Sunday, August 15, 2021

Intellectuals, Tyrants, and Warlords of Rome

When Cicero accused Mark Antony and Octavian Caesar of destroying Roman freedoms, Octavian was outraged. In 43 BC, Octavian had Cicero executed. To remind the Romans of the exact nature of the crime that Cicero had committed, he had Cicero’s hands chopped off and nailed to the Senate door, so that the senators and the masses could see the fate of the hands that had dared to pen a diatribe against Antony.

Octavian was trying to portray himself as a defender of Antony—that is why he claimed that he had Cicero executed for the crime of tarnishing Antony’s reputation and not his own. The execution of Cicero and other outspoken Roman intellectuals can be seen as the political fallout of the divide that had developed between the intellectuals and the politicians of the Roman Republic. This divide was one of the causes of the fall of the Roman Republic.

In 44 BC, Octavian, Antony, and Marcus Lepidus had formed a Second Triumvirate to defeat the army led by the assassins of Caesar. This Triumvirate had a lifespan of five years. In 37 BC, under the treaty of Tarentum, the Triumvirate was extended by another five years. But due to the competing ambitions of the three members, the Triumvirate was torn apart in 36 BC, when Lepidus was stripped of his powers and exiled.

Octavian and Antony became bitter enemies. At the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian defeated the combined military of Antony and Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian became the first Roman Emperor and he turned Rome into an Empire.

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