Read Antony and Cleopatra Online

Authors: Colleen McCullough

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Antonius; Marcus, #Egypt - History - 332-30 B.C, #Biographical, #Cleopatra, #Biographical Fiction, #Romans, #Egypt, #Rome - History - Civil War; 49-45 B.C, #Rome, #Romans - Egypt

Antony and Cleopatra (47 page)

“Will you palm them off with cistophori? There were a lot of them in Sextus’s hoard, and I remember the story about the great Cicero’s brother being paid in cistophori.”

“The cistophori will be melted down and minted as sesterces and denarii. My utter villains and the men they represent will be paid in denarii, as they demanded.” A dreamy look suffused his eyes. “I’m trying to visualize how high the piles of bags will be, but even my imagination boggles.”



It was January before Octavian could return to Rome, his task concluded. He turned the event itself into something of a circus, compelling every one of a hundred and twenty thousand men to file past the assembly ground and look at the small mountains of bags, then made a speech that was more in dead Caesar’s mode than in his own. His method of disseminating what he said was novel; he himself stood atop a high tribunal and addressed those centurions his agents informed him were the really influential men, while each of his agents gave the same speech to one century of troops, not read from a paper, but declaimed from memory. It astonished Agrippa, who knew all about Octavian’s agents, but had never realized how many of them there were. A century consisted of eighty soldiers and twenty noncombatant servants; there were sixty centuries to the legion, and twenty legions assembled to see the bags, hear the speech. Twelve hundred agents! No wonder he knew everything there was to know. Son of Caesar he might pretend to be, but the truth was that Octavian resembled no one, even his divine father. He was something absolutely new, as perceptive men like the late Aulus Hirtius had understood very early in his career.

As for his civilian agents, they were men who were virtually unemployable in any other capacity—the kind of gossipy, idle fellows who loved being paid a small wage just to loiter around a marketplace and talk, talk, talk. When one reported a valuable item of information back to his superior in a long, carefully structured chain, he would receive a few denarii as a reward, but only if the information proved accurate. Octavian's legionary agents were only paid for information; Rome paid their wages.

By the time the meeting was dismissed, the legions knew that only the veterans of Mutina and Philippi would be retiring; that next year the bulk of them would be fighting in Illyricum—and that mutiny would not be tolerated for any reason, least of all bonuses. The slightest hint of it, and backs would be bared for the lash, then heads would roll.

Agrippa triumphed at last for his victories in Further Gaul; Calvinus, loaded with Spanish plunder and a fearsome reputation for treating mutinous soldiers cruelly, sheathed the scarred little Regia, Rome’s oldest temple, in costly marbles and adorned its exterior with statues; Statilius Taurus was given the job of governing Africa and reducing its legions to two; the grain was flowing as the grain should, and at the old price; and a very happy Octavian ordered the fortifications around the
domus Livia Drusilla
pulled down. He built a comfortable barracks for the Germans at the end of the Palatine on the corner where the Via Triumphalis met the Circus Maximus, and appointed them as a special bodyguard. Though he walked behind twelve lictors, as was the custom, he and his lictors walked surrounded by Germans in armor. A new phenomenon for Rome, unused to seeing armed troops inside the sacred boundary of the city save in times of emergency.

Though the legions belonged to Rome, the Germans belonged to Octavian, and Octavian alone. There were six hundred of them, the
cohors praetorii
, officially designated protectors of magistrates, senators, and triumvirs, but no magistrate or senator was under any illusions; when needed, they would answer only to Octavian, who suddenly became special in a way even Caesar had not. Rich and powerful senators and knights had always hired bodyguards, but they were motley lots of ex-gladiators who had never looked truly military. Octavian outfitted his Germans in spectacular gear, and kept them fresh and the Head Count entertained by having them perform their drills inside the Circus Maximus every day.

No one booed or hissed or spat at him anymore when Octavian walked the city streets or appeared in the Forum Romanum; he had saved Rome and Italia from starvation without assistance from Marcus Antonius, whose loaned fleet somehow never got a mention. The job of organizing Italia was given to Sabinus, who found he relished the work, consisting as it did of confirming deeds to land, assessing the public lands of the various towns and
taking censuses of veterans, wheat farmers, anyone Octavian considered valuable or noteworthy, and repairing roads, bridges, public buildings, harbors, temples, and granaries. Sabinus also was dowered with a team of praetors to hear grievance lawsuits, of which there were many; Romans of all Classes were litigious.

Twenty days after the battle of Naulochus, Octavian had turned twenty-seven; he had been at the heart of Roman politics and war for nine whole years. Longer at a stretch than even Caesar or Sulla, who had been absent from Rome for years at a time. Octavian was a Roman fixture. This showed in many ways, but particularly in his bearing. Slight, not tall, his togate form moved with grace, dignity, and a strange aura of power—the power of one who had survived against all the odds, and emerged triumphant. The people of Rome from highest to lowest had grown used to seeing him, and, like Julius Caesar, he was not too grand to talk to anyone. This, despite the German bodyguard, who knew better than to intervene when he pushed through their ranks to chat to a citizen. If their swords were loose in their scabbards, they had learned to conceal their anxiety, exchanging remarks in broken Latin with those in the crowd not trying to get to Caesar. Looking gorgeous.



By the New Year, when that serendipitous Pompeian with the same name, Sextus Pompeius, had assumed the consulship together with Lucius Cornificius, news of great victories in the East began to arrive in Rome, spread by Antony’s agents at the instigation of Poplicola. Antony had conquered the Parthians, won vast tracts for Rome, accumulated untold treasure. His partisans were overjoyed, his enemies confounded. Octavian, the most important unbeliever, sent special agents to the East to find out whether these rumors were true.

On the Kalends of March he convened the Senate, something he didn’t ordinarily do. Whenever he did, the senators turned up to the last man, out of curiosity and a growing respect. He wasn’t there yet; there were still senators who called him Octavianus, refused to give him the title of Caesar, but their number was diminishing. And his survival for nine perilous years had added an element of fear. If his power grew greater still and Mark Antony didn’t come home soon, nothing would stop him from becoming whatever he wanted to be. That was where the fear came in.

As Triumvir in charge of Rome and Italia, he occupied an ivory curule chair on the magistrates’ dais at the end of the new Curia his divine father had built, such a long process that it was not finished until the year of Sextus Pompey’s defeat. As his imperium was
, he outranked the consuls, whose ivory curule chairs were to either side of his, and farther back.

He rose to speak, holding no notes, spine straight, hair a golden nimbus in a building whose sheer size made it rather dim. Light poured in through clerestory windows high above and was swallowed by the gloom of an interior big enough to hold a thousand men in two banks of three tiers, one to either side of the dais. Most of them sat on small stools, those who had been senior magistrates on the bottom tier, more junior magistrates on the middle tier, and the
, forbidden to speak, on the top tier. As there was no party system, whether a man chose to sit to right or to left of the dais was not significant, though those belonging to a faction tended to cluster together. Some took verbatim notes in shorthand for their own archives, but six clerks took verbatim records for the Senate as a body, which were copied out afterward, impressed with the seals of the consuls, and inserted into the archives held next door in the Senate offices.

“Honored consuls, consulars, praetors, ex-praetors, aediles, exaediles, tribunes of the plebs, ex-tribunes of the plebs, and conscript fathers, I am here to report on what has been done. I regret that I could not make this report any earlier, but it was necessary that I travel to Africa Province to install Titus Statilius Taurus as its governor and see for myself what kind of mess the ex-Triumvir Lepidus had created. A considerable mess, consisting chiefly in the accumulation of a staggering number of legions which he later used in an attempt to take over Rome’s government. A situation I dealt with, as you know. But never again will any promagistrate of any rank or imperium be permitted to recruit, arm, and train legions in his province, or import legions to his province, without the express consent of the Senate and People of Rome.

“Very well, onward. My oldest legions, veterans of Mutina and Philippi, will be discharged and given land in Africa and in Sicilia, the latter a bigger mess than Africa, in crying need of good governance, proper farming, and a prosperous populace. These veterans will be settled on one to two hundred
of land that must grow wheat alternating with legumes every fourth year. The old
of Sicilia will be subdivided save for one given to Imperator Marcus Agrippa. He will act as overall supervisor of veteran growers, thus relieving them of the burden of selling their crop, which he will do in their names and pay them fairly. The legion representatives of these troops are happy with my arrangements, and anxious to be retired.

“Their going will leave Rome with twenty-five good legions, sufficient men to cope with whatever wars Rome is compelled to wage. Very shortly they will be serving in Illyricum, which I intend to subdue during this year, next year, and perhaps the year after. It is high time that the people of eastern Italian Gaul were protected against raids by the Iapudes, Delmatae, other Illyrian tribes. If my divine father had lived, this would have been done. So now it falls to me, and I will do it in conjunction with Marcus Agrippa. For I myself cannot and will not leave Rome for more than a matter of months. Good governance happens at first hand, and mine is the hand the Senate and People of Rome have honored with the task of establishing good governance.”

Octavian stepped down from the curule dais, steered a course around the long wooden bench below it that accommodated the ten tribunes of the plebs, and walked to the center of the tesselated floor. There he spoke turning in very slow circles so that every senator had a good view of him and saw his face as much as the back of his head. The nimbus of gold light followed, imbued his slight figure with an aura of unworldliness.

“We have had riots and unrest ever since Sextus Pompeius began to interfere with the grain supply,” he went on, level-voiced, calm. “The Treasury was empty, people starved, the price of goods soared to a height which meant that none without means could live as all Romans should live—with dignity and a modicum of comfort. Those who could not afford one slave multiplied. The
capite censi
who did not have a soldier’s wage coming in were in such dire straits that there were times when no shop in Rome dared open. Not their fault, conscript fathers! Our fault, for not dealing with Sextus Pompeius. We had neither the fleets nor the money to deal with him, as all of you well know. It took four years of scrimping and saving to assemble the ships we needed, but last year it was done, and Marcus Agrippa swept Sextus Pompeius from the seas forever.”

His voice changed, took on a steely edge. “I have dealt with Sextus Pompeius’s land troops as harshly as I have with his sailors and oarsmen. Those of slave status have been returned to their masters with a request that they never be freed. If their former masters could not be found because Sextus Pompeius had killed them, these slaves have been impaled. Yes, true impalement! A stake driven up through the rectum into the vital organs. Freedmen and foreigners have been flogged and branded on the forehead. Admirals have been executed. The ex-Triumvir Marcus Lepidus wanted to draw them into his legions, but Rome neither needs nor should tolerate such scum. They have died or face a life of slavery, as is right and proper.

“Rome’s consuls, praetors, aediles, quaestors, and tribunes of the soldiers have certain duties which they will acquit with zeal and efficiency. The consuls frame laws and authorize enterprises. The praetors hear lawsuits, civil and criminal. The quaestors take care of Rome’s moneys, be they attached to the Treasury or to some governor, port, or other. The aediles attend to Rome herself by seeing that the water supply, sewerage, markets, buildings, and temples are cared for. As Triumvir in charge of Rome and Italia, I will be watching these magistrates closely, and expect them to be good magistrates.”

He smiled, teeth flashing white, and looked a little impish. “I appreciate the gilded statue of me placed in the Forum that says I have restored order on land and sea, but I appreciate good governance more. Nor is Rome yet so rich that she can afford to dedicate statues out of her revenues. Spend wisely, conscript fathers!”

He went for a stroll down the floor, then returned to the dais and stood to make what everyone expected to be his peroration, very relieved that it was a short—if rather terrifying—speech.

“Last, but by no means least, conscript fathers, it has come to my attention that Imperator Marcus Antonius has won great victories in the East, that his brow is wreathed in laurels and his plunder massive. He penetrated the lands of the Parthian King as far as Phraaspa, a mere two hundred miles from Ecbatana, and everywhere was triumphant. Armenia and Media lie under his foot, their kings his vassals. Therefore let us vote him a thanksgiving of twenty days for his valorous deeds! All who agree, say aye!”

The roar of “Aye!” was drowned by cheers and drumming feet; Octavian’s eyes roamed the tiers, counting. Yes, still about seven hundred adherents.

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