Augustus. The life and times of the founder of the Roman Empire (B.C. 63-A.D. 14)/The Inheritance

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Chapter III

The Roman Empire at the Death of Iulius Cæsar

cui dabit partes scelus
expiandi Iuppiter ?
— Horace, Odes I 2.





News of Cæsars death brought to Apollonia, March, B.C. 44.

The news of his great-uncle's death reached Octavius at Apollonia in the afternoon, just as he and his suite were going to dinner. A vague rumour of some great misfortune quickly spread through the town, and many of the leading inhabitants hastened to the house with zealous friendliness to ascertain its truth. After a hasty consultation with his friends, Octavius decided to get rid of most of them while inviting a few of the highest rank to discuss with him what should be done. This being effected with some difficulty, an anxious debate was carried on into the night. Opinions were divided. One party urged Octavius to go to the army in Macedonia, appeal to its attachment to Cæsar, and call on the legions to follow him to Rome to avenge the murdered Dictator.[1] Those who thus advised trusted to the impression likely to be made by Octavius's personal charm and the pity which his position would excite. Others thought this too great an undertaking for so young a man. They argued that the many friends whom Cæsar had raised to positions of honour and profit might be trusted to avenge his murder. They did not yet know that theirs were the very hands which had struck him down. After listening to the various opinions Octavius resolved to take no decisive step until he had reached Italy, had consulted his friends there, and had seen the state of affairs with his own eyes.

Octavian prepares to go to Italy, April, B.C. 44.

Preparations for crossing were begun at once, and in the few days before the start farther details of the assassination reached Apollonia. The citizens begged Octavius to stay, putting all the resources of the town at his disposal ; and a number of officers and soldiers came from the army with tenders of service, whether to guard his person or to avenge the Dictator. But for the present he declined all offers. He thanked the Apolloniates and promised the town immunities and privileges — a promise which in after years he did not forget. He told the officers and soldiers that he would claim their services at some future time. For the present he did not need them : " only let them be ready when the time came." The conduct or the Martia and Quarta a few months later shewed that these feelings were genuine and lasting.

Octavius had a poor vessel and a stormy crossing, but landed in safety, probably at Hydruntum (Otranto), the nearest point in Calabria, and in fair weather only a five hours voyage.[2] That fact and the state of the wind may have influenced the choice of the port. But he was also too much in the dark as to affairs in Italy to venture upon such a frequented landingplace as Brundisium, where he might have found himself in the midst of political enemies or hostile troops. From Hydruntum he went by land to Lupiæ, rather more than half way to Brundisium. There he first met some who had witnessed Cæsar's funeral, had heard the recitation of his will, and could tell him that he was adopted as Cæsar's son, and (with a deduction of a liberal legacy to the citizens) was heir to three-quarters of his property,[3] the remaining fourth being divided between Cæsar's two other grand-nephews Q. Pedius and Lucius Pinarius. He learnt also that the Dictator's funeral, which by his will was to be conducted by Atia, had been performed in the Forum amidst great popular excitement, caused partly by the sight of his wounded body,[4] partly by Antony's speech, and had been followed by attacks on the houses of the chief assassins, who, after barricading themselves for three days on the Capitol, had found it necessary to retire from Rome, first to the villa of Brutus at Lanuvium, and then to Antium,[5] in spite of the amnesty voted in the Senate on the 17th of March.

Octavian accepts the inheritance and name. May, B.C. 44.

Though deeply moved by this story Octavian did not allow his feelings to betray him into taking any false or hasty step. Satis celeriter quod satis bene was his motto now as in after life.[6] He went on to Brundisium, having ascertained that it was not occupied by enemies, and there received letters from his mother and stepfather confirming what he had already heard. His mother begged him to join her at once, to avoid the jealousies roused by his adoption. Philippus advised him to accept neither inheritance nor name, and to hold aloof from public business. The advice was, no doubt, prompted by affection, and was natural in the circumstances. But though Octavian never blustered, neither did he easily turn aside : he wrote back declaring his determination to accept. His own friends henceforth addressed him as "Cæsar," his full name now being Gaius Iulius Cæsar Octavianus.[7] The adoption indeed was not complete without the formal passing of a lex curiata ; but though that was delayed for more than a year, the new name was assumed at once. He complied with his mother's wish that he should visit her first, and he soon had the satisfaction of feeling that though Philippus was still opposed, her heart was with him in the manly resolve to sustain the great part which Cæsar's affection had assigned to him. Cicero mentions in a letter of April 11th that Octavius had arrived in Italy, and on the 18th that he had reached Naples. On the 19th Balbus — the Dictator's friend and agent — called on him and learned from his own lips his resolve to accept the inheritance. On the 22nd Cicero met him at his stepfather's villa near Puteoli, and anxiously watched for any indication of his political aims. He was only partly satisfied.

"Octavius here treats me with great respect and friendliness. His own people addressed him as ‘Cæsar,’ but as Philippus did not do so, I did not do it either. I declare it is impossible for him to be a good citizen ! He is surrounded by such a number of people who actually threaten our friends with death. He says the present state of things is intolerable." [8]

It was not Octavian's cue as yet to break openly with the aristocrats. The first struggles for his rights were likely to be with Antony, in which the aid of Cicero and his party would be useful. At the same time he was too cautious and selfcontrolled to commit himself or betray his real intentions, which remained an enigma to the emotional orator, who hardly ever spoke without doing so. Cicero consoled himself by the reflection that at any rate Octavian's claims must cause a quarrel with Antony. Yet he was indignant that this stripling could go to Rome without risk, while Brutus and Cassius and the other "heroes" of the dagger could not. Octavian's journey to Rome was for the twofold purpose of giving formal notice to the praetor urbanus that he accepted the inheritance, and of making a statement of his intentions as administrator of the will at a public assembly. For the latter he needed to be introduced to the meeting by a tribune. For this service he relied on Lucius Antonius. All three brothers were in office this year—Marcus consul, Gaius prætor, Lucius tribune ; and as supporters of the late Cæsar they could not in decency refuse him this opportunity of declaring his sentiments.

Octavian and M. Antonius.

Octavian reached Rome in the first week of May, duly accepted the inheritance, and was introduced to a contio by Lucius Antonius about the 10th of that month.[9] The speech was not satisfactory to the Ciceronian party. He declared his intention to carry out his "father's" will as to the legacy to the people, and to celebrate the games at the dedication of the temple of Venus promised by Cæsar. Preparations for them were begun at once, two of the Dictator's friends, Matius and Postumius, being selected to superintend them.[10] But though confining himself to expressions of veneration for his "father's" memory, and uttering no threats against any one, Octavian had not given up for a moment his resolve to punish the murderers. The amnesty voted in the Senate he regarded as a temporary expedient. All that was needed was an accuser, and he did not mean that such a person should be long wanting. But meanwhile his first business was to secure his own position and the possession of Cæsar's property. This at once brought him into collision with Antony.

The money at the temple of Ops.

The financial arrangements of the late Dictator were to a great degree to blame for this. He seems to have introduced the system of the fiscus, though without the name known in later times : that is, large sums of money were deposited in the temple of Ops to his order, separate from the public ærarium of the temple of Saturnus, and not clearly distinguished from his own private property. It was as though a Chancellor of the Exchequer paid portions of the revenue to his private banking account, and were to die suddenly without leaving any means of distinguishing between public and private property.[11] Cicero says that this money (700,000,000 sesterces, or about five and a half millions sterling) was the proceeds of the sale of confiscated properties,[12] and there was, it seems, much other property in lands and houses from the same source. The claim by an heir of Cæsar would be met by a double opposition — from the government, which would regard the whole as public ; and from the owners or their representatives, who might have hopes of recovering parts of it. For at Rome confiscation did not bar claims under marriage settlements, or for debts secured on properties. The large sum at the temple of Ops had been taken over entirely by Antony the Consul, nominally as being public money, really—as Cicero affirms—to liquidate his own enormous debts. It is very likely that Antony shared the spoil with others, perhaps with his colleague Dolabella, and they may have satisfied their



  1. The possibility of these legions crossing to Italy had caused no little anxiety at Rome ; Cicero, ad Att. xiv. 16.
  2. Cicero, ad Att. xv. 21.
  3. Suetonius (Iul. 83) says, "three-fourths" ; so also does Nicolas Dam. 17 (τρία μέρη τῶν χρημάτων). But Livy (Ep. 116) says "one-half" (ex semisse). It is possible Livy may refer to the amount left when the legacy of 300 sesterces to each citizen was deducted. Nicolas seems to think, however, that this legacy was charged on the remaining fourth. Octavian certainly undertook to pay it, but then Pinarius and Pedius handed over their shares to him.
  4. Appian (b. c. ii. 147) says that the body itself was not seen during Antony's laudatio, but that a wax figure was displayed which by some mechanical contrivance was made to revolve and show all the wounds.
  5. Nicolas (§ 17) would seem to send them straight to Antium. But from Cicero's letters it is clear that Brutus at any rate went first to Lanuvium, ad Att. xiv. 10, 21 ; xv. 9. They seem to have gone to Antium towards the end of May or beginning of June.
  6. Suet., Aug. 25.
  7. The last being the adjectival form of his original name, in accordance with the usual custom in cases of adoption.
  8. Cicero, ad Att. xiv. 5, 10, 11, 12.
  9. Cicero, ad. Att. xiv. 20, 21. Dio (45, 6) says that the introducing tribune was Tib. Canutius. But it seems probable that this refers to a second speech.
  10. Cic, ad Att. xv. 2. There is a singularly manly and frank letter from Matius to Cicero (ad Fam. xi. 28), defending his attachment to Cæsar and his services to Octavian.
  11. Appian, b. c. 3, 20, τῶν προσόδων, ἐξ οὗ παρῆλθεν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀρχήν, ἐς αὐτὸν ἀντὶ τοῦ ταμιείου συμφερομένων. The sole management of the Treasury had been committed to Caesar in B.C. 45 (Dio, 43, 44, τὰ δημόσια χρήματα μόνον διοικεῖν). He had taken it out of the hands of the quæstors and appointed two præfecti to manage it : but it does not seem that they had anything to do with the money in the temple of Ops, as to which there was some doubt as to its being "public money" in the ordinary sense.
  12. Cicero, 1 Phil. § 17 ; 2 Phil. § 93.