by Cam Rea
Once the dust cleared at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, the victor Mark Antony went on a tour of his newly acquired eastern provinces. Aside from sightseeing, Antony wanted to collect new found taxes. Essentially, he needed money and lots of it… Unfortunately, Cassius and Brutus, though defeated, had already depleted the wealth of Asia through previous fundraising of their own, leaving Antony with only the scraps.
During his confiscation tour, Antony made it clear to all of Asia that those who aided Cassius and Brutus in their campaign were to be heavily taxed. Political punishment, no doubt.
Antony states: “For what you contributed to our enemies in two years (and you gave them the taxes of ten years in that time) will be quite sufficient for us; but it must be paid in one year, because we are pressed by necessity.”
The Greeks after hearing this news “threw themselves upon the ground,” pleading with Antony to understand that they did not contribute willingly but were forced to give much more than just money.
After hearing their plea, Antony conceded – sort of. He presented a new deal in which his subjects should pay only “nine years’ taxes, payable in two years. It was ordered that the kings, princes, and free cities should make additional contributions according to their means, respectively.”
Antony then made sure his provinces throughout Asia “ponied up” the capital by appointing agents (with the kind help of soldiers) to collect the taxes by threat of force.
The purpose of the double tax was not only to pay his men and resupply the ranks, but also to fund his up and coming campaigns.
Therefore, Antony needed a lot of cash – but it seems he might not have been able to get it all.
According to Plutarch, the amount of money that is said to have extracted from Antony’s new subjects was supposedly 200,000 talents. And while we can’t be certain, it seems to us this may be an exaggeration, because if Antony had indeed retrieved that immense sum, or even a portion of it, then why did he go looking for additional funds elsewhere?
It is here that famously beautiful Cleopatra, and her immensely attractive wealth, comes into play.
In 41 BCE, Antony summoned the Egyptian queen to meet with him in Cilicia to answer the charges made against her for funding Cassius during the war. Antony knew full well that Cleopatra had actually stayed out of the war but had the financial means to assist his own future expedition against Parthia. This was a nice move by a broke man.
However, Cleopatra was no ordinary woman and not so easily controlled. She decided to ignore Antony and his messenger’s request. Instead, she made them beg for her.
Eventually she agreed to meet with him, sailing to Antony in extreme opulence. Whatever charges were made against her were quickly forgotten due to her luxurious entrance into Tarsus.
At first, the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra was merely political, but with time Antony fell prey to the radiant royal. He began to spend quite lavishly to win her over, and once won, the Roman general quickly started to forgo his duties.
In a nutshell, Antony was lust struck and consequently decided to go back with Cleopatra to Alexandria. But this Roman hadn’t lost all his wits yet – because even though he was mesmerized by Cleopatra’s supposed beauty and charm, he acquired what he needed badly, capital.
Before Antony departed for Alexandria, however, he had some unfinished business in Syria which he needed to attend to. He had to appoint a new governor (who would be Lucius Decidius Saxa) and relocate two defeated republican legions.
But it was while he was there in Syria that Antony unintentionally rekindled the conflict between Rome and Parthia… and it started with a cavalry raid.
See, Antony ordered his cavalry to raid the wealthy city of Palmyra, Syria, as well as to press charges upon the population for not choosing a side. They had been independent and remained neutral when it came to international disputes, wisely due to being primarily a frontier city of merchants that sold foreign goods. Antony didn’t know whether they were with him or Cassius/Brutus and therefore should be punished.
Consequently, word reached the city that a raid was to be expected. The inhabitants of Palmyra smartly gathered their belongings and moved across the Euphrates River and into Parthian territory. Once safely across, they set up a defensive position on the bank.
When the Roman cavalry inevitably entered the city of Palmyra, they found nothing and returned to Antony with as much. Despite, or perhaps because, the cavalry came back empty handed, Antony decided to impose severe taxes on all the Syrians.
This heavy tax burden, along with the failed Palmyra raid, caused a wave of Syrian refugees to seek asylum in Parthia. Once there, the Syrian tribal leaders pleaded their case against the Romans before King Orodes.
Meanwhile, Antony was oblivious to the situation he had created, instead taking further steps to divide his army for the winter. The Roman politician had no time for the Syrian outcry over the tax raises, he was ready to leave to be with his Cleopatra in the winter of 41 BCE.
Enter General Quintus Labienus. A previous supporter of Cassius and Brutus, this Roman republican fled to Parthia after the infamous defeat in the Battle of Philippi.
It was at this time when Labienus, still living among the Parthians, spoke to King Orodes. Word had reached him that Antony had left, and so Labienus informed Orodes that the Roman forces “were either destroyed utterly or impaired.” While the information Labienus received was partially accurate, there was one tidbit that proved correct, that the “remainder of the troops were in a state of mutiny and would again be at war.”
Labienus knew that the two defeated republican legions Antony had placed in Syria would possibly switch to get revenge if the Parthians were to invade and show support.
Furthermore, if Orodes agreed and mobilized his forces, the objective of the campaign would not be a massive raid, but to subjugate Syria and adjoining provinces of interest. Additionally, Labienus persuaded Orodes to allow him to take personal responsibility in leading the Parthian forces.
Finally Labienus requested that he be allowed, if everything went well in Syria, to help free the various provinces in opposition towards Roman rule.
Orodes agreed. The Parthian king entrusted Labienus with his son, Prince Pacorus, along with a large Parthian force.
And so, while Antony played lover to Cleopatra in Alexandria during the winter of 41-40 BCE, the Parthians began to mobilize their forces. Of course it would take time – but they would be ready to set off and ruin Mark Antony by springtime…
To be continued…
“Mark Antony: Make Love and War” was written by Cam Rea