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.