Augustus: His Life and Work - Rene Francis

Extinction of the Republic

As we have said, the 'Liberatores' had some sort of idea that as soon as they had killed Caesar the Republic would somehow or other come to life again; in it they would appear as the central figures, noble deliverers—and doubtless worthy of posts of high honour and glory. If Caesar had given them high honours, could the Republic, saved by them, do less?

After all they had this much excuse for their idea, that—so far as could be seen—there was no one save themselves (and of course Cicero, their philosopher-in-chief) who could take up the power Caesar had left.

Caesar had made no preparations for the future—that is to say, the future without and apart from himself. He had not had the time to do so! His notes (for he left quantities of rough notes of projects) concerned chiefly provincial or military arrangements, frontier plans, ideas for the municipalizing of Italy, and so forth. But he does not seem to have laid down any plan for any system which might keep the constitution up to the level of efficiency to which he had raised it.

That, of course, is the feature of the work done by Augustus, whose systematic and consistent idea was so to arrange the supreme power that it could not but be taken over—and taken over with comparative ease—by a successor: and he took good care to arrange for his successor.

As we know, Caesar had a son, Caesarion. But Caesarion was never more than a mere figurehead: you may see his portrait—and a very poor and conventionalized portrait it is—with that of his father and mother, on the west wall of Dendera Temple to-day. He was put to death in the year after the battle of Actium. Caesar had also an heir, the young Octavius, afterward Augustus, a clever, promising grand-nephew, who had been left to finish his military education at Apollonia, in Illyricum. But Octavius at the moment of Caesar's death was little more than a boy.

There were Caesar's two lieutenants, Antony and Lepidus. But their importance seemed slight enough at the time; at any rate, the 'Liberatores' did not reckon with it. For Caesar, neither Antony nor Lepidus had been more than lieutenants.

In a word, there was, so far as could be seen, no successor to Caesar. It should be possible, surely, to restore the Republic!

But the Liberators were speedily disillusioned. The populace took a view very different from their own. Whatever they may have expected, they received neither acclamation nor approval. The attitude of the veterans of Caesar's army was even less encouraging.

Then Antony declared himself, and the Liberators saw what a mistake they had made in sparing him and Lepidus.

On the very day after the assassination Antony got possession of Caesar's will and all his papers, as well as the large sums of money at the time deposited in the temple of Ops and representing revenue due to Caesar. He also got into touch instantly with Lepidus, who had the armed forces at his command.

The Senate met to discuss the situation. Here the Liberators had their chance: they should have revoked all Caesar's edicts and reversed all his policy. But they had no legions at their back; they held their posts in the State through the liberality of Caesar. In a word, they temporized. And the Senate temporized also. On the one hand, Caesar's decrees and appointments were confirmed, and a public funeral was ordained. On the other, a general amnesty was proclaimed.

The Liberators confirmed their own various posts. Marcus Brutus was to go to Macedonia, Decimus Brutus to Cisalpine Gaul, Cassius to Syria: these three concern us more than the rest.

But they had nine months to wait before they could take up these posts. Antony, on the other hand, had the money and the men for war, and was acting already. He profited by the fact that he was consul for the year, and took control in the name of law and order; he also declared that his desire was to carry out such work as Caesar had left unfinished.

Nominally, and as he declared, he was only as it were Caesar's executor. He had even carried a proposal in the Senate that the office and title of Dictator should be abolished for ever. But as he shut himself up in his house, surrounded himself with a guard of six thousand men, and issued decree after decree to suit his own convenience or ambition, Rome had not really gained much by the abolition of the hated title.

Cicero's phrase Fructuosa Officina  ('that most prolific factory') exactly hits off Antony's house. Antony had all the acta Caesaris, or rough notes, at his disposal; and as no one else had access to these notes or could see what was and what was not in them, it followed that Antony both could and did arrange and even add to them as he wished. Forgeries might be suspected, but could not be proved.

Antony proposed a military command for himself in Cisalpine Gaul, the province actually assigned to Decimus Brutus; and he demanded the Macedonian legions (which really were assigned to Marcus Brutus) as an additional force for his command.

We should mention here one other personage, who for the moment, had not come into prominence, but who had to be reckoned with later on. This was Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompeius. He had been repressed by Caesar in 45 B.C. at Munda, but was gradually collecting a following in Farther Spain. So far as Rome was concerned, he was little known or thought of at the time.

Octavius—Augustus that was to be—now makes his appearance on the scene. As we have said, he was the grand-nephew and heir of Caesar, who had adopted him into his own family, the Julian gens, and had sketched out for him an education which should qualify him later on for high office in the State. He had enrolled him among the patricians and had made him his 'Master of the Horse' at the age of eighteen. The title was purely honorary, but it was a sign of Caesar's favour. Octavius was the son of Gaius Octavius by a second wife, Atia, who was the daughter of Caesar's sister Julia; he was born in 63 B.C.

Octavius heard in Illyricum the news of his great-uncle's death. Against the advice of his friends he decided to start for Italy. He did not know definitely at the time that he was Caesar's declared heir, but he had even then, in his nineteenth year, sufficient foresight to show him that his only course was to go to Rome immediately.

On his landing at Lupia he learnt that he was the inheritor of Caesar's wealth, and saw that his voyage had been thoroughly justified.

But he was fully alive to his disadvantages. He had much to conquer, and his youth was greatly against him in most respects—its only advantage, indeed, was that it secured him from notice. He was not suspected of being a possible danger, and so he could mature his plans without too much risk.

His first step was to let it be known that he merely posed as Caesar's legal heir in a private capacity: he laid claim to the possessions bequeathed to him, but not in any sense to Caesar's powers or offices. He at once declared his intention of paying to the various claimants the legacies Caesar had left to them.

His second step was the assumption of the name of Caesar. This was a sure means of gaining the favor of Caesar's veterans and admirers; it might arouse some suspicion among Caesar's opponents, but, after all, Octavius, as grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and an adopted member of the Julian gens, had a perfect right to assume the name he now took—Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.

He began his 'campaign' quite quietly. He strengthened his claim on Caesar's veterans and on the lower classes; he met and cultivated Cicero, playing deftly on the hopes and ideals of the old orator, who really began to think that, in spite of his hated name of Caesar, this young man might prove to be a useful helper in the cause of reform and the restoration of the old regime.

He avoided any open rupture with Antony, though he contrived to detach the allegiance of two of the legions who had left Macedonia and whom Anthony was to take over for his command in Cisalpine Gaul.

It is hardly necessary to say that both Antony and the Liberators took little notice of the claim to Caesar's inheritance. Antony simply refused to give an account of his stewardship: the money had all been spent on State objects—it had, indeed, been meant for that! So the young Octavius—or, as we must now call him, Octavian—had to borrow money to pay the various legacies of Caesar's will.

Octavian, having no recognition from Antony, and as yet no command or position either from the Senate or from the people, retired to Campania and collected an armed force round him, but did not give any indication as to his possible uses for it.

Antony now took action on his own account, as he wished to enter on the Cisalpine Gaul command and to displace Decimus Brutus, who was also turning his, attention thereto. He shut up and besieged Brutus in Mutina.

This gave Octavian his opportunity. He came forward at once as the champion of the Senate and the defender of the Republic, and he offered to use the force at his command for the relief of Brutus. The Senate accepted the offer, elected Octavian, in spite of his youth, to senatorial rank, and gave him consular authority to act against Antony in Conjunction with the two consuls of the year (43 B.C.), Hirtius and Pansa.

The campaign ended in April 43 B.C.: Antony was driven from Mutina, and Decimus Brutus was released from his siege.

The victory, admirable as it seemed to be at the time, was, in point of fact, a disaster for the Republic. Hirtius and Pansa both died, the one in the battle, the other of wounds received in an earlier engagement.

Also Antony escaped. Decimus Brutus, ignorant of the full extent of support available for him outside Mutina, and afraid to force further exertions on the enfeebled army under his command, had considered himself unable to pursue him. Octavian, from motives that soon explained themselves, would not attempt pursuit, but deliberately allowed Antony to make his retreat in safety.

The Senate then made their great mistake. Octavian stood for the consulship for 42 B.C. They neglected his claims for this, and, moreover, they gave the sole command of the army to Decimus Brutus. Octavian promptly marched on Rome with eight legions, and 70) ?> forced the Senate to give him the consulship he desired.

Antony had profited by his escape. He had joined Lepidus at Forum Julii (near the modern Nice,) and the two had secured the adhesion of Pollio, who was in command of Farther Spain, and Plancus, who held Northern Gaul.

Then came the next great blow to the Senate and the Republic in general. This was the death of Decimus Brutus, the best of the Republicans in many ways. He was murdered at Aquileia while on his way to join his brother in Macedonia.

Octavian turned his back on what had seemed to be his former policy—the policy which had almost commended him to the approval of Cicero. He arranged a meeting with Antony and Lepidus at Bononia, and the three were appointed—rather they caused themselves to be appointed triumvirs 'for the reorganization of the State during a period of five years.' It was an official appointment, unlike the Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus, which had been merely an unofficial agreement between the three men concerned.