Cleopatra - Jacob Abbott

The Battle of Philippi

When the tidings of the assassination of Csar were first announced to the people of Rome, all ranks and classes of men were struck with amazement and consternation. No one knew what to say or do. A very large and influential portion of the community had been Csar's friends. It was equally certain that there was a very powerful interest opposed to him. No one could foresee which of these two parties would now carry the day, and, of course, for a time, all was uncertainty and indecision.

Mark Antony came forward at once, and assumed the position of Csar's representative and the leader of the party on that side. A will was found among Csar's effects, and when the will was opened it appeared that large sums of money were left to the Roman people, and other large amounts to a nephew of the deceased, named Octavius, who will be more particularly spoken of hereafter. Antony was named in the will as the executor of it. This and other circumstances seemed to authorize him to come forward as the head and the leader of the Csar party. Brutus and Cassius, who remained openly in the city after their desperate deed had been performed, were the acknowledged leaders of the other party; while the mass of the people were at first so astounded at the magnitude and suddenness of the revolution which the open and public assassination of a Roman emperor by a Roman senate denoted, that they knew not what to say or do. In fact, the killing of Julius Csar, considering the exalted position which he occupied, the rank and station of the men who perpetrated the deed, and the very extraordinary publicity of the scene in which the act was performed, was, doubtless, the most conspicuous and most appalling case of assassination that has ever occurred. The whole population of Rome seemed for some days to be amazed and stupefied by the tidings. At length, however, parties began to be more distinctly formed. The lines of demarkation between them were gradually drawn, and men began to arrange themselves more and more unequivocally on the opposite sides.

For a short time the supremacy of Antony over the Csar party was readily acquiesced in and allowed. At length, however, and before his arrangements were finally matured, he found that he had two formidable competitors upon his own side. These were Octavius and Lepidus.

Octavius, who was the nephew of Csar, already alluded to, was a very accomplished and elegant young man, now about nineteen years of age. He was the son of Julius Csar's niece. He had always been a great favorite with his uncle. Every possible attention had been paid to his education, and he had been advanced by Csar, already, to positions of high importance in public life. Csar, in fact, adopted him as his son, and made him his heir. At the time of Csar's death he was at Apollonia, a city of Illyricum, north of Greece. The troops under his command there offered to march at once with him, if he wished it, to Rome, and avenge his uncle's death. Octavius, after some hesitation, concluded that it would be most prudent for him to proceed thither first himself, alone, as a private person, and demand his rights as his uncle's heir, according to the provisions of the will. He accordingly did so. He found, on his arrival, that the will, the property, the books and parchments, and the substantial power of the government, were all in Antony's hands. Antony, instead of putting Octavius into possession of his property and rights, found various pretexts for evasion and delay. Octavius was too young yet, he said, to assume such weighty responsibilities. He was himself also too much pressed with the urgency of public affairs to attend to the business of the will. With these and similar excuses as his justification, Antony seemed inclined to pay no regard whatever to Octavius's claims.

Octavius, young as he was, possessed a character that was marked with great intelligence, spirit, and resolution. He soon made many powerful friends in the city of Rome and among the Roman senate. It became a serious question whether he or Antony would gain the greatest ascendency in the party of Csar's friends. The contest for this ascendency was, in fact, protracted for two or three years, and led to a vast complication of intrigues, and maneuvers, and civil wars, which can not, however, be here particularly detailed.

The other competitor which Antony had to contend with was a distinguished Roman general named Lepidus. Lepidus was an officer of the army, in very high command at the time of Csar's death. He was present in the senate chamber on the day of the assassination. He stole secretly away when he saw that the deed was done, and repaired to the camp of the army without the city and immediately assumed the command of the forces. This gave him great power, and in the course of the contests which subsequently ensued between Antony and Octavius, he took an active part, and held in some measure the balance between them. At length the contest was finally closed by a coalition of the three rivals. Finding that they could not either of them gain a decided victory over the others, they combined together, and formed the celebrated triumvirate, which continued afterward for some time to wield the supreme command in the Roman world. In forming this league of reconciliation, the three rivals held their conference on an island situated in one of the branches of the Po, in the north of Italy. They manifested extreme jealousy and suspicion of each other in coming to this interview. Two bridges were built leading to the island, one from each bank of the stream. The army of Antony was drawn up upon one side of the river, and that of Octavius upon the other. Lepidus went first to the island by one of the bridges. After examining the ground carefully, to make himself sure that it contained no ambuscade, he made a signal to the other generals, who then came over, each advancing by his own bridge, and accompanied by three hundred guards, who remained upon the bridge to secure a retreat for their master in case of treachery. The conference lasted three days, at the expiration of which time the articles were all agreed upon and signed.

This league being formed, the three confederates turned their united force against the party of the conspirators. Of this party Brutus and Cassius were still at the head.

The scene of the contests between Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus had been chiefly Italy and the other central countries of Europe. Brutus and Cassius, on the other hand, had gone across the Adriatic Sea into the East immediately after Csar's assassination. They were now in Asia Minor, and were employed in concentrating their forces, forming alliances with the various Eastern powers, raising troops, bringing over to their side the Roman legions which were stationed in that quarter of the world, seizing magazines, and exacting contributions from all who could be induced to favor their cause. Among other embassages which they sent, one went to Egypt to demand aid from Cleopatra. Cleopatra, however, was resolved to join the other side in the contest. It was natural that she should feel grateful to Csar for his efforts and sacrifices in her behalf, and that she should be inclined to favor the cause of his friends. Accordingly, instead of sending troops to aid Brutus and Cassius, as they had desired her to do, she immediately fitted out an expedition to proceed to the coast of Asia, with a view of rendering all the aid in her power to Antony's cause.

Cassius, on his part, finding that Cleopatra was determined on joining his enemies, immediately resolved on proceeding at once to Egypt and taking possession of the country. He also stationed a military force at Tænarus, the southern promontory of Greece, to watch for and intercept the fleet of Cleopatra as soon as it should appear on the European shores. All these plans, however—both those which Cleopatra formed against Cassius, and those which Cassius formed against her—failed of accomplishment. Cleopatra's fleet encountered a terrible storm, which dispersed and destroyed it. A small remnant was driven upon the coast of Africa, but nothing could be saved which could be made available for the purpose intended. As for Cassius's intended expedition to Egypt, it was not carried into effect. The dangers which began now to threaten him from the direction of Italy and Rome were so imminent, that, at Brutus's urgent request, he gave up the Egyptian plan, and the two generals concentrated their forces to meet the armies of the triumvirate which were now rapidly advancing to attack them. They passed for this purpose across the Hellespont from Sestos to Abydos, and entered Thrace.

After various marches and countermarches, and a long succession of those maneuvers by which two powerful armies, approaching a contest, endeavor each to gain some position of advantage against the other, the various bodies of troops belonging, respectively, to the two powers, came into the vicinity of each other near Philippi. Brutus and Cassius arrived here first. There was a plain in the neighborhood of the city, with a rising ground in a certain portion of it. Brutus took possession of this elevation, and intrenched himself there. Cassius posted his forces about three miles distant, near the sea. There was a line of intrenchments between the two camps, which formed a chain of communication by which the positions of the two commanders were connected. The armies were thus very advantageously posted. They had the River Strymon and a marsh on the left of the ground that they occupied, while the plain was before them, and the sea behind. Here they awaited the arrival of their foes.

Antony, who was at this time at Amphipolis, a city not far distant from Philippi, learning that Brutus and Cassius had taken their positions in anticipation of an attack, advanced immediately and encamped upon the plain. Octavius was detained by sickness at the city of Dyrrachium, not very far distant. Antony waited for him. It was ten days before he came. At length he arrived, though in coming he had to be borne upon a litter, being still too sick to travel in any other way. Antony approached, and established his camp opposite to that of Cassius, near the sea, while Octavius took post opposite to Brutus. The four armies then paused, contemplating the probable results of the engagement that was about to ensue.

The forces on the two sides were nearly equal; but on the Republican side, that is, on the part of Brutus and Cassius, there was great inconvenience and suffering for want of a sufficient supply of provisions and stores. There was some difference of opinion between Brutus and Cassius in respect to what it was best for them to do. Brutus was inclined to give the enemy battle. Cassius was reluctant to do so, since, under the circumstances in which they were placed, he considered it unwise to hazard, as they necessarily must do, the whole success of their cause to the chances of a single battle. A council of war was convened, and the various officers were asked to give their opinions. In this conference, one of the officers having recommended to postpone the conflict to the next winter, Brutus asked him what advantage he hoped to attain by such delay. "If I gain nothing else," replied the officer, "I shall live so much the longer." This answer touched Cassius's pride and military sense of honor. Rather than concur in a counsel which was thus, on the part of one of its advocates at least, dictated by what he considered an inglorious love of life, he preferred to retract his opinion. It was agreed by the council that the army should maintain its ground and give the enemy battle. The officers then repaired to their respective camps.

Brutus was greatly pleased at this decision. To fight the battle had been his original desire, and as his counsels had prevailed, he was, of course, gratified with the prospect for the morrow. He arranged a sumptuous entertainment in his tent, and invited all the officers of his division of the army to sup with him. The party spent the night in convivial pleasures, and in mutual congratulations at the prospect of the victory which, as they believed, awaited them on the morrow. Brutus entertained his guests with brilliant conversation all the evening, and inspired them with his own confident anticipations of success in the conflict which was to ensue.

Cassius, on the other hand, in his camp by the sea, was silent and desponding. He supped privately with a few intimate friends. On rising from the table, he took one of his officers aside, and, pressing his hand, said to him that he felt great misgivings in respect to the result of the contest. "It is against my judgment," said he, "that we thus hazard the liberty of Rome on the event of one battle, fought under such circumstances as these. Whatever is the result, I wish you to bear me witness hereafter that I was forced into this measure by circumstances that I could not control. I suppose, however, that I ought to take courage, notwithstanding the reasons that I have for these gloomy forebodings. Let us, therefore, hope for the best; and come and sup with me again to-morrow night. To-morrow is my birth-day."

The next morning, the scarlet mantle—the customary signal displayed in Roman camps on the morning of a day of battle—was seen at the tops of the tents of the two commanding generals, waving there in the air like a banner. While the troops, in obedience to this signal, were preparing themselves for the conflict, the two generals went to meet each other at a point midway between their two encampments, for a final consultation and agreement in respect to the arrangements of the day. When this business was concluded, and they were about to separate, in order to proceed each to his own sphere of duty, Cassius asked Brutus what he intended to do in case the day should go against them. "We hope for the best," said he, "and pray that the gods may grant us the victory in this most momentous crisis. But we must remember that it is the greatest and the most momentous of human affairs that are always the most uncertain, and we can not foresee what is to-day to be the result of the battle. If it goes against us, what do you intend to do? Do you intend to escape, or to die?"

"When I was a young man," said Brutus, in reply, "and looked at this subject only as a question of theory, I thought it wrong for a man ever to take his own life. However great the evils that threatened him, and however desperate his condition, I considered it his duty to live, and to wait patiently for better times. But now, placed in the position in which I am, I see the subject in a different light. If we do not gain the battle this day, I shall consider all hope and possibility of saving our country forever gone, and I shall not leave the field of battle alive."

Cassius, in his despondency, had made the same resolution for himself before, and he was rejoiced to hear Brutus utter these sentiments. He grasped his colleague's hand with a countenance expressive of the greatest animation and pleasure, and bade him farewell, saying, "We will go out boldly to face the enemy. For we are certain either that we shall conquer them, or that we shall have nothing to fear from their victory over us."

Cassius's dejection, and the tendency of his mind to take a despairing view of the prospects of the cause in which he was engaged, were owing, in some measure, to certain unfavorable omens which he had observed. These omens, though really frivolous and wholly unworthy of attention, seem to have had great influence upon him, notwithstanding his general intelligence, and the remarkable strength and energy of his character. They were as follows:

In offering certain sacrifices, he was to wear, according to the usage prescribed on such occasions, a garland of flowers, and it happened that the officer who brought the garland, by mistake or accident, presented it wrong side before. Again, in some procession which was formed, and in which a certain image of gold, made in honor of him, was borne, the bearer of it stumbled and fell, and the image was thrown upon the ground. This was a very dark presage of impending calamity. Then a great number of vultures and other birds of prey were seen, for a number of days before the battle, hovering over the Roman army; and several swarms of bees were found within the precincts of the camp. So alarming was this last indication, that the officers altered the line of the intrenchments so as to shut out the ill-omened spot from the camp. These and other such things had great influence upon the mind of Cassius, in convincing him that some great disaster was impending over him.

Nor was Brutus himself without warnings of this character, though they seem to have had less power to produce any serious impression upon his mind than in the case of Cassius. The most extraordinary warning which Brutus received, according to the story of his ancient historians, was by a supernatural apparition which he saw, some time before, while he was in Asia Minor. He was encamped near the city of Sardis at that time. He was always accustomed to sleep very little, and would often, it was said, when all his officers had retired, and the camp was still, sit alone in his tent, sometimes reading, and sometimes revolving the anxious cares which were always pressing upon his mind. One night he was thus alone in his tent, with a small lamp burning before him, sitting lost in thought, when he suddenly heard a movement as of some one entering the tent. He looked up, and saw a strange, unearthly, and monstrous shape, which appeared to have just entered the door and was coming toward him. The spirit gazed upon him as it advanced, but it did not speak.

Brutus, who was not much accustomed to fear, boldly demanded of the apparition who and what it was, and what had brought it there. "I am your evil spirit," said the apparition. "I shall meet you at Philippi." "Then, it seems," said Brutus, "that, at any rate, I shall see you again." The spirit made no reply to this, but immediately vanished.

Brutus arose, went to the door of his tent, summoned the sentinels, and awakened the soldiers that were sleeping near. The sentinels had seen nothing; and, after the most diligent search; no trace of the mysterious visitor could be found.

The next morning Brutus related to Cassius the occurrence which he had witnessed. Cassius, though very sensitive, it seems, to the influence of omens affecting himself, was quite philosophical in his views in respect to those of other men. He argued very rationally with Brutus to convince him that the vision which he had seen was only a phantom of sleep, taking its form and character from the ideas and images which the situation in which Brutus was then placed, and the fatigue and anxiety which he had endured, would naturally impress upon his mind.

But to return to the battle. Brutus fought against Octavius; while Cassius, two or three miles distant, encountered Antony, that having been, as will be recollected, the disposition of the respective armies and their encampments upon the plain. Brutus was triumphantly successful in his part of the field. His troops defeated the army of Octavius, and got possession of his camp. The men forced their way into Octavius's tent, and pierced the litter in which they supposed that the sick general was lying through and through with their spears. But the object of their desperate hostility was not there. He had been borne away by his guards a few minutes before, and no one knew what had become of him.

The result of the battle was, however, unfortunately for those whose adventures we are now more particularly following, very different in Cassius's part of the field. When Brutus, after completing the conquest of his own immediate foes, returned to his elevated camp, he looked toward the camp of Cassius, and was surprised to find that the tents had disappeared. Some of the officers around perceived weapons glancing and glittering in the sun in the place where Cassius's tents ought to appear. Brutus now suspected the truth, which was, that Cassius had been defeated, and his camp had fallen into the hands of the enemy. He immediately collected together as large a force as he could command, and marched to the relief of his colleague. He found him, at last, posted with a small body of guards and attendants upon the top of a small elevation to which he had fled for safety. Cassius saw the troop of horsemen which Brutus sent forward coming toward him, and supposed that it was a detachment from Antony's army advancing to capture him. He, however, sent a messenger forward to meet them, and ascertain whether they were friends or foes. The messenger, whose name was Titinius, rode down. The horsemen recognized Titinius, and, riding up eagerly around him, they dismounted from their horses to congratulate him on his safety, and to press him with inquiries in respect to the result of the battle and the fate of his master.

Cassius, seeing all this, but not seeing it very distinctly, supposed that the troop of horsemen were enemies, and that they had surrounded Titinius, and had cut him down or made him prisoner. He considered it certain, therefore, that all was now finally lost. Accordingly, in execution of a plan which he had previously formed, he called a servant, named Pindarus, whom he directed to follow him, and went into a tent which was near. When Brutus and his horsemen came up, they entered the tent. They found no living person within; but the dead body of Cassius was there, the head being totally dissevered from it. Pindarus was never afterward to be found.

Brutus was overwhelmed with grief at the death of his colleague; he was also oppressed by it with a double burden of responsibility and care, since now the whole conduct of affairs devolved upon him alone. He found himself surrounded with difficulties which became more and more embarrassing every day. At length he was compelled to fight a second battle. The details of the contest itself we can not give, but the result of it was, that, notwithstanding the most unparalleled and desperate exertions made by Brutus to keep his men to the work, and to maintain his ground, his troops were borne down and overwhelmed by the irresistible onsets of his enemies, and his cause was irretrievably and hopelessly ruined.

When Brutus found that all was lost, he allowed himself to be conducted off the field by a small body of guards, who, in their retreat, broke through the ranks of the enemy on a side where they saw that they should meet with the least resistance. They were, however, pursued by a squadron of horse, the horsemen being eager to make Brutus a prisoner. In this emergency, one of Brutus's friends, named Lucilius, conceived the design of pretending to be Brutus, and, as such, surrendering himself a prisoner. This plan he carried into effect. When the troop came up, he called out for quarter, said that he was Brutus, and begged them to spare his life, and to take him to Antony. The men did so, rejoiced at having, as they imagined, secured so invaluable a prize.

In the mean time, the real Brutus pressed on to make his escape. He crossed a brook which came in his way, and entered into a little dell, which promised to afford a hiding-place, since it was encumbered with precipitous rocks and shaded with trees. A few friends and officers accompanied Brutus in his flight. Night soon came on, and he lay down in a little recess under a shelving rock, exhausted with fatigue and suffering. Then, raising his eyes to heaven, he imprecated, in lines quoted from a Greek poet, the just judgment of God upon the foes who were at that hour triumphing in what he considered the ruin of his country.

He then, in his anguish and despair, enumerated by name the several friends and companions whom he had seen fall that day in battle, mourning the loss of each with bitter grief. In the mean time, night was coming on, and the party, concealed thus in the wild dell, were destitute and unsheltered. Hungry and thirsty, and spent with fatigue as they were, there seemed to be no prospect for them of either rest or refreshment. Finally they sent one of their number to steal softly back to the rivulet which they had crossed in their retreat, to bring them some water. The soldier took his helmet to bring the water in, for want of any other vessel. While Brutus was drinking the water which they brought, a noise was heard in the opposite direction. Two of the officers were sent to ascertain the cause. They came back soon, reporting that there was a party of the enemy in that quarter. They asked where the water was which had been brought. Brutus told them that it had all been drank, but that he would send immediately for more. The messenger went accordingly to the brook again, but he came back very soon, wounded and bleeding, and reported that the enemy was close upon them on that side too, and that he had narrowly escaped with his life. The apprehensions of Brutus's party were greatly increased by these tidings: it was evident that all hope of being able to remain long concealed where they were must fast disappear.

One of the officers, named Statilius, then proposed to make the attempt to find his way out of the snare in which they had become involved. He would go, he said, as cautiously as possible, avoiding all parties of the enemy, and being favored by the darkness of the night, he hoped to find some way of retreat. If he succeeded, he would display a torch on a distant elevation which he designated, so that the party in the glen, on seeing the light, might be assured of his safety. He would then return and guide them all through the danger, by the way which he should have discovered.

This plan was approved, and Statilius, accordingly departed. In due time the light was seen burning at the place which had been pointed out, and indicating that Statilius had accomplished his undertaking. Brutus and his party were greatly cheered by the new hope which this result awakened. They began to watch and listen for their messenger's return. They watched and waited long, but he did not come. On the way back he was intercepted and slain.

When at length all hope that he would return was finally abandoned, some of the party, in the course of the despairing consultations which the unhappy fugitives held with one another, said that they must not  remain any longer where they were, but must make their escape from that spot at all hazards. "Yes," said Brutus, "we must indeed make our escape from our present situation, but we must do it with our hands, and not with our feet." He meant by this that the only means now left to them to evade their enemies was self-destruction. When his friends understood that this was his meaning, and that he was resolved to put this design into execution in his own case, they were overwhelmed with sorrow. Brutus took them, one by one, by the hand and bade them farewell. He thanked them for their fidelity in adhering to his cause to the last, and said that it was a source of great comfort and satisfaction to him that all his friends had proved so faithful and true. "I do not complain of my hard fate," he added, "so far as I myself am concerned. I mourn only for my unhappy country. As to myself, I think that my condition even now is better than that of my enemies; for, though I die, posterity will do me justice, and I shall enjoy forever the honor which virtue and integrity deserve; while they, though they live, live only to reap the bitter fruits of injustice and of tyranny.

"After I am gone," he continued, addressing his friends, as before, "think no longer of me, but take care of yourselves. Antony, I am sure, will be satisfied with Cassius's death and mine. He will not be disposed to pursue you vindictively any longer. Make peace with him on the best terms that you can."

Brutus then asked first one and then another of his friends to aid him in the last duty, as he seems to have considered it, of destroying his life; but one after another declared that they could not do any thing to assist him in carrying into effect so dreadful a determination. Finally, he took with him an old and long-tried friend named Strato, and went away a little, apart from the rest. Here he solicited once more the favor which had been refused him before—begging that Strato would hold out his sword. Strato still refused. Brutus then called one of his slaves. Upon this Strato declared that he would do any thing rather than that Brutus should die by the hand of a slave. He took the sword, and with his right hand held it extended in the air. With the left hand he covered his eyes, that he might not witness the horrible spectacle. Brutus rushed upon the point of the weapon with such fatal force that he fell and immediately expired.

Thus ended the great and famous battle of Philippi, celebrated in history as marking the termination of the great conflict between the friends and the enemies of Csar, which agitated the world so deeply after the conqueror's death. This battle established the ascendency of Antony, and made him for a time the most conspicuous man, as Cleopatra was the most conspicuous woman, in the world.