Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XII.: Observations on the State of Rome after the Death of Cæsar. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
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CHAP. XII.: Observations on the State of Rome after the Death of Cæsar. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters) 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 3.
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Observations on the State of Rome after the Death of Cæsar.
SO impossible was it for the republic to accomplish its re-establishment, that a conjuncture then happened which was never known before; there was no longer any tyrant, and yet liberty was extinguished; for the causes which had contributed to its destruction, still subsisted to prevent its revival.
The Assassins had only formed the plan of a conspiracy, but had not taken any measures to render it effectual in the event.
When they had struck the blow, they all retired to the capital; the senate sorbore to assemble, and, the next day, Lepidus, who was fond of commotions, took possession of the Forum, with a band of soldiers at his devotion.
The veteran troops, who were apprehensive that the immense donations they had received would be no longer repeated, had marched into Rome: this proceeding compelled the senate to approve all the acts of Cæsar, and then, by a faculty of reconciling extremes, they granted a general amnesty to the conspirators, which produced a false appearance of peace.
Cæsar, a little before his death, whilst he was preparing for his expedition against the Parthians, had appointed magistrates for several years, that he might secure himself a set of men who, in his absence, would maintain the tranquility of his government; so that, after his death, the party who had espoused his interest, were in a condition to support themselves for a considerable time.
As the senate had ratified all the acts of Cæsar without any restriction, and as the consuls were intrusted with the execution of them, Antony, who was then one of those magistrates, got possession of Cæsar’s book of accounts, gained upon his secretary, and made him insert, in that book; all the articles he thought proper, by which means the dictator reigned more imperiously than when he was living; for what he could never have accomplished, Antony had the dexterity to effect; great sums of money, which Cæsar would never have bestowed, were distributed among the people by Antony, and every man who had any seditious designs against the government, was sure to find a sudden gratuity in Cæsar’s books.
It unfortunately happened that Cæsar to make his expedition effectual, had amassed prodigious sums, and deposited them in the temple of Ops; Antony disposed of these as he thought fit, by the expedient of his book.
The conspirators had, at first, determined to cast the body of Cæsar into the Tyber * , and might have executed that design without any interruption; for in those seasons of astonishment which succeed unexpected events, every intention becomes practicable: this however did not take effect, and we shall now relate what happened on that occasion.
The senate thought themselves under a necessity of permitting Cæsar’s funeral obsequies to be performed; and indeed they could not decently forbid them, as they had never declared him a tyrant. Now the Romans, in conformity to a custom established among them, and much boasted of by Polybius, always carried, in their funeral processions, the images which represented the ancestors of the deceased, and made an oration over the body. Antony, who charged himself with this last province, unfolded the bloody robe of Cæsar to the view of all the people, read to them the particulars of his will, in which he had left them extraordinary legacies, and then wrought them into such violent emotions, that they immediately fired the houses of the conspirators.
Cicero, who governed the senate in this whole affair * , makes no scruple to acknowledge that it would have been much better to have proceeded with vigour, and even to have exposed themselves to destruction, though indeed it was not probable that such a fate would have attended them; but he alledges for his excuse, that as the senate was then assembled, they had no opportunity in their favour; and he adds, that those who are sensible of the importance even of a moment, in affairs wherein the people have so considerable a part, will not be surprized at his conduct in that transaction.
Another accident happened at this time: when the people were celebrating funeral games in honour of Cæsar, a comet, with long flaming hair, appeaed for the space of seven days, which made them believe the soul of Cæsar was received into heaven.
It was very customary for the people of Greece and Asia, to erect temples † to the kings, and even the proconsuls who had governed them; and they were indulged in this practice, because it was the greatest evidence they could possibly give of their abject servitude. Nay the Romans themselves might, in their private temples, where their lares were deposited, render divine honours to their ancestors; but I cannot remember, that from the time of Romulus to Julius Cæsar, any Roman ‡ was ever ranked among the gods of the republic.
The government of Macedonia was assigned to Antony, but he was desirous of changing it for that of Gaul, and the motives which so induced him are very evident: Decimus Brutus, who governed Cisalpine Gaul, having refused to resign that province to Antony, he was resolved to deprive him of it by force. This produced a civil war, in which the senate declared Antony an enemy to his country.
Cicero, to accomplish the destruction of Antony his mortal enemy, was so injudicious as to employ all his interest for the promotion of Octavius, and instead of defacing the idea of one Cæsar in the minds of the people, he placed two before their eyes.
Octavius, in his conduct to Cicero, acted like a man who knew the world; he flattered, he praised, he consulted him, and employed every engaging artifice, which vanity never distrusts.
Great affairs are frequently disconcerted, because those who undertake them seldom confine their expectations to the principal event, but look after some little particular success which soothes the indulgent opinion they entertain of themselves.
I am inclined to think, that, if Cato had reserved himself for the republic, he would have given a very different turn to affairs. Cicero had extraordinary abilities for the second class, but was incapable of the first. His genius was fine, but his soul seldom soared above the vulgar. His characteristic was virtue; that of Cato Glory * . Cicero always beheld himself in the first rank; Cato never allowed his merit a place in his remembrance. This man would have preserved the republic for his own sake; the other that he might have boasted of the action.
I might carry on the parallel by adding, that when Cato foresaw, Cicero was intimidated; and when the former hoped, the latter was confident: Cato beheld things through a serene medium; Cicero viewed them through a glare of little passions.
Antony was defeated at Modena, where the two consuls, Hirtius and Pansa, lost their lives: The senate, who thought themselves superior to their tumultuous affairs, began to think of humbling Octavius, who now ceased hostilities against Antony, marched his army to Rome, and caused himself to be declared consul.
In this manner did Cicero, who boasted that his robe had crushed the arms of Antony, introduce an enemy into the republic, the more formidable, because his name was much dearer to the people, and his pretensions, to all appearance, better founded * .
Antony, after his overthrow, retired into Transalpine Gaul, where he was received by Lepidus. These two men entered into an association with Octavius, and gave up to each other the lives of their friends and their enemies † . Lepidus continued at Rome, whilst the other two went in quest of Brutus and Cassius, and found them in those parts where the empire of the world was thrice contended for in battle.
Brutus and Cassius killed themselves with a precipitation not to be vindicated; and it is impossible to read this period of their lives, without pitying the republic which was so abandoned. Cato closed the tragedy with his own murder; and these, in some measure, opened it with theirs.
Several reasons may be assigned for this custom of self-destruction, which so generally prevailed among the Romans; the progress of Stoicism which encouraged it; the establishment of triumphs and slavery, which induced several great men to believe they ought not to survive a deseat; the advantages accruing to the accused, who put an end to life rather than submit to a tribunal, which condemned their memory to infamy ‡ , and their goods to confiscation; a point of honour, more rational perhaps, than that which now prompts us to stab our friend for a gesture or an expression; in a word, the convenience * of heroism, which gave every one the liberty of finishing his part on the stage of the world, in what scene he pleased.
We might add, the great facility of putting such a principle in execution: the soul all attentive to the action she is preparing to commit, to the motives which determine her resolution, to the dangers she avoids by it, does not properly behold death, because passion makes itself felt, but always blinds the eyes.
Self-love, and a fondness for our preservation, changes itself into so many shapes, and acts by such contrary principles, that it leads us to sacrifice our existence for the very sake of existence; and such is the estimate we make of ourselves, that we consent to die by a natural and obscure sort of instinct, which makes us love ourselves even more than our lives.
It is certain that we are become less free, less courageous, and less capable of grand enterprizes than they were formerly, by this love of ourselves.
[* ]That action would not have been unprecedented; for when Tiberius Gracehus was slain, Lucretius the edile, who was afterwards called Vesallo, threw his body into the Tyber. Aurel, Victor, de viris illust.
[* ]Letters to Atticus, lib. xiv. c. 6.
[† ]See more on this subject, in the letters of Cicero to Atticus, lib. v. and the remark of the abbé de Mongaut.
[‡ ]Dion. relates that the triumviri, who all expected the same deisication, took all imaginable care to enlarge the honours paid to Cæsar.
[* ]Esse quam videri bonus malebat : iatque quo minus gloriam petebat [Editor: illegible word] magis illam assequebatur. Sallust. bell. Catil.
[* ]He was Cæsar’s heir, and his son by adoption.
[† ]So inveterate was their cruelty, that they commanded every individual among the people to rejoice at the proscriptions on pain of death. Dion.
[‡ ]Eorum qui de se statuebant humebantur corpora, manebant testamenta; pretium festinandi. Tacit. An. vi.
[* ]If Charles I. and James II. had been educated in a religion which would have permitted them to destroy themselves, the one would not have submitted to such a death, nor the other to such a life.