Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st century BC)

Rise of Octavian: From the Death of Caesar (March 44 BC)

to the start of the First Triumvirate (November 43 BC)

Magistrates at the Time of Caesar’s Murder

As we saw in the previous page, at the time of Caesar’s murder:

  1. Caesar was  dictator perpetuo and consul for the 4th time;

  2. C. Octavius, (Caesar’s great nephew), who Caesar had appointed as his master of horse, was  at Apollonia in Epirus, waiting for Caesar’s arrival en route to Parthia;

  3. Mark Antony, Caesar’s consular colleague, whom Caesar had decided should remain in Rome for  at least the rest of the year;

  4. P. Cornelius Dolabella, whom Caesar had designated as his replacement as consul after his planned departure for Parthia.

Caesar had also designated two consuls for each of the two following years:

  1. A. Hirtius and C. Vibius Pansa for 43 BC;

  2. Decimus Junius Brutus and L. Munatius Plancus for 42 BC; and

In addition, at least five men to whom Caesar had awarded military provinces for 44 BC remained in Rome:

  1. M. Aemilius Lepidus (recently replaced by Octavius as master of horse, now proconsul in  Narbonese Gaul and Nearer Spain);

  2. the consuls designate for 42 BC:

  3. Decimus (now proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul; and

  4. Plancus (now proconsul of Transalpine Gaul); 

  5. C. Trebonius (suffect consul of 45 BC, now proconsul of Asia); and,

  6. L. Tillius Cimber (now governor of Bithynia and Pontus).

Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 307) suggested that both Decimus and Tillius Cimber had served as praetors in 45 BC, thereby legitimising their allocation of military provinces in 44 BC.  As we shall see, some of these men played significant roles in Caesar’s murder, as did two of the praetors whom Caesar had appointed for 44 BC:

  1. M. Junius Brutus, the urban praetor; and

  2. C. Cassius Longinus, praetor peregrinus.

Caesar’s Funeral (20th March 44 BC)

Julius Caesar (as everyone knows) was murdered on the Ides of March (15th March) in 44 BC.  His nephew, the young Caius Octavius, was then with the legions that Caesar had mustered at Apollonia (in modern Albania) for a forthcoming campaign against the Parthians.  In Rome, while the assassins dithered:

  1. Mark Antony, Caesar’s erstwhile consular colleague assumed political control; while

  2. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar’s erstwhile Magister equitum (Master of Cavalry) and his chosen governor of Transalpine Gaul for 44 BC, maintained order using his army, which was conveniently based in the Campus Martius. 

Two days after the murder, as recorded by Appian:

  1. “[Mark] Antony, by means of a notice sent round by night, called the Senate to meet before daybreak at the temple of Tellus ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 2:126).  

During this meeting (which the assassins declined to attend):

  1. “... a decree was passed: that there should be no prosecution for the murder of Caesar; but that all his acts and decrees should be confirmed ... The Senate was thereupon dismissed ...”, (’Civil Wars’, 2:135).

This marked a compromise between those who welcomed the actions of the assassins and those (including the soldiers congregating in the city) who demanded vengeance and full posthumous honours for the deceased:

  1. the assassins were given an amnesty; while

  2. the confirmation of Caesar’s actions in office absolved him from the allegation of illegal tyranny (while usefully preserving the lucrative posts that Caesar had conferred on his erstwhile colleagues). 

A number of issues still demanded urgent attention, not least the arrangements to be made for Caesar’s body and the reading of his will.  According to Appian, after the meeting above:

  1. “... a number of senators collected around Lucius Piso [Caesar’s father-in-law], whom Caesar had made the custodian of his will, and urged him not to make the will public, and not to give the body a public burial, lest some new disturbance should arise therefrom.  [However, after a powerful speech by Piso] it was finally decreed that Caesar’s will should be read in public and that he should have a public funeral.  Thereupon the Senate adjourned”, (‘Civil Wars’, 2:135-6).

Mark Antony convened another meeting of the Senate on 19th March, which Marcus Junius Brutus and Caius Cassius (the most prominent of the assassins) attended after receiving hostages in guarantee of their safety.  They were initially quite well-received.  However, Appian recorded that:

  1. “Caesar's will was now produced and the people ordered that it be read at once.  In it, Caesar adopted [Caius Octavius], the grandson of his sister.  Caesar’s gardens were given to the people ... and 75 Attic drachmas went to every Roman still living in the city”, (‘Civil Wars’, 2:143). 

Suetonius recorded other interesting details:

  1. “... [Caesar’s] will was unsealed and read in [Mark] Antony's house: Caesar had made [this will on] the preceding Ides of September at his place near Lavicum and put [it] in the care of the chief of the Vestals. ... In [this,] his last will, ... he named three heirs, his sisters' grandsons, [one of whom], Caius Octavius [received three quarters of his estate... . At the end of the will, Caesar adopted Caius Octavius into his family and gave him his name”, (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 83).

One wonders how Mark Antony felt when he had first became aware that he had been replaced as Caesar’s chosen heir by a boy who was only eighteen years old.

The promised public funeral took place on 20th March.  Again, Appian gave a detailed account:

  1. “The people were ... stirred to anger [and remorse ?] when they saw [Caesar’s] will [i.e when they realised that he had made such lavish public bequests]....  When Piso brought Caesar's body into the Forum, a countless multitude ran together with arms to guard it and, with acclamations and magnificent pageantry, placed it on the rostra.  ... [The mob] began to repent themselves of the amnesty [that had been granted to the assassins].  [Mark] Antony, seeing how things were going, did not abandon his purpose but, having been chosen to deliver the funeral oration,  ... spoke as follows ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 2:143).

There are conflicting records of what Mark Antony actually said and of the precise nature of the associated theatricals.  However, there is no doubt about the effect of it all on the crowds.  Cassius Dio, for one, was unimpressed:

  1. “[Mark] Antony aroused [the mob] still more by bringing [Caesar’s] body most inconsiderately into the Forum, exposing it, all covered with blood as it was and with gaping wounds, and then delivering over it a speech, that was very ornate and brilliant, to be sure, but out of place on that occasion”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 35).

Cicero (one of the leading critics of Mark Antony) was even more scathing in a speech he would have liked to have delivered in the Senate in September 44 BC (and which he circulated privately):

  1. “... you [Mark Antony] behaved with the greatest wickedness while presiding at the funeral of the tyrant [i.e. Caesar], if that ought to be called a funeral.  All that fine panegyric was yours, that commiseration was yours, that exhortation was yours.   It was you ... who hurled those firebrands [against the assassins and their supporters] ... . It was you who let loose those attacks of abandoned men, slaves... [that] we repelled by violence and our own personal exertions; it was you who set them on to attack our houses”, (‘Philippics’, 2:90).

As Barry Strauss observed”

  1. “On March 17th, [Mark Antony] had supported amnesty, but now [on March 20th] he went for the jugular.  Without formally repealing the amnesty, he showed who really ran Rome.”

This was the point at which the assassins and most of their supporters wisely fled Rome.

After Mark Antony’s eulogy (again according to Appian):

  1. “The people returned to Caesar's bier and bore it as a consecrated thing to the Capitol in order to bury it in the [Capitoline] temple and place it among the gods.  Being prevented from doing so by the priests, they placed it again in the Forum where stands the ancient palace of the kings of Rome.  There, they collected together pieces of wood ... for a funeral pile ... Then they set fire to it, and the entire people remained by the funeral pile throughout the night. There, an altar was ... erected ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 2:148).

Cassius Dio provided additional details:

  1. “... the throng was at first excited, then enraged, and finally so inflamed with passion that they sought [Caesar’s] murderers ... Then, [they seized] his body, which some had wished to convey [for burning] to the place in which he had been slaughtered [i.e. the Theatre of Pompey] and others to the Capitol; but, being prevented by the soldiers, who feared that the theatre and temples would be burned to the ground at the same time, they placed it upon a pyre there in the Forum ... After this, ... [they] set up an altar on the site of the pyre (for the freedmen of Caesar had previously taken up his bones and deposited them in the family tomb), and undertook to sacrifice upon it and to offer victims to Caesar, as to a god”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 50:1 - 51:1).

In other words, Caesar’s funeral culminated in his consecration by the Roman mob.

Mark Antony takes Control (March-April)

Silver denarius issued by the moneyerP. Sepullius Macer: 44 BC (RRC 480/22)

Obverse:Veiled head of the bearded Mark Antony (indicating his mourning the death of Caesar), with jug and lituus

Reverse: P·SEPVLLIVS MACER: Desultor (performing at circus games)

Minted in Rome  

Election of a New Pontifex Maximus

In 63 BC, Caesar had famously bribed the electors in order to secure the post of Pontifex Maximus (head priest of the Roman state religion), a post that was held for life.  Cassius Dio recorded that, shortly before his murder, the Senate voted that:

  1. “... Caesar's son, should he beget or even adopt one, should [succeed him as] high priest”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 4:3).

Thus, if Caesar’s posthumous adoption of Octavius had been confirmed, Octavius would have become the new Pontifex Maximus.  However, as Richard Weigel (referenced below, at p. 48) recorded:

  1. “This [very recent and] blatantly monarchical  provision was ignored by [Mark] Antony, as was the proper [alternative] procedure, [which required a public] election, presided over by a pontifex, [in which the voters chose] from a list of candidates provided by the pontifical college.  [Instead, Mark Antony, as consul] restored the [ancient] right of the [pontifical] college ... to select its [own] leader ...”

For whatever reason, the pontifical college selected one of their own, M. Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar’s erstwhile master of horse and his chosen governor of Transalpine Gaul.   Richard Weigel (referenced below, at p. 49 and note 24) suggested that Lepidus was probably inaugurated before his departure for his province in March or early April, 44 BC.

As we have seen, Octavius was, like Lepidus, a member of the pontifical college, although he could hardly complain that his colleagues had chosen the older man.  Nevertheless, he must have been frustrated that, by changing the arrangements for succession, Mark Antony had deprived him of part of his inheritance.  However, it seems that, at least in hindsight, he blamed Lepidus rather than Mark Antony for the outcome: looking back on these events, he recorded that:

  1. “I declined to be made Pontifex Maximus in succession to a colleague still living [i.e. Lepidus] when [in 36 BC - see below] the people tendered me that priesthood, which my father [Caesar] had held.  Several years later [i.e. in 12 BC] I accepted that sacred office  when [Lepidus], who, taking advantage of a time of civil disturbance [following Caesar’s assassination], had seized it for himself, was dead ...”, (‘Res Gestae Divi Augusti’, 10).

Destruction of Caesar’s Altar in the Forum

According to Cassius Dio, the consuls Mark Antony and P. Cornelius Dolabella:

  1. “... overthrew the altar [to Caesar that had been erected in the Forum] and punished some who showed displeasure at the act, at the same time publishing a law that no one should ever again be dictator ...”, (’Roman History’, 44: 51: 2).

Appian gave further details of the disturbances that had been whipped up at this altar by a man called Amatius, who claimed to have been a relative of Marius and Caesar.  Furthermore:

  1. “It was said that Amatius was only waiting for an opportunity to entrap Brutus and Cassius [the most prominent of Caesar’s assassins].  ... [Mark] Antony, making capital out of the [alleged] plot and using his consular authority, arrested Amatius and boldly put him to death without a trial. ... The followers of Amatius ... [then] took possession of the Forum, exclaiming violently against [Mark] Antony, and called on the magistrates to dedicate an altar in place of [that of] Amatius, and to offer the first sacrifices on it to Caesar. ... Finally, [Mark] Antony sent more soldiers and some of those who resisted were killed, others were captured: the slaves among them were crucified and the freemen thrown over the Tarpeian Rock”, (‘Civil Wars’, 3: 2-3).

In fact, pace Cassius Dio (above). it seems that the demolition of the original altar took place in April. while Mark Antony was away from Rome during the recess of the Senate, and that it was the work of Dolabella, much to the delight of Cicero (his father-in-law): in a letter to Atticus a few weeks later, Cicero exclaimed:

  1. “My wonderful Dolabella!  Now I call him mine: before, I can tell you, I had lurking doubts! This affair really gives people something to think about!

  2. Over the [Tarpeian ]Rock with [the freedmen], on to the cross with [the slaves];

  3. away with the pillar [that had presumably been erected near the altar];

  4. contract [awarded] for paving the site!

  5. Why, it’s Homeric!!”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 369: 1, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 185).

In an oration that he delivered in early September in the Senate, Cicero looked back on the consuls’ suppression of the cult site as the light before the storm:

  1. “A new light, as it were, seemed to be brought over us, now that ... the kingly power [of Caesar] ... was taken away from us; and Mark Antony appeared to have been given a great pledge to the Republic [to the effect] that he wished the city to be free, when he utterly abolished out of the Republic the name of dictator [i.e. of Caesar] ... A few days afterwards, the Senate was delivered from the danger of bloodshed, and a hook was fixed into that runaway slave who had usurped the name of Caius Marius [i.e. Amatius].  And [Mark Antony] did all these things in concert with his colleague [Dolabella].  Some other things that were done were the acts of Dolabella alone: but, I believe that, if his colleague had not been absent, these things would have been done by both of them in concert.  For:

  2. when enormous evil was insinuating itself into the Republic ...;

  3. when the same men who had performed that irregular funeral were erecting a tomb in the Forum; and

  4. when abandoned men, with slaves like themselves, were every day threatening ... the houses and temples of the city;

  5. so severe was the rigour of Dolabella ... and so prompt was his overthrow of that accursed pillar [near the altar to Caesar], that it seems marvellous to me that the subsequent time has been so different from that one day.  For behold, on the first of June, on which day [Mark Antony and Dolabella] had given notice that we were all to attend the Senate, everything was changed”, (‘Philippics’, 1: 4-6). 

Parilia (21st April)

The ancient festival known as the Parilia was apparently held as usual on 20th April.  However, according to Cassius Dio, those responsible for organising them:

  1. “... were now holding ... [them] in slight regard ...”, (‘Roman History, 45: 6: 4).

These circus games had been added to the festival in 45 BC in celebration in Caesar’s victory at the Battle of Munda, and Cassisu Dio’s comment suggests that they were neglected in some way in 44 BC.  If so, this measure was not completely successful: Cicero feigned  outrage when he heard from Atticus that young Quintus (the son of Cicero’s brother and Atticus’ sister), had been involved in just this kind of behaviour:

  1. “Now, tell me once again your tale!  Our nephew Quintus [wore] a garland [in honour of Caesar] at the Parilia? Was he alone?  You certainly also mention Lamia [a friend of Cicero’s], which utterly astonishes me, but I am eager to know who the others were: although I am quite sure that there was no-one [among them who] was not a traitor”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 368, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 179).

  2. “As for the wearing of garlands [at the Parilia], when your nephew was taxed by his father, he wrote back that he had worn one in Caesar’s honour and laid it aside in mourning; he finishes up by saying that he is glad to bear censure for loving Caesar even after his death”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 372, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 201).

According to Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 64):

  1. “It is likely that those involved [in the demonstration] ... would have formed a procession from the Capitolium to the Circus, as was customary before [circus games], but that, on this occasion, they wore garlands in honour of Caesar’s victory and accompanied a statue of Caesar.  When they arrived at the Circus, they removed the garlands and mourned [his] death.”

Kathryn Welch (referenced below, at p. 303, note 10) argued that the desultor (circus acrobat) on the reverse of RRC 840/22 (illustrated above) probably associated the grieving Mark Antony on the obverse with these games in honour of Caesar. 

Octavian’s Arrival in Rome (probably May 44 BC)

Octavian’s First Dealings with Mark Antony

Octavius quickly returned to Italy and signalled his intention to accept his inheritance by changing his name to Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Caesar for short (although I call him ‘Octavian’ hereafter for the sake of clarity).  The date of his arrival in Rome is a matter of dispute: in what follows, I follow the chronology deduced by David Wardle (referenced below).   As he pointed out:

  1. Octavian met Cicero at the latter’s villa at Puteoli on 22nd April, while he was staying at his step-farther’s nearby villa; and

  2. Cicero ended a letter to Atticus from Puteoli on 11th May by reminding him that:

  3. “I am waiting to hear about Octavian’s contio ...”, (Letters to Atticus’, 375: 4, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 213).

According to Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 128) this contio was the second of two appearances of Octavian in the Forum soon after hiss arrival:

  1. “First, he approached [the praetor C. Antonius, [one of Mark Antony’s brothers] ... at the praetor’s tribunal [and] publicly accepted Caesar’s name and [bequest - see Appian, ‘Civil Wars’, 3: 14].  Later, perhaps on the same day, [he] delivered [the speech about which Cicero sought news] at a contio convened by the tribune L. Antonius [one of Mark Antony’s other brother], where he could formally announce to the people his plans to accept Caesar’s [bequest].”

These two appearances almost certainly took place while Mark Antony was away from Rome: David Wardle (referenced below, at p. 189) established that:

  1. “Cicero’s correspondence indicates... [that Mark Antony] had left Rome by 28th April and returned between 18th and 21st May.”

He noted that other scholars hypothesise that this was Octavian’s second visit to Rome, after an earlier and shorted visit in April, but she argued that it is more likely that the annalistic sources on which this hypothesis was based could not be relied on for an accurate chronology.  Thus, he concluded (see his chronology at p. 180) that Octavian entered Rome for the first time since Caesar’s murder at some time between 26th April and 9th May, and that he publicly accepted his inheritance on the day after his arrival.  It seems to me that the date of Cicero’s letter favours the latter part of this period.  It seems that, after his return to Rome, Mark Antony dragged his felt on the subject of Octavian’s inheritance: for example, Cassius Dio recorded that he did Octavian:

  1. “... many injuries both in word and deed, particularly when the lex curiata was proposed by which [Octavian’s adoption would be officially recognised] ... [Mark] Antony pretended to be doing his best to have it passed but, through some tribunes, he kept securing its postponement ... “, (’Roman History’, 45: 5:2-3).

Octavian’s Announcement of Funerary Games for Caesar

On 18th May,  Cicero wrote to Atticus about what had probably been Octavian’s next public speech made in Rome:

  1. “...concerning Octavian’s speech, I feel the same as you do: the preparations for his games and [the fact that he has secured the services of] Matius and Postumus as his procuratores (agents) are displeasing ...”, (’Letter to Atticus”, 379: 3, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 225).

As we shall see below, these games were the Ludi Veneris Genitricis, which Octavian was to hold on 20th July, combined with (nominally private) funerary games for his ‘father’, Caesar.  Matius and Postumus, who had been prominent among Caesar’s financial advisers, had now apparently transferred their allegiance to Octavian and, since Octavian could not immediately access Caesar’s bequests, were presumably helping him to find other sources of finance for (inter alia) these games. 

Controversy over Caesar’s Throne and Garland

Cassius Dio recorded that, among the divine honours that had been awarded to Caesar during his lifetime:

  1. “[The Senate] voted that his golden chair and his crown, which was set with precious gems and overlaid with gold, should be carried into the theatres [during religious festivals] in the same manner as those of the gods”, (’Roman History’, 44: 6: 3).

There is no surviving evidence to suggest that the throne was ever exhibited in this way during Caesar’s lifetime, but it seems that Octavian decided to demonstrate his filial piety by ensuring that the decree was enacted in honour of Caesar’s memory: according to Appian:

  1. “... when the time had arrived for the games that the aedile Critonius was about to hold, Octavian made preparations to display [Caesar’s] gilded throne and garland, which the Senate had voted should be placed in front of him at all games.  When Critonius said that he could not allow Caesar to be honoured in this way at games given at his expense, Octavian brought him before [Mark] Antony as consul.  [Mark] Antony said he would refer the matter to the Senate.  Octavian was vexed and said:

  2. ‘Refer it; [but] I will place the throne there as long as the decree is in force.’ 

  3. [Mark] Antony became angry and prohibited it”, (’Civil Wars’, 3: 28: 105).

None of our surviving sources identified these games, but they had certainly taken place by the 22nd May, when Cicero reacted to Atticus’ report of the incident:

  1. The Tribunes have done well about Caesar’s chair [i.e. about this incident, of which Atticus had recently informed him].  Good for the fourteen rows [where the knights, sat] too”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 380: 3, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 229).

Thus Cicero  had heard from Atticus that Octavian had been thwarted by the the tribunes.  Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p. 118) suggested that the incident took place at the ludi Ceriales, which might well have been moved from their usual date in early April because of the recent riots in the Forum.  David Wardle (referenced below, at p. 189) agreed with this dating, pointing out that:

  1. “... the need for M. Antonius’ presence and Cicero’s information about a tribunician veto against Octavian’s proposal to display Caesar’s [throne] plausibly fix Critonius’ games between mid May and the Ludi Apollinares which began on 6 July.  It fits with all of the data, if Critonius’ games were the rescheduled Ludi Cereales, for which there was room in the calendar after the Lemuria of 13 May.”

Revival of the Cult Site in the Forum

In late May, M. Brutus and C. Cassius wrote a letter to Mark Antony (that was fortunately preserved by Cicero) to ask his advice on the wisdom of their returning to Rome, since they had wind that there were moves afoot to revive Caesar’s cult:

  1. “Therefore we request you to inform us of your disposition towards us, whether you think we shall be safe among such a multitude of veteran soldiers, who are actually thinking, so we hear, of replacing the altar. It is not easy to believe that anyone who desires our security and dignity can desire and approve of that”, (‘Letters to Friends’, 329: 2, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002a, at p. 109).

From this, we can reasonably assume that Caesar’s veterans were planning a replacement for the altar in the Forum that had been destroyed by Dolabella, presumably with Octavian’s support. 

Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, 2011, at p. 171) reasonably suggested that this replacement monument, now protected from demolition by the veterans, was probably the one that Suetonius described as follow:

  1. “[After Caesar’s funeral, the mob] set up in the Forum a solid column of Numidian marble, almost 20 feet high, and inscribed upon it ‘PARENTI PATRIAE’ (To the father of his country).  At the foot of this they continued for a long time to sacrifice, to make vows, and to settle some of their disputes by an oath in the name of Caesar”  (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 85).

Caesar’s Birthday and the Re-naming of Quintilis

According to Cassius Dio, in 42 BC (see below), the triumvirs:

  1. “... compelled everybody to celebrate [Caesar’s] birthday by wearing laurel and  ... decreed that those who neglected these observances should be accursed in the sight of Jupiter and of Caesar himself ... Now it happened that the ludi Apollinares [see below] fell on the same day, and they therefore voted that his birthday feast should be celebrated on the previous day, on the ground that there was an oracle of the Sibyl which forbade the holding of a festival on Apollo's day to any god except Apollo”, (‘Roman History’, 47: 18: 6). 

Although the ludi Apollinares took place on consecutive days (7th-13th July) by the late Republic, they had been instituted in 208 BC as a permanent festival held on 13th July.  It is therefore likely that Cassius Dio thought that Caesar had been born on 13th April but that his official birthday was celebrated on 12th July following the decree of 42 BC.  However, as Ernst Badian (referenced below, at p. 16) pointed out, with the exception of Cassius Dio (who cited no sources):

  1. “All our other sources agree on the date [of 12th July for Caesar’s birthday] ..., down to John the Lydian in the 6th century AD.”

Macrobius, who is our most definitive source in this context, recorded that Mark Antony had enacted the renaming of Quintilus as consul, presumably soon after Caesar’s murder.  He explained that:

  1. “.. in Romulus’ system, where March came first [in the calendar], [Iulius] was called Quintilis from its numerical position [as the fifth month], and it still kept that name even after Numa inserted January and February at the start of the year (even though it then appeared as the seventh rather than the fifth month).  Later on, under a law carried by Mark Antony, the son of Marcus, as consul, it was renamed Iulius in honour of Julius Caesar, because he was born a. d. quartum Idus Quintiles (on the 4th day before the Ides of Quintilis - 12th July)”, (‘Saturnalia’, translated by Robert Kaster, referenced below, at p. 153).

Cassius Dio recorded that, in early 44 BC (before Caesar’s murder), the Senate had:

  1. “... voted to celebrate [Caesar’s] birthday by public sacrifice ...”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 4: 4).

Cicero, who heard from Atticus that the new name was to be retained in the official announcement of the ludi Apollinares (see below), expressed his outrage in his reply of :

  1. “Is it really so? ‘Nonis Iuliis’ [7th July]?  The gods confound them!  But one might rage all day long.  What could be a greater insult to Brutus than ‘July’ ?”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 409:1, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 307).

Thus, although nothing in our surviving sources indicates that public sacrifices were actually made on Caesar’s birthday before 42 BC (see below), it is clear that Mark Antony had enacted the law in which Quintilis became Iulius at sometime between 15th March and 7th July 44 BC.

Ludi Apollinaris (6th - 13th July 44 BC)

These games were particularly important since they were the responsibility of  M. Brutus, who held the office of Urban Praetor.  He was now living in self-imposed exile outside the City, but hoped that, by financing particularly impressive games, he could influence popular sentiment to the extent that he might be able to return.  However, he had to suffer yet another indignity: in addition to his forced absence, he had to accept the fact that he was financing games in the month (originally Quintilis) that had been renamed in Caesar’s honour shortly before his death.  Cicero, who heard from Atticus that the new name was to be retained in the official announcement of the games, expressed his outrage in his reply of :

  1. “Is it really so?  ‘Nonis Iuliis (Nones of July)’?  The gods confound them!  But one might rage all day long.  What could be a greater insult to Brutus than ‘July’ ?”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 409:1, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 307). 

Thus, as Plutarch recorded:

  1. “The people ... had their games, in spite of [Brutus’] absence, and these were very lavishly and magnificently appointed: Brutus, who had purchased a great number of wild beasts, now gave orders that none should be sold or left behind, but that all should be used.  He himself went down to Naples and conferred with a very large number of actors; and regarding Canutius, an actor who enjoyed great fame, he wrote to his friends that they should persuade him to go to Rome; for no Greek could properly be compelled to go.  He wrote also to Cicero, begging him by all means to attend the spectacles”, (’Life of Brutus’, 21:4-5).

Brutus’ investment in the games proved to be unproductive: as Geoffrey Sumi (referenced below, at p.  147) observed, he and his fellow assassins:

  1. “... failed to achieve their ultimate goal of being recalled to Rome.  Based on this outcome, we have to assume that [they] failed to communicate their message effectively.”

Given their absence from the games, this outcome had probably been inevitable.

Ludi Veneris Genitricis (July 44 BC) 

As we have seen, Cicero had written to Atticus on 18th May about what had probably been Octavian’s first public speech made in Rome:

  1. “...concerning Octavian’s speech, I feel the same as you do: the preparations for his games and [the fact that he has secured the services of] Matius and Postumus as his procuratores (agents) are displeasing ... ”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 379: 3, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 225).

Both Suetonius and Cassius Dio believed that  these games had been planned before Caesar’s death:

  1. Suetonius:

  2. “Furthermore, since those who had been appointed to celebrate the ludos autem victoriae Cesaris [games in honour of Caesar's victory] did not dare to do so [in 44 BC, Octavian] gave them himself” (‘Life of Augustus’, 10).

  3. Cassius Dio:

  4. “After [Octavian’s speech of May 44 BC] came the games appointed in honour of the completion of the temple of Venus [Genetrix], which some, while Caesar was still alive, had promised to celebrate, but which they were now holding in slight regard ... ; so, to win the favour of the populace, [Octavian] provided for them at his private expense, on the grounds that they concerned him because of his family”, (Roman History’, 45: 6: 4).

According to Pliny the Elder (see below), these undefined people whom Caesar had been appointed to celebrate the games in fact belonged to a college that he had established for the purpose, to which Octavian actually belonged.  John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 50) suggested that the dereliction of duty attributed to the other members of the college in the quotes above:

  1. “... sound like pretexts for Octavian to take matters into his own hands.”

After all (as discussed further below), Octavian held the games in July, well in advance of the ‘normal’ date of 26th September.

There is no suggestion in the surviving sources that Mark Antony tried to block the games.  However, this was the second of the two occasions on which he prevented Octavian from exhibiting Caesar’s golden throne and crown: Appian, who recorded that Mark Antony had already prohibited the lawful exhibition of these divine attributes earlier in the year (as discussed above), now recorded that he:

  1. “... prohibited this still more unreasonably in the next games, [which were] given by Octavian himself, and which had been instituted by his father in honour of Venus Genetrix when he had dedicated a temple to her in a forum, together with that forum itself”, (‘Civil Wars’, 3: 28: 107).

Cassius Dio gave a similar account relating of this second occasion:

  1. “At this time, out of fear of [Mark] Antony, [Octavian] did not bring into the theatre either Caesar's gilded chair or his crown set with precious stones, as had been permitted by decree” (‘Roman History, 45: 6:4).

Date and Nature of the Games 

Caesar had inaugurated the ludi Veneris Genitricis on 26 September 46 BC.  John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 43) argued that he had almost certainly celebrated these games for the second time shortly after his victory in Spain of 45 BC:

  1. “Caesar’s [Spanish] triumph [of 45 BC] will have taken place ... precisely in the period during which  the games to Venus [Genetrix] had been celebrated in 46 BC, ... [which] presumably began on 26th September and ran at least through to the end of the month and probably into October.” 

They also   observed (at p. 42) that:

  1. “ ... this double connection with triumphal returns of Caesar (in 46 and again in 45 BC) ... most probably explains why the festival was transformed into [the ludi Victoria Caesaris, which were [subsequently] celebrated on 20-30 July] under the empire.”

I think that it probably also explains why Matius (in his letter to Cicero) and Suetonius, both quoted above, referred to Octavian’s games as “games in honour of Caesar's victory”.

As John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 41) pointed out:

  1. “The bulk of our sources [which they reproduced in Appendix I, pp. 157-77] would lead us to believe that the games were still being called ludi Veneris Genitricis [when Octavian held them] in 44 BC.”

This did not preclude their being additionally funerary games:  the inaugural games of 46 BC had included funerary games for Caesar’s daughter, Julia.  Matius stated in his letter to Cicero that Octavian’s games of 44 BC were funerary games for Caesar.  So too did Servius, in his commentary on this passage from Virgil, in which the poet described Octavian at the Battle of Actium, when:

  1. “... his father’s star adorned the crest [of his helmet]” (‘Aenid’, (8.681);

Servius noted that this star/comet had appeared:

  1. “... dum sacrificaretur Veneri Genetrici et ludi funebres Caesari exhiberentur” (‘Vergilii Aeneidos Commentarius’, 8, 681)

  2. “... while [Octavian] was sacrificing to Venus Genetrix and holding funerary games for Caesar” (my translation).

However, as noted above, it is clear that Octavian announced his intention to hold these games in May 44 BC, and that they had certainly been held before Matius’ letter to Cicero in the following August.  The date might be inferred from the fact that the ludi Victoria Caesaris were subsequently celebrated on 20-30 July: John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 41) argued that:

  1. “... in 44 BC, conditions were ripe for holding in July the games that were to be the forerunner of the imperial ludi Victoria Caesaris”;

but that, despite the change of date, the name of the games initially remained unchanged.  Indeed, as they noted at p. 56, Cassius Dio recorded that:

  1. “... the consuls [of 34 BC] celebrated the festival held in honour of Venus Genetrix” (‘Roman History, 49:42:1).

Clearly, these games subsequently became the ludi Victoria Caesaris.

Octavian had a number of reasons for wishing to hold funerary games for his father, not the least of which was probably his desire to demonstrate filial piety and to draw attention to the fact that Mark Antony was still blocking the formalisation his posthumous adoption by Caesar.  July was an excellent month for his purposes: it was the month of Caesar’s  birth and had been renamed in his honour: and 20th July was exactly four months after Caesar’s funeral.  Unfortunately, as Matius had pointed out (above), funerary games were a matter of private obligation with no constitutional significance.  However, as John Ramsey and Arthur Lewis Licht (referenced below, at p. 52 ) pointed out:

  1. “If [Octavian] could not openly advertise Caesar’s divinity [by, for example, securing the enactment of the decree relating to the exhibition of his golden throne and crown in the theatre], he could at least indirectly convey his message by using the ludi Veneris Genitricis to lend an aura of divine majesty to Caesar’s funeral games. The close connection between Venus [Genetrix] and he most famous descendant [Caesar] had recently been demonstrated during [his] funeral, when [as noted in the main page on Octavian] his body had been laid out in a gilded replica of [her temple] that was placed on the rostra ”. 

By advancing the date of these public games to 20th July, just a week after Brutus’ ludi Apollinares (see the main page on Octavian), Octavian was able to secure a major boost to Caesar’s cult. 

The fortuitous appearance of the comet during the games provided the icing on the cake.  As John Ramsay (referenced below, 2001, at p. 255) pointed out, our main sources on its effect on the public - i.e not only Pliny the Elder but also Suetonius and Cassius Dio - probably all relied on Octavian’s memoirs, which were hardly unbiased.  Nevertheless, Adrian Goldsworthy (referenced below, at p. 99), for example, judged that: 

  1. “The story caught on and ... in many ways it built on the semi-divine honours awarded to [Caesar] during his lifetime and the altar to him [that had been] set up [in the Forum after his funeral] but later knocked down on the consuls’ orders.”

Perhaps the best evidence for this is the fact that (as we shall see) Mark Antony now began to relax to an extent his earlier opposition to the establishment of Caesar’s cult.

As noted above, Cicero wrote to Atticus on 18th May 44 BC, expressing dismay that Matius and Postumus were involved in the organisation of these games, which Octavian had recently announced.  In late 44 BC, after the event, Matius wrote to Cicero justifying his actions:

  1. “[My critics complain that] I superintended the ludos quos Caesaris victoriae [games in honour of Caesar's victory] that were  given by [Octavian].  That is a matter of private obligation with no constitutional significance.  [It was merely] a service that I was bound to render to the memory of a dear friend even after his death, and I could not refuse  the request of a young man [Octavian] of very great promise and in the highest degree worthy of Caesar”, (‘Letters to Friends’, 349: 6, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002a, at p. 163).

Sidus Iulium (Julian Star)

Pliny the Elder’s account of these games is the most important of the surviving sources, not only because it is the earliest to describe them in any detail but also because (as noted, for example, by Tim Cornell, referenced below, volume II, p. 881) Pliny included what is probably a direct quotation from the lost memoirs of the late Emperor Augustus (i.e. of Octavian himself).  Pliny reported that:

  1. “Rome is the only place in the whole world where there is a temple dedicated to a comet; [Octavian] regarded this comet as auspicious to [himself] because it appeared during the games that he was celebrating in honour of Venus Genetrix, not long after the death of his father Caesar, as a member of the college that Caesar had founded.  He [Octavian] expressed his joy in these terms:

  2. ‘During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen for 7 days in the part of the heavens that is under the Great Bear.  It rose about the 11th hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth.  The common people supposed the star to indicate that the soul of Caesar had been admitted among the immortal Gods; [and thus] the star was placed on the bust [of Caesar] that had been lately consecrated in the Forum’.

  3. This is what [Octavian] proclaimed in public but, in secret, he rejoiced at this auspicious omen, believing that it had been for himself and that he was born in it; and, to tell the truth, it really proved a salutary omen for the world at large” (Natural History’, 2: 23).

As noted above, these games became famous for the appearance of a comet, an event that Octavian/ Augustus apparently described in his memoirs:

  1. “During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen for 7 days, in the part of the heavens that is under the Great Bear.  It rose about the 11th hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth.  The common people supposed the star to indicate that the soul of Caesar had been admitted among the immortal Gods; [and thus] the star was placed on the bust [of Caesar] that had been lately consecrated in the Forum” (reproduced by Pliny the Elder, ‘Natural History’, 2:23).

Other authors produced similar reports:

  1. Suetonius:

  2. “[Caesar] died in the 56th year of his age and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people.  For at the first of the games which his heir [Octavian] gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for 7 successive days, rising about the 11th hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue” (‘Life of Julius Caesar’, 88).

  3. Cassius Dio:

  4. “When, however, a certain star, which some called a comet, appeared in the north toward evening during [every day of the games], the majority ... ascribed it to Caesar, interpreting it to mean that he had become immortal and had been received into the number of the stars.  [Octavian] then took courage and set up a bronze statue of Caesar with a star above his head in the temple of Venus”  (‘Roman History, 45:7:1).

Improved Relations with Mark Antony

In the aftermath of Octavian’s games, he and Mark Antony, under pressure from their respective armies, were publicly reconciled.  According to Appian, the first demonstration of this came .when Octavian helped Mark Antony to overturn Caesar’s allocation of provinces to his own advantage:

  1. “The law concerning Cisalpine Gaul, [which Caesar had given to Decimus], was proposed at once to the great dismay of the senators.  They intended:

  2. if Antony should first bring the law before them, to reject it; and

  3. if he should bring it before the popular assembly without consulting them, to send the tribunes of the people to veto it. 

  4. ... When the day for the comitia came, the Senate expected that the people would be summoned by centuries, but the Antonians, who had enclosed the forum with a rope during the night summoned them by tribes according to a plan they had agreed upon.  Although the plebeians were anggry with Antony, they nevertheless co-operated with him for the sake of Octavian, who stood alongside the rope and begged them to do so.  ... The tribunes, too, had been corrupted with money by Antony and remained silent.  So, the law was passed and Antony now with plausible reason began to bring his army across the Adriatic [from Macedonia]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 3: 30).

Thus, with Octavian’s help,  Mark Antony (whom Caesar had designated as Governor of Macedonia for the 2 years following his consulship) obtained by plebiscite the substitution of the province of Cisalpine Gaul for Macedonia. 

[and the extension of provincial commands for consuls from 2 to 5 years - source needed].

Posthumous Honour for Caesar

Cassius Dio recorded that, after the public reaction to the appearance of the comet on 21st July (described above):

  1. “... at last, some of the other decrees that had been passed in honour of Caesar were put into effect.  Thus, ...  in the course of certain supplicationes (festivals of thanksgiving), [the Romans] sacrificed during one special day in memory of his name”, (‘Roman History’, 45: 7: 2).

Cassius Dio had already recorded that, in 45 BC (when Caesar was still alive) the Senate had decreed that:

  1. “... a special thanksgiving and sacrifices should be offered [in Caesar’s name] whenever any victory should occur, even if he had not been on the campaign or had any hand at all in the achievements”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 44: 5).

As John Ramsey (referenced below, 2008, at p. 110) pointed out, the posthumous honour for Caesar that Mark Antony put before the Senate on 1st September:

  1. “ ... did not concern a supplicatio of the traditional sort: rather, it provided for the permanent addition of an extra day in Caesar’s honour to all future supplicationes. ... it therefore marked a radical innovation, and contributed to the elevation of Caesar to the status of being a new Roman god.”

The reason is that, on this extra day, sacrifices of thanksgiving would be made to Caesar’s departed spirit. 

Cicero had not attended this meeting, but the speech that he gave on the following day encapsulated what he would have said, had he done so.  His substantive remarks on this decree were as follows:

  1. “Or do you think, Members of the Senate, that I would have supported the decree that you passed against your will,

  2. that parentatio (a  sacrifice in honour of the dead) should be mixed up with supplicationes (public thanksgivings);

  3. that sacrilege incapable of expiation should be introduced into the commonwealth;

  4. that supplicationes be decreed to a dead man?

  5. I do not [care who the dead man is: let him be L. Brutus, who, according to tradition],  freed the commonwealth from monarchy and who, after almost 500 years,  has left descendants [in the form of D. and M. Brutus, two of Caesar’s murderers] to show similar courage and to achieve a similar deed.  Even so, I could not have been induced to associate any dead man with the worship of the immortal gods, so that a supplicatio should be made for him while, somewhere, a tomb exists at which offerings can be made [[in the proper way to his departed spirit]”, (‘Philippics’, 1: 13). 

In his commentary on this passage, John Ramsey (referenced below, 2008, at p. 113) explained that Cicero argued that honouring a dead mortal with a supplicatio (rather than honouring him in the normal way, at his tomb during the Parentalia) constituted a heinous sacrilege, and that:

  1. “... in providing for Caesar to be ... honoured [in supplicationes], even after his death, [the Senate allowed] the boundary between human and divine [to be] blurred.” 

Mark Antony’s Ambivalent Attitude towards the Cult

Cicero’s speech of 2nd September seriously soured his relations with Mark Antony.  Thus, Cicero wisely avoided attending a meeting of the Senate that Mark Antony convened on 19th September.  He did however compose a speech that was highly critical of Mark Antony: it was written as if it had been delivered on 19th September, and was probably published in late December.  (See John Ramsey, referenced below, 2008, at pp. 155-9 for the context.)  It contained a particular accusation against Mark Antony that is of relevance here: that, since Caesar’s death, he had been extremely selective in maintaining the honours that had been granted to Caesar in his lifetime, including some that had implied or actually acknowledged his divinity:

  1. “And are you [Mark Antony] diligent in doing honour to Caesar’s memory?  Do you love him even now that he is dead?  What greater honour had he obtained [while alive, at your urging] than that of having:

  2. -a pulvinar [a cushioned couch for the gods];

  3. -a simulacrum [an image, usually of a god];

  4. -a fastigium [a gable added to his official house that made it resemble a temple]; and

  5. -a flamen [priest]? 

  6. Thus, as Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus all have priests, so [too Mark Antony is now] the priest of divus Julius (the god Julius).  Why then do you delay?  Why are not you inaugurated?  Choose a day; select someone to inaugurate you; we are colleagues; no one will refuse.  O you detestable man, whether you are the priest of a tyrant or of a dead man!”, (‘Philippics’, 2: 110-1). 

The speech then turned to another example of Mark Antony’s dereliction:

  1. “I ask you then, [Mark Antony], whether you are ignorant of what day this is?  Are you ignorant that yesterday was the 4th day of the ludi Romani in the Circus, and that you yourself submitted a motion to the people that a 5th day should be added besides, in honour of Caesar?  Why are we not all clad in the praetexta [the appropriate attire]?  Why are we permitting the honour that was appointed for Caesar by your law to be neglected? 

  2. You had no objection to so holy a day being polluted by the addition of supplicationes [see above];

  3. yet you did not choose [that this holy day] should be similarly [polluted] by the addition of ceremonies connected with a pulvinar [sacred cushion - i.e. by a specific ritual that would have been held before the statue of Caesar on his sacred couch if the last day of the games been held].  

  4. Either take away religion in every case, or preserve it in every case”, (‘Philippics’, 2: 110-1).

Cicero then summed up what all this said about Mark Antony:

  1. “You will ask whether I approve of [either the living or the dead Caesar] having a sacred cushion, a temple and a priest?  I approve of none of those things.  But you, who are defending the acts of Caesar, what reason can you give for defending some [of his honours] and disregarding others?  Unless, indeed, you choose to admit that you measure everything by your own gain, and not by his dignity”, (‘Philippics’, 2: 110-1).

Events of Autumn 44 BC

As the end of the consular year approached, Mark Antony’s priority was to secure his new province before the period of his consulship ended.  Unfortunately, the incumbent, Decimus Brutus (one of the most prominent of Caesar’s assassins) was unlikely to relinquish it, so he would have to take it by force.  Thus left for for Brundisium in November in order to receive with the legions that he had repatriated from Macedonia. 

Octavian, meanwhile, was recruiting in Caesar’s veteran colonies in Campania and also (through agents) subverting Antony’s efforts at Brundisium.  Since Octavian was still a private citizen, his recruitment of what was a private army was illegal.  He was later to recall this as the  start of his career, clearly (if disingenuously) implying that the ends justified the means:

  1. “At the age of 19, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army, by means of which I restored liberty to the Republic, which had been oppressed by the tyranny of a faction”, (’Res Gestae Divi Augusti, 1:1).

Octavian arrived back in Rome in November and installed his illegal army (even more illegally) on the Campus Martius.  Appian described a public address in which he then announced his intention to move against Mark Antony:

  1. “In this time of consternation, Cannutius, the tribune, an enemy of [Mark] Antony and hence friendly to Octavian, went to meet the latter.  Having learned of [Octavian’s] intentions, Cannutius addressed the people, saying that Octavian was advancing with real hostility towards Mark Antony and that those who were afraid that [the latter] was aiming at tyranny should side with Octavian, as they had no other army at present.  After speaking thus, he brought in Octavian, who was encamped before the city at the temple of Mars ... When Octavian arrived, he proceeded to the temple of Castor and Pollux [in the Forum], which his soldiers surrounded carrying concealed daggers.  Cannutius addressed the people first, speaking against Mark Antony.  Afterwards Octavian also reminded them of his father [Caesar] and of what he [Octavian] had also suffered at the hands of Mark Antony ... He declared himself [and probably swore to be] the obedient servant of his country in all things, and said that he was ready to confront Mark Antony in the present emergency”, (’Civil Wars’, 3:41).

Cicero provides us with further details of contents of Octavian’s speech in a letter that he wrote to Atticus on 12th November 44 BC:

  1. “I have received ... many a prudent word from you [Atticus] under the head of politics, but never anything wiser than your last letter, [in which you wrote]:

  2. ‘Though that boy [Octavian] is powerful and has given [Mark] Antony a fine check, yet ... we must wait to see [how things] end [before we decide that he is a good thing]’. 

  3. Why, what a speech!  It has been sent to me.  He qualifies his oath by the words:

  4. ‘So may I [be permitted to] achieve the honours of my father’,

  5. and, at the same time, he held out his right hand in the direction of his [father’s] statue.  [He then expressed himself in Greek:] μηδὲ σωθείην ὐπό γε τοιούτου! [Heaven forfend that we should be saved by such a man!]”, (‘Letters to Atticus’, 426: 3, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 1999, at p. 369; the phrase in italics is from the translation of Geoffrey Sumi, referenced below, p. 164).

Octavian’s immediate purpose in having raised his private army was now clear: he was determined to secure in full his legacy from Caesar and the enactment of Caesar’s divine honours, which had been his (i.e. Caesar’s) by decree and which did not fall away now that he was dead.  If Mark Antony would not co-operate, then Octavian would achieve his objectives by force.

Towards the end of November, when the return of Mark Antony was imminent, Octavian wisely left Rome for Arretium (Arezzo), where he continued to recruit men for his army.  Appian described Mark Antony’s movements and intentions at this point:

  1. “[Mark Antony] convoked the Senate [on 24th November] in order to make complaint against the acts of Octavian [in raising a private army etc]  but, just as he was entering [the meeting], he learned that the so‑called Martian legion, one of the four [from Macedonia via Brundisium] ... had gone over to Octavian.  While he was waiting at the entrance, cogitating over this news, it was announced to him that another legion, called the Fourth, had followed the example of the Martian and espoused the side of Octavian.  Disconcerted ..., he: entered the [meeting], pretending that he had convened [it] about other matters, said a few words, and immediately departed to the city gates, and thence to the town of Alba, in order to persuade the deserters to come back to him.  They shot arrows at him from the walls and he retreated.  To the other [still loyal, but wavering] legions, he forwarded 500 drachmas per man.  With the soldiers he had with him, he marched to Tibur, taking the equipment customary to those who are going to war; for war was now certain, since Decimus Brutus had refused to give up Cisalpine Gaul”, (’Civil Wars’, 3:45).

Decimus Brutus, was one of the two men who had organised the murder of Julius Caesar, after which, he found it expedient to take up the post of propraetor in Cisalpine Gaul (which Caesar had assigned to him).   However, Mark Antony (to whom Caesar had assigned the province of Macedonia) had subsequently passed legislation that had the effect of reversing these assignations and, since Decimus had decided not to oblige, he now needed to evict him by force.

Mark Antony addressed the Senate for the last time during his consulship on November 28th 44 BC.  In a speech that he gave in the Senate of 20th December (see below), Cicero recorded two notable actions taken at this meeting:

  1. “So that he might not appear to have ordered  the Senate to meet for no reason, ... [and] when the news about the [defection of] 4th legion came; which entirely bewildered him and made him anxious to flee, he took a division on the resolution for decreeing this supplication [forMarcus Lepidus], though such a proceeding had never been heard of before”, (‘3rd Philippic’, 23); and

  2. “[Apparently after Mark Antony had left, the Senate carried out] the allotment of the [praetorian] provinces; and heavenly indeed was the opportunity, when every one got exactly what he thought most desirable”, (‘3rd Philippic’, 24)

In December, Cicero returned to Rome in order to fill the political vacuum, but he was very much aware that the Senate had no military resources at hand.  Thus , on 20th December, he delivered two speeches in praise of Octavian:

  1. one (the ‘3rd Philippic’) in the Senate - see above; and

  2. the other (the ‘4th Philippic’) in the Forum. 

Thus it was that Octavian found himself in alliance with Cicero and the Senate, and indirectly, with Decimus Brutus, one of the two men who had been most responsible for Caesar’s murder.

Events of 43 BC 

Battle of Mutina (April)  

The new consuls, Caius Vibius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius, duly took power at the start of 43 BC, but Cicero seems to have remained the most influential member of the Senate.  Thus, after a period of dithering and failed negotiations, the Senate:

  1. declared a state of emergency:

  2. declared Mark Antony to be a public enemy:

  3. confirmed Decimus Brutus as governor of Cisalpine Gaul; and

  4. prepared to break Mark Antony’s siege at Mutina. 

Since Octavian’s army was the only one available, the Senate solved the problem of its illegality by giving him propraetorian imperium (despite the fact that he was under-age): he now became a senator and a praetor, with the right to seek other magistracies ten years earlier than was normal .  With these inducements, he agreed to put himself and his army at the disposal of the new consuls in the war to save one of Caesar’s assassins:

  1. On 14th April 43 BC, the two consular armies engaged with that of Mark Antony at Forum Gallorum.  The consuls seem to have had the better of the fighting, although Pansa was seriously wounded.  In a speech to the Senate soon after this ‘victory’ (‘Philippics’, 14: 29, Cicero proposed that supplicationes (public thanksgivings to the gods) should be held for an unprecedented 50 days in the joint names of Hirtius, Pansa and Octavian, even though Octavian had played no active role in this battle. 

  2. On 21st April, Hirtius and Octavian defeated Mark Antony outside Mutina and liberated the city, and Mark Antony retreated along the Via Aemilia towards Gaul.  Hirtius died during this battle and Pansa died shortly after.  The Roman armies were now under the command of Octavian and Decimus Brutus.

The news of the victory reached Rome on 27th April.  As Carsten Hjort Lange  (referenced below, at p.79) pointed out, it was:

  1. “ ... initially hailed with enthusiasm ... (although [this reaction was soon muted when news arrived of] the consuls' deaths and Antonius's escape).  Now Cicero at last got his way ... : [Mark Antony] and his followers were declared public enemies, and a triumph was voted to Decimus Brutus. The justification [for a triumph awarded for the defeat of another Roman army] was ... that, since they were enemies not citizens, it was permissible to triumph over them.”

Honour for D. Junius Brutus

Cicero’s correspondent, M. Junius Brutus ( relative of Decimus Brutus) had participated in Caesar’s murder and, by the time of this correspondence, was living in self-imposed exile in Greece.  Cicero’s letter to him was his response to:

  1. “... a letter of yours in which, while paying me a number of compliments, you find one fault, namely that I am ... prodigal in voting honours”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 273).

He started his defence by reminding Brutus of the objective that had guided his dealings with the Senate in the period following Caesar’s murder:

  1. “You will not have forgotten, Brutus, that, after Caesar’s death, ...  I said that you and your associates had left one thing undone ... : although you had removed  ... a great stain on the honour of the Roman people and won immortal glory for yourselves, [you had not removed] the apparatus of monarchy, [which had] passed to:

  2. [M. Aemilius Lepidus, the proconsul of Gallia Transalpina, who had welcomed Mark Antony to his province after Mutina]; and

  3. [Mark] Antony [himself];

  4. [the former] a weathercock and the other ... a blackguard”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 275).

It seems that the honours to which Brutus had objected had been those given to Octavian, because Cicero countered that:

  1. “All I will say [in answer to your charge] is that this young man, Caesar [i.e., Octavian], thanks to whom ... we are still alive, drew his inspiration from my counsels.  I have given him no honours, Brutus, but what were due, none that were unnecessary.  ... ”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 277).

This, of course, glosses over the undeserved honour that Cicero had secured for Octavian after the ‘victory’ at Forum Gallorum, which was presumably what Brutus had had in mind.   Having said that, Cicero admitted that he had proposed another honour for Octavian, even though he had refused to assist Decimus Brutus in his pursuit of Mark Antony and was still at Mutina, in command of what had been Pansa’s army:

  1. “I suspect that another proposal of mine is less to your liking ... : namely that Caesar should be granted leave to enter Rome in ovation.  For my part ... , I do not think that I have made a wiser proposal in the course of this war”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 277-9).

It is clear from this that, as he wrote this letter, he expected that Decimus Brutus would eliminate Mark Antony and Lepidus in Gaul and once he had thus dismantled the apparatus of monarchy, that Octavian would return to Rome and reach an accommodation with him. 

We now come to the context in which Cicero placed the passage under discussion here, in which Cicero described his proposed additional honour for the triumphal Decimus Brutus in the euphoria that had followed the victory at Mutina.  He noted wistfully that:

  1. “... for some reason, it is easier to find good will [from the Senate] in the hour of danger than [to secure] gratitude [from them] in victory.  There came that most joyful day of the liberation of Decimus Brutus, which happened also to be his birthday.  I proposed that Brutus’ name should be entered in the fasti beside that day [21st April], following the precedent of our ancestors, who paid that compliment to a woman, Larentia, at whose altar in the Velabrum you pontifices offer sacrifice.  In trying to confer that honour on [Decimus] Brutus, I wished the fasti to contain a permanent record of a most welcome victory.  [However], on that day, I [found out] that gratitude has considerably fewer votes in the Senate than spite, [which explained why, in Cicero’s view, his proposal had been rejected]”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 277).

In other words, Cicero answer to M. Brutus was that he had no regrets about the honours that he had proposed for Octavian, albeit that, had it been in his power, he would have awarded a far greater honours for Decimus Brutus. 

Unfortunately, this letter is our only surviving source for Cicero’s rejected proposal, and it is important to remember that it might not accurately reflect the case that Cicero actually made in the Senate.  In particular, I doubt that he actually claimed in the Senate that the case of Acca Larentia provided a precedent for his proposal, since it was clearly inaccurate:

  1. According to the accepted tradition at that time, Acca Larentia’s name had been added to the fasti on her dies mortalis in recognition of her valuable bequest to Romulus and/or the Roman people: thus, when the pontifices and other priests offered sacrifices at the public festival of the Larentalia, they did so to her departed spirit at an altar at her tomb.  The public nature of these sacrifices was an indeed an unprecedented honour, but they were otherwise comparable to the private sacrifices that were offered during the Parentalia to the departed spirits of family ancestors at family tombs.  (Modern scholars sometimes refer to Acca Larentia as a goddess, but no surviving source records her as such.)

  2. Cicero’s proposal was that the name of Decimus  Brutus should be added to the fasti on his dies natalis, in recognition of the fact that he destroyed the apparatus of monarchy and saved the Republic by:

  3. planning and participating in the murder of Caesar; and then

  4. defeating Mark Antony (on a day that had happened to be his birthday);

  5. public priests should make annual sacrifices in his honour, even though he was still very much alive.

So, having disposed of this red herring, we might consider what Cicero had actually proposed.

  1. He (of all people) is unlikely to have proposed to the Senate that sacrifices should be offered to Decimus Brutus as a living god.

  2. Thus, he had presumably proposed that  sacrifices should be offered to the gods at a public festival held on the dies natalis of Decimus Brutus, in thanksgiving for his birth. 

That would still have been an entirely unprecedented honour for a living person: even the name of Caesar did not appear in the fasti until Octavius dedicated the Temple of Divus Julius on 18th August 29 BC (see, for example, the fasti Antiates for the day).  As we have seen, the Senate had already awarded Decimus Brutus a triumph over a fellow-Roman: the unprecedented addition of his name in the fasti during his lifetime was apparently a bridge too far.

We can now focus in on what this passage from Cicero’s letter actually tells us about the Acca Larentia and the Larentalia in the late Republic: 

  1. It is clear that, at the Larentalia, public priests (including the pontifices) still sacrificed to the departed spirit of Acca Larentia at an altar in the Velabrum (presumably at her putative tomb, although Cicero did not say so).

  2. Furthermore, since Cicero had to rely on her for the precedent that he offered to M. Brutus (and perhaps to the Senate), she was presumably the only mortal recorded in the fasti at that time.

Events of April - July

After the liberation of Mutina, Decimus was nominally the senior officer in command of the Senatorial army in Italy.  However, since neither Octavian nor many of his soldiers (both his own recruits and those that he had inherited from Pansa) would accept his orders, he was forced to pursue Mark Antony with what forces he could muster.   Progress was slow (perhaps because many of his men had suffered during the siege at Mutina), and he had only reached Dertona (modern Tortona in the Po valley) by 5th May, when he wrote to Cicero complaining that:

  1. “... if [Octavian] had listened to me and crossed the Apennines, I should have reduced [Mark] Antony to such straits that he would have been ruined by failure of provisions rather than by the sword.  But no-one can control [Octavian], nor can [Octavian] control his own army  ...”, (‘Letters to Friends’, 385,  translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002a, at p. 265).

On 24th May, Decimus (who was still only at Eporedia, near modern Turin) warned Cicero in a letter  that, when he (Decimus) had last seen Octavian:

  1. “He had no complaint to make against you, except as to an epigram that he said that you uttered that the young man must be complimented, honoured, and got rid of [perhaps better translated as: ‘praised, raised and erased’].  He said that he did not mean to give [you] the chance of getting rid of him”, (‘Letters to Friends’, 401,  translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002a, at p. 307).

As Decimus proceeded towards Gaul, he probably expected that he would find help against Mark Antony from:

  1. M. Aemilius Lepidus, governor of Transalpine Gaul

  2. L. Munatius Plancus, governor of Gallia Comata (Long-haired Gaul).

However, Lepidus joined forces with Mark Antony towards the end of May, albeit that Decimus managed to join forces with Plancus in early June.

This was how things stood in July, when Cicero wrote the letter to M. Junius Brutus mentioned above.  It was his response to:

  1. “... a letter of yours in which, while paying me a number of compliments, you find one fault: namely that I am ... prodigal in voting honours”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 273).

He started his defence by reminding Brutus of the objective that had guided his dealings with the Senate in the period following Caesar’s murder:

  1. “You will not have forgotten, Brutus, that, after Caesar’s death, ...  I said that you and your associates had left one thing undone ... : although you had removed  ... a great stain on the honour of the Roman people and won immortal glory for yourselves, [you had not removed] the apparatus of monarchy, [which had] passed to Lepidus and [Mark] Antony, [the former] a weathercock and the other ... a blackguard”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 275).

It seems that the honours to which his correspondent had objected had been those that he had given to Octavian, because he countered that:

  1. “All I will say [in answer to your charge] is that this young man, Caesar [i.e., Octavian], thanks to whom ... we are still alive, drew his inspiration from my counsels.  I have given him no honours, Brutus, but what were due, none that were unnecessary.  ... ”, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 277).

This, of course, glossed over the undeserved honour that Cicero had secured for Octavian after the ‘victory’ at Forum Gallorum, which was presumably what his correspondent  had had in mind.   Since then, Octavian had remained with his army at Mutina, bombarding the Senate with demands that he should be appointed as suffect consul, and that his men should receive the honour and compensation that was their due.  Some members of the Senate refused to make any concessions of this kind, but Cicero now admitted that he had proposed another (somewhat belated) honour for Octavian in return for the role that he had played at Mutina:

  1. “I suspect that another proposal of mine is less to your liking ... : namely that [Octavian] should be granted leave to enter Rome in ovation.  For my part ... , I do not think that I have made a wiser proposal in the course of this war, (‘Letters to Brutus’, 23, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2002b, at p. 277-9).

It is clear from this that, when he wrote this letter, Cicero still expected that Decimus Brutus and Plancus would eliminate Mark Antony and Lepidus in Gaul and that, once the last remnants of the ‘apparatus of monarchy’ had been thus destroyed, Octavian would return to Rome and find a place for himself in the new Republican order.  

Octavian’s Coup (August) 

Incredibly, the Senate seems to have failed to recognise the strength of Octavian’s position, and it seems that Cicero ‘s proposed ovation for Octavian came to nothing.  Thus, when his final demands were refused, Octavian marched on Rome and established his camp outside the city on 18th August and negotiations resumed.  According to Appian:

  1. When Cicero learned of the truce, he sought an interview with Octavian through friends.  When it was granted, he defended himself and dwelt much upon his proposing Octavian for the consulship, as he had done in the Senate on a former occasion.  Octavian answered ironically that Cicero seemed to be the last of his friends to greet him”, (‘Civil Wars’, 3: 92).

After a series of rumours that military help would soon arrive turned out be false, the Senate quickly changed tack and, on 19th August, Octavian became the youngest consul in the history of the Republic: his uncle, Quintus Pedius, was appointed as his colleague, and Cicero left Rome for the last time.  Among his first acts as consul (see, for exampe, Appian, ‘Histories’, 3: 94), Octavian: 

  1. used public funds to pay the bonuses owed to his soldiers and the outstanding bequests that Caesar had made to the Roman people in his will; and

  2. put in motion the formal process for the ratification of his own posthumous adoption by Caesar.

More importantly, as he wrote in his own account of his deeds, Octavian recorded that, as consul for the first time:

  1. “I drove those who killed my father, [Caesar], into exile, punishing their deed by due process of law”, (‘Res Gestae’, 2).

Velleius Paterculus described the legislation in question:

  1. “And by the Pedian law, which the consul Pedius, [Octavian’s] colleague, had proposed, all those who had killed ... Caesar, being condemned, were denied water and fire (i.e., exiled)”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 69: 5, translated by Kathryn Welch (referenced below, at p. 141).

Cassius Dio made it clear that charges were laid against many men who had not directly participated in Caesar’s murder: the lex Pedia:

  1. “Charges were immediately laid, with [Octavian’s] associates accusing some men of personally participating [in Caesar’s murder] and others simply of being accomplices.   The latter charge was actually formally made even against people who had not been in Rome when Caesar was killed”, (‘Civil Wars’, 3: 95, translated by Kathryn Welch. referenced below, at p. 142).

Cassius Dio added that the law was:

  1. “... concocted especially against Sextus Pompeius; for although he had had no share whatever in the attack, he was nevertheless condemned because he had been an enemy [of Caesar]”, (‘Roman History’, 46: 48: 4).  

However, as Kathryn Welch (referenced below, at p. 145) observed

  1. “The sources are in agreement ... on the matter of punishment: [at this point, it involved] interdiction rather than summary execution.”

Read more:

Welch, K. , “Marcus Antonius: Words and Images”, in:

  1. Pina Polo, F. (editor), “The Triumviral Period: Civil War, Political Crisis and Socioeconomic Transformations”, (2020) Seville, at pp. 301-26

Gregori G, L. and Almago G. (authors) and Spinelli T. (editor and translator), “Roman Calendars: Imperial Birthdays, Victories and Triumphs”, (2019) Mauritius

Wardle D., “Baby Steps for Octavian: 44 BC ?”, Classical Quarterly 68.1 (2018) 178–91

Goldsworthy A., “Augustus: First Emperor of Rome”, (2014) New Haven and London

Welch K., “The Lex Pedia of 43 BCE and its Aftermath”, Hermathena, 196-7  (2012) 137-62

Lange C. H., “Triumph and Civil War in the Late Republic”, Papers of the British School at Rome, 81 (2013) Leiden and Boston

Shackleton Bailey D. R. (translator), “Cicero: Philippics , 1-6 (Vol. I)”, (2010) Cambridge, MA

Sumi G., “Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire”, (2005) Michigan

Shackleton Bailey D. R. (2002a, translator), “Cicero: Letters to Friends, Volume III: Letters 281-435”, (2002) Cambridge MA

Shackleton Bailey D. R. (2002b, translator), “Cicero: Letters to Quintus and Brutus; Letter Fragments;  Letter to Octavian.; Invectives; Handbook of Electioneering”, (2002) Cambridge MA

Ramsey J., “Did Mark Antony Contemplate an Alliance with His Political Enemies in July 44 BC ?”, Classical Philology, 96:3 (2001) 253-68

Shackleton Bailey (D. R. translator), “Cicero: Letters to Atticus, Volume IV”, (1999) Cambridge MA

Return to Roman History (1st Century BC)