octavianWhile the US Republican party (who lost the last two elections) seems bent on doing as much damage as they can to the country in a petulant tantrum, and things look bleak, we can at least say things today are better than Rome during the summer of 41 BCE.

That was when Octavian returned to Rome after he and Antony defeated Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins of Caesar. Octavian, only 22 years-old, was nominally in charge of the western empire by his rights of conquest (and the power he commanded by his own personal army). Unfortunately for him, few in the senate took him seriously, and they were eager to block any of his plans, including the legislation he needed to provide land for his veterans.

Octavian decided to force the issue and just had his veterans seize farmland in Italy, displacing farmers who the state refused to reimburse. The veterans also decided to take more than what they were allotted (because they could) and caused further disruption.

The formidable Fulvia, Mark Antony’s wife, was also in town.  She hated Octavian, insisting on making his life difficult by demanding he share all of his duties with Antony’s sons (who were six and four respectively) to avoid causing offense. Antony’s brother Lucius was one of the consuls, and he also blocked Octavian’s agenda, mostly because he missed the Republic and thought the Triumvirate was horrible. Eventually Fulvia and Lucius joined forces and began to champion the dispossessed farmers against Octavian, threatening another civil war. Negotiations broke down so Fulvia and Lucius, the legally elected consul, fled to the town of Praeneste 22 miles away and declared themselves the government in exile, in open revolt against Octavian.

Another civil war began. Lucius and Octavian each began raising troops, sending out recruiters into Italian cities who often came to blows when they showed up at the same place. Again the Italian cities were forced to pick a side, with destruction and ruin assured if they chose the wrong one.  There were riots.

Meanwhile the rest of the western empire devolved into chaos. Sextus Pompey, the last remaining son of Pompey had seized Sicily and was operating as a pirate raiding the Italian coast. Another fleet, commanded by a partisan of the assassins of Caesar who was still around, roamed the waves and attacked the Triumvirate’s navy whenever it could. Troops in Africa, equally divided in loyalty between Octavian and Antony’s family, came to blows under rival commanders. Scores died. The king of Mauretania, a supporter of the Antony family, took advantage of this bedlam in Africa and launched an expedition across the straights of Gibraltar to attack Octavian’s Spain.

Oh, and all during this, the city of Rome suffered widespread famine due to Sextus Pompey’s blockade of Sicily.

Meanwhile, Antony and Cleopatra sailed up and down the Nile, relaxing.

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