(The ROMAN REPUBLIC – continued)

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The Assassination Fails Politically

The assassination of Julius Caesar failed politically. Enough support for Caesar remained as a counterforce to destroy what the assassins wanted to accomplish – and it would destroy the assassins themselves.

A month after Caesar's death, his eighteen year-old grand-nephew, Gaius Octavianus, to be known as Octavian, arrived in Italy from the East where he had been waiting to serve Caesar in the war that was planned against the Parthians. Octavian (also known as Octavius) had served with Caesar in Spain, and Caesar had adopted him and made him his heir.

Octavian would eventually ally himself with Caesar's old companion, Mark Antony, who was pursuing an accord with the Senate. But that accord would soon end. As consul, Antony canceled the Senate's appointment of one of Caesar's assassins, Decimus Brutus (no relation to Marcus Brutus), to the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul. With Antony's position as consul soon to expire, he appointed himself to that governorship. Still conciliatory, the Senate approved. Senator Cicero feared Antony's influence. He made a speech with an undertone of criticism against Antony. Antony took offense and attacked Cicero verbally. And before the year 44 ended, a war of words was on between the two.


Marcus Tullius Cicero, another righteous Stoic. An enemy of Caesar and complicit in his assassination, he too is assassinated.

Antony thought Cicero's good manners were hypocritical and stuffy. He saw himself as in tune with traditional male directness and simplicity. In manner and dress Antony was intentionally casual, and he had a coarseness and boyishness that appealed to soldiers. Some complained that he was sloppy in eating and noisy in drinking. Cicero described him as vulgar and as a drunken, lusting debaucher and described Antony's speeches as little more than bombast. Cicero saw Antony's choosing to go to Cisalpine Gaul as governor as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Caesar, and he accused Antony of preparing to create a military dictatorship.

Antony did now what he could have done just after the assassination: he rallied an army against Caesar's assassins. Cicero called on the governors in Spain, Transalpine Gaul and Narbonensis Gaul to side with the Senate. But these commanders chose instead to side with Antony. The commander in Narbonensis Gaul, Lepidus, had Caesar's best troops, and Antony agreed to recognize him as having equal in rank with himself.

With Brutus and his allies established outside of Rome, Octavian with an army of his own took power in Rome – a military coup that nullified the powers of the Senate. He instituted elections for the two consulships, winning one seat for himself and one for a second cousin, and he abolished the law that had made Antony an outlaw.

A victorious Antony returned to Rome with his army. Antony, Lepidus and Octavian formed a ruling triumvirate. They enlarged the Senate with their supporters, and as a formality a people's assembly passed a law that gave the triumvirate dictatorial powers for five years.

Against those who had conspired against Caesar, the triumvirate launched a massacre as terrible as Sulla's. Three hundred former senators and two thousand equites were killed, destroying much of what had been Rome's old governing elite. Cicero was among those executed – his severed head and hands presented to his debate antagonist, Antony. Julius Caesar was declared a god of the Roman state.

The two most prominent of Caesar's assassins, Cassius and Marcus Brutus, had fled and were in command of armies in Macedonia. In the year 42, armies under the combined command of Antony and Octavian waged war against them successfully, and Brutus and Cassius marked their failures by committing suicide.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.