Monday, April 6, 2015

Octavian Consolidates His Rule

Featuring Henry George Liddell from his book A History of Rome from 1855.

Previously on Death of Antony and Cleopatra. And now Henry George Liddell.

Time: August 30 BC
Place: Alexandria, Egypt

Antony and Octavian renewed their professions of amity, and entered Rome together in joint ovation to celebrate the restoration of peace. They now made a third division of the provinces, by which Scodra (Scutari) in Illyricum was fixed as the boundary of the West and East; Lepidus was still left in possession of Africa. It was further agreed that Octavian was to drive Sext Pompeius, lately the ally of Antony, out of Sicily; while Antony renewed his pledges to recover the standards of Crassus from the Parthians. The new compact was sealed by the marriage of Antony with Octavia, his colleague's sister, a virtuous and beautiful lady, worthy of a better consort. These auspicious events were celebrated by the lofty verse of Vergil's Fourth Eclogue.

Cleopatra by John William Waterhouse, 1888.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Sext Pompeius had reason to complain. By the peace of Brundusium he was abandoned by his late friend to Octavian. He was not a man to brook ungenerous treatment. Of late years his possession of Sicily had given him command of the Roman corn market. During the winter which followed the peace of Brundusium (B.C. 40-39), Sextus blockaded Italy so closely that Rome was threatened with a positive dearth. Riots arose; the triumvirs were pelted with stones in the Forum, and they deemed it prudent to temporize by inviting Pompey to enter their league. He met them at Misenum, and the two chiefs went on board his ship to settle the terms of alliance. It is said that one of his chief officers, a Greek named Menas or Menodorus, suggested to him the expediency of putting to sea with the great prize, and then making his own terms. Sextus rejected the advice with the characteristic words, "You should have done it without asking me." It was agreed that Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica should be given up to his absolute rule, and that Achaia should be added to his portion; so that the Roman world was now partitioned among four: Octavian, Antony, Lepidus, and Sext Pompeius. On their return the triumvirs were received with vociferous applause.

Before winter, Antony sailed for Athens in company with Octavia, who for the time seems to have banished Cleopatra from his thoughts. But he disgusted all true Romans by assuming the attributes of Grecian gods and indulging in Grecian orgies.

He found the state of things in the East greatly changed since his departure. He had commissioned P. Ventidius Bassus, an officer who had followed Fulvia from Italy, to hold the Parthians in check till his return. Ventidius was son of a Picenian nobleman of Asculum, who had been brought to Rome as a captive in the Social War. In his youth he had been a contractor to supply mules for the use of the Roman commissariat. But in the civil wars which followed, men of military talent easily rose to command; and such was the lot of Ventidius. While Antony was absent in Italy, he drove Q. Labienus into the defiles of Taurus, and here that adventurer was defeated and slain. The conqueror then marched rapidly into Syria, and forced Pacorus also to withdraw to the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

In the following year (38) he repelled a fresh invasion of the Parthians, and defeated them in three battles. In the last of these engagements Pacorus himself was slain on the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Crassus. Antony found Ventidius laying siege to Samosata, and displaced him, only to abandon the siege and return to Athens. Ventidius repaired to Rome, where he was honored with a well-deserved triumph. He had left it as a mule jobber; he returned with the laurel round his brows. He was the first, and almost the last, Roman general who could claim such a distinction for victory over the Parthians.

The alliance with Sext Pompeius was not intended to last, and it did not last. Antony refused to put him in possession of Achaia, and to avenge himself for this breach of faith Pompeius again began to intercept the Italian corn fleets. Fresh discontent appeared at Rome, and Octavian equipped a second fleet to sail against the naval chief; but after two battles of doubtful result, the fleet was destroyed by a storm, and Sextus was again left in undisputed mastery of the sea. Octavian, however, was never daunted by reverses, and he gave his favorite Agrippa full powers to conduct the war against Pompeius. This able commander set about his work with that resolution that marked a man determined not to fail. As a harbor for his fleet, he executed a plan of the great Caesar; namely, to make a good and secure harbor on the coast of Latium, which then, as now, offered no shelter to ships. For this purpose he cut a passage through the narrow necks of land which separated Lake Lucrinus from the sea, and Lake Avernus from Lake Lucrinus, and faced the outer barrier with stone. This was the famous Julian Port. In the whole of the two years B.C. 38 and 37 Agrippa was occupied in this work and in preparing a sufficient force of ships. Every dockyard in Italy was called into requisition. A large body of slaves was set free that they might be trained to serve as rowers.

On the 1st of July, B.C. 36, the fleet put to sea. Octavian himself, with one division, purposed to attack the northern coast of Sicily, while a second squadron was assembled at Tarentum for the purpose of assailing the eastern side. Lepidus, with a third fleet from Africa, was to assault Lilybaeum. But the winds were again adverse; and, though Lepidus effected a landing on the southern coast, Octavian's two fleets were driven back to Italy with great damage. But the injured ships were refitted, and Agrippa was sent westward toward Panormus, while Octavian himself kept guard near Messana.

Continued on Wednesday, April 8th.

More information on Marc Antony from, on Cleopatra from The Smithsonian and National Geographic Magazines.

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