Second Triumvirate: Life After Caesar

After forcing through his own political agenda in Rome, the situation with Antony was still precarious. Antony had reached Gaul and gathered strength from the legions stationed there. Together with Lepidus in Spain, the two were a formidable force. Octavian, despite having considerable strength himself, would be hard pressed to meet that challenge alone. By passing a law that found all the members of Caesar's assassination plot to be guilty of a capital crime, he certainly couldn't count on any support from that quarter, not that he wanted it. Decimus Brutus, for so long holding the support of the Senate against Antony, now found himself sandwiched between Antony, Lepidus and Octavian, and decided to flee to the safer eastern territories. He was not so lucky, however, and was captured and executed en route, becoming the first of the major players in Caesar's murder to pay for his 'crime'.

Octavian decided that the prudent course of action was to reconcile with Antony and stabilize the Caesarean faction. He marched north and met with Antony and Lepidus on a small river island near Bononia. For two days the three political leaders of the western Roman world hammered out the details of an agreement that would set them up as the official government of Rome. In establishing the triumviri rei publicae constituendae, the three men divided the western 'empire' between them. Antony would stay entrenched in Gaul, Lepidus, the leading pro-consular patrician member of Roman government still alive, maintained control of Spain and Narbonensis and Octavian received Africa, Sardinia and Sicily. Octavian's status as the junior member of the group relegated his authority to these more minor territories, by comparison. Not that they weren't important, but Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great, had already established himself as a pirate captain in the Mediterranean and made control of Octavian's provinces difficult at best. By the time the Second Triumvirate was cemented, Pompey had already taken control of the islands, and was lurking dangerously off the Italian shore.

This Second Triumvirate was different than the First arranged by Caesar, Pompey and Crassus some 16 years earlier. While the first was really a secret pact that forced the 3 men to pledge mutual support, leaving the Republican system largely intact, this new triumvirate was a legal arrangement, written into the constitution by the Lex Titia in November, 43 BC. In essence, this new government was a joint dictatorship, where the three members had ultimate authority capable of completely disregarding Republican and Senatorial tradition through the use of military force.

With their agreement firmly in place, the triumvirate first focused on both gathering enough funds to stabilize their authority and eliminate political opposition. This meant the return of Sulla's dreaded political tool, the proscriptions. There is some dispute whether the proscriptions were intended merely as a means for financial gain, or directly intended as a political affirmation, but regardless, the use of proscription produced both results. Being sure not to make the mistake Caesar had made in pardoning his most dangerous threats, the proscriptions of the second triumvirate were as brutal and all encompassing as those of Sulla.In all, some 130 to 300 Senators were proscribed, but most only faced confiscation of property. Worse though, estimates of up to 2,000 equites were said to be on the proscription list. Members of the Triumvirs own families were not exempt either. Lepidus' own brother was proscribed, as well as Antony's cousin and Octavian's distant relative through adoption, Lucius Caesar. Though they survived and their proscription was a matter of financial necessity, it was clear that the Triumvirs would use any means necessary to advance their agenda.

The most notable victim of the proscriptions was Marcus Tullius Cicero. After having opposed Antony for so long, including vicious attacks through the use of his rhetoric and oration, Antony simply couldn't allow Octavian's mentor to live. Despite Cicero's support of Caesar's heir, Octavian agreed that Cicero had to go. On December 7, 43 BC, Cicero was captured attempting to flee to Greece, and the relative safety of the 'Liberators' provinces. Much like the proscriptions of Marius and Sulla, Cicero's head and hands were cut off and displayed on the Rostra in the forum. Unlike their predecessor's mass displays, however, Cicero was the only victim to be publicly exhibited this time around. To add insult to injury, and as a symbolic gesture against Cicero's vaunted power of speech, Antony's wife, Fulvia pulled out Cicero's tongue and jabbed it repeatedly with a pin.

Though the proscriptions didn't yield as much financial gain as the triumvirs had hoped, they did provide enough of a boon to turn their attention on their mutual enemies in the east. Despite a certain animosity between them, they were secured by the presence of a common foe, and the triumvirate was stable for the time being. The next year, 42 BC, would be focused on eliminating Caesar's assassins and strengthening their own power.

Did you know?

The First Triumvirate was composed of Julius Caesar, Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and Marcus Licinius Crassus.

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