The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

Augustus: His Life and Work - Rene Francis

The Triumvirate

With the appointment of the Triumvirate the hopes of the Republicans were at an end. The man in whom they had placed their trust had gone over, openly and flagrantly, to the enemy: it was not, for nothing that he had taken the name of Caesar!

The reign of the Triumvirate began after the most orthodox traditions of Sulla's day—proscription and confiscation were rife. Among the proscribed was Cicero, the last of the orator-philosopher-statesmen. The massacre was extended right and left among all who had been concerned, or could have been concerned, in the death of Caesar.

We know how Antony had comported himself on the day when he addressed the people above the dead body of his master. He now put into action, in company with Octavian, all that he had expressed in words. Caesar was deified by popular accord, and the punishment of his murderers was declared to be an act of high filial piety. An oath was also taken by the plebs, the Senate, and the Triumvirate that Caesar's ordinances were to be observed.

Among those ordinances were certainly arrangements for rewarding with gifts of land the soldiers who had served under him.

As we know, Caesar had been most tactful in his land allotment policy, and careful not to disturb or cause any prejudice or injustice to existing landholders. His successors carried out his scheme of rewards—with lavish additions—but threw all his tact and his justice to the winds: they confiscated where and how they pleased. True, they had a task larger than that of Caesar, for they had not only to carry out his bequests, but also to gain the soldiers' goodwill for themselves.

For the outer world also they had much to do. They were masters of Rome, Italy, Spain, and Gaul. But in Sicily and the Western Mediterranean Sextus Pompeius was in control: he had with him by now a strong force, both military and naval, backed by the presence of a large number of fugitives from Italy.

Brutus and Cassius held Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor, and Syria; and they had with them almost all that was left of the Republican faction.

In the autumn of 42 B.C. Antony and Octavian decided to go to meet Brutus, whose stronghold was Philippi. They gave Lepidus the command of Italy.

Just as in the First Triumvirate Crassus had been the least important factor, so in this Second Triumvirate Lepidus was the negligible quantity.

Antony and Octavian duly met their opponents. Brutus had sufficient ability and experience to see that his best course was to remain in his entrenchments and tire out his adversaries by a policy of delay.

He had still the chance of adding to his strength by the reception of fugitives, whereas his enemies might have to face defections, want of supplies, the likelihood of revolts at home, and the danger of general weakening.

But his subordinates were eager to fight, and he was not strong enough to restrain them. The first day of battle was, in reality, doubtful in its results: Brutus beat off the attack of Octavian. But Cassius, outmaneuvered by Antony, gave up the cause as lost and committed suicide, and the Republican army again retired to their entrenchments.

Again Brutus attempted the policy of patience, and again his officers were too strong for him. He was defeated; but he met his death bravely. His men surrendered en masse to the number of fourteen thousand, and his officers were slain or captured, a few only of them escaping.

Almost the whole of his fleet succeeded in getting away and joining the fleet of Sextus Pompeius, with the exception of one squadron which remained in the Aegean Sea, under Domitius Ahenobarbus.

The Triumvirate—or rather the two active members of it—now arranged that Antony should take supreme command of the East, with the view of restoring order and also collecting money for the payment of the legions of the victorious army, while Octavian was to return to Italy and complete his allotment of land to veterans, and then undertake the defeat and suppression of Sextus Pompeius.

Antony seems to have lost all his Western and Roman instincts as soon as he set foot on Eastern soil: he wasted his time in useless pomp and ceremony, and entered upon the life of Oriental luxury and laziness which was to prove his downfall.

Octavian behaved in a very different manner: he set to work resolutely, but tactfully, to gather into his hands the full control of the State machinery of Rome.

One of his tasks was the usual land allotment for the many veterans who had claims on him. Mutina and Philippi had greatly added to their number. Here trouble arose, partly through the dissatisfaction of the inhabitants of the Italian cities, which were destined for the soldiers, and partly through the agency of Antony's brother, Lucius Antonius. Lucius Antonius may possibly have had views of his own as to the restoration of the old regime; perhaps it was that he had hoped to share the business of allotment with Octavian. In any case, he was instigated by Fulvia, Antony's wife, who was unduly zealous in her absent husband's cause. Lucius Antonius came forward as the champion of all who were either evicted or threatened, and he marched on Rome with a fairly considerable following. But he retired to Perusia before the advance of Octavian. Octavian besieged Perusia, and Antonius surrendered in January 40 B.C. The land difficulty was ended thereby, and Italy was safely in the hands of Octavian, who now went to Gaul and took formal possession of it for himself—hardly a fair action, as it belonged, strictly speaking, to Antony as his share of provincial command, in virtue of arrangements made after Philippi.

Octavian made free with yet another province belonging to Antony—Africa; he offered it to Lepidus in exchange for the command (only nominal in reality) of Italy, which had been assigned to the latter.

He now commenced operations against Sextus Pompeius, who had been making his presence felt and causing infinite trouble by ravaging the coasts of Italy, and, what was far more important, cutting off all foreign supplies with his pirate ships. Agrippa, who was by far the most able of Octavian's lieutenants, was sent down to Sicily to dislodge Sextus Pompeius. But operations were abruptly suspended by the news that Antony proposed coming to Italy and claiming his rights.

Antony had been touring his Eastern domains in sovereign state, actually parading in the costume attributed to Dionysus, who was the god especially honoured in Asia Minor. At Tarsus he met Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian princess, at a conference of his vassal kings and princes. Her object was, almost certainly, his subjection; she had gone to Tarsus with that end in view; and she most fully succeeded. Antony accompanied her to Alexandria, and remained there during the year 41 and until 40 B.C., qualifying better and better for the role of the Oriental despot.

In the spring of 40 B.C. he left for Asia and then for Greece. In Greece he heard of the fall of Perusia and the surrender of his brother. It was a critical situation for Octavian. Antony, with the resources of Egypt and the East at his command (not to mention his legions), would have been too dangerous; moreover, he might join Sextus Pompeius and blockade Italy. As a matter of fact, there had been an agreement between the two to this effect. Antony had conciliated Sextus Pompeius by offering to repeal the sentence of outlawry passed against him, and also to restore his father's property.

But if Octavian did not want war, neither did Antony; he wanted to return to the East, and to undertake a campaign against Parthia. His wife, Fulvia, was the firebrand. But—fortunately for the peace of Italy and the ultimate success of Octavian—Fulvia died, and the struggle between the two triumvirs was postponed for nine years. It was just in time, this death of Fulvia. Antony had gone so far as to lay siege to Brundisium. He relinquished this, and the peace of Brundisium was signed. Octavian was to have Italy and the West, Antony the East, Macedonia, and Achaia. Lepidus was allowed to stay in Africa. To make the peace more binding, Antony married Octavia, the sister of Octavian.

A treaty was made at Misenum in the next year, whereby Sextus Pompeius was for the time being pacified by the concession of Sicily and Sardinia from Octavian and of Achaia from Antony, to hold for five years—with the additional clause that any political or other refugees who wished might leave him and return to Italy under a free pardon.

Antony went to Greece in the summer of 39 B.C., and Octavian went back to Gaul, to resume his work of organizing that country.

It was high time now for Antony to take some action with regard to Parthia.

Orodes, the Parthian king, had made an alliance with Brutus and Cassius, who needed any help they could get: he had even sent Parthian cavalry to fight at Philippi. He now was hoping for some sort of profitable consequence of his alliance, considering the disturbed state of affairs in the Roman Empire. He meditated a raid on Syria, and would have carried it out in 40 B.C., had he not heard that Antony intended to invade his own kingdom. The fear of Antony made him hesitate.

But Antony was wasting his time in Egypt—in 'dalliance and' (perhaps) 'wit,' as one poet has it. Also Orodes had at his court a powerful agent of disturbance, Quintus Labienus. This man was the son of Titus Labienus, once one of Caesar's most trusted lieutenants in Gaul, and later on his bitterest enemy in Spain.

Quintus used all his influence and persuaded Orodes to entrust to him the campaign he wished to carry out: and he had a rapid and apparently complete success, conquering Cilicia and all Syria, with the exception of the impregnable fortress of Tyre. It was, in fact, a repetition of 88 B.C. Just as Rome had lost all Asia in that year, thanks to the quarrels of her most prominent men, so, from similar quarrels, she lost Asia again in 40 B.C.


Indeed, Labienus was counting on a civil war in Italy; but that, as we have seen, was averted by the treaty of Brundisium.

At last Antony awoke; at least he sent a useful representative, Publius Ventidius Bassus. Bassus was a man of eventful history. He had fought in the Social War and had figured as a captive in the triumph of Gneius Pompeius Strabo in 89 B.C. Later on he had entered the army, had risen from the ranks, had won the favour of Caesar and the governorship of Narbonese Gaul. He had at one time, so it is said, made his living by dealing in mules. In any case, he was a most capable soldier, and he completely defeated Labienus and drove him out of Syria. The next year (38 B.C.) he utterly routed the Parthians at Gindarus—curiously enough, on the anniversary of the day, June 9th, on which the Parthians had overwhelmed Crassus in 53 B.C. Among the slain was Pacorus, the son of Orodes. In the autumn of 38 B.C. Bassus rode in triumph—his own triumph—through the streets of Rome that had once seen him pass as a captive in the triumph of another.

Octavian in 38 B.C. married Livia, the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero. He had divorced his wife Scribonia the year before. Livia had a son, Tiberius, who afterward succeeded Octavian as emperor. Another son, Drusus, was born three months after the divorce. Drusus conquered the Raeti, and was the father of Germanicus and Claudius.

Italy and the West were now in a thorough state of order and repose, thanks to the ability and leniency of Octavian. But the inevitable rupture between him and Sextus Pompeius now occurred. Menas, a Greek freedman and the admiral-in-chief of Sextus's fleet, went over to Octavian, and brought with him the control of Sardinia, as well as his troops and his fleet. Octavian now thought he was strong enough to attack Sextus, but he found out his mistake. The first fight, off Cum, was drawn; in the second, off the Scyllaean promontory, Sextus Pompeius won a complete victory, and Octavian had to admit that by sea he was not nearly powerful enough for his far more experienced rival.

Octavian garrisoned the coasts, so as to prevent raids and blockades as far as he might; and he set himself to the task of building up a powerful fleet. He arranged a harbour specially for this purpose in the Bay of Naples, cutting the dam known as the Via Herculanea between the open sea and the Lucrine Lake, and making a canal between the Lucrine Lake and Lake Avernus, which lay about a mile inland. Thus he had an outer and an inner harbour; and Agrippa, whom he recalled from Gaul specially for the work, had ample room not only to build his new vessels, but to maneuver them and so train his men.

The year 37 B.C. marks the last peaceful meeting between Octavian and Antony. As usual the peace was a case of patchwork. Antony reached Brundisium with 300 ships: these were by way of a contribution to the fleet needed against Sextus Pompeius. But Antony was nothing if not consistent in his slackness. Octavian had closed the port of Brundisium, and Antony was angry at having to land at Tarentum. A reconciliation was effected by Octavia and Maecenas, who now comes to the front as one of Octavian's most trusted advisers.

The Triumvirate was renewed for another period of five years. Antony gave Octavian 120 ships, and took for himself 20,000 Roman troops and departed for Syria, leaving his wife, Octavia in Italy.

Octavian continued his naval preparations, and by the next year, 36 B.C., he had a thoroughly good fleet at his disposal.

He commenced his attack on Sextus Pompeius on July 1st. He and his lieutenant, Agrippa, were to attack from the north, Antony's squadron of 120 ships were to threaten from the east, and Lepidus with another fleet was to join the attack from the south. But luck was on the side of Sextus Pompeius. Lepidus had not arrived when the time came; and Octavian met with a gale of wind and had to flee to Lipara. He left his fleet there and crossed to Italy, whence he brought his troops to Tauromenium (now Taormina). There Sextus attacked him, and again he fled to Italy, in great difficulties from the harassing tactics of Sextus's light troops.

The squadron left by Antony was now in the straits of Messina, under Cornificius. Agrippa was on the northern Sicilian coast: he had had some success and had taken Tyndaris and Myhe, at which latter city he established his headquarters. Here messages reached him from Cornificius, who wished to effect a junction with him. This was successfully carried out, and the two together frustrated Sextus's attempts to prevent Octavian from landing in Sicily. Then at last Lepidus arrived, and the four commanders joined forces and defeated Sextus Pompeius once and for all at Naulochus: he fled, and his army and fleet surrendered.

There is little more to be said so far as Sextus is concerned. He went to Lesbos in the hope of intriguing with Antony. On his arrival there he heard that Antony was campaigning beyond the Euphrates and was in difficulties; so he began planning a raid on Asia; but he was slain by one of Antony's legates.

Sextus Pompeius has no claim to distinction except that he held his own for so many years with a fleet manned by runaway slaves and led by Greek freedmen. He was little better than a corsair chief—a contrast to his father, whose main distinction it was that he had suppressed the Mediterranean pirates! He owed his success largely to the fact that he was in a position to cut off the foreign supplies of Italy, which was not a self-supporting country. That he was an able general is proved by the fact that he repeatedly defeated Octavian; but he was always too conceited and too short-sighted to follow up his victories. If he was ever sought out and conciliated—or threatened—by the members of the Triumvirate, it was simply because he could imperil Italy by cutting off her supplies.

After the defeat of Sextus Pompeius, Lepidus, now at Messina, seems to have realized that his colleagues were by no means treating him with the consideration he had a right to expect. So he demanded possession of Sicily, and threatened Octavian with his troops. Fighting would have resulted, but the soldiers on both sides were sick of war. Octavian won over Lepidus's troops, and sent Lepidus himself as a prisoner to Circeii, where he died in 12 B.C. The only vestige of honour he was allowed to retain was his office of Pontiff; and it was rather a mockery, considering that that very office had been one of the chief temptations that had induced him to join the other triumvirs.

Octavian was now sole master of the West. Africa formed one united province under the firm rule of Statilius Taurus, Spain was in thorough order in the hands of Domitius Calvinus, and Northern Gaul was under the command of that most excellent general and administrator, Agrippa. In Italy there was no one to raise the slightest interference with Octavian. Indeed, there was no likelihood of anything but contentment under his rule. He was no longer feared as the chief mover in proscription; he had now adopted a permanent leniency as his policy.

He had by now a huge army at his command. He discharged and gave lands (in Italy and Southern Gaul) to the veterans of Mutina and Philippi, but he kept as standing army a force of forty-five legions, 24,000 cavalry, and 35,000 light troops.

He put an end to the danger of the presence of Sextus Pompeius's former followers, the runaway slaves; he crucified 6000, and sent some 30,000 back to their original masters.

He repressed severely all brigandage. He also—and this appealed strongly to every one—repealed many of the taxes that had been lately imposed. He cancelled arrears of debt due to the Treasury; and—most reassuring step of all—he burnt publicly the various lists of suspects, outlaws, and men proscribed, and with these lists a number of letters that compromised those who had secretly corresponded with Sextus Pompeius.

Octavian now even professed that he intended to restore the ancient constitution, and that he was only awaiting Antony's return and would then make this restoration formally. He encouraged the regular magistrates to continue their functions, though one cannot but remember that while he was away or occupied, as was the case from 36 to 34 B.C., he left affairs in the sole charge of Maecenas, who was neither a magistrate nor even a senator. However, Rome was easily satisfied in those days, and a burnt suspect-list made up handsomely for slight lapses from strict constitutionalism. Every one could see that without the supremacy of Octavian it was no use expecting any semblance of order or tranquillity in the State; and they showed their feelings clearly enough by the honours they showered on him when he returned from his Sicilian campaign against Sextus Pompeius: among these honours was the gift, for life, of the tribunician power, which practically made him supreme over all other magistrates, in that it gave him the right to propose in theory—as he disposed in fact—any and all extraordinary commands that he might think necessary.

He was now the master of one half of the Roman Empire, and only one war—external and not civil—menaced his supremacy. This was caused by the attitude of Illyria (the Iapydes) and Pannonia. The latter was more than once a thorn in the side of Rome. The Pannonians were always a resolute and turbulent nation.

Octavian gained a victory at Siscia (Sissec) in 35 B.C., but he was unable to do more than put a garrison there and safeguard Roman authority along the line of the Save and Drave rivers.