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The Civil War

The Republic was plunged into yet another civil war after the murder of Caesar. His assassins, which included a part of the senate, led by L. Cassius Longinus and M. Junius Brutus, had fled Rome and Caesar's right-hand man, Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony), took power. By accepting his adoption, Octavius put himself against both of these factions, who commanded armies and controlled great wealth, while he had no backing at all.

Octavius officially assumed the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in acknowledgement of his adoption. He normally just called himself Caesar, just as his adoptive father, which was a major factor in his attempt to win over to his side the veteran soldiers of Julius Caesar's armies. Later times have called him Octavian.

Augustus
Augustus

Octavian immediately started to travel around in S. Italy where parts of Caesar's armies were stationed and where many of his veterans were settled. He then went to Rome where Antonius tried to ignore him while blocking the official recognition of the adoption.

In the following 18 months a very complex three part game took place. Antonius went to Cisalpine Gaul to fight Brutus and Cassius. He defeated them and they fled to the east, where they tried to secure a position while Antonius did the same in Gaul. Meanwhile Octavian managed to secure himself more troops, he obtained the official recognition of the adoption and the revocation of the amnesty for Caesar's assassins. The situation was ripe for a three-way civil war.

Octavian now made one of his brilliant moves. He moved his forces against Antonius in Cisalpine Gaul, but instead of fighting him, he offered Antonius a deal. Octavian, Antonius and M. Aemilius Lepidus (an ally to Antonius) would split the provinces between them so all three could prosper. Antonius got Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul, Lepidus Spain and Gallia Narbonensis (S. France), while Octavian got Sicily, Sardinia and Africa. This accord, made for five years, became known as the Second Triumvirate.

First the three purged all political opponents. The proscriptions eliminated a large part of the senatorial and equestrian order, including most of the supporters of Caesar's assassins. Cicero, being an enemy of Antonius, perished in these proscriptions. A factor in the proscriptions was the need to raise money. The wealth of the proscribed persons fell to the state, and could be used to settle veterans from the armies of Octavian and Antonius.

The combined forces of Octavian and Antonius were turned against the assassins of Caesar, who still controlled the east. The decisive battle was at Philippi in Macedonia in 42 BCE where the forces of Brutus and Cassius were soundly defeated. Both committed suicide.

With the east under the control of the triumvirs, they proceeded to repartition it. Antonius got the East and Transalpine Gauls and Octavian most of the West. Lepidus was the junior partner and had to content himself with Africa. Antonius moved east and Octavian return to Italy.

Lucius Antonius, a brother of Marcus Antonius, used the problems around the distribution of land to veterans to oppose Octavian in Italy. It came to a short war, which Octavian won, but it provoked Antonius to return to fight Octavian. A new civil war was on the horizon. The two forces met at Brundisium, but didn't fight. Instead, they struck a deal. Antonius ceded Gaul to Octavian in return for a free hand in the East. The deal was signed by Antonius' marriage to Octavian's sister Octavia.

Antonius returned east, but Octavian still had problems. Sextus Pompeius, a son of Pompey the Great, had seized control of Sicily where he became a rallying point for the opposition to the triumvirs. Octavian called in the forces of Antonius, but several attempts to oust Sextus failed, and at the end a deal was made in 39 BCE.

The Second Triumvirate expired in 38 BCE, but all three agreed to renew it for another five years. Sextus meanwhile continued his opposition to the triumvirs, and Antonius and Octavian had to oppose him again. This time they organised a combined campaign, where Lepidus attacked from Africa, Octavian from Campania and Octavian's right-hand man Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa at sea. After some setbacks, Agrippa's fleet carried the day, defeating Sextus' fleet and allowing Lepidus to take control of Sicily. With Sextus out of the way Lepidus refused to cede Sicily to Octavian, who then moved against him, but Lepidus's forces defected and he was captured. Lepidus was spared and lived until 12 BCE, but his defeat meant that Octavian alone was now in control of the West.

Octavian's victory over Sextus was popular in Rome, and he moved on to consolidate his position. Antonius, however, wasn't doing quite as well in the East. There ware continuing wars with the Parthians and the Armenians, in which Antonius was only partially successful.

This article has been split into 7 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Civil War
  3. Showdown with Marcus Antonius
  4. The Augustan Principate
  5. The Problem of Succession
  6. Literature and Links
  7. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Augustus", "Augustus", "Gaius Octavius", "Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus", "Octavian" and "Imperator Caesar Augustus".

Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-11-20

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