The Second Triumvirate to the Principate

44-31 B.C. - The Second Triumvirate to the Principate

Anthony & Cleopatra by Padovanino
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Caesar's assassins may have thought killing the dictator was a recipe for the return of the old Republic, but if so, they were short-sighted. It was a recipe for disorder and violence. If Caesar were posthumously declared a traitor, the laws he had enacted would be annulled. Veterans still waiting for their land grants would be denied. The Senate ratified all Caesar's acts, even ones for the future and declared that Caesar should be buried at public expense.

Unlike some of the Optimates, Caesar had kept the Roman people in mind, and he had developed firm personal friendships with loyal men who served under him. When he was killed, Rome was shaken to its core and sides were drawn up, leading to more civil war and alliances based on marriage and common sympathies. The public funeral inflamed passions and although the Senate had preferred to treat the conspirators with amnesty, the mob set out to burn down the homes of the conspirators.

Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavian Form the Second Triumvirate

Ranged against the assassins, under Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, who had fled to the east, were Caesar's right-hand man, Mark Antony, and Caesar's heir, his great nephew, the young Octavian. Antony married Octavia, Octavian's sister, before having an affair with Caesar's one-time mistress, the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. There was a third man with them, Lepidus, who made the group a triumvirate, the first officially sanctioned one in Rome, but the one we call the second triumvirate. All three men were official consuls and so known as Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae Consulari Potestate.

The troops of Cassius and Brutus met those of Antony and Octavian at Philippi on November 42. Brutus beat Octavian; Antony beat Cassius, who then committed suicide. The triumvirs fought another battle there shortly after and defeated Brutus, who then also committed suicide. The triumvirs partitioned the Roman world -- as the earlier triumvirate had also done -- so that Octavian took Italy and Spain, Antony, the east, and Lepidus, Africa.

The Roman Empire Splits Into Two

Besides the assassins, the triumvirate had the remaining fighting son of Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, to deal with. He posed a threat especially to Octavian because using his fleet, he cut off the grain supply to Italy. An end to the problem was effected by a victory at the naval battle near Naulochus, Sicily. After this, Lepidus tried to add Sicily to his lot, but he was prevented from doing so and lost his power entirely, although allowed to keep his life -- he died in 13 B.C. The two remaining men of the former triumvirate re-divided the Roman world, with Antony taking the East, his co-ruler, the West.

Relations between Octavian and Antony were strained. Octavian's sister was slighted by Mark Antony's preference for the Egyptian queen. Octavian politicized Antony's behavior to make it seem his loyalties lay with Egypt rather than Rome; that Antony had committed treason. Matters between the two men escalated. It culminated in the naval Battle of Actium.

After Actium (ended September 2, 31 B.C.), which Agrippa, Octavian's right-hand man, won, and after which Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, Octavian no longer had to share power with any individual.

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Gill, N.S. "The Second Triumvirate to the Principate." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). The Second Triumvirate to the Principate. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Second Triumvirate to the Principate." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).