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Question

I had always been told that he was, and Plutarch's Life of Antony certainly seems to imply as much. But I just read a passage in Adrian Goldsworthy's book, Caesar's Civil War 49-44 BC, claiming that while Caesar learned that Antony had fled Rome before his fateful crossing, the man himself only joined Caesar the next day in Ariminum.

I realize the distinction of a day is a pretty minor, but I'd still really like to know which version is the accepted one. Thanks for your time.


Relevant Excerpts:

"Curio’s term as tribune expired later in the month, but another of Caesar’s supporters, Mark Antony, had been elected to the office and continued his work. [...] On 7 January 49 [...] Caesar’s supporters among the tribunes felt threatened with physical assault if they remained in the city. [...] The news reached Caesar at Ravenna on 10 January. [...] Caesar crossed the Rubicon, uttering the famous line ‘the die is cast’ [...] Caesar and his men occupied Ariminum without a fight and were soon joined by the tribunes."

- Goldsworthy, Caesar's Civil War 49-44 BC.

"[...] Antony himself was commanded to leave the senate by the consul Lentulus. So, leaving them with execrations, and disguising himself in a servant's dress, hiring a carriage with Quintus Cassius, he went straight away to Caesar, declaring at once, when they reached the camp, that affairs at Rome were conducted without any order or justice, that the privilege of speaking in the senate was denied the tribunes, and that he who spoke for common fair dealing was driven out and in danger of his life. Upon this, Caesar set his army in motion, and marched into Italy [...]"

- Plutarch, Life of Antony.

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    Adding some of the quotes from Plutarch and Goldsworthy would be helpful. – Spencer May 18 '17 at 17:20
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    @Spencer: Sure, no problem. – Era May 18 '17 at 18:08
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This is an interesting question, and one which I have heard debated by Roman historians/archaeologists more than once.

You are right that in his Life of Marc Antony, Plutarch says:

Antony himself was commanded to leave the senate by the consul Lentulus. So, leaving them with execrations, and disguising himself in a servant's dress, hiring a carriage with Quintus Cassius, he went straight away to Caesar, declaring at once, when they reached the camp, that affairs at Rome were conducted without any order or justice, that the privilege of speaking in the senate was denied the tribunes, and that he who spoke for common fair dealing was driven out and in danger of his life. Upon this, Caesar set his army in motion, and marched into Italy

and further suggests that:

Antony and Cassius [sought] refuge in his camp, meanly dressed and in a hired carriage.

But he was basing this on reports that he received in Greece. Crucially, he was not present in person. Interestingly, Plutarch does not even mention Marc Antony in the context of the crossing of the Rubicon in his Life of Julius Caesar.

Caesar himself states in Chapter 8 of his Civil Wars that he met the Tribunes [Marc Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus] in Ariminum (although we should always remember that Caesar was a politician in ancient Rome. He wasn't really writing a 'history' as we would understand it, but a version of events that would justify his subsequent actions. Political 'spin' is not a modern invention!). In this case, I assume that Adrian Goldsworthy is just accepting Caesar's version at face value, in preference to that of Plutarch.

What we know for certain is that Marc Antony was a Tribune in Rome. He was "violently expelled from the Senate" together with the Tribune Quintus Cassius Longinus at some point before 7 January 49BC and fled the city. Here, the sources agree in saying that he feared for his life, left the city in disguise and headed north to join Caesar.

Caesar crossed the Rubicon on 10 January. Plutarch states that he captured Ariminum before daybreak on the following day. Given good travelling conditions, Antony would certainly have had time to join Caesar at his camp before he crossed. However, if we make allowance for the weather (it was January) it is actually just as likely that he arrived shortly afterwards and joined Caesar with Longinus at Ariminum as Caesar and Adrian Goldsworthy state.

As far as I know, neither version is considered definitive by historians or archaeologists. At this distance, a difference of 12 hours or so is likely to be impossible to prove either way.

  • I'd like to find out how Goldsworthy came to that conclusion. – D. M. Morgan May 19 '17 at 6:37
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    @DM.J.Morgan I've added a section about Caesar's Civil Wars which (I suspect) is what Goldsworthy is using as his source. – sempaiscuba May 22 '17 at 0:22
  • I'd like to think Caesar is a more authoritative source than Plutarch on this occasion considering he was there! Nice answer. – D. M. Morgan May 22 '17 at 6:00
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I've been wondering whether to expand on why neither of the versions is entirely accepted. I've decided to add this as a separate answer so as to avoid creating any further confusion in my answer above. This is, perhaps, even more appropriate as what follows is really little more than a footnote, to a footnote to history.

The differences between the texts of Cicero and Plutarch, and those of Caesar (and hence Adrian Goldsworthy) might appear to be minor to us today, but at the time the implications of those differences were not at all insignificant. Indeed, that subtle difference was a key element in a campaign to undermine the reputations of both Mark Antony and Caesar himself.


We know from Suetonius that there had long been a claim that Julius Caesar had been King Nicomedes's catamite when was a boy. According to Suetonius, this charge was:

"... always a dark stain on his reputation and frequently quoted by his enemies."

Similar claims were made about Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. Cicero (in Philippics, 2.44) famously went so far as to say of Mark Antony:

"You assumed the manly gown, which you soon made a womanly one: at first a public prostitute, with a regular price for your wickedness, and that not a low one."

[To be fair, we should remember that it seems that accusations of this type were thrown around quite liberally in Roman political circles, often without any evidence whatsoever. Mark Antony himself would later accuse Octavian of having been Caesar's catamite, and suggest that he had "earned his adoption by "unnatural relations".]


Now we come to the crunch. In his Phillipics, Cicero claims that "Antony was as much the cause of the civil war, as Helen was of the Trojan". The implication is clear, and it was an attack on both Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. Plutarch repeats Cicero's statement in his Life of Antony:

"... Upon this, Caesar set his army in motion, and marched into Italy; and for this reason it is that Cicero writes in his Philippics, that Antony was as much the cause of the civil war, as Helen was of the Trojan."

but then goes on to dismiss it:

"But this is but a calumny. For Caesar was not of so slight or weak a temper as to suffer himself to be carried away, by the indignation of the moment, into a civil war with his country, upon the sight of Antony and Cassius seeking refuge in his camp, meanly dressed and in a hired carriage, without ever having thought of it or taken any such resolution long before."

Although, as stated in the question (and discussed in my answer above), Plutarch still maintained that the Tribunes Mark Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus joined Caesar before he crossed the Rubicon.

Now Cicero was an enemy of Mark Antony (and of Caesar), but if he hoped his barbs would strike home, rumours of that sort would have had to already be current in Rome. The fact that Plutarch, writing a hundred years later, felt he had to counter Cicero's claim supports that idea.

It therefore makes sense that when Caesar came to write his Civil Wars he would say that he met the Tribunes in Ariminum, whether or not he had already met them before he crossed the Rubicon. This neatly avoids any suggestion that his decision to bring his legion to Rome was provoked by the Senate's treatment of Mark Antony, or speculation about their relationship. Adrian Goldsworthy accepts Caesar's version (and so neatly also avoids the distraction I have described at length here).


So what is the truth?

Simply put, the answer is that we do not, and cannot, know. Certainly, relationships between older men and young boys were not unusual in ancient Rome, but we simply cannot know whether any of the claims made about specific individuals here were true or merely libels by their enemies (and they all had more than their fair share of enemies!). Did Mark Antony join Caesar before or after he crossed the Rubicon? Again, we do not know. As I discussed in my answer above, both alternatives are possible.

The best that we can hope to do with the surviving records is to acknowledge that there are discrepancies between the different versions, and try to understand the possible motives of the men who were writing the texts. And perhaps, in doing so, we can also recognise that not all the battles of Rome's civil wars were fought with swords and pila on distant battlefields. Some were fought with barbed words in the very heart of Rome itself.

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    This is extremely interesting, and I had no idea the answer to my question would end up having layers I hadn't even considered. Thanks for taking the time to get in depth with it. – Era May 23 '17 at 1:41
  • +1 for the detail. Very good addition to your answer which highlights the complexities of attempting to answer these questions. – D. M. Morgan Jun 25 '17 at 9:45

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