Posts Tagged ‘Augustus’

The Repulsive Shall Inherit the Earth–at least one did.

Posted in General, On This Day on September 23rd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

September 23, 63 B.C.:  Happy Birthday Octavius.

The Emperor Augustus commands our respect.  His teenage self was more deserving of a good slap.  You could imagine this short, puny, overbearing 18 year-old at the University of Chicago but not the inheritor of the Roman Empire.  Yet, that was exactly what the teenager demanded when he showed up, unannounced, at the home of Marc Antony in May, 44 B.C.

In the two months since the murder of Julius Caesar, Antony had demonstrated genuine brilliance as a politician.  The very fact that he was alive is proof.  On the Ides of March,  Caesar’s family, friends and partisans were also at the mercy of the conspirators–the self-proclaimed Liberatores.   Any resistance or the least misstep would have led to a purge, with Antony’s name on the top of the list.

The majority in the Roman Senate had not been involved in the assassination, but it certainly seemed acquiescent.  The august patricians were a pliant lot, as obliging to the Liberatores as they had been to Caesar.  The Liberatores demanded that Caesar be declared a tyrant whose murder was a patriotic and justifiable act.  Most of Caesar’s senatorial allies were understandably absent from the Senate, but Marc Antony had not fled or was even quiet.  He did not question the justification for Caesar’s death but he did raise the most interesting technical objection to declaring Caesar a tyrant.

If Caesar were indeed a tyrant, then all his laws and his actions were invalid.  That would include every appointment which Caesar had made.  Unfortunately, Antony noted, many of the Senators and their relatives were filling those posts as of that moment.  It would be a administrative nightmare and a personal tragedy if so many people were immediately stripped of their honorable and often very lucrative posts.

Now the question before the Senators was not liberty versus tyranny, but liberty versus their families’ net worth.  Yet, the Senate hoped to avert a civil war and so, until he was ready, did Marc Antony.  He offered this compromise:  Caesar was no tyrant but his murderers were fully pardoned.  Furthermore, their leaders were to be appointed to important posts far from Rome.  Brutus and Cassius may have realized that they were tactfully exiled, but in control of the rich provinces of the East they could raise an army to challenge their enemies in Rome.  Antony knew that as well, but he was playing for time.  With friends in Gallia and Iberia and being in Italia, he could raise an army, too.

As the executor of Caesar’s will, he began spending large sums on the recruitment of friendly legions.  Unfortunately, the chief heir to that will, Caesar’s great-nephew Octavius did not appreciate the expenditures.  Furthermore, he objected to the compromises with Caesar’s murderers.  Octavian, now styling himself as Caesar, showed up at Antony’s home and demanded an explanation.  The obnoxious youngster was kept waiting, but Antony eventually saw him.

According to the historian Appian, Antony offered two answers to young Caesar’s objections.   The first was a detailed account of the political situation that faced Antony and Caesar’s family and friends, and how his compromises and expenses were protecting them until the day that they could exact their revenge.  Antony’s second explanation was more personal: he really didn’t need to explain his actions to a presumptuous brat, so Octavius should never bother him again.

Well, as we know, Octavius did.  But if Antony dismissed the annoying kid, the Roman Senate adopted him.  The Senators saw in him a rival claimant to the Caesar faction, someone to undermine the growing power of Marc Antony.  Young Caesar was a senator at 19, and a general with consular powers when he was 20. Of course, the Senators just knew that they could control him.  As Cicero said of Octavius, “He is an admirable youth who should be praised and ignored.”

After all, he was just a short, puny, overbearing kid.