There is more action in this chapter of The Roman Revolution, which traces the tense months from the Battle of Mutina to Octavian’s second march on the city of Rome. Syme follows Antonius into across the Apennines and through Liguria as he escapes into Gallia Narbonensis through the narrow Ligurian road.
He also keeps an eye on Octavian, whose reluctance to intercept Ventidius’s legion in Etruria allowed them to join Antonius and augment his forces. The death of the other consul Pansa after the death of Hirtius at Mutina, the plodding ambivalence of Plancus and even D. Brutus with the raw and untested legions, and a distrust toward Octavian not only ensured Antonius’s escape but also the eventual reconciliation with Lepidus and his legions who had moved north from Hispania. Syme makes it clear that this alliance was inevitable: “Their palpable community of interest, hardened by the renascence of the Republican and Pompeian cause, was so strong that the loyal dispatches which Lepidus continued to send to the Senate should have deceived nobody.”
The sentences that describe the immediate aftermath of this alliance are brilliant: “A lull followed. Antonius was in no hurry. He waited patiently for time, fear and propaganda to dissolve the forces of his adversaries.”
Of course Syme blames Cicero. He was eager for Civil War despite the risks and overly confident in his ambitious plan to cultivate Octavian and use him as a counterweight to Antonius, on the one hand, and the reluctant and conflict averse Senators on the other, unwound. More than that, as it unwound, Syme makes clear that Octavian increasingly understood Cicero’s manipulative efforts. He slips into the historical present to make this clear: “With their providential removal, the adventurer emerges again, now unexpectedly to dominate the game of high politics.”
The ruin of Cicero’s plan led to the bizarre situation in which he argued that Octavian be eligible for the consulship. Octavian, lobbied for the same, and turned his legions once again to march on Rome. Syme succinctly state: “The argument of youth and merit had already been exploited by Cicero. The Senate refused. The sword decided.” Faced with his legions and no other choices, he received the consulship before his 20th birthday.
“Cicero, for all his principles, accommodates himself to servitude and seeks a propitious master. Brutus for his part will continue the fight against all powers that set themselves above the law.”
The short essay is part of my Reading The Roman Revolution at 80 project. It’s so awesome that I have two hashtags: #ReadingRomanRevolution and #ReadingRonaldat80. I explain the project here. You can read the rest of the entries here.