Saturday, 30 January 2016

The end of the Republicans (43-41 BC)

Octavian: Caesar's heir.
Would he be his successor?

The proscriptions
One of the first acts of the triumvirate was to follow the example of Sulla. The amnesty previously granted to Caesar’s assassins was repealed and a series of proscriptions eliminated their enemies and also gave them the funds to keep the army and the populace happy. They signed the death warrants for some three hundred senators and two thousand knights. The most famous victim was Cicero, whose death was quite unlike the peaceful ending he had envisaged in his writings. After his death his head and hands were cut off and brought to Antony, then nailed up above the rostra in the Forum. This was to gratify Antony’s personal lust for revenge but Octavian cannot escape responsibility for the prescriptions.  The historian Plutarch notes that he deliberately sacrificed Cicero to Antony and that Antony in turn abandoned his uncle: 
‘I can conceive of nothing more savage and vindictive than this trafficking in blood.’
Julius Caesar was deified, and Octavian began to style himself ‘son of the divine’ (‘divi filius’).

The battle of Philippi
A military campaign was then organised to avenge Caesar’s murder and to dispose of the conspirators. At the two-stage battle of Philippi in Greece in October 42 BC the conspirators were defeated. Plutarch states that Octavian proved himself an indifferent general (he was nearly defeated by Brutus) and that most of the credit for the battle went to Antony. The story of the visitation from Caesar’s ghost comes from Plutarch. Both Cassius and Brutus committed suicide. Antony and Octavian found themselves in control of sixty legions and more than a quarter of a million men.

The division of the spoils
After Philippi the provinces were divided among the triumvirs. Octavian took Spain, Sardinia, and Lepidus Africa. He also received Italy, which gave him the advantage of being at the heart of the empire. However, Italy was disrupted by civil war and harassed by the piratical activities of Pompey’s son, Sextus Pompeius. On the face of it, Antony was the chief beneficiary in that he took control of the east, which had always been regarded as a great reservoir of resources. He went first to Athens and then in the spring of 41 he crossed into Asia and found himself, like other powerful Romans, welcomed as a god; at Ephesus he was greeted as a ‘new Dionysus’. This is the type of thing that can go to a man's head!