The Pact of Misenum - 39 BC
The Pact of Misenum – 39 BC – Legend: Orange – remain­ing under the Sen­ate – Yel­low and Ochre: Cli­ent states – Purple: Octavi­an – Brown: Lepidus – Green: Mark Anthony – Blue: Sex­tus Pom­pei­us – Pink: Cleo­patra

It is barely known that, for prac­tic­al reas­ons, one might as well attrib­ute the end of the Roman Repub­lic to the sum­mer of the year 39 BC, when the tri­um­virs Gaius Octavi­us (Augus­tus), Mark Ant­ony and Mar­cus Aemili­us Lepidus nego­ti­ated a treaty with Sex­tus Pom­pey, the young­est son of the great Pompey and pir­ate scourge of the west­ern Medi­ter­ranean Sea to the effect of a par­ti­tion­ing the Roman lands amongst them­selves.

It is known as the Pact of Misenum, and its obscur­ity is illu­min­ated by the fact that Wiki­pe­dia in Eng­lish solely offers a stub on it, which is the reas­on why I link it here to the Ger­man edi­tion.

The Place:

Capo Mis­eno today

Misenum was the imper­i­al nav­al base for the Tyrrhe­ni­an Sea and West­ern Medi­ter­ranean, developed by Agrippa. Pliny the Eld­er was pre­fect of the fleet dur­ing the erup­tion of Mons Vesuvi­us in AD 79. His neph­ew, Pliny the Young­er, appar­ently described the event watch­ing from his uncle’s villa. His uncle died on this day on a res­cue mis­sion, prob­ably due to a heart attack.

Erup­tion of Mons Vesuvi­us in AD 79

Gaius Mari­us had a fam­ous villa there, which was, after his pro­scrip­tion, cheaply bought by Cor­ne­lia, the daugh­ter of Sulla, who then sold it to Luc­ul­lus. [Link to source] Emper­or Tiberi­us is said to have died there, en route to Rome.

The Back­ground:

The Second Tri­um­vir­ate had been estab­lished – dis­tinctly from the first – by a leg­al act, the Lex Titia of Novem­ber 43 BC, which inves­ted its mem­bers with dic­tat­ori­al powers for five years (and was duly renewed in 38 BC). They util­ized the very con­veni­ent meth­od of pro­scrip­tion – intro­duced by Sulla – to get rid of their polit­ic­al enemies, of which there were many. The pro­spect­ive vic­tims nat­ur­ally fled – most to the camp of Bru­tus and Cas­si­us but many also to Sicily to find refuge with Sex­tus Pom­pey, who provided shel­ter.

The tri­um­virs first and fore­most aim was the destruc­tion of their main oppos­i­tion, led by the two most prom­in­ent assas­sins of Caesar, Mar­cus Juni­us Bru­tus and his broth­er-in-law Gaius Cas­si­us Long­inus, who had, after the end of the Civil War, fled to Illyria and con­cen­trated their forces in Asia. This being the triumvirate’s pri­or­ity at the moment, they chose to ignore – for the moment – Sex­tus Pom­pey, who ruled Sicily and its neigh­bour­ing islands, and con­cen­trated on the cre­ation of a strong navy being the most use­ful instru­ment of his power he could ima­gine – and he was right. With his fleet, he was able to block the all-import­ant grain ship­ments from Africa Pro­vin­cia to Italy and thus had the tri­um­virs by the throat.

Mosaic of a Roman warship

After the assas­sins had been beaten at Phil­ippi and forced to com­mit sui­cide, the triumvirate’s atten­tion turned on Sex­tus and Sicily, but early skir­mishes not only came to no con­clus­ive res­ult, but they also lost Sardin­ia to Sex­tus in 40 BC

Mean­while, Ant­ony, as the pos­sessor of the east­ern provinces, was hatch­ing the egg of a decis­ive cam­paign against the Parthi­an Empire, the per­en­ni­al scourge on the east­ern bor­der. For this, how­ever, he would have to raise money in the form of new taxes, a plan that drove the already starving pop­u­la­tion of the cap­it­al to revolt. Octavi­an was forced to give in.

An armistice and a treaty with Pom­pey would free a few legions from guard duty against Sicily and ensure the unim­peded grain sup­ply to Italy. Hence, in the early sum­mer of 39 BC, a con­fer­ence near Cape Misenum in the bay of Neapol­is was agreed on.

Nego­ti­ations proved tough. Sex­tus appar­ently had the idea to replace Lepidus as the third part­ner of the tri­um­vir­ate, and com­plic­ated things by his demand to rein­state the vic­tims of the pro­scrip­tions and allow him to keep all the slaves who had fled with their own­ers to Sicily.

Yet finally a con­sensus was reached and a pact was signed with a peri­od of five years’ valid­ity.

Pom­pey was giv­en the pos­ses­sion of Sicily, Sardin­ia and Cor­sica as well as the sur­round­ing islands. He was prom­ised a province in Greece – his­tor­i­ans argue wheth­er it was the Pelo­ponnese or Achaia, i.e. the whole Gre­cia Pro­vin­cia, and a near future con­sul­ship togeth­er with Octavi­an.

Per­haps even more import­ant for him – quite a fam­ily trait – were mat­ters of per­son­al pos­ses­sions. He wres­ted from the tri­um­virs not only the resti­tu­tion of his father’s pos­ses­sion – which had been con­fis­cated – rewards for his sol­diers after their even­tu­al release – the manu­mis­sion of all his slaves and the end of pro­scrip­tions and resti­tu­tion of the refugees’ pos­ses­sions.

The quid pro quo was the evac­u­ation of all Itali­an grounds he had conquered or held occu­pied, restore unhindered trade to Italy, in par­tic­u­lar, secure an unim­peded grain sup­ply and stop his prac­tise of provid­ing shel­ter to run­away slaves.

The treaty was duly signed and stored with the Vestal Vir­gins but nev­er came truly into force. It is true that dur­ing ini­tial fest­iv­it­ies in Rome – under the applause of the relieved burgh­ers of the cap­it­al – Pom­pey plighted his three-year-old daugh­ter Pom­peia to Octavian’s neph­ew Mar­cus Claudi­us Mar­cel­lus, but noth­ing fur­ther came of it. Many refugees sub­sequently returned to Rome but indeed, that was pretty much all that happened – the bene­fits to Sex­tus nev­er really mater­i­al­ized.

By the fol­low­ing year the con­flict flared up again and after sev­er­al years of low-level war­fare, the fleet of Pom­pey was des­troyed by Mar­cus Vipsani­us Agrippa in the Battle of Naulo­chus. Sex­tus fled to Asia Minor, was caught in Mile­tus, and executed without tri­al on the orders of Ant­ony

The Battle of Naulochus must have looked quite like the one at Actium pictured here
The Battle of Naulo­chus must have looked quite like the one at Acti­um pic­tured here

This was the end of the first divi­sion of Rome ...

(© John Vin­cent Pal­at­ine 2019)

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