Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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Formation, activities and breakdown of the Second Triumvirate

Past HSC question: 2005
Assess the political and military significance of the Second Triumvirate during this period.

Past HSC question: 2004
Assess the achievements and impact of Octavian during this period.

Past HSC question: 2003
Explain the formation and breakdown of the Second Triumvirate.

Past HSC question: 2001
Account for the formation and the breakdown of the Second Triumvirate.

First Triumvirate
Second Triumvirate
Three powerful, important men
Two of the triumvirs had greater influence
Purpose: to increase their individual power
Opposition: Republicans
Both were based on 'political friendship'

Unofficial, secret agreement

Pompey and Caesar had a good relationship to begin with
Official government position passed by a tribune's law in the tribal assembly
Octavian and Antony were hostile and suspicious from the beginning

Locate Philippi, Brundisium, Tarentum and Actium on your map.

Refer to pp. 8-13 of booklet 3.
  • What was the impact of the republican defeat at Philippi (42 BC)?
  • What developments took place over the next two years?
  • What was the Treaty of Brundisium?
  • What happened after Brundisium?
  • What was agreed at Tarentum (37 BC)?
  • What developments occurred during the next three years?
  • What brought the triumvirate to an end?
  • Describe the battle of Actium?
  • What were the results of this battle?

Formation of the Triumvirate

Antony and Lepidus marched on Rome to join Octavian. A tribune, P. Titius, proposed a law, passed 27 November 43, which created the Second Triumvirate. (see table booklet 3, p.7)

“Unlike the first triumvirate, which was merely a private agreement between Pompey, Caesar and Crassus to work together for their mutual benefit, the second triumvirate... was a formal magistracy legally appointed which could dominate the senate and the state. In the place of the dictator Caesar, there were now three dictators, although the title was carefully avoided.”
H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero, p.163

“Two days of concentrated diplomacy decided the fate of the Roman world. Antonius when consul had abolished the dictatorship for all time. The tyrannic office was now revived under another name - for a period of five years three men were to hold paramount and arbitrary power under the familiar pretext of setting the Roman state in order... Depressed by the revived Dictatorship to little but a name, the consulate never afterwards recovered its authority.”
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution, p.188

Activities of the Triumvirate

Proscriptions. The first act of the new Triumvirate was to carry out proscriptions.

"The triumvirs needed political security and money; they therefore forgot the example of Caesar and remembered Marius and Sulla. They carried out a ruthless proscription, in which they signed the death warrant of some 300 senators and 2,000 knights... their dominant motive will have been the need to confiscate estates with which to pay their troops. All three must share the responsibility: Octavian cannot be excused as the junior partner... The most famous victim, on whose death Antony insisted, was Cicero... Thus perished one of Rome's greatest sons."
H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero, p.163-4

"Roman society under the terror witnessed the triumph of the dark passions of cruelty and revenge, of the ignoble vices of cupidity and treachery... That splendid name was now dishonoured. Caesar's heir was no longer a rash youth but a chill and mature terrorist."
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution, p.190-1

Appian spends 14 pages (in the Penguin edition) describing the many individual stories of tragedy and heroism during the proscriptions (Appian, The Civial Wars, Book IV 8-35)

Battle of Philippi 42 BC

Brutus and Cassius were defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. This was the end of any effective republican opposition to Antony and Octavian. Octavian had achieved vengeance for his father’s death.

The empire was divided between the Triumvirs. Cisalpine Gaul was incorporated into Italy. Antony was given Gaul; Octavian was given Spain, Sardinia and Africa. Lepidus, the weak member of the Triumvirate, was later given Africa.

Antony set off to the east to bring the provinces back under control. Octavian faced two problems at home: serious grain shortages caused by Sextus Pompeius who controlled Sicily; a revolt by Antony’s brother and wife (Fulvia), which was put down by 40 BC. Antony’s troops in Gaul went over to Octavian.

In the east, Antony met with Cleopatra. On his return to Rome in 40 BC, civil war was close when Antony was refused to land at Brundisium.

Treaty of Brundisium 40 BC

Reconciliation of Triumvirs through a political marriage: Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia. A new division of the empire was made: Antony controlled the east and Octavian controlled the west. Lepidus retained Africa. Italy was shared, though Octavian dominated as he was stationed there.

To placate Sextus Pompeius, he was made a proconsul for 5 years in 39, but war broke out when Octavian reneged on part of the deal. He sought assistance from Lepidus and Antony but none arrived. Pompeius remained at large.

In the east, Antony had driven back the Parthians.

Conference at Tarentum 37 BC

The Triumvirate was renewed for a further five years. A deal for mutual support was made: ships from Antony to Octavian in return for troops from Octavian to Antony. Octavian reneged on his part of the deal.

The breakdown of the Triumvirate

Octavian took a new name: Imperator Caesar divi filius.

Pompeius was defeated by Agrippa, fled to the east and was killed.

Octavian took Pompeius’ troops and Lepidus’ troops and took Africa from Lepidus. Lepidus was abandoned by his remaining troops and removed from the Triumvirate. He remained as Pontifex Maximus.

Octavian was granted tribunician sacrosanctity, and a golden statue in the Forum. He conducted successful campaigns in Illyricum in 35 and 34. He had now secured his position in Italy and the west through the defeat of Pompeius, securing the northern frontier and ensuring regular grain supplies.

Antony consolidated his position in the east. He sent the pregnant Octavia to Rome and formalised his relationship with Cleopatra and recognised their children. He unsuccessfully attacked Parthia, but was successful against Armenia in 34. In Alexandria he celebrated a triumph, with Cleopatra, and the eastern provinces were shared between Cleopatra, Ptolemy Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra’s children (“Donations of Alexandria”).

The Triumvirate officially ended in 33. Octavian gave up the title but Antony kept using it.