the year 40 B.C.

[Illustration: CLEOPATRA'S SHOW-SHIP.]

The next year peace was effected with Sextus, a son of the great Pompey, who had been proscribed as one of the murderers of Cæsar, though he had really had no share in that deed. He had been engaged in marauding expeditions having for their purpose the injury of the triumvirs, and at this time had been able to cut off a considerable share of the supply of grain from Sicily and Africa. He was indemnified for the loss of his private property and was given an important command for five years. This agreement was never consummated, for Antony had not been consulted and refused to carry out a portion of it that depended upon him. Again Pompey entered upon his marauding expeditions, and the price of grain rose rapidly at Rome. Two years were occupied in preparing a fleet, which was placed under command of Agrippa, who defeated Pompey off Naulochus, on the northwestern coast of Sicily (Sept. 3, 36.)

In the midst of the preparations for the war with Pompey, (B.C. 37) discord had arisen between Antony and Octavius, and the commander of the Eastern army set out for Italy with a fleet of three hundred sail. Octavius forbade his landing, and he kept on his course to Tarentum, where a conference was held. There were present on this memorable occasion, besides the two triumvirs, Agrippa, the great general; Octavia, sister of one triumvir and wife of the other, one of the noblest women of antiquity; and Caius Cilnius Mæcenas, a wealthy patron of letters, who had also been present when the negotiations were made previous to the peace of Brundusium, three years before. Probably the satiric poet Horace was also one of the group, for he gives, in one of his satires, an account of a journey from Rome to Brundusium, which he is supposed to have made at the time that Mæcenas was hurrying to the conference.

Horace says that he set out from Rome accompanied by Heliodorus, a rhetorician whom he calls by far the most learned of the Greeks, and that they found a middling inn at Aricia, the first stopping-place, on the Appian Way, sixteen miles out, at the foot of the Alban mount.

Next they rested, or rather tried to rest, at Appii Forum, a place stuffed with sailors, and then took a boat on the canal for Tarracina. He gives a vivid picture of the confusion of such a place, where the watermen and the slaves of the travellers were mutually liberal in their abuse of each other, and the gnats and frogs drove off sleep. Drunken passengers, also, added to the din by the songs that their potations incited them to. At Feronia the passengers left the boat, washed their faces and hands, and crawled onward three miles up to the heights of Anxur, where Mæcenas and others joined the party. Slowly they made their way past Fundi, and Formiæ, where they seem to have been well entertained. The next day they were rejoiced by the addition of the poet Virgil and several more friends to the party, and pleasantly they jogged onwards until their mules deposited their pack- saddles at Capua, where Mæcenas was soon engaged in a game of tennis, while Horace and Virgil sought repose. The next stop was not far from the celebrated Caudine Forks, at a friend's villa, where they were very hospitably entertained, and supplied with a bountiful supper, at which buffoons performed some droll raillery. Thence they went directly to Beneventum, where the bustling landlord almost burned himself and those he entertained in cooking their dainty dinner, the kitchen fire falling through the floor and spreading the flames towards the highest part of the roof. It was a ludicrous moment, for the hungry guests and frightened slaves hardly knew whether to snatch their supper from the flames or to try to extinguish the fire.

From Beneventum the travellers rode on in sight of the Apuleian mountains to the village of Trivicum, where the poet gives us a glimpse of the customs of the times when he tells us that tears were brought to their eyes by the green boughs with the leaves upon them with which a fire was made on the hearth. Hence for twenty-four miles the party was bowled away in chaises to a little town that the poet does not name, where water was sold, the worst in the world, he thought it, but where the bread was very fine. Through Canusium they went to Rubi, reaching that place fatigued because they had made a long journey and had been troubled by rains. Two days more took them through Barium and Egnatia to Brundusium, where the journey ended.

At this conference it was agreed that the triumvirate should continue five years longer, Antony agreeing to assist Octavius with 120 ships against Pompey, and Octavius contributing a large land force to help Antony against the Parthians. After Pompey had been overcome, Lepidus claimed Sicily, but Octavius seduced his soldiers from him, and obliged him to throw himself upon his rival's mercy. He was permitted to retire into private life, but was allowed to enjoy his property and dignities. He lived in the ease that he loved until 13 B.C., first at Circeii, not far from Tarracina, and afterwards at Rome, where he was deprived of honors and rank. Lepidus had not been a strong member of the triumvirate for a long time, but after this he was not allowed to interfere even nominally in affairs of government. Antony and Octavius were now to wrestle for the supremacy, and the victor was to be autocrat.

For three years after his marriage with Octavia, Antony seems to have been able to conquer the fascinations of the Egyptian queen, but then, when he was preparing to advance into Parthia, he allowed himself to fall again into her power, and the chances that he could hold his own against Octavius were lessened (B.C. 37). He advanced into Syria, but called Cleopatra to him there, and delayed his march to remain with her, overwhelming her with honors. When at last he did open the campaign, he encountered disaster, and, hardly escaping the fate of Crassus, retreated to Alexandria, where he gave himself up entirely to his enchantress. He laid aside the dress and manners of a Roman, and appeared as an Eastern monarch, vainly promising Cleopatra that he would conquer Octavius and make Alexandria the capital of the world. The rumors of the mad acts of Antony were carried to Rome, where Octavius was growing in popularity, and it was inevitable that a contrast should be made between the two men. Octavius easily made the people believe that they had every thing to fear from Antony. The nobles who sided with Antony urged him to dismiss Cleopatra, and enter upon a contest with his rival untrammelled; but, on the contrary, in his infatuation he divorced Octavia.

War was declared against Cleopatra, for Antony was ignored, and Octavius as consul was directed to push it. Mæcenas was placed in command at Rome, Agrippa took the fleet, and the consul himself the land forces. The decisive struggle took place off the west coast of Greece, north of the islands of Samos and Leucas, near the promontory of Actium, which gained its celebrity from this battle (September 2, B.C. 31). The ships of Agrippa were small, and those of Antony large, but difficult of management, and Cleopatra soon became alarmed for her safety, She attempted to flee, and Antony sailed after her, leaving those who were fighting for them. Agrippa obtained a decisive victory, and Octavius likewise overcame the forces on land.

Agrippa was sent back to Rome, and for a year Octavius busied himself in Greece and Asia Minor, adding to his popularity by his mildness in the treatment of the conquered. He had intended to pass the winter at Samos, but troubles among the veterans called him to Italy, where he calmed the rising storm, and returned again to his contest, after an absence of only twenty-seven days.

Both Cleopatra and Antony sent messengers to solicit the favor of Octavius, but he was cold and did not satisfy them, and calmly pushed his plans. An effort was made by Cleopatra to flee to some distant Arabian resort, but it failed: Antony made a show of resistance, but found that his forces were not to be trusted, and both then put an end to their lives, leaving Octavius master of Egypt, as he was of the rest of the world. He did not hasten back to Rome, where he knew that Mæcenas and Agrippa were faithfully attending to his interests, but occupied himself another year away from the capital in regulating the affairs of his new province.


In the summer of the year 29, however, Octavius left Samos, where he had spent the winter in rest, and entered Rome amid the acclamations of the populace, celebrating triumphs for the conquest of Dalmatia, of Actium, and of Egypt, and distributing the gold he had won with such prodigality that interest on loans was reduced two thirds and the price of lands doubled. Each soldier received a thousand sesterces (about $40), each citizen four hundred, and a certain sum was given to the children, the whole amounting to some forty million dollars.

Octavius marked the end of the old era by himself closing the gates of the temple of Janus for the third time in the history of Rome, and by declaring that he had burned all the papers of Antony. Several months later, by suppressing all the laws of the triumvirate he emphasized still more the fact which he wished the people to understand, that he had broken with the past.

The Roman Republic was ended. The Empire was not established in name, but the government was in reality absolute. The chief ruler united in himself all the great offices of the state, but concealed his strength and power, professing himself the minister of the senate, to which, however, he dictated the decrees that he ostentatiously obeyed.

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