Triumvirate: Take Two

Since the first triumvirate worked so well (for Caesar anyway) Octavian decided it might behoove him to give it a try. Naturally, the first person he thought of was public enemy number one: Antony. Once more things were revised to Antony good, assassins bad, populace confused. Of course, a triumvirate needs three people, so Octavian asked Lepidus, the governor of Transalpine Gaul and not a very memorable figure, to be their third.

Being the trusting folks that they are, they met on an island in the middle of a river, in full view of all their soldiers to set things up. (And they wonder why it fell apart…) First and foremost they divided up the empire. Antony got East and North France. Lepidus got Spain and South France. Octavian got Africa, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Octavian was pretty smug about this since he won four countries and the others only two. (But Antony and Lepidus pulled a fast one on him—his countries were the crappy ones. At least he made up for it by marrying Antony’s step-daughter.)

Combining all three armies, the triumvirate marched on Rome with their demands, where they were made legal rulers by the Senate. Learning from their last alliance, Antony and Octavian knew better than to sit around in Rome distrusting each other (it only leads to death threats) so they decided to pick a common enemy. Having already taken down one Brutus, they decided to make a clean sweep and defeat the original.

Antony and Octavian marched east to Philippi in 42 BC to confront Brutus and Cassius once and for all. Unfortunately, they quickly found themselves cut off from a retreat to Italy by a fleet that would not allow them access to either reinforcements or food. Brutus and Cassius sat back and waited for them to starve (or kill each other considering their track record.) For once, Antony displayed a remarkable flash of ingenuity, and remembering the swampy bog that had once been Rome, he began to “civilize” the impassable marsh which flanked them. Before the food ran out, he had created a causeway to their supplies.

This meant there was a battle after all, but fate seemed to be deciding things via coin toss. Brutus’s army defeated Octavian soundly, but Antony demolished Cassius’s. This stalemate might have dragged out longer if Cassius had not gotten word that Brutus was defeated. Believing all to be lost, he killed himself. When Brutus found out about Cassius’s death, he too committed suicide. This just goes to show that in some matters you do not trust the messenger. Or at least check for a pulse. (You should be learning from this, Antony!) Thus ended the “most noblest Roman of them all.”

A Tale of Two Brutuses

44 BC was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a year of indecision and decided action (usually in the wrong directions) for Octavian and Antony. They attacked each other, attacked other people, attacked each other again, and then attacked each other while also attacking other people just to mix things up. Antony in particular was pretty high strung. On September first, his pal Cicero missed a Senate meeting. Instead of giving him a detention and moving on, Antony threw a fit. Unfortunately, he picked on the wrong guy. In a series of speeches called the Philippics, Cicero responded that Brutus and Cassius should have killed Antony. (Years prior, Demosthenes lambasted Phillip of Macedonia the same way with similarly titled speeches. Needless to say, Antony missed the parallel).

This may have made Antony more paranoid than usual and on October 2nd he declared that Octavian was going to kill him. Nobody seemed to care all that much. In a sulk, Antony left for Brundisium and began calling in troops from Macedonia. Octavian, unhappy that Antony was starting an arms race, quickly began to call in soldiers from Caesar’s old legion. While a few joined him, most refused to take up arms against Antony. I suppose there are a few perks to having been head of Caesar’s cult after all.

With Octavian not cooperating, Antony had to look elsewhere for a fight. Fortunately, he remembered Brutus who had started the whole damn thing. Brutus was still in Macedonia, but one of the other assassins, Decimus Brutus (not to be confused with Marcus Brutus who was commonly referred to as “Et tu, Brutus” or simply Brutus) was in Cisalipine Gaul, and no matter how politely Antony asked, he refused to turn the area over to him. Pulling his troops into the town of Mutina, Decimus Brutus prepared to wait out a siege.

While Antony hunkered down in the winter weather, back in the warmth of Rome, two new Consuls were elected. Hirtius and Pansa were both supporters of Caesar and opposed to Antony (see what happens when you aren’t around to fix the elections?) Between them and Cicero, they were able to convince the Senate to give Octavian “imperium” to validate his standing with the soldiers and people. Then they marched on Mutina together.

What followed was the glorious battle of Forum Gallorum. You can tell it was truly glorious as, to this day, no one is certain who won. But, both Hirtius and Pansa gloriously died as a result of the fighting. Which was a good thing as it opened up the consulship again. Antony, who had fled to the west was no longer in the running. So in a move of logic defying befuddlement, the Senate offered the post of Consul to Decimus Brutus for chasing away Antony (even though the war was started with exactly the opposite aim in mind). Furthermore, Antony was declared public enemy number one, proving once and for all never to underestimate a good orator with a grudge (I’m looking at you, Cicero).

Now it was Octavian’s turn to sulk as he was denied both a triumph and the consulship. There was only one thing to do, so emulating Caesar, Pompey, Crassus and the rest, he marched on Rome with the biggest, baddest army he could find. They gave him the consulship. (Funny the way that happens.) Of course, that meant taking it away from Decimus Brutus first. So barely two months after he was given a consulship and power, Decimus Brutus was once more condemned for being one of Caesar’s assassins. It’s okay if you are confused by now, because so was everybody else. Decimus Brutus was so confused he ran away. He got as far as the Alps when he was murdered by a Celtic chieftain, which simplified things as you only have to remember the other Brutus from this point on.

The Most Knobbliest Roman of them All

The best worst Roman ever would have to be Brutus. This guy couldn’t make up his mind whether he was coming or going. On the one hand he killed his best bud, Caesar. On the other, he only did it to prevent him from becoming an evil megalomaniac. Right idea, wrong intervention. It happens. Although eventually you run out of friends.

Brutus’s biggest problem was that his plans weren’t very well thought out. After the assassination, he had this whole speech to give to the Senate about how this would be the beginning of a return to a republic. Unfortunately, the Senators took one look at the bloody knife and ran away screaming like little girls. While Brutus was chasing after them shouting out the bits he’d spent too long the night before memorizing, Mark Antony got word to Caesar’s wife and gathered up Caesar’s money and papers.

Stealing another march on Brutus, Antony called a senate meeting for the 17th, and made sure he was in charge of the agenda. Now the way Antony could see it, he had two choices. He could outlaw Brutus and Cassius as the ringleaders of the assassination and honor Caesar as a hero, or he could declare Caesar a tyrant and honor Brutus. (He briefly considered a third choice, declaring himself emperor in Caesar’s place, but he didn’t want Brutus getting any more ideas.)

Now seeing as how Caesar had designated all the public offices for the next five years just before he died, no one in power was too keen to have his decisions rejected. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?) So Antony stayed up all night writing, and the next morning delivered a speech to the populace where he displayed Caesar’s bloody wounds with outrage. It was a very good speech, but all anyone ever remembers is something about “friends, Romans, and ears.” He also mentioned that Caesar left money to every citizen in Rome in his will. (Never underestimate the power of cold, hard cash.) Needless to say, Brutus and Cassius were driven out of town quite quickly.

Meanwhile, Caesar’s main heir, Octavian heard about his uncle’s death, but with great family feeling and devotion, decided to hide out in Italy until he learned which way the wind was blowing. Pretty soon he realized the wind was blowing pure Antony, so he climbed out from under his rock and moved towards Rome where he received a hero’s welcome. Antony, however, was less welcoming, even going so far as to refuse to give him the money Caesar left him in his will. Antony didn’t like to share the limelight (or the cash). Fortunately, Octavian had some rich friends who were eager to lend him some gold (they didn’t like Antony either).

By this time, Brutus and Cassius had stopped fleeing, and had rounded up an army of supporters. Brutus went to Athens to study (so he could make better plans) and gain support. By the time he was ready to leave he controlled all of Macedonia (and he didn’t even have the help of Machiavelli!). Cassius went to Syria, and between the two of them they controlled the eastern, richer part of the Roman Empire.

This did not sit well with Octavian and Antony. In fact they decided to put aside their differences and declare war on Brutus. With great effort, they almost managed.

Soothsayers Should be More Specific

Caesar spent a great deal of time between 48 and 45 BC travelling between Cleopatra, Italy, and a darn good fight. Realizing he wasn’t immortal, Caesar made a will in 45 which named his grandnephew, Octavian, heir to everything—including his name. Of course, Octavian already had a perfectly good name of his own, but you never know when a moniker will come in handy. If Octavian died before Caesar, everything was to go to his good friend, Brutus. In hindsight, there was probably someone better he could have thought of.

With great power, comes great responsibility, so Caesar decided it was time to clean up Rome’s act. His three main goals were to 1) suppress armed resistance in the provinces, 2) create a strong central government in Rome, and 3) knit the empire into a single unit. He finished the first by defeating Pompey, the second by ruling Rome himself, and he was working on number three. Reforms under Caesar included a census, a sumptuary law restricting luxuries (because the ideal Roman is serious and frugal), re-population rewards (you can only have so many prudes before the country dies out), debt restructuring, public works, the establishment of a police force, and calendar reform. Although, to be fair, he stole the calendar from the Egyptians. He couldn’t come up with all the good ideas himself.

Of course, too much responsibility was dull, so Caesar countered it with a number of lavish triumphs. Among other things there was a mock naval battle on the Field of Mars, and the Circus Maximus hosted a fight to the death between armies of war captives, including 20 elephants (beat that, Pompey!). Caesar felt gypped that he couldn’t have a triumph for winning the civil war (the Romans thought it might be considered bad form to celebrate defeating your own) so he had a lot to make up for. No matter how many people he conquered there was always more barbarians on the frontier. It was after a short war against Pharnaces II in Turkey that Caesar uttered his most famous phrase: “Veni Vidi Vici,” the modern translation of which is, “All your base are belong to us.”

The Romans were pretty impressed with Caesar and the Senate named him Consul-for-life which came with perks like a golden chair and the right to wear triumphal robes whenever he wanted.  The novelty wore off eventually. He was also granted a semi-official cult which was led by Mark Antony. This may have eventually contributed to his demise. It’s very hard to tell people you don’t want to be king when they are busy worshipping you as a god. It just confuses them. In February of 44 BC the Senate declared Caesar dictator-for-life, and he officially ran out of titles to gain. He’d collected the whole set.

This made a bunch of Senators uneasy, and they began to realize the problem with naming someone dictator-for-life was the for-life bit. So they decided to shorten it. While Caesar may or may not have been warned by a soothsayer to beware the Ides of March he certainly wasn’t warned by Mark Antony. Antony discovered the plot the night before, but was delayed by one of the conspirators on the way to the Senate and arrived just in time for the fighting to begin. He then, very bravely, ran away. Inside the Senate, Caesar was surrounded by the group of conspirators and stabbed to death. According to Eutropius 60 or more men participated in the assassination and Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Either Eutropius must have been exaggerating or two-thirds of them had really terrible aim. (You do the math.)

Caesar’s last words are hotly debated, but are most commonly thought to be “Et tu, Brute?” or “You too, you brute?” At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that Octavian was not dead, so Brutus would not inherit after all. Once the assassination was over, Brutus and the other conspirators marched through the city shouting, “People of Rome, we are once again free!” Ironically, this caused people to lock themselves inside their homes and not come out just proving that you can’t have everything.