The Civil Wars Following The Death Of Caesar

The assassination of Caesar was not immediately followed with the

convulsions which we should naturally expect. The people were weary of

war, and sighed for repose, and, moreover, were comparatively indifferent

on whom the government fell, since their liberties were hopelessly

prostrated. Only one thing was certain, that power would be usurped by

some one, and most probably by the great chieftains who represented

Caesar's interests.

The most powerful men in Rome at this time, were Marcus Antonius,

the most able of Caesar's lieutenants, the most constant of his friends,

and the nearest of his relatives, although a man utterly unprincipled;

Octavius, grandson of Julius, whom Caesar adopted as his heir, a young man

of nineteen; Lepidus, colleague consul with Caesar, the head of the ancient

family of the Lepidi, thirteen of whom had been honored with curule

magistracies; Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey; Brutus and Cassius, chief

conspirators; Dolabella, a man of consular rank, and one of the profligate

nobles of his time; Hirtia and Pansa, consuls; Piso, father-in-law of

Caesar, of a powerful family, which boasted of several consuls; and

Cicero--still influential from his great weight of character. All these men

were great nobles, and had filled the highest offices.

The man who, to all appearance, had the fairest chance for supreme

command in those troubled times, was Antony, whose mother was Julia,

Caesar's sister. He was grandson to the great orator M. Antonius, who

flourished during the civil wars between Marius and Sulla, and was

distinguished for every vice, folly, and extravagance which characterized

the Roman nobles. But he was a man of consummate ability as a general, was

master of the horse, and was consul with Caesar, when he was killed, B.C.

44. He was also eloquent, and pronounced the funeral oration of the

murdered Imperator, as nearest of kin. He had possession of Caesar's

papers, and was the governor of Cisalpine Gaul. He formed a union with

Lepidus, to whom he offered the office of Pontifex Maximus, the second

office in the State. As consul, he could unlock the public treasury, which

he rifled to the extent of seven hundred million of sesterces--the vast sum

left by Caesar. One of his brothers was praetor, and another, a tribune. He

convened the Senate, and employed, by the treasure he had at command, the

people to overawe the Senate, as the Jacobin clubs of the French

revolution overawed the Assembly. He urged the Senate to ratify Caesar's

acts and confirm his appointments, and in this was supported by Cicero and

a majority of the members. Now that the deed was done, he wished to have

the past forgotten. This act of amnesty confirmed his fearful

pre-eminence, and the inheritance of the mighty dead seemingly devolved

upon him. The conspirators came to terms with him, and were even

entertained by him, and received the provinces which he assigned to them.

Brutus received Macedonia; Cassius, Syria; Trebonius, Asia; Cimber,

Bythinia; and Decimus, Cisalpine Gaul. Dolabella was his colleague in the

consulship,--a personal enemy, yet committed to his policy.

Caesar had left three hundred sesterces to every citizen, (about L3,) and

his gardens beyond the Tiber to the use of the people. Such gifts operated

in producing an intense gratitude for the memory of a man who had proved

so great a benefactor, and his public funeral was of unprecedented

splendor. Antony, as his nearest heir, and the first magistrate,

pronounced the oration, which was a consummate piece of dramatic art, in

which he inflamed the passions of the people, and stimulated them to

frenzy, so that they turned upon the assassins with fury. But he assured

the Senate of his moderation, abolished the dictatorship forever, and

secured his own personal safety by a body-guard.

He had, however, a powerful rival in the young Octavius, who had

been declared by Caesar's will his principal heir, then absent in

Apollonia. He resolved to return at once and claim his inheritance, and

was warmly received at Brundusium by the veteran troops, and especially by

Cicero, who saw in him a rival to Antony. Octavius flattered the old

orator, and ingratiated himself in the favor of everybody by his

unassuming manners, and his specious language. He entered Rome under

favorable omens, paid his court to the senators, and promised to fulfill

his uncle's requests. He was received by Antony in the gardens of

Pompeius, and claimed at once his inheritance. Antony replied that it was

not private property but the public treasure, and was, moreover, spent.

Octavius was not to be put off, and boldly declared that he would and

could pay the legacies, and contrived to borrow the money. Such an act

secured unrivaled popularity. He gave magnificent shows, and then claimed

that the jeweled crown of Caesar should be exhibited on the festival which

he instituted to Venus, and to whose honor Caesar had vowed to build a

temple, on the morning of his victory at Pharsalia. The tribunes,

instigated by Antonius, refused to sanction this mark of honor, but

fortune favored Octavius, and, in the enthusiasm of the festival, which

lasted eleven days, the month Quintilius was changed to Julius--the first

demigod whom the Senate had translated to Olympus.

Meanwhile Brutus and Cassius retired from public affairs,

lingering in the neighborhood of Rome, and the provinces promised to them

were lost. At Antium they had an interview with Cicero, who advised them

to keep quiet, and not venture to the capital, where the people were

inflamed against them. Their only encouragement was the successes of

Sextus Pompeius in Spain, who had six legions at his command. Cicero

foresaw that another civil war was at hand, and had the gloomiest

forebodings, for one or the other of the two great chieftains of the

partisans of Caesar was sure of ultimately obtaining the supreme power. The

humiliating conviction that the murder of Caesar was a mistake, was now

deeply impressed upon his mind, since it would necessarily inaugurate

another bloody war. Self banished from Rome, this great and true patriot

wandered from place to place to divert his mind. But neither the

fascinations of literature, nor the attractions of Tusculum, Puteoli,

Pompeii, and Neapolis, where he had luxurious villas, could soothe his

anxious and troubled soul. Religious, old, and experienced, he could only

ponder on the coming and final prostration of that cause of constitutional

liberty to which he was devoted.

Antonius, also aware of the struggle which was impending, sought

to obtain the government of Cisalpine Gaul, and of the six legions

destined for the Parthian war. But he was baffled by the Senate, and by

the intrigues of Octavius, who sheltered himself behind the august name of

the man by whom he had been adopted. He therefore made a hollow

reconciliation with Octavius, and by his means, obtained the Gaulish

provinces. Cicero, now only desirous to die honorably, returned to Rome to

accept whatever fate was in store for him, and defend to the last his

broken cause. It was then, in the Senate, that he launched forth those

indignant philippies against Antonius, as a public enemy, which are among

his greatest efforts, and which most triumphantly attest his moral


The hollow reconciliation between Antonius and Octavius was not of long

duration, and the former, as consul, repaired to Brundusium to assume

command of the legions stationed there, and Octavius collected his forces

in Campania. Both parties complained of each other, and both invoked the

name of Caesar. Cicero detested the one, and was blinded as to the other.

The term of office as consul, which Antonius held, had now

expired, and Hirtius, one of the new consuls, marched into Cisalpine Gaul,

and Octavius placed himself under his command. The Senate declared a state

of public danger. The philippics of Cicero had taken effect, and the

Senate and the government were now opposed to Antonius, as the creator of

a new revolution. The consuls crossed swords with Antonius at Forum

Gallorum, and the consul Pansa fell, but success was with the government.

Another success at Mutina favored the government party, which Octavius had

joined. On the news of this victory, Cicero delivered his fourteenth and

last philippic against Antonius, who now withdrew from Cisalpine Gaul, and

formed a junction with Lepidus beyond the Alps. Octavius declined to

pursue him, and Plancus hesitated to attack him, although joined by

Decimus, one of the murderers of Caesar, with ten legions. Octavius now

held aloof from the government army, from which it was obvious that he had

ambitious views of his own to further, and was denounced by Plancus to

Cicero. The veteran statesman, at last, perceived that Octavius, having

deserted Decimus (who, of all the generals, was the only one on whose

fidelity the State could securely lean), was not to be further relied

upon, and cast his eyes to Macedonia and Syria, to which provinces Brutus

and Cassius had retired. The Senate, too, now distrusted Octavius, and

treated him with contumely; but supported by veteran soldiers, he demanded

the consulship, and even secretly corresponded with Antonius, and assured

him of his readiness to combine with him and Lepidus, and invited them to

follow him to Rome. He marched at the head of eight legions, pretending

all the while to be coerced by them. The Senate, overawed, allowed him, at

twenty years of age, to assume the consulship, with Pedius, grand-nephew

of Caesar, for his colleague. Since Hirtius and Pansa had both fallen,

Octavius, then leaving the city in the hands of a zealous colleague,

opened negotiations with Antonius and Lepidus, perceiving that it was only

in conjunction with them that his usurpation could be maintained. They met

for negotiations at Bononia, and agreed to share the empire between them.

They declared themselves triumvirs for the settlement of the commonwealth,

and after a conference of three days, divided between themselves the

provinces and legions. They then concerted a general proscription of their

enemies. The number whom they thus doomed to destruction was three hundred

senators and two thousand knights, from the noblest families of Rome,

among whom were brothers, uncles, and favorite officers. The possession of

riches was fatal to some, and of beautiful villas to others. Cicero was

among this number, as was to be expected, for he had exhausted the Latin

language in vituperations of Antonius, whom he hated beyond all other

mortals, and which hatred was itself a passion. He spoke of Caesar with

awe, of Pompey with mortification, of Crassus with dislike, and of Antony

with bitter detestation and unsparing malice. It was impossible that he

could escape, even had he fled to the ends of the earth. The vacillation

of his last hours, his deep distress, and mournful agonies are painted by

Plutarch. He fell a martyr to the cause of truth, and public virtue, and

exalted patriotism, although his life was sullied by weakness and

infirmities, such as vanity, ambition, and jealousy. In the dark and

wicked period which he adorned by his transcendent talents and matchless

services, he lived and died in faith--the most amiable and the most noble

of all his contemporaries.

The triumvirs had now gratified their vengeance by a series of murders

never surpassed in the worst ages of religious and political fanaticism.

And all these horrible crimes were perpetrated in the name of that great

and august character who had won the world by his sword. The prestige of

that mighty name sanctioned their atrocities and upheld their power. Caesar

still lived, although assassinated, and the triumvirs reigned as his heirs

or avengers, even as Louis Napoleon grasped the sceptre of his uncle, not

from any services he had rendered, but as the heir of his conquests. The

Romans loved Caesar as the French loved Napoleon, and submitted to the rule

of the triumvirs, as the French submitted to the usurpations of the

proscribed prisoner of Ham. And in the anarchy which succeeded the

assassination of the greatest man of antiquity, it must need be that the

strongest would seize the reins, since all liberty and exalted patriotism

had fled.

But these usurpers did not secure their power without one more

last struggle of the decimated and ruined aristocracy. They rallied under

the standards of Brutus and Cassius in Macedonia and Syria. The one was at

the head of eight legions, and the other of eleven, a still formidable

force. Sextus Pompeius also still lived, and had intrenched himself in

Sicily. A battle had still to be fought before the republic gave its last

sigh. Cicero ought to have joined these forces, and might have done so,

but for his vacillation. So Lepidus, as consul, took control of Rome and

the interests of Italy, while Antonius marched against Brutus and Cassius

in the East, and Octavius assailed Sextus in Sicily; unable, however, to

attack him without ships, he joined his confederate. Their united forces

were concentrated in Philippi, in Thrace, and there was fought the last

decisive battle between the republicans, if the senatorial and

aristocratic party under Brutus and Cassius can be called republicans, and

the liberators, as they called themselves, or the adherents of Caesar. The

republicans had a force of eighty thousand infantry and twenty thousand

cavalry, while the triumvirs commanded a still superior force. The numbers

engaged in this great conflict exceeded all former experience, and the

battle of Philippi was the most memorable in Roman annals, since all the

available forces of the empire were now arrayed against each other. The

question at issue was, whether power should remain with the old

constitutional party, or with the party of usurpation which Caesar had

headed and led to victory. It was whether Rome should be governed by the

old forms, or by an imperator with absolute authority. The forces arrayed

on that fatal battle-field--the last conflict for liberty ever fought at

Rome--were three times as great as fought at Pharsalia. On that memorable

battle-field the republic perished. The battle was fairly and bravely

fought on both sides, but victory inclined to the Caesarians, in two

distinct actions, after an interval of twenty days, B.C. 42. Both Cassius

and Brutus fell on their own swords, and their self-destruction, in utter

despair of their cause, effectually broke up their party.

The empire was now in the hands of the triumvirs. The last contest

was decisive. Future struggles were worse than useless. Destiny had

proclaimed the extinction of Roman liberties for ever. It was vice and

faction which had prepared the way for violence, and the last appeal to

the sword had settled the fate of the empire, henceforth to be governed by

a despot.

But there being now three despots among the partisans of Caesar, who sought

to grasp his sceptre, Which should prevail? Antonius was the greatest

general; Octavius was the greatest man; Lepidus was the tool of both. The

real rivalry was between Octavius and Antonius. But they did not at once

quarrel. Antonius undertook the subjugation of the eastern provinces, and

Octavius repaired to Rome. The former sought, before the great encounter

with his rival, to gain military eclat from new victories; the latter to

control factions and parties in the capital. They first got rid of

Lepidus, now that their more powerful enemies were subdued, and compelled

him to surrender the command in Italy and content himself with the

government of Africa. Antonius, commanding no less than twenty-eight

legions, which, with auxiliaries, numbered one hundred and seventy

thousand, had perhaps the best chance. His exactions were awful; but he

squandered his treasures, and gave vent to his passions.

The real cause of his overthrow was Cleopatra, for had he not been

led aside by his inordinate passion for this woman, and had he exercised

his vast power with the wisdom and ability which he had previously shown,

the most able of all of Caesar's generals, he probably would have triumphed

over every foe. On his passage through Cilicia, he was met by Cleopatra,

in all the pomp and luxury of an Oriental sovereign. She came to deprecate

his wrath, ostensibly, and ascended the Cydnus in a bark with gilded stern

and purple sails, rowed with silver oars, to the sound of pipes and

flutes. She reclined, the most voluptuous of ancient beauties, under a

spangled canopy, attended by Graces and Cupids, while the air was scented

with the perfumes of Olympus. She soon fascinated the most powerful man in

the empire, who, forgetting his ambition, resigned himself to love.

Octavius, master of himself, and of Italy, confiscated lands for the

benefit of the soldiership prepared for future contingencies. Though

Antonius married Octavia, the sister of Octavius, he was full of intrigues

against him and Octavius, on his part, proved more than a match in

duplicity and concealed hostilities. They, however, pretended to be

friends; and the treaty of Brundusium, celebrated by Virgil, would seem to

indicate that the world was now to enjoy the peace it craved. After a

debauch, Antonius left Rome for the East, and Octavius for Gaul, each with

a view of military conquests. Antonius, with his new wife, had seemingly

forgotten Cleopatra, and devoted himself to the duties of the camp with an

assiduity worthy of Caesar himself. Octavius has a naval conflict with

Sextus, and is defeated, but Sextus fails to profit from his victory, and

Octavius, with the help of his able lieutenants, and re-enforced by

Antonius, again attacks Sextus, and is again defeated. In a third conflict

he is victorious, and Sextus escapes to the East. Lepidus, ousted and

cheated by both Antonius and Octavius, now combines with Sextus and the

Pompeians, and makes head against Octavius; but is deserted by his

soldiers, and falls into the hands of his enemy, who spares his life in

contempt. He had owed his elevation to his family influence, and not to

his own abilities. Sextus, at last, was taken and slain.

At this juncture Octavius was at the head of the Caesarian party. He had

won the respect and friendship of the Romans by his clemency and

munificence. He was not a great general, but he was served by a great

general, Agrippa, and by another minister of equal talents, Mecrenas. He

controlled even more forces than Antonius, no less than forty-five legions

of infantry, and twenty-five thousand cavalry, and thirty-seven thousand

light-armed auxiliaries. Antonius, on the other hand, had forfeited the

esteem of the Romans by his prodigalities, by his Oriental affectations,

and by his slavery to Cleopatra.

This artful and accomplished woman again met Antonius in Asia, and resumed

her sway. The general of one hundred battles became effeminated by his

voluptuous dalliance, so that his Parthian campaign was a failure, even

though he led an army of one hundred thousand men. He was obliged to

retreat, and his retreat was disastrous. It was while he was planning

another campaign that Octavia, his wife, and the sister of his rival,--a

woman who held the most dignified situation in the world,--brought to his

camp both money and troops, and hoped to allay the jealousies of her

husband, and secure peace between him and her brother. But Antonius

heartlessly refused to see this noble-minded woman, while he gave

provinces to Cleopatra. At Alexandria this abandoned profligate plunged,

with his paramour, into every excess of extravagant debauchery, while she

who enslaved him only dreamed of empire and domination. She may have loved

him, but she loved power more than she did debauchery. Her intellectual

accomplishments were equal to her personal fascinations, and while she

beguiled the sensual Roman with costly banquets, her eye was steadily

directed to the establishment of her Egyptian throne.

The rupture which Octavia sought to prevent between her brother and her

husband--for, with the rarest magnanimity she still adhered to him in spite

of his infatuated love for Cleopatra--at last took place, when Octavius was

triumphant over Sextus, and Antonius was unsuccessful in the distant East.

Octavius declared war against the queen of Egypt, and Antonius divorced

Octavia. Throughout the winter of B.C. 31, both parties prepared for the

inevitable conflict, for Rome now could have but one master. The fate of

the empire was to be settled, not by land forces, but a naval battle, and

that was fought at Actium, not now with equal forces, for those of

Antonius had been weakened by desertions. Moreover, he rejected the advice

of his ablest generals, and put himself under the guidance of his

mistress, while Octavius listened to the counsels of Agrippa.

The battle had scarcely begun before Cleopatra fled, followed by Antonius.

The destruction of the Antonian fleet was the consequence. This battle,

B.C. 31, gave the empire of the world to Octavius, and Antonius fled to

Alexandria with the woman who had ruined him. And it was well that the

empire fell into the hands of a politic and profound statesman, who sought

to consolidate it and preserve its peace, rather than into those of a

debauched general, with insatiable passions and blood-thirsty vengeance.

The victor landed in Egypt, while the lovers abandoned themselves to

despair. Antonius, on the rumor of Cleopatra's death, gave himself a

mortal wound, but died in the arms of her for whom he had sacrificed fame,

fortune, and life. Cleopatra, in the interview which Octavius sought at

Alexandria, attempted to fascinate him by those arts by which she had led

astray both Caesar and Antonius, but the cold and politic conqueror was

unmoved, and coldly demanded the justification of her political career,

and reserved her to grace his future triumph. She eluded his vigilance,

and destroyed herself, as is supposed, by the bite of asps, since her dead

body showed none of the ordinary spots of poison. She died, B.C. 30, in

the fortieth year of her age, and was buried as a queen by the side of her

lover. Her son Caesarion, by Julius Caesar, was also put to death, and then

the master of the world "wiped his blood-stained sword, and thrust it into

the scabbard." No more victims were needed. No rivalship was henceforth to

be dreaded, and all opposition to his will had ceased.

Octavius reduced Egypt to the form of a Roman province, and after

adjusting the affairs of the East, among which was the confirmation of

Herod as sovereign of Judea, he returned to Rome to receive his new

honors, and secure his undivided sovereignty. Peace was given to the world

at last. The imperator dedicated temples to the gods, and gave games and

spectacles to the people. The riches of all previous conquests were his to

dispose and enjoy--the extent of which may be conjectured from the fact

that Caesar alone had seized an amount equal to one hundred and seventy

million pounds, not reckoning the relative value to gold in these times.

Divine honors were rendered to Octavius as the heir of Caesar. He assumed

the praenomen of imperator, but combined in himself all the great offices

of the republic which had been overturned. As censor, he purged and

controlled the Senate, of which he was appointed princeps, or chief. As

consul he had the control of the armies of the State; as perpetual

proconsul over all the provinces of the empire, he controlled their

revenues, their laws, their internal reforms, and all foreign relations.

As tribune for life, he initiated legal measures before the Comitia of the

tribes; as Pontifex Maximus, he had the regulation of all religious

ceremonials. All these great offices were voted him by a subservient

people. The only prerogative which remained to them was the making of

laws, but even this great and supreme power he controlled, by assuming the

initiation of all laws and measures,--that which Louis Napoleon has claimed

in the Corps Legislatif. He had also resorted to edicts, which had the

force of laws, and ultimately composed no small part of the Roman

jurisprudence. Finally, he assumed the name of Caesar, as he had of

Augustus, and consummated the reality of despotism by the imposing title

of imperator, or emperor.

The Antediluvian World The Climax Of The Roman Empire facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail