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Provincial Commanders in the Sphere of Antonius the Triumvir: the Negotiation of Relationships

Hannah Mitchell

Teaching Fellow, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick

This paper examines the political relationships between the Triumvir M. Antonius and the individual commanders who administered the eastern half of the empire in the years 41-32 BCE. The establishment of the Triumvirate created a new situation in terms of the jurisdiction of the provincial commanders vis-à-vis the Triumvirs. Negotiating this new legal situation also had the potential to be politically difficult for those involved.  

Cassius Dio provides compelling evidence for tensions between the Triumvir Antonius and his provincial commanders. He wrote that military progress stalled in Syria in the year 37 because the commander C. Sosius did not want to do anything that might advance Antonius’ interests rather than his own (49.23.1-2). Dio envisaged a situation in which what Antonius wanted and what the provincial commanders wanted were at odds; military glory was limited, and the provincial commanders felt that they were competing with Antonius to secure it. Yet, in doing so, they risked arousing Antonius’ ‘jealousy’ (φθόνος). Dio’s most detailed treatment of the issue concerns the career of P. Ventidius. He narrates Ventidius’ stunning successes against the Parthians in detail and dwells on Antonius’ clumsy handling of his relationship with him. Antonius reluctantly allowed Ventidius to return to Rome to celebrate his triumph, but made it clear that Ventidius would not be able to hold any further commands.

This evidence prompts us to investigate the interpersonal relationships of these individuals and the dynamism inherent within them, rather than using categorising labels such as ‘Antonian’. This approach is a deliberate departure from scholarly work concentrating on the composition of a ‘faction’ surrounding Antonius, represented most recently by Ferriès (2007), whose monograph largely follows the methodology of the fundamental work of Syme (1939).

The first step is to clarify the legal relationship between Antonius and the provincial commanders, and particularly their entitlement to military honours. I follow Vervaet’s reconstruction (2014) that these individuals were proconsuls with independent imperium and had the right to triumph, while the Triumvir in question was also entitled to triumph for a victory in his half of the empire. I then apply this to the situation of Ventidius’ successful campaign against the Parthians. According to Vervaet, precedence in celebrating a triumph should have gone to the overarching commander. Thus, Ventidius may have argued with Antonius over the issue of being allowed to triumph first, as Antonius was preparing for a long eastern campaign and was unlikely to return to Rome in the near future.

Having clarified the legal situation, I examine the political importance of these individuals’ relationships. I demonstrate that Cassius Dio juxtaposes Antonius’ strained relations with his provincial commanders with the good working relationship the young Caesar had with his commanders, such as M. Agrippa. The contrast is made in order to highlight the character of each Triumvir and to explain the outcome of the civil war between them. Yet the discussion of the relationships between the Triumvirs and other commanders is not confined to Dio’s text, but also appears as a theme in the work of Plutarch and Josephus. This shows us that there was a broad interest in these issues, which, I argue, goes back to a contemporary political debate. 

This paper contends that the issue of how the Triumvirs related to the provincial commanders is a prevalent theme in our sources because it was of vital importance to a range of groups at the time. The proconsuls themselves did not want to be inhibited in advancing their own careers and attaining military glory. The wider Roman elite were watching carefully to see with whom they could best conduct government in a post-civil war world. The soldiers who fought under the proconsuls also wanted to have their commanders honoured and their own successes given proper recognition. Thus understanding the relationship dynamics between Triumvirs and provincial commanders reveals significant developments in contemporary politics and the governance of the Roman Empire. 

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New Directions in the Late Republican Roman Empire

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