A Roman by any Other Name

So in 28 BC, Octavian has returned triumphant and decides it’s time he and Agrippa settled down and became consuls. The first thing he decided to do was take a census so he knew exactly how many people he could now lord it over. The second thing was to revise the Senate so they wouldn’t dare oppose him again. While the Senate had originally been composed of 600 members, under Caesar it had risen to 1000 members. Octavian decided to whittle it down to 800 in order to win the support of senatorial families. Mysteriously, those who did not support him did not seem to make the cut.

Unfortunately, when Octavian stepped back and looked at the results of his meddling, he decided it hadn’t been drastic enough. The problem wasn’t the Senators—it was the entire damn republic. Let’s face it, power was not meant to be in the hands of the people because the people just want to do what they’d been doing. It takes real leadership to do daft things with elephants. Noticeably because elephants are so much bigger (as are provinces, but the elephants are easier to handle). In order to become a true leader, Octavian decided he had to restore the republic to its glory days.

He began by reducing the number of just about everything. With fewer Senators, there were fewer people to oppose him. With fewer legions there were fewer men to attempt a coup. With fewer magistrates and officials there were fewer people to bribe, but longer queues (proving that every great plan has a downside).

Along with the restoration of the republic, Octavian decided it was time to refurbish his own image. He adopted the name Augustus, or “the revered one”—modesty had never been one of his strong suits.  Originally he had been considering taking on the name of Romulus (aka wolf-boy) but decided against it at the last minute as Romulus had gone on to become a king. Octavian/Augustus/whatever didn’t want people to think he would ever stoop so low. Incidentally, in less than ten years he would be named emperor. Just sayin’.

Highway to Hell

Fortunately for Quentus, all roads lead to Rome.

 

Maintaning an empire is a hell of a lot harder than most people think it is. Roman emperors quickly discovered that if you are in Spain when Egypt gets out of line, you need to make sure the guy you need is not currently building a stupid wall in Britain. And even if he is, he’s probably not checking his emails regularly. So to get communications, troops, goods, food, trade, and taxes around as quickly as possible, the Romans built large networks of roads.
 
Octavian and the early emperors were the first to start the road building tradition. (Personally I think Octavian was just tired of walking through the mud after all his campaigning–anything for dry feet!) People quickly realized what a great idea this was, and imitation soon spread even to lesser officials in the provinces. You knew you had it made in politics if you had a road or two under your belt. Of course, you didn’t want just any slacker finding a goat trail and calling it a road, so a simple definition was soon made: if it was wide enough for a wheeled vehicle it was a road (paving optional).
 
Eventually the network spanned over 400,000 km of roads, and around 80,000 km was paved. All this practice made the Romans quite good at road building–their later paved roads allowed for the drainage of water so the streets didn’t turn into rivers (and anyone who’s ever played Oregon Trail knows that doesn’t turn out well.)
 
The army found the roads incredibly useful for ease of transportation to and from headbashings. And near the end, the invading barbarians found the roads even more useful as an easy stroll straight into the heartland. Which just goes to show you, the destruction of Rome was paved with good intentions.

Does This Post Make My Asp Look Big?

Octavian may have won the battle, and the war, but he hadn’t completely ground Antony into the dust, so he didn’t consider his work quite finished yet. In 30 BC he launched the attack of Alexandria and pretty much pwnd everything. Knowing that all was lost, Antony and Cleopatra decided to make Romeo and Juliet look like a pair of tragic amateurs.

Upon hearing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony drew his sword and stabbed himself. Unfortunately, the message was one day too early. Failing to die promptly, Antony was carried in to Cleopatra who had taken refuge in her own mausoleum. Talk about being prepared. According to Shakespeare, Antony just has time to spiel out some longwinded remarks, and then bites it.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, was not relishing the idea of surrendering to Octavian. After negotiating for her children’s lives, she figured it was better to shuffle off this mortal coil than be taken to Rome and paraded around like an elephant. Ancient sources agree that she got an asp or two to bite her. One modern historian believes that due to the slow-acting nature of snake venom she would have drunk a mixture of poisons instead, but he’s probably just saying that to be a pain in the asp.

With both Antony and Cleopatra out of the way, Octavian was now free to annex Egypt and add it to the Roman Empire. Because he didn’t want anyone else to get their grubby little hands on it, Octavian handled it as his own private territory, and senators were neither allowed to govern or visit it. Egypt was huge politically, producing both grain and treasure. Octavian didn’t want any Egyptian fiasco to cause a famine or otherwise come back to bite him in the asp.*

So in 29 BC Octavian returned to Rome. He celebrated a three-fold triumph over the defeat of Cleopatra (represented in effigy on account of being dead), the battle of Actium, and the battle of Illyium (a flyspeck on the pages of history—he didn’t really deserve a triumph for this one). The doors of the Temple of Janus were closed, for the first time in just about forever, signaling an end to warfare (like that’s gonna last).

 

*It’s amazing how much use you can get out of this pun.

Octavian vs. Antony: Round 7

With the second triumvirate completely at an end, Octavian and Antony finally found themselves free to express their complete and utter loathing of each other. Unfortunately for Octavian, Antony was the Senate’s golden boy. Both consuls and a third of the senate were (for the moment) on his side. The consuls even made a blistering speech against Octavian in the senate. The courage of their convictions abandoned them, however, when Octavian marched his army through the doorway. Facing a lot of swords does that to people.

Seeing as how Octavian was making Rome too hot to handle, Antony gathered his forces in Greece. And being safely, hundreds of miles away, he finally divorced Octavian’s shrew of a sister. (Considering how he had been spending all his time at Cleo’s these days, she probably saw that one coming.) In retaliation, Octavian found Antony’s will and published the least flattering parts. He even began building a mausoleum for himself to prove he would be buried in Rome and not stinking foreign soil. (Antony wanted to be buried in Alexandria, probably so he could finally be away from the gods-be-damned Senate.)

In 32, Octavian formally declared that Antony no longer held imperium. Antony declared that the declaration was bullshit. Octavian said that it didn’t matter what Antony declared, and they both descended into a fit of name-calling that only ended when Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. He should have declared war on Antony, but they weren’t on speaking terms anymore. By 31 Octavian and his best bud/general Marcus Agrippa had crossed the Adriatic with their forces. Agrippa blockaded Antony’s ships and furnished Octavian with good advice.

Antony found himself in a world of trouble. His soldiers were sick with summer fevers, malaria, and dysentery, and people were deserting right and left. (This goes back to the trend of Romans failing to pick healthy locations to set up shop. It’s amazing their civilization didn’t die out sooner.) With no other choice at hand, Antony decided to do what all men must do: run away. The decisive naval battle at Actium was not an attempt to defeat Octavian but instead to get Cleopatra’s ships to safety with their precious cargo of treasure, Antony, and Cleopatra. If it hadn’t been for Agrippa, it might have been a smashing success. Unfortunately, for once in his life, Octavian did as he was told and followed Antony’s ships immediately. The result was a complete rout. Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and Antony had lost most of his army, becoming a wanted fugitive. Tough break.

The Origin of the “Don’t Invade Russia in the Winter” Rule

While Octavian was prancing around after Sextus Pompey, Antony went to war against Parthia. And for once, he didn’t start it. Fortunately, Antony had been spending some time in Alexandria, and with the help of a certain Egyptian queen, Antony was able to repel the invasion. To make sure they didn’t try it again, he led an attack against the Parthian homeland itself. Antony started his campaign late in the year and decided to leave his siege engines and baggage behind with the intention of returning for them later. The Parthians thought Christmas had come early, and circling behind him, systematically destroyed them all. Due to this case of stunningly bad planning, the campaign ended in disaster at the city of Phraaspa when Antony lost thousands of soldiers in a retreat due to the cold weather. (This will later be known as the “don’t invade Russia in the winter, you bleeding moron” rule.) Altogether Antony lost a quarter of his troops to the elements and disease. But after all, seventy-five percent is still a passing grade.

With Antony looking like an idiot, the unmemorable member of the triumvirate, Lepidus, thought his moment had finally come. He mentioned that it might be a wee bit unfair that he had the smallest third of the empire, and if you please, sir, could he have some more? Lepidus succeeded in at last becoming memorable by uniting Antony and Octavian in their decision to boot him out of the triumvirate. The greedy bastards didn’t want to share. Exiled to a small town, Lepidus lived out the rest of his completely forgettable life under house arrest.

Never one to let a sleeping dog lie, Antony decided to take a second stab at the Parthian problem in 34 BC. This time he decided to go after neighboring Armenia instead. (They looked easier to conquer. And his ego was still bruised.) Naturally, this being fought between the Romans and Armenians, it is still considered a part of the Parthian War. Because, you know, if the Parthians had wanted to join in they could have… right? Anyway, Antony made short work of capturing the King of Armenia and holding a triumph. But because he wanted to show off for Cleo he held the triumph in Egypt. After all, he knew she had a thing for conquerors.

The Romans were shocked that Antony would break tradition and not hold his triumph in Rome. (They were even willing to import an elephant.) But no, instead he had to sit on a pair of gold thrones with Cleo and divide up the booty. Antony gave Cleo Egypt (which was technically already hers if you think about it), Syria, and Cyprus to share with her son Caesarian. Antony also recognized Caesarian as the son of Caesar and gave him the title King of Kings. Needless to say, Octavian was not pleased about this. Pissed as hell, he said that Antony was giving away territory to non-Romans, and more importantly was trying replace Octavian with Caesarian. He was right, too. So in 34 BC the second triumvirate was officially over.

Don’t You Know There’s a War On?

With the last of the assassins taken care of, the Triumvirate got around to the serious business of re-assigning the spoils of war. Antony got the richer Eastern provinces (because he won—not that he rubbed that in or anything) and Southern France. Octavian slunk back to Italy with his tail between his legs with the veterans, but as a consolation prize he was given Spain (and Cisalpine Gaul was merged into Italy because there were just too many Gauls). Lepidus the easily forgotten got Africa and was quite happy with it too. Fortunately, before the triumvirate had time to get bored, a new enemy reared his ugly head: Sextus Pompey.

Sextus Pompey was the youngest son of Pompey the Great (remember him? He got the elephant stuck in the gate.) and grew up fighting the resistance against Caesar. When Caesar died, he was a bit at a loss of who to resist next, but when Octavian stepped up to the plate, he was more than happy to oblige. He got his best armies ready only to have to wait while the triumvirate chased Brutus and Cassius around. Then they were gone and he was ready once again. Only Antony’s brother Lucius decides to cause the Perusine War instead.

The Perusine War happened when Lucius who was a Consul grew tired of the unrest caused by proscriptions, confiscations, and the grain shortage caused by our man, Sextus in Rome. Since Octavian was out losing more battles (and probably getting all the good food which couldn’t make it around Sextus’s blockade) Lucius and Fulvia (Antony’s wife) decided to take matters into their own hands and took over Rome behind Octavian’s back. Besides, they didn’t like him too much anyway. This didn’t work out so well in the end as the troops came back and trapped them in the city of Perusia. In February they ran out of food (which put them right back where they started) and they had to surrender. Showing a masterly understanding of where the true responsibility for the uprising lay, Octavian spared both of their lives, then had the occupants of the city butchered. Furthermore, Lucius was sent to govern Spain—because it worked out real well last time he was left in charge. Fulvia was just exiled, but died a year later which was said to have brought peace between Octavian and Antony. I’m sure she would have been thrilled.

At long last, Sextus Pompey finally got his chance to square off against Octavian. Of course, Octavian’s first act was to marry Scribonia, a relation of Sextus, in the vain hope to just keep the fighting to the usual squabbles at holidays and reunions. While the marriage did provide him with his only child, Julia, it only lasted a year (he divorced her the same day Julia was born). It did, however, lead to the Misenum treaty in 39 BC where Sextus agreed to lift his blockade of Italy in exchange for Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and the Greek Peloponnesus. He was also promised a future consulship, priesthood, and money.

Somehow, it didn’t take. Octavian and Antony found they could only work together when working against someone else. Besides, they were greedy little bastards. In 38 BC Octavian tried to take back Sicily. He was defeated. In 37 BC he tried again. It didn’t work that time either. And don’t even ask about 36 BC. Octavian was a bit of a slow learner. Fortunately, his best general Agrippa wasn’t and he finally succeeded in defeating Sextus and harrying him around the globe. In 35 BC, Sextus was finally caught by one of Antony’s minions and executed without a trial. It marked the end of an error. From now on, Antony and Octavian would have no one to fight but each other.

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.”