I dub this invective my Anti-Antony and not my Phillipics for the following reasons:
- Not everyone would get the reference
- It’s a little presumptous
- I Actually think Phillip II of Macedon was pretty awesome
- It’s more in keeping with my pro-Lepidus
- its alliterative!
Friends, Romans, spambots I come to burn Antony not to praise him for the good an overhypped, self-promoting arse did or even didn’t do lives after him, the bad is often interred with his bones………………..
…….So let’s exhume the bastard!
The First part of my deconstruction of this overblown man is basically my answer to a Quora question on the nature of Caesar and Antony’s relationship.
Part one: Caesar and Antony- Not BFFS, not his right hand, not very loyal.
The exact relationship between Antony and Caesar is in part lost to propaganda, hindsight and myth making and at any rate likely changed as all relationships do over time. For instance there was a time after Caesar’s return to Italy from the East where Antony’s mismanagement in his abscence put him in active disfavour, though clearly he is to an extent at least back in the good books by Caesar’s death, what with him being his co-consul. The best way to describe the relationship would be to say that Antony was Caesar’s junior political ally/subordinate and by the time of Caesar’s death ONE of his top lieutenants. The emphasis is key as the relationship between the two men is usually overstated and the case (often taken for granted) for Antony being Caesar’s right hand man rests on precious little, much less the notion that he was Caesar’s top general. Caesar’s top general during the Gallic wars was one Titus Labienus (who fought against Caesar during the coming civil wars) who is one of a number of legates whose independent exploits during the war are recorded, Antony is not one of them. He is never so much as mentioned in the Gallic war commentaries by name and is only present for some of the last few years.
After this he served as one of Caesar’s tribune’s of the plebs, responsible for defending his interests in Rome during the year that civil war broke out (indeed his forced expulsion from Rome was a trigger for said conflict). His prominence in the civil wars is much greater but again not quite what you might expect as while he served as a key subordinate at the important battle of Pharsalus he did not participate in most of Caesar’s campaigns during this period. Instead he was usually either playing a key political/administrative role in Rome as Caesar’s master of the horse (a Dictator’s official second in command) or as previusly mentioned in disfavour. In the year of Caesar’s asasination as previusly mentioned he was Caesar’s co-consul. In short Antony’s role where Caesar is concerned is at least as much political as military and he shows no particular distinction in his military career not matched and frankly often surpassed by other legate’s of Caesar such as Decimus Brutus (not the more famous Marcus Brutus), Trebonius or Vatinius, he was at no point Caesar’s best or top general.
What he was was an ambitous and well connected young man who could speak well and perhaps most importantly came from a highly important family, more so than most of Caesar’s other lieutenants. Regardless even Antony’s political offices, honours and responsibilities were not clearly above those of all his peers. Caesar had rewarded a number of other supporters with the consulship as well and at the time of his death Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (who had also been granted a consulship by Caesar previusly as well as the position of city prefect for a time) was his master of horse, while a number of others had been granted or were about to be granted important governorships. Indeed when Caesar left for war in the east he intended that Dolabella should replace him as Antony’s co-consul someone whose political advancement Antony openly opposed.
The final major problem in popular understanding of the Caesar-Antony relationship is the assumption that Antony was especially loyal to Caesar and set on avenging him. In reality Antony quickly made a peace deal with the conspirators and he and Lepidus dined with leaders of the assasins as a sign of peace and thier actions were quickly pardoned. People frequently make note of the riot during/after Caeasr’s funeral and connect it with Antony whipping the crowd up into a vengeful fury but this seems mainly due to the influence of Shakespearre, particularly considering that Antony cracked down violently on Caesar cult and popular demands for justice/vengeance while taking advantage of his possession of Caesar’s papers to enrich and empower himself. His treatment of Caesar’s heir Octavian after his arrival in Rome, that being refusing to recognise him as Caesar’s heir, show him much respect or release Caesar’s inheritance to him.
Which he instead started spending himself while resisting said Octavius’s campaign against Caesar’s assasins shows very little regard for either the memory or wishes of his old boss. When Antony finally did turn on the assasins it seems to have been primarily or even solely due to political pressure exerted by more loyal or at least more consistent supporters of Caesar whom Antony with a rival for their adherance in Octavian around could no longer afford to furthere alienate, still he wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit like he is in Shakespearre to “cry Havoc and release the dogs of war”.
Even so Antony sheltered some of Caesar’s assasins from Octavian till the very end of his political career and accepted thier supporters such as Ahenobarbus into his inner circle and Plutarch even records that Trebonius approached him to see if he would be interested in joining the conspiracy against Caesar, again according to Plutarch (who it must be stressed was not yet born) he did not join but also did not inform Caesar, this same Trebonius would be the one who spoke to Antony outside the senate so he wasn’t present while Caesar was being murdered. Antony’s actions post Caesar reek of political oppurtunisim not loyalty.
As for Caesar’s opinions of Antony it is a little harder to say as regards his peers in the Roman senate Caesar comes across as cynical and aloof and its easy to come to the conclusion that he was playing Lepidus, Dolabella and Antony off each other to keep each in check and on their toes and there’s the fact that Antony is not mentioned in Caesar’s will unlike a number of other distant relatives and Caesar’s longterm lieutenant (and assasin) Decimus Brutus. While there’s certainly not enough to conclude with any certainty that Caesar did not like Antony there’s not much reason to assume he felt him to be a very close freind.
In summary I suppose I have primarily concerned myeself with what was not the relationship between Antony and Caesar. Antony was not Caesar’s top or best general, he was not his right hand man or best bud or loyalest adherant he was just ONE of his more important lieutenants.
Part the second: Antonius Mediocrator- Antony as general
As previusly mentioned Antony’s military record and accomplishments under Caesar aren’t exactly extensive, prior to this our only record of Antony as an officer is Plutarch’s breif mention of his work as Aulus Gabinius’s cavalry commander during his Egyptian expedition and in this role Plutarch claims Antony distinguished himself though no details are given and it is worth noting that the Egyptian state was in disorder, Antony’s command was not independant and last but not least that Plutarch was writing centuries later about a famous man whose biography he seeked to use to tell a cautionary tale about the moral decline of a great man. Hindsight and the necesary focus early in the life on Antony’s distinctions and admirable qualities would both be served by exaggeration here and elsewhere, simply put if Antony was never a particularly capable soldier the story of his fall lacks weight.
Antony himself would have been keen to reinforce this perception and as one of the most powerful men in the Roman world for many years he had ample motive and opportunity to do so. As for those who think “ah but what about Augustan counter propaganda? wouldn’t his narrative have prevailed?” Well no, probably not. While Augustus doubtless took snipes at Antony’s war record during periods of animosity (obviusly he trashed his conduct at Actium), they were allies for longer than they were enemies and put simply even when they were at loggerheads their were usually more obvious and effective lines of attack than criticising your rivals tactical ability. Especially when in Augustus’s case as has frequently been pointed out your war record isn’t exactly stellar either.
Besides which with the exceptions of his Parthian campaign and Actium criticisim would be largely technical and countering boasting an activity that would likely fail to connect emotionally with the Roman populace and make one come across as petty, spiteful and insecure regardless of its accuracy. Regardless Antony’s record as a general post Caesar isn’t what one would expect of someone frequently thought of as one of Rome’s best generals.
The first major military action undertaken by Antony post Caesar was his beseiging of Decimus brutus at Mutina and fighting two battles with the combined forces of the consuls Pansa, Hirtius and Octavian (with pro-praetorian authority confirmed upon him by a Cicero dominated Senate) who were attempting to relieve Decimus (and succeeded, for all the good it did him…..). The first of these battles was basically a draw, the second a sharp defeat for Antony where he lost much of his army and was forced to retreat from Mutina before he took it. from what we know of them neither engagement showed much in the way of tactical finesse or cunning on the part of either side. The picture of this earliest campaign for Antony is still bleaker however for before He even got to Mutina multiple of his legions had defected to his rival Octavian- the teenage, sickly privatus.
Contrary to popular perceptions of Antony the charismatic but down to earth soldiers general (he was actually Caesar’s adoption aside of a far more aristocratic background than Octavian the son of a new man) always seems to have had more problems with insubordination or downright desertion and defection than the future Augustus. Indeed during the two periods where the two men actively fought each other (Mutina and the final war in which the battle of Actium and invasian of Egypt took place) Antony’s men switched sides by the thousands and on other occaisions where Antony wished to initiate hostilities with Octavian both in Rome shortly after Octavian’s arrival and later following the Perusine war in the Triumviral period his soldiers refused to fight against him. On both occaisions Antony notionally had far more soldiers under his command and thus on paper a very distinct advantage, making these soldiers strike’s strategic victories for his rival.
In short the so-called charismatic soldiers soldier Antony frequently couldn’t control his own men and his knack with soldiers was demonstrably and embarrassingly inferior to the sickly, militarily inexperienced and undistinguished pretty boy Octavian. That would most certainly have ate at him. The next time the forces of Antony and Octavian met in battle was Actium, a famous and crushing defeat for Antony who was comprehensively outmaneauvered in every way experiencing widespread defection and betrayel of both men and officers, having his plans leaked and repeatedly outmanuvered in the field all of which resulted in a defeat that was infamously, even embarrasingly anticlimactic (for both sides, Antony going out like a b*tch isn’t exactly glorious for the future Augustus as he well knew hence his own attempts to somewhat rewrite the encounter ). Antony’s forces simply began to distintegrate. If Antony’s conduct seems mediocre at Mutina at Actium it at least verges on truly inept.
Indeed much of Antony’s reputation as a skilled general can seemingly be traced to the battle/battles (there were two engagements one shortly following the other) of Phillipi alone. A joint victory of the forces of Octavian and Antony over Marcus Brutus and Cassius in which Antony’s forces seemed to have performed the more decisive role. But Phillipi is mostly a slogging match between mainly undistinguished commanders Octavian as previusly mentioned was certainly not a good field commander. Brutus had no impressive victories to his name, Cassius was the only one (other than Antony some might say) with a good military record but he was hardy a genius.
Phillipi seems mainly to have been decided by who had the slightly bigger, more experienced army and some luck as I don’t think any of its commanders had experience commanding so many soldiers. Nevertheless Phillipi is at least comparatively to Antony’s credit but between Phillipi and the Actium campaign all we have from Antony is a few minor kingdoms suppressed through the overwhelming force available to the ruler of half or so of the Roman world for which we have few details and his disastrous Parthian campaign.
In other words a few very easy victories and in the only campaign during this period where defeat was a distinct possibility a costly defeat. Indeed after the death of Caesar and Antony’s emergence as a truly independent general he faced 4 campaigns (Mutina, Phillipi, Parthia, Actium) where military defeat was a serious possibility (5 if you count Octavian’s invasian of Egypt but I’m only counting campaigns where victory was also a distinct possibility, simply put by that point he was just screwed so I’m not going to rake him over the coals over it) which is actually not that many for a late Roman Republican general of Antony’s fame and reputation and the duration of his imperium. Of these he was militarily defeated in all but Phillipi. 2/3 may not be bad as meatloaf doth proclaim but 1/4………well…………
“But Sir what about all your other defeats?”
Antony: *Ahem* “ALL MY LIFE I’VE FEARED DEFEAT……..”
Antonius overhypedicus part the third: He was also a shitty self destructive politician, corrupt, a priviliged little rich boy, oligarchic stooge, tacky and basically a pompous dick……….hopefully coming eventually……….