2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Rise of Antony and Octavius, I.Civil War between Antony and Octavius, II.Review of the Period of the Civil Wars, III.


   Rome after the Death of Caesar.—The men who murdered Caesar considered themselves as “liberators” of the republic. Whatever may have been their motives, they seem to have taken little thought as to how Rome would be governed after they had killed their tyrant. If they thought that the senate would take up the powers it had lost, and successfully rule the republic, they were grievously mistaken. The only leading man of the senate who had survived the last civil war was Cicero; but Cicero with all his learning and eloquence could not take the place of Caesar. What Rome needed was what the liberators had taken from her, a master mind of broad views and of great executive power. We need not be surprised that the death of Caesar was followed by confusion and dismay. No one knew which way to look or what to expect. Soon there appeared new actors upon the scene, men struggling for the supreme power in the state—M. Antonius (Antony), the friend of Caesar and his fellow-consul; C. Octavius, his adopted son and heir; M. Aemilius Lepidus,1 his master of horse; Sextus Pompeius, his previous enemy and the son of his greatest rival; while Cicero still raised his voice in defense of what he regarded as his country’s freedom.

   The Supremacy of Antony.—The first to take advantage of the confusion which followed Caesar’s death was Marcus Antonius. With the aid of Lepidus he got possession of Caesar’s will and other papers, and seized his treasury. He influenced the senate to confirm all of Caesar’s acts, and obtained permission to speak at his public funeral. He made a strong appeal to the populace to avenge the death of their great friend; and read the will of Caesar, which left his palace and gardens to the people, and a legacy to every citizen. Excited to fury by the eloquence of Antony, the people seized firebrands from the burning funeral pile, and rushed through the streets swearing vengeance to the so-called liberators. The liberators were obliged to flee from the city; and Antony was for the time supreme. As the senate had confirmed Caesar’s acts, and as Antony had Caesar’s papers, which were supposed to contain these acts, he assumed the role of Caesar’s executor and did what he pleased. The chief liberators hastened to the provinces to which they had previously been assigned by Caesar—Cassius to Syria, Marcus Brutus to Macedonia, and Decimus Brutus to Cisalpine Gaul.

   The Rise of Octavius.—Antony’s dream of power was soon disturbed by the appearance of the young Octavius, Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son. Although a young man—only nineteen—he was a born politician, and soon became Antony’s greatest rival. He assumed his adopted name, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and claimed his inheritance and the treasures which had fallen into Antony’s hands. But Antony said that these were public moneys, and that they had been spent in the interests of the Roman state.

   Octavius (as we shall continue to call him) now for the first time showed that adroit skill for which he was always distinguished. Antony had raised the false hopes of the people by reading Caesar’s will, which promised a legacy to every citizen. The people had heard the will; but they had not yet received the promised legacies. To humiliate Antony and to insure his own popularity, the young Octavius sold his own estates, borrowed money of his friends, and paid the legacies which Caesar had promised to the people. By this act Octavius displaced Antony as the people’s friend. The young heir grew so rapidly in popular favor that his influence was sought both by Cicero, who represented the senate, and by Antony, who represented himself.

   Cicero’s Attack upon Antony.—Cicero thought that everything should be done to weaken the power of Antony, and to prevent any possible coalition between him and the young Octavius. The hostility between Cicero and Antony grew to be bitter and relentless; and they were pitted against each other on the floor of the senate. But in a war of words Antony was no match for Cicero. By a series of famous speeches known as the “Philippics,” the popularity of Antony was crushed; and he retired from Rome to seek for victory upon other fields. He claimed Cisalpine Gaul as his province. But this province was still held by Decimus Brutus, one of the liberators to whom the senate looked for military support.

   When Antony attempted to gain possession of this territory, Cicero thought he saw an opportunity to use Octavius in the interests of the senate. Accordingly Antony was declared a public enemy; Octavius was made a senator with the rank of a consul, and was authorized to conduct the war against Antony. In this war—the so-called war of Mutina (B.C. 44-43)—Octavius was successful. As a reward for his victory he demanded of the senate that he receive a triumph and the consulship. Cicero had intended Decimus Brutus for this office, and the request of Octavius was refused. But the young heir, then twenty years of age, following the example of Caesar, enforced his claims with the sword; he took possession of the city, and obtained his election to the consulship. Octavius thus became the ruling man in Rome.

   The Second Triumvirate—Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus (B.C. 43).—Cicero’s attempt to defeat Antony by the aid of Octavius was not a successful piece of diplomacy. It resulted not only in alienating the young heir; but worse than that, it brought about the very coalition which Cicero was trying to prevent. Octavius had broken with the senate, and had obtained a complete victory. But he was not yet ready to break with Antony, who was supported by Lepidus, especially as the two chief liberators, Brutus and Cassius, were still in control of the eastern provinces. If he had had the military genius of Caesar, he might have destroyed all their armies in detail. But the young Octavius was not inclined to overrate his military abilities. He saw that it would be for his interest to make friends with Antony and Lepidus. A coalition was therefore formed between the three leaders, usually called the “second triumvirate.” They agreed to divide the western provinces among themselves, and then to make a new division after they had driven Brutus and Cassius from the eastern provinces.

   The Proscriptions; Murder of Cicero.—No government could be more despotic than that of the three masters who now governed Rome. They assumed the consular power for five years, with the right of appointing all magistrates. Their decrees were to have the force of law without the sanction of either the senate or the people. It is to the eternal disgrace of these men who professed to espouse the cause of Caesar, that they abandoned the humane policy of their great exemplar, and turned to the infamous policy of Marius and Sulla. Antony especially desired a proscription, as he was surrounded by thousands of personal enemies, chief among whom was Cicero, the author of the “Philippics.” Octavius was reconciled to the horrible work as a matter of policy; and Lepidus acquiesced in it as a matter of indifference. It is said that three hundred senators and two thousand equites were outlawed, and their property confiscated. The triumvirs justified their atrocious acts as a retaliation for the murder of Caesar. Many of the proscribed escaped from Italy and found a refuge with Brutus and Cassius in the East. But a large number of persons were slain.

   The world will always feel a painful interest in these black days, because it was then that Cicero lost his life. When the old man was warned of his danger, and urged to flee, he replied, “Let me die in my fatherland which I have so often saved.” He was slain, and his head was sent to Antony, whose wife, Fulvia, is said to have pierced the lifeless tongue with a needle, in revenge for the words it had uttered against her husband. Thus perished the greatest orator of Rome. Cicero has been accused of timidity; but he remained at his post, the last defender of the republic. He has been charged with vacillation; but he lived in days when no man knew which way to turn for help. He failed as a politician, because he continually bungled in the fine arts of intrigue. He failed as a statesman, because he persisted in defending a lost cause. He appealed to reason, when the highest arbiter was the sword. But with all his faults, Cicero was, next to Cato, the most upright man of his time; and his influence has been, next to that of Caesar, the most enduring. To practical politics he contributed little; but his numerous writings have exercised a wonderful influence in the intellectual and moral education of the world.

   War against the Liberators; Battle of Philippi (B.C. 42).—Having murdered their enemies at home, the triumvirs were now prepared to crush their enemies abroad. There were three of these enemies whom they were obliged to meet—Brutus and Cassius, who had united their forces in the East; and Sextus Pompeius, who had got possession of the island of Sicily, and had under his command a powerful fleet. While Lepidus remained at Rome, Antony and Octavius invaded Greece with an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men. Against them the two liberators, Brutus and Cassius, collected an army of eighty thousand men. The hostile forces met near Philippi (B.C. 42), a town in Macedonia on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea (see map, p. 128). Octavius was opposed to Brutus, and Antony to Cassius. Octavius was driven back by Brutus, while Antony, more fortunate, drove back the wing commanded by Cassius. As Cassius saw his flying legions, he thought that all was lost, and stabbed himself with the same dagger, it is said, with which he struck Caesar. This left Brutus in sole command of the opposing army; but he also was defeated in a second battle, and, following the example of Cassius, committed suicide. The double battle at Philippi decided the fate of the republic. As Cicero was its last political champion, Brutus and Cassius were its last military defenders; and with their death we may say that the republic was at an end.


   New Division of the Provinces.—With the republic overthrown, it now remained to be seen who should be the master of the new empire, Antony or Octavius. Lepidus, although ambitious, was too weak and vacillating to be dangerous. The triumvirs were growing to be envious of each other; but they contrived to smother their jealousy, and made a new division of the empire. Antony was now to have the East, and Octavius the West. It was a question what to do with Lepidus, as he was accused of giving aid to the only remaining enemy of the triumvirs, that is, Sextus Pompeius. If he could prove himself innocent of the charge, he was to be given the small province of Africa. The real work of the triumvirate was to be done by Antony and Octavius. Antony was to take control of the eastern provinces, and to push the Roman conquests if possible into Parthia. Octavius was to preserve the peace of Italy and the western provinces, and to destroy the fleet of Sextus Pompeius, which was seriously interfering with Roman commerce

   Octavius in the West.—Octavius proceeded to secure his position in the West by means of force and craft. He first put down an insurrection incited by the partisans of Antony. The young conqueror won the affections of the people, and tried to show them that peace and prosperity could come only through his influence. The next thing was to dispose of Sextus Pompeius and his hostile fleet. With the help of his friend and able general, Agrippa, and with the aid of a hundred ships lent him by Antony, Octavius destroyed the forces of Pompeius. The defeated general fled to the East, and was killed by the soldiers of Antony.

   Octavius was then called upon to deal with a treacherous friend. This was the weak and ambitious Lepidus, who with twenty legions thought that he could defeat Octavius and become the chief man of Rome. But Octavius did not think the emergency grave enough to declare war. He defeated Lepidus without a battle. Unarmed and almost unattended he entered his rival’s camp, and made an eloquent appeal to the soldiers. The whole army of Lepidus deserted to Octavius. Lepidus was deposed from his position as triumvir, but was generously allowed to retain the office of pontifex maximus on condition of remaining quiet. By the use of force and diplomacy Octavius thus baffled all his foes in the West, and he and Antony were now the undisputed rulers of the Roman world.

   Antony in the East.—While everything in the West was turning in favor of Octavius, all things in the East were also contributing to his success. But this was due not so much to his own skill as to the weakness and folly of Antony. Octavius had tried to cement the league of the triumvirs by giving his sister Octavia to Antony in marriage. But Antony Soon grew tired of Octavia, and became fascinated by Cleopatra, the “Serpent of the Nile.” His time was divided between campaigns in Parthia and dissipations in Egypt. His Parthian wars turned out to be failures; and his Egyptian entanglements resulted in his ruin. He aspired to the position of an Oriental monarch. He divided the Roman provinces with Cleopatra, who was called “the queen of kings.” The Roman people were shocked when he desired his disgraceful acts to be confirmed by the senate. They could not help contrasting this weak and infatuated slave of Cleopatra with their own Octavius, the strong and prudent governor of the West. While Octavius was growing in popularity, Antony was thus becoming more and more an object of detestation.

   Rupture between Antony and Octavius.—The strong feeling at Rome against Antony, Octavius was able to use to his own advantage. But he wished it to appear that he was following, and not directing, the will of the people. He therefore made no attempt to force an issue with Antony, but bided his time. The people suspected Antony of treasonable designs, as they saw his military preparations, which might be used to enthrone himself as king of the East, or to install Cleopatra as queen of Rome.

   All doubt as to Antony’s real character and purpose was settled when his will was found and published. In it he had made the sons of Cleopatra his heirs, and ordered his own body to be buried at Alexandria beside that of the Egyptian queen. This was looked upon as an insult to the majesty of Rome. The citizens were aroused. They demanded that war be declared against the hated triumvir. Octavius suggested that it would be more wise to declare war against Cleopatra than against Antony and the deluded citizens who had espoused his cause. Thus what was really a civil war between Octavius and Antony assumed the appearance of a foreign war between Rome and Egypt. But Antony well understood against whom the war was directed; and he replied by publicly divorcing Octavia, and accepting his real position as the public enemy of Rome.

   Defeat of Antony; Battle of Actium (B.C. 31).—When war was declared, Antony and Cleopatra united their forces against Rome. Antony gathered together an immense army of eighty thousand men, and occupied the western coasts of Greece, where he could either threaten Italy or resist the approach of Octavius. His main army was posted at Actium (see map, p. 128), south of the strait leading into the Gulf of Ambracia. His fleet of five hundred heavy ships was for the most part moored within the gulf. Octavius, with the aid of his trusted general Agrippa, succeeded in transporting an army of fifty thousand men to the coast of Epirus, and took up a position north of the strait and opposite the land forces of Antony. His fleet of two hundred and fifty light galleys was stationed outside of the strait to await the approach of the enemy’s vessels. Antony, on the advice of his ablest officers, desired that the battle should be waged with the land forces. But Cleopatra, proud of her navy, insisted that it should be fought on the sea. The contest was therefore decided by a naval battle. As the fleet of Antony emerged from the strait, it was immediately attacked by Octavius and Agrippa. But scarcely had the battle begun when Cleopatra with her squadron withdrew from the line, and was quickly followed by Antony. Their sailors fought on until their fleet was destroyed. The battle at Actium closed the political career of Antony, and left Octavius the sole master of the Roman world. The date of this battle may be taken to mark the beginning of the empire.

   The Triumph of Octavius.—Before returning to Rome Octavius restored order to the eastern provinces, and followed the fugitives to Egypt. The arts by which Cleopatra had fascinated Caesar and enslaved Antony, she tried to use upon her new Roman guest. But Octavius did not fall into the tempter’s snare. The Egyptian queen found in the Roman sovereign a nature as crafty as her own. Octavius kept his thoughts upon the prosperity and honor of Rome, and no allurements could draw him away from his high mission. Antony, defeated and ruined, committed suicide; and Cleopatra followed his example rather than be led a captive in a Roman triumph. Together this wretched pair were laid in the mausoleum of the Ptolemies. Egypt was annexed as a province of the new empire (B.C. 30). Octavius returned to Rome (B.C. 29), where he was given the honors of a triple triumph—for Dalmatia (where he had gained some previous victories), for Actium, and for Egypt. The temple of Janus was now closed for the first time since the second Punic war; and the Romans, tired of war and of civil strife, looked upon the triumph of Octavius as the dawn of a new era of peace and prosperity.


   Progress of Rome.—As we look back over the period which we have just completed, we may ask the question whether Rome had made any progress since the days of her great conquests. More than a hundred years had passed away since the beginning of the commotions under the Gracchi. During this time we have seen the long conflict between the senate and the people; we have seen the republic gradually declining and giving way to the empire. But we must not suppose that the fall of the republic was the fall of Rome. The so-called republic of Rome was a government neither by the people nor for the people. It had become the government of a selfish aristocracy, ruling for its own interests. Whether the new empire which was now established was better than the old republic which had fallen, remains to be seen. But there are many things in which we can see that Rome was making some real progress.

   Appearance of Great Men.—The first thing that we notice is the fad that during this period of conflict Rome produced some of the greatest men of her history. It is in the times of stress and storm that great men are brought to the front; and it was the fierce struggles of this period which developed some of the foremost men of the ancient world—men like the two Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Cato, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. Whatever we may think of their opinions, of the methods which they used, or of the results which they accomplished, we cannot regard them as ordinary men.

   Extension of the Franchise.—Another evidence of the progress of Rome was the extension of the rights of citizenship, and the bringing into the state of many who had hitherto been excluded. At the beginning of this period only the inhabitants of a comparatively small part of the Italian peninsula were citizens of Rome. The franchise was restricted chiefly to those who dwelt upon the lands in the vicinity of the capital. But during the civil wars the rights of citizenship had been extended to all parts of Italy and to many cities in Gaul and Spain.

   Improvement in the Roman Law.—We have already seen the improvement which Sulla made in the organization of the criminal courts for the trial of public crimes. But there were also improvements made in the civil law, by which the private rights of individuals were better protected. Not only were the rights of citizens made more secure, but the rights of foreigners were also more carefully guarded. Before the social war, the rights of all foreigners in Italy were protected by a special praetor (praetor peregrinus); and after that war all Italians became equal before the law. There was also a tendency to give all foreigners in the provinces rights equal to those of citizens, so far as these rights related to persons and property.

   Progress in Architecture.—That the Romans were improving in their culture and taste is shown by the new and splendid buildings which were erected during this period. While some public buildings were destroyed by the riots in the city, they were replaced by finer and more durable structures. Many new temples were built—temples to Hercules, to Minerva, to Fortune, to Concord, to Honor and Virtue. There were new basilicas, or halls of justice, the most notable being the Basilica Julia, which was commenced by Julius Caesar. A new forum, the Forum Julii, was also laid out by Caesar, and a new theater was constructed by Pompey. The great national temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which was burned during the civil war of Marius and Sulla, was restored with great magnificence by Sulla, who adorned it with the columns of the temple of the Olympian Zeus brought from Athens. It was during this period that the triumphal arches were first erected, and became a distinctive feature of Roman architecture.

   Advancement in Literature.—The most important evidence of the progress of the Romans during the period of the civil wars is seen in their literature. It was at this time that Rome began to produce writers whose names belong to the literature of the world.
Caesar wrote his “Commentaries on the Gallic War,” which is a fine specimen of clear historical narrative. Sallust wrote a history of the Jugurthine War and an account of the conspiracy of Catiline, which give us graphic and vigorous descriptions of these events. Lucretius wrote a great poem “On the Nature of Things,” which expounds the Epicurean theory of the universe, and reveals powers of description and imagination rarely equaled by any other poet, ancient or modern. Catullus wrote lyric poems of exquisite grace and beauty. Cicero was the most learned and prolific writer of the age; his orations, letters, rhetorical and philosophical essays furnish the best models of classic style, and have given him a place among the great prose writers of the world.

   Decay of Religion and Morals.—While the Romans, during this period, showed many evidences of progress in their laws, their art, and their literature, they were evidently declining in their religious and moral sense. Their religion was diluted more and more with Oriental superstitions and degrading ceremonies. In their moral life they were suffering from the effects of their conquests, which had brought wealth and the passion for luxury and display. Ambition and avarice tended to corrupt the life of the Roman people. The only remedy or this condition of religious and moral decay was found in the philosophy of the Greeks, which, however, appealed only to the more educated classes.


Abbott, Ch. 7, “The Period of Transition” (
Merivale, Empire, Vol. III., Ch. 25, “Cicero and the ‘Philippics’” (7).
Leighton, Ch. 28, “Last Days of the Republic” (1).
Schmitz, Ch. 39, “Rome during the Later Republic” (1).
Taylor, Ch. 16, “Struggle for the Crown” (1).
Seeley, Essay, “The Great Roman Revolution” (7).
Shakespeare, “Antony and Cleopatra” (37).
Plutarch, “Antony,” “Brutus” (11).


   CHARACTER OF CICERO.—Plutarch, “Cicero” (11); Mommsen, IV., pp. 724-726 (2); Merivale, Empire, Vol. III., pp. 148-153 (1); Forsyth, II., Ch. 25 (23). See also Appendix (23) “Cicero.”

1 Son of the Lepidus who opposed the Sullan party (
p. 180).

2 Roman education was patterned in many respects after that of the Greeks; for its general character, see
p. 260.

3 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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