Civil wars in Rome after Caesar’s death and political activities of Gaius Octavius (Octavian)

Conspirators were clear with the first point of their plan to assassinate Caesar. Their slogan was a struggle against tyranny and establishing of the earlier way of government. This act however caused the most diverse voices, and in Rome it caused extremely tense situation. Together with gladiators and slaves which were promised freedom, the conspirators established themselves at the Capitol.

Two days after Caesar’s murder, in the temple goddess of the earth (Tellus) was held session of the Senate, which was convened by Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony). Direct conspirators did not participate at the Senate session. At this session it was given a proposal that they appoint Caesar as the tyrant.  They also give gratitude to his assassins but Marcus Tullius Cicero’s compromise proposal was accepted. All Caesar’s acts and orders were accepted as valid while assassins remained unpunished. It was decided that Caesar’s funeral would be at public expense and that his last will can be read.

One of Caesar assassins Decimus Brutus was mentioned about heir. According to Caesar’s will the Roman plebs supposed to receive 300 sesterces (roman coins) per man. Caesar was buried few days after the decision on amnesty for conspirators. Marcus Antonius gave a short speech, where he mentioned Caesar’s merits. Among the crowd there were a fair number of Caesar’s supporters. Caesar’s body was burned, and after that an angry crowd started to demolish houses of the conspirators. This act of violence was prevented with the great difficulty. At the site of the funeral pyre, an altar was erected which was dedicated to Caesar. Some Herophilus, a Greek, called himself to be Gaius Marius grandson and he called people to revenge Caesar death. Marcus Junius Brutus and Cassius Longinus left Rome and after they spent summer in Italy they went to the East. Cicero also left Rome. Herophilus as fake Marius was arrested and executed without trial. The movement was definitely quelled by Antonius colleague Publius Cornelius Dolabella. Dolabella became a Consul shortly after Caesar’s death.

Political activities of Gaius Octavius (Octavian) after Caesar’s death

The main Caesar’s successor was his adopted cousin Gaius Octavius (Octavian). At the time of Caesar’s death, Octavian was designated with Caesar’s troops for the Parthian campaign in Apollonia. After he learned about his adoption, Octavian decided to move towards Brindisi where he arrived in April. The army greeted Octavian enthusiastically. He received greetings from veterans with extraordinary tactics and prudence. However at the same time Octacian led negotiations with representatives of the nobility. In Rome Octavian declared that he had a desire to take over Caesar heritage. He started calling himself Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. Octavian stated that he will fulfill Caesar’s wish to pay an amount of money, which Caesar promised to the people. Marcus Antonius together with the young Octavian has risen but Octavian conducted agitation accusing Marcus Antonius for reconciliation with Caesar’s murderers.

Marcus Antonius has shown great energy when it comes to preserving his influence among the various population groups. Antonius tried to strengthen his position in Rome by relying on Caesar’s troops and veterans. Especially important was the agrarian Law (handing the land to veterans) which was proposed by the brother of Marcus Antonius, a popular tribune Lucius Antonius.

Portrait of Cicero from Capitolini Museum. Source: en.museicapitolini.org/collezioni/percorsi_per_sale/palazzo_nuovo/sala_dei_filosofi/ritratto_di_cicerone
Portrait of Cicero from Capitolini Museum. Source: en.museicapitolini.org/collezioni/percorsi_per_sale/palazzo_nuovo/sala_dei_filosofi/ritratto_di_cicerone

After the Law about “changing of the provinces”, according to which Gaul should be placed in the hands of the Marcus Antonius (and at that time Gaul was led by the Decimus Brutus), the relations between Senate and Marcus Antonius became worse and worse.

Marcus Tullius Cicero in the meantime returned to Rome after Caesar’s death.  Marcus Tullius Cicero stood against Marcus Antonius in the Senate. He was at the head of opposition. In the late 44 BC and at the beginning of the 43 BC Cicero held 14 speeches against Antonius supporters.

Cicero acted vigorously against Marcus Antonius since he belonged to the group of senators which were committed to ending every relation with Caesar supports and civil war. In a secret alliance with Cicero, Octavian promised to veterans and soldiers that he will revenge Caesar’s death and he will generously reward anyone who move on to his side. At the end of 44 BC, Marcus Antonius besieged city of Mutina in Gaul in order to defeat the troops of Decimus Brutus.

Troops under the command of the consuls Hirtius and Pansa were sent against Marcus Antonius. Octavian legions were also sent against Marcus Antonius. Octavian received the title of the propraetor and imperium. Octavian as propraetor has all the powers of a praetor, but was, in fact, a former praetor whose term in office was prolonged. A state of emergency in Rome was declared through special Senate decision. In April 43 BC, Marcus Antonius in the battle of Mutina was defeated and he had to abandon the siege of the city. At the suggestion of Cicero, Antonius was declared as an enemy of Roman Republic.

After these events, the senators thought that Caesar party was destroyed and they decided to stand against the 19-year-old Octavian. The Senate does not reward soldiers who fought in the Battle at Mutina. The Senate rejected a proposal that they appointed Octavian as a Consul. In this way Marcus Antonius, gain time in order to join his army with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (Younger) in Narbonese Gaul. The Senate was unable to fight against the coalition. After the refusal of the Senate to elect Octavian as Consul, Caesar’s heir set his legions to Rome and without any struggle he conquered the capital. After entering in the Rome he made his own election of the Consul and then he passed a Law about the punishment of Caesar’s murderers.

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