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Dreams of Empire - Fall of Rome
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The Fall of Rome
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The Fall of Rome

Dreams of Empire - The Fall of the Roman Empire
Dreams of Empire
The Fall of the Roman Republic

by Addison Hart

A Second Trio
Of course, another three men were now slowly emerging from all this chaos, as Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey had done in the last generation of Civil War. The three men were strikingly different, and they all seemed to hate each other tremendously to boot. The first was, of course, the thirty-eight year old Marcus Antonius, alias Marc Antony. Art depicting Antonius shows him in various different appearances, and so it's hard to pin down exactly what he looked like. He was a handsome individual, tall, square-faced, curly-haired, Plutarch tells us that at one time he had a fine Herculean beard. He had a rather large nose, turning down at the tip, and a strong, projecting chin. He had rather fleshy features. Indeed, in his later years he seems to have gotten a little on the chubby side. Despite that, he was built like a gladiator, as befitted someone who claimed to be a descendant of Herakles (Hercules) himself. Antonius was born in 82 BC into a fine political family, and he married into an even finer one, that of Julius Caesar. Young Antonius always had a taste for strong drink, and so by 60 BC, the man was a hopeless, drunken, denarii-less individual. It was only through the mob leader Clodius Pulcher that Antonius was saved from a nasty fate, and he soon set out to Syria as a commander of cavalry. Of course, in the military old Antonius excelled, so much so in fact that he wound up as the second most powerful man in Caesar's army next to, well, Caesar himself. Now, of course, he was one of the most powerful men in Rome, period. He was beloved by his troops, as well. He was seen to go into the tents of the wounded to speak with them, and on occasion he would burst into tears when he saw the hopelessly wounded. He was also known for his rather puerile tricks on, well, just about anybody, especially his wives. He was known to be quite vulgar on occasions, and he was also famous for his numerous affairs.

The second of the three men was the bearded Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus seems to have fitted into the mold of a rather tragic figure. Though an important man, the Master of the Horse in Caesar's army, a praetor of Rome, and the man who would succeed Caesar as Pontifex Maximus, Lepidus never gained the power, or indeed the respect, he always wanted and no doubt felt he richly deserved. The offer of becoming a triumvir in the 2nd Triumvirate was even given to poor old Lepidus almost as an afterthought. The treatment given him was not something that made his superiors endearing to him. However, Lepidus seems to have coped with this treatment fairly well and was actually strangely unambitious, and he was somehow content to just living in his villa off in North Africa.

The third of these men, and seemingly the brightest of the three, was an eighteen-year old, sickly little chap by name of Gaius Octavius Thurinus, Octavian. Octavian, born in 63 BC, was the grandnephew and adoptive son of Julius Caesar himself. In fact, as the aghast Marcus Antonius found out (only after laying claim to Caesar's fortune), he was his sole heir. Young Octavius was a short fellow, but that's not to say ugly. Indeed, as all the surviving portraits show, that was hardly the case. He was rather bookish, an intelligent, scholarly fellow, very moralistic. The behaviors of the highly immoral Marcus Antonius disgusted him. Also unlike Marcus Antonius, Gaius Octavius was not the sort to go boldly into battle at the spur of the movement, wildly swinging his sword around, sending heads flying in every direction. That's not to say he was a coward (though the rather judgmental Antonius certainly thought that this was the case), indeed, he performed valiantly in the few battles he fought personally. Suetonius says that Octavius had "clear, bright eyes in which he liked to have it thought that there was a kind of divine power." Elsewhere, Suetonius writes that Octavius was "unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life, though he cared nothing for personal adornment…as for his beard he now had it clipped and now shaved, while at the same time he would either be reading or writing something." Though his face was handsome for the most part, his teeth were abysmal, "wide apart, small, and ill-kept". He was manbrowed; his golden eyebrows met just above his long, typically Roman nose.

Born on September 23rd, 63 BC in the city of Rome itself, Gaius Octavius was related to Caesar through his mother, Julius Caesar's niece. His father, a Senator, died when he was young, but old Caesar became something of a foster-father to him while he fought with Caesar in Spain against the remaining Pompeians. When Caesar was slain on the Ides of March in the Theater of Pompey, Octavius was with his friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in Apollonia in Epirus, studying and preparing for the Parthian Campaign that old Julius had been planning. Octavius, it seemed, had been promised a command. Octavius rushed back to Rome, finding that Antonius and Lepidus were scurrying about burning old Caesar and wondering what to do concerning the assassins. Octavius knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to kill every last one of them. The first thing old Octavius did once he reached Rome was to seize his inheritance, and then, much to the horror of his relatives (and his enemies), he changed his name to Gaius Iulius Caesar. Of course, he should have used the cognomen 'Octavianus' at the end of that, as was customary, but he did nothing of the sort. The name of Octavius was now permanently discarded in favor of the name Caesar. The next thing on the agenda was to take back from Antonius all of Caesar's assets, but Antonius, in a snit, refused at once (in reality, Antonius had already used a lot of the money on wine and women). Grudgingly, Octavius relied on the city treasury (and his own pocket) to distribute the money that Caesar had left in his will to each citizen of the city. Antonius wasn't exactly making things easy for poor old Octavius.

Things rapidly went downhill and never recovered. Soon after his arrival, Octavius met Antonius at his villa in Rome, and the two soon started quarreling, Antonius crying something to the effect of "You, boy, owe everything to your name". Octavius, Gaius Julius Caesar as he called himself now, accused Antonius of thieving from Caesar's fortune and estate and wasting the money, while doing nothing to avenge the dead dictator. Of course, Octavius was right. Antonius flew into a rage, calling Octavius an effeminate coward, and ordering him from his house. The meeting in itself must have been rather odd. Octavius, that fountain of moral virtue which Rome so valued, coming face to face with Antonius, a man who was known for being drunk half the day, and losing all of his money in a rather short amount of time. He also enjoyed, so it was said, running about Rome spiffed, wearing a sword, a tunic, and nothing else at all.

In Rome, the usually well-liked Antonius was being abandoned by all, even his own beloved legions. Everyone, it seemed, much preferred Octavius, even Caesar's own legions. Oddly enough, even crusty old Cicero liked him enough to make a cry for him to be made a Senator, and then a Consul (despite the fact that he was too young to legally hold either position). The Senate quickly agreed. Whether or not the Senate gave him these positions was simply because they felt they could use him as a puppet leader, or simply due to the fact that he was less a danger to them than nasty old Marc Antony is still rather debatable, but both suggestions are probably close to the truth. As Cicero said "the young man must be flattered, used, and pushed aside."

Political Blood
Brutus and Cassius were back in town now, it seemed, and they were making the usual threats against Octavian and Antonius, and Octavius responded by simply driving them out of town under the threat of execution. The fact that Octavian had a large number of legionaries to support his actions obviously helped keep them away as well. Finally, it seemed as if Rome could get back to business. Unfortunately, things weren't really that simple. The assassins, yesterday's liberators, were stirring up trouble. Decimus Brutus, old 'Albinus', the ablest general of the lot, had invaded, and quickly seized the province of Cisalpine Gaul, cutting old Lepidus (governor of Transalpine Gaul) off from his usual quick route to Rome. Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus had left for their respective provinces, Macedon and Syria. All three men were quickly raising armies, and minting propaganda in the form of coins bearing the cap of liberty, flanked by two daggers, with the words Eid Mar (Ides of March) written at the bottom.

Marcus Antonius quickly made the march to northern Italy to go take on Decimus Brutus in battle, and while he was away, Cicero made his move. He delivered to the Senate the first of his great speeches against Antonius, known as the Philippics. In them he attacked the power hungry Antonius in any way possible. Antonius, he knew, was a threat to the Republic, and he had to be destroyed through one way or another. Antonius, he warned, wanted nothing more than to be a dictator. He couldn't be tolerated. As Antonius was defeated in battle against Decimus, he angrily sent an order to Cicero to apologize for his words, or else. Of course, Cicero didn't do so. He gave a conciliatory speech on September the 2nd, but it offended Antonius also as much as had the original speech. On September 19th, Antonius launched a vicious attack on Cicero, not through violence, but through words, and Cicero responded with the 2nd Philippic, perhaps even nastier towards Antonius than the first. "To what strange fatality in my life, my lords, am I to ascribe the fact that no traitor has for these twenty years molested my country who has not immediately declared war upon me?" begins Cicero. Of course, by the end of it, one can only imagine that Antonius' opinion of Cicero, already at an all-time low, had suddenly hit rock bottom. Before Antonius could take action against the barrister and senator, Octavian declared war on his old political foe, and the man who had dared to call him a coward. Despite a public reconciliation between the two, the animosity was stronger than ever, and with Antonius away, Octavian had his chance, and he took it. By early 43 BC, Octavian's troops were slowly advancing into the Alpine regions of northern Italy, searching for the enemy, Antonius, now public enemy number one. With Octavian, the Senate's champion it seemed, were the two Consuls, Aulus Hurtius and Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus. The Senate was finally behind a Caesar.

The two rivals finally clashed in the Alps that April, fighting a series of short, bloody skirmishes such as Forum Gallorum on April 14th, 43 BC, in which one of the Consuls, Pansa, wound up dead. The real fight came on the 21st at a spot known as Mutina. In a quick, decisive battle, Octavian actually seized the day, defeating Antonius, his military superior. The only drawback was the loss of the other Consul, Hurtius, mortally wounded in the thick of the fighting. Of course, now Antonius was scrambling for a way to get out of this bloody mess, somehow managing to get away from Octavian, crawling over the Alps, and with the remnants of his troops seeking refuge in Gallia. Waiting for him there was the governor, Lepidus. Of course, Lepidus decided to help his old friend, allying with him, and immediately starting to raise a new army with which to defend himself from the wrath of Octavian. Octavian would have to postpone his eagerly sought after revenge, however, when he received the news that the 'liberators', Brutus and Cassius, were raising their armies in the east, and that they had been joined by such monstrous little murderers as Casca and Domitus Brutus. They were forming an empire themselves, their latest conquest was the great independent city of Rhodes. Things suddenly looked very nasty indeed. Octavian, using his brain again, decided to make his peace with Antonius and Lepidus, asking for a combination of forces to go after, of course, Caesar's assassins. Antonius, seeing the trouble he was in, complied. Then something totally unexpected, but totally Roman occurred.

Return of the Triumvirate
Octavian marched his army on Rome itself, declaring himself the Consul for the coming year, 42 BC. This act shocked the Senate, and not least of all, Cicero. They had, it seemed, underestimated young Octavian. What could be coming next? Well, Triumvirate was next, of course. Meeting on November 23rd, 43 BC, at Boii, or Bononia (Bologna), Octavian, Antonius, and Lepidus came to an agreement. Octavian, inspired by the triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey, proposed that the three men divide up the territories of the Republic and that they each rule a third of the territory in their own new triumvirate. Antonius seemed to be fine with it. He might have had the money and power to rule, but Octavian had the blood of Caesar in him. Lepidus didn't mind it either, after all, the idea of being stuck as a governor in the rather uncivilized province of Gaul didn't thrill him much at all. Things might work out well this way.

The Senate agreed to it, having really no choice in the matter, the Republic was on its last legs now anyway, and besides, they didn't have the thirty-three legions that the triumvirs controlled. "For the reconstruction of the state" the Triumvirate, always renewable, would exist for the next five years, and, as long as the triumvirs managed to stay alive, it could perhaps exist even longer. "As soon as the triumvirs were together alone," wrote Appian, "they wrote the names of those to be killed, listing men suspected because they were powerful and also personal enemies…The number of senators condemned to death was about 300, and of the equestrians about 2000." These triumvirs, it seemed, were trying to outdo Sulla. The proscriptions would last for the next month, or so, and a large body of "enemies of the state" would be "liquidated". Who else would Antonius want dead than his number one enemy (next to Octavian, of course), Marcus Tullius Cicero?

Cicero fled with his brother Quintus and his nephew to Astura, his villa at Formiae. Being a senator, Cicero, of course, would have known about these proposed proscriptions before they started up. Antonius, he knew, would go at any length to kill him now that they had the chance. On December 7th, 43 BC, a group of assassins in the hire of Marcus Antonius, lead by a centurion, one Herennius, and a tribune, one Popilius (whom Cicero had ably defended when the tribune was accused of committing parricide) arrived outside the villa, bursting through the doors, killing Quintus and his son. But, asked the assassins, where was Cicero? He was on the beach, came the reply from one of the treacherous slaves, making good his escape. Or was he? Cicero was on the beach, but he was not trying to escape. When the assassins caught up with him, he was sitting in a litter, his head resting in his hand, watching sadly as his murderers approached. He knew what he was going to do now. He was going to become a martyr for the Republic, and like Demosthenes, a hero for the ages. Antonius was pleased. Cicero had been killed instantly, a single swing of the sword removing his head. To set an example to any 'wannabe' "enemies of the state", Cicero's hands and head were nailed to the prow of the speaking platform, the rostrum, from where the great man had delivered his Philippics. What the Senators and the populae shuddered at when they entered the building was not Cicero's decapitated head, but, as Plutarch wrote, "an image of Antony's soul". However, Antonius had a sense of fairness to him, despite his heavy-handedness, turning over to Quintus Cicero's wife, Pomponia, a slave named Philologus, who had betrayed his master to his murderers. Apparently, Pomponia, in her rage, made him eat his own flesh.

What came next was something totally new. In 42 BC, Octavian ordered the Senate (what remained of it, anyway) to declare the murdered dictator Julius Caesar "Iulius Divus", Julius the Divine, the dictator deified. Whether the Senate liked it or not, Julius Caesar was now a god of the state. Of course, it also meant that Octavian, or Caesar as he would have himself called now, was now "Divi Filius", son of the god. And after this, Caesar set up a temple for his dead, deified adoptive father. Marcus Junius Brutus and C. Cassius Longinus were now more than mere assassins, they were god killers, and they were going down. Raising their armies, the triumvirs joined forces, plowing across the Adriatic with huge armies, landing in Macedonia, and looking for the god killers. They found them outside Philippi. Unfortunately for Octavian and Antonius, the attack on the nineteen legions of Brutus and Cassius didn't go well at all. The attacks were beaten back; the Republicans actually gained the momentum, driving into the camps, breaking the tide of the triumvirs. Octavian himself was nearly caught in the fighting. Antonius couldn't take the sting, and he immediately took command, halting the Republican attack, bringing the battle to a draw, and hoping for better luck next time. Antonius wanted Brutus dead. Brutus had already killed Antonius' brother Gaius in Macedonia in revenge for the assassination of Cicero. The one major loss for the Republicans was C. Cassius Longinus himself. "When he saw a force of men moving in his direction he sent a veteran to identify them for him," wrote Paterculus, "The man was slow in reporting. The column was advancing at a run and now very close, but dust prevented recognition of their personnel and standards, and Cassius supposed they were the enemy charging. He covered his head with his cloak and calmly extended his neck for his freedman to strike. The head had fallen when the veteran return to report that Brutus had won. When he saw his general lying dead, he said, 'My slowness killed him, I must follow,' and so fell upon his sword."

Three weeks later, on October 23rd, 43 BC, Antonius attacked once again. Octavian was ill, it seems, perhaps of diarrhea, his sudden gallivants off to a shady, marshy spot at odd periods in the day certainly suggest that. He watched from a distance as Antonius led the armies himself, riding at the head of his old cavalry units. A lonely Marcus Junius Brutus led the defense personally, Plutarch says that the apparition of dead Caesar ("You will see me at Philippi") had been plaguing him. Commanding a force in the battle was Decimus Brutus, and he knew his time had come also. Fat little Casca was also present, though perhaps not taking as much a part in the fighting as his co-conspirators. By the end of the long, hard fight, Decimus was dead, slain in battle. Casca had also died, plunging his dagger into his rather corpulent belly. Marcus J. Brutus, however, had actually managed to survive thus far, and had fallen back. Antonius, of course, was pursuing at the head of his cavalry, running over many of the fleeing Republicans. Like Cicero before him, Brutus stopped his retreat, facing his approaching enemy to become yet another martyr. Urged to flee, he responded, "Yes, we must fly, but with our hands—not our feet!" "At nightfall," says Paterculus, "he withdrew to a hill and prevailed upon his intimate Strato of Aegaeae to lend a hand for his death. He raised his left arm above his head and with his right hand held the point of Strato's sword near the left nipple where the heart throbs; then he lunged to open a wound, was transfixed by the stroke, and died at once." While expecting the human debris, Antonius came across poor dead Brutus and covered him with his purple cloak in respect. Those Republicans who were not killed outright, committed suicide, or were caught, made for the last remaining Republican leader: Sextus Pompeius, great Pompey's sixth son. The enemy was scattered. Finally, it seemed, Julius Caesar had been avenged.

All right, that done, the triumvirs got down to business dividing up the territories of the Republic. The western territories would be controlled by, naturally enough, Octavius, while Antonius would be shipped off to control the East, his headquarters in Alexandria. Poor old Lepidus was left with the African provinces (excepting, of course, Egypt). There were two factors that needed to be eliminated now it seemed. Sextus Pompeius, son of the late Pompey, was in control of the entire Mediterranean with his large privateer navy, composed of huge flotillas of ships that were used in a piratical fashion. Yes, Pompey would definitely have to go. The other problem, of course, was Parthia, still a danger to the East, being more powerful than ever after its astounding victory over Crassus at Carrhae. Well, Parthia was Antonius' problem now.

- - -

Copyright © 2002 Addison Hart.

Written by Addison Hart.

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