Reading The Roman Revolution 16: The Predominance of Antonius

Chapter 15 of Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution focused on Octavianus’s struggles in Italy while Antonius was in the East. In chapter 16, Syme looks to the East and the affairs of Antonius which led to the Pact at Brundisium and the renewal of the Triumvirate.

While Syme’s attention remains focused on Rome, he does acknowledge the larger situation in the East which involved foreign queens, namely Cleopatra of Egypt, the Parthians as assertive and opportunistic enemies, and bungled settlements with client kings and rogue Roman generals. The affairs in the East distracted Antonius from the problems in Italy in the aftermath of Philippi.  At the same time, Octavianus was responsible for the settlement of the soldiers and the management of Italy and, in many ways, the Siege of Perusia and the scuffling that simmered as Civil War did more harm to his position than to the status of Antonius. 

As Syme says: “The War of Perusia was confused and mysterious, even to contemporaries. All parties had plenty to excuse or disguise after the event; and Antonius, if adequately informed, may still have preferred to wait upon events. At last he moved.”

In the lead up to the Pact of Brundisium tensions were high, but “The darker the clouds, the more certain was the dawn of redemption.” The meeting marked the culmination of a slow inversion of the roles of Octavian and Antonius. Octavian, “the adventurer”, who had achieved protected the Republic from Antonius, had incurred the hatred of Italy and Rome after proscription, posturing, and Perusia. Antonius, once the public enemy, had emerged as the moderating and stable protector of traditional nobles, the Italians, and the state. 

As if to mark the significance of this moment, Syme digresses and considers the Messianic messages in Virgil’s Forth Eclogue. Antonius after a visit to Rome with Octavianus and an agreement with the rogue admiral Sextus Pompeius, returns East.

Within two years, Octavian and Sext. Pompeius had clashed and Antonius, now clearly recognized as the senior member in terms of prestige and power in the Triumvirate of four returned to Italy to intervene. “Resentful and suspicious, the dynasts met at Tarentum. Both the patience of Antonius and the diplomacy of Maecenas were exhausted.” Octavia, Octavian’s sister and Antonius’s wife intervened. The meeting extended the Triumvirate for an additional 5 years. Octavian received ships to conduct his war with Sext. Pompeius and Antonius was to receive troops. “Antonius departed. Before long the conviction grew upon him that he had been thwarted and deceived.”

The final paragraphs of this chapter finds Syme at his most theatrical: “As yet, however, neither his predominance nor his prestige were gravely menaced and there was work to be done in the East. Antonius departed for Syria.  From Corcyra in the late summer the year he sent Octavia back to Italy. He may already tired of Octavia. Anything that reminded him of her brother must have been highly distasteful. His future and his fate lay in the East, with another woman. But that was not yet apparent, least of all to Antonius.” 


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

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