A sweeping epic of ancient Rome from the #1 bestselling author of The Thorn Birds
In this breathtaking follow-up to The October Horse, Colleen McCullough turns her attention to the legendary romance of Antony and Cleopatra, and in this timeless tale of love, politics, and power, proves once again that she is the best historical novelist of our time.
Caesar is dead, and Rome is, again, divided. Lepidus has retreated to Africa, while Antony rules the opulent East, and Octavian claims the West, the heart of Rome, as his domain. Though this tense truce holds civil war at bay, Rome seems ripe for an emperor a true Julian heir to lay claim to Caesar's legacy. With the bearing of a hero, and the riches of the East at his disposal, Antony seems poised to take the prize. Like a true warrior-king, he is a seasoned general whose lust for power burns alongside a passion for women, feasts, and Chian wine. His rival, Octavian, seems a less convincing candidate: the slight, golden-haired boy is as controlled as Antony is indulgent and as cool-headed and clear-eyed as Antony is impulsive. Indeed, the two are well matched only in ambition.
And though politics and war are decidedly the provinces of men in ancient Rome, women are adept at using their wits and charms to gain influence outside their traditional sphere. Cleopatra, the ruthless, golden-eyed queen, welcomes Antony to her court and her bed but keeps her heart well guarded. A ruler first and a woman second, Cleopatra has but one desire: to place her child on his father, Julius Caesar's, vacant throne. Octavian, too, has a strong woman by his side: his exquisite wife, raven-haired Livia Drusilla, who learns to wield quiet power to help her husband in his quest for ascendancy. As the plot races toward its inevitable conclusion with battles on land and sea conspiracy and murder, love and politics become irrevocably entwined.
McCullough's knowledge of Roman history is detailed and extensive. Her masterful and meticulously researched narrative is filled with a cast of historical characters whose motives, passions, flaws, and insecurities are vividly imagined and expertly drawn. The grandeur of ancient Rome comes to life as a timeless human drama plays out against the dramatic backdrop of the Republic's final days.
About the Author
Hometown:Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
Date of Birth:June 1, 1937
Place of Birth:Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
Education:Attended University of Sydney
Read an Excerpt
Quintus Dellius was not a warlike man, nor a warrior when in battle. Whenever possible he concentrated upon what he did best, namely to advise his superiors so subtly that they came to believe the ideas were genuinely theirs.
So after Philippi, in which conflict he had neither distinguished himself nor displeased his commanders, Dellius decided to attach his meager person to Mark Antony and go east.
It was never possible, Dellius reflected, to choose Rome; it always boiled down to choosing sides in the massive, convulsive struggles between men determined to control no, be honest, Quintus Dellius! determined to rule Rome. With the murder of Caesar by Brutus, Cassius, and the rest, everyone had assumed that Caesar's close cousin Mark Antony would inherit his name, his fortune, and his literal millions of clients. But what had Caesar done? Made a last will and testament that left everything to his eighteen-year-old greatnephew, Gaius Octavius! He hadn't even mentioned Antony in that document, a blow from which Antony had never really recovered, so sure had he been that he would step into Caesar's high red boots. And, typical Antony, he had made no plans to take second place. At first the youth everyone now called Octavian hadn't worried him; Antony was a man in his prime, a famous general of troops and owner of a large faction in the Senate, whereas Octavian was a sickly adolescent as easy to crush as the carapace of a beetle. Only it hadn't worked out that way, and Antony hadn't known how to deal with a crafty, sweet-faced boy owning the intellect and wisdom of a seventy-year-old. Most of Rome had assumed that Antony, a notorious spendthrift in desperate need of Caesar's fortune to pay his debts, had been a part of the conspiracy to eliminate Caesar, and his conduct following the deed had only reinforced that. He made no attempt to punish the assassins; rather, he had virtually given them the full protection of the law. But Octavian, passionately attached to Caesar, had gradually eroded Antony's authority and forced him to outlaw them. How had he done that? By suborning a good percentage of Antony's legions to his own cause, winning over the people of Rome, and stealing the thirty thousand talents of Caesar's war chest so brilliantly that no one, even Antony, had managed to prove that Octavian was the thief. Once Octavian had soldiers and money, he gave Antony no choice but to admit him into power as a full equal. After that, Brutus and Cassius made their own bid for power; uneasy allies, Antony and Octavian had taken their legions to Macedonia and met the forces of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi. A great victory for Antony and Octavian that hadn't solved the vexed question of who would end in ruling as the First Man in Rome, an uncrowned king paying lip service to the hallowed illusion that Rome was a republic, governed by an upper house, the Senate, and several Assemblies of the People. Together, the Senate and People of Rome: senatus populusque Romanus, SPQR.
Typically, Dellius's thoughts meandered on, victory at Philippi had found Mark Antony without a viable strategy to put Octavian out of the power equation, for Antony was a force of Nature, lusty, impulsive, hot-tempered, and quite lacking foresight. His personal magnetism was great, of that kind which draws men by virtue of the most masculine qualities: courage, an Herculean physique, a well-deserved reputation as a lover of women, and enough brain to make him a formidable orator in the House. His weaknesses tended to be excused, for they were equally masculine: the pleasures of the flesh, and heedless generosity.
His answer to the problem of Octavian was to divide the Roman world between them, with a sop thrown to Marcus Lepidus, high priest and owner of a large senatorial faction. Sixty years of on-again, off-again civil war had finally bankrupted Rome, whose people and the people of Italia groaned under poor incomes, shortages of wheat for bread, and a growing conviction that the betters who ruled them were as incompetent as venal. Unwilling to see his status as a popular hero undermined, Antony resolved that he would take the lion's share, leave the rotting carcass to that jackal Octavian.
So after Philippi the victors had carved up the provinces to suit Antony, not Octavian, who inherited the least enviable parts: Rome, Italia, and the big islands of Sicilia, Sardinia, and Corsica, where the wheat was grown to feed the peoples of Italia, long since incapable of feeding themselves. It was a tactic in keeping with Antony's character, ensuring that the only face Rome and Italia saw would belong to Octavian, while his own glorious deeds elsewhere were assiduously circulated throughout Rome and Italia. Octavian to collect the odium, himself the stout-hearted winner of laurels far from the center of government. As for Lepidus, he had charge of the other wheat province, Africa, a genuine backwater.
Ah, but Marcus Antonius did indeed have the lion's share! Not only of the provinces, but of the legions. All he lacked was money, which he expected to squeeze out of that perennial golden fowl, the East. Of course he had taken all three of the Gauls for himself; though in the West, they were thoroughly pacifi ed by Caesar, and rich enough to contribute funds for his coming campaigns. His trusted marshals commanded Gaul's legions, of which there were many; Gaul could live without his presence.
Caesar had been killed within three days of setting out for the East, where he had intended to conquer the fabulously rich and formidable Kingdom of the Parthians, using its plunder to set Rome on her feet again. He had planned to be away for five years, and had planned his campaign with all his legendary genius. So now, with Caesar dead, it would be Marcus Antonius Mark Antony who conquered the Parthians and set Rome upon her feet again. Antony had conned Caesar's plans and decided that they showed all the old boy's brilliance, but that he himself could improve on them. One of the reasons why he had come to this conclusion lay in the nature of the group of men who went east with him; every last one of them was a crawler, a sucker-up, and knew exactly how to play that biggest of fish, Mark Antony, so susceptible to praise and flattery.
Unfortunately, Quintus Dellius did not yet have Antony's ear, though his advice would have been equally flattering, balm to Antony's ego. So, riding down the Via Egnatia on a galled and grumpy pony, his balls bruised and his unsupported legs aching, Quintus Dellius waited his chance, which still hadn't come when Antony crossed into Asia and stopped in Nicomedia, the capital of his province of Bithynia.
Somehow every potentate and client-king Rome owned in the East had sensed that the great Marcus Antonius would head for Nicomedia, and scuttled there in dozens, commandeering the best inns or setting up camp in style on the city's outskirts. A beautiful place on its dreamy placid inlet, a place that most people had forgotten lay very close to dead Caesar's heart. But because it had, Nicomedia still looked prosperous, for Caesar had exempted it from taxes, and Brutus and Cassius, hurrying west to Macedonia, had not ventured north enough to rape it the way they had raped a hundred cities from Judaea to Thrace. Thus the pink and purple marble palace in which Antony took up residence was able to offer legates like Dellius a tiny room in which to stow his luggage and the senior among his servants, his freedman Icarus. That done, Dellius sallied forth to see what was going on, and work out how he was going to snaffl e a place on a couch close enough to Antony to participate in the Great Man's conversation during dinner.
Kings aplenty thronged the public halls, ashen-pale, hearts palpitating because they had backed Brutus and Cassius. Even old King Deiotarus of Galatia, senior in age and years of service, had made the effort to come, escorted by the two among his sons whom Dellius presumed were his favorites. Antony's bosom friend Poplicola had pointed out Deiotarus to him, but after that Poplicola admitted himself at a loss too many faces, not enough service in the East to recognize them.
Smilingly demure, Dellius moved among the groups in their outlandish apparel, eyes glistening at the size of an emerald or the weight of gold upon a coiffed head. Of course he had good Greek, so Dellius was able to converse with these absolute rulers of places and peoples, his smile growing wider at the thought that, despite the emeralds and the gold, every last one of them was here to pay obsequious homage to Rome, their ultimate ruler. Rome, which had no king, whose senior magistrates wore a simple, purple-bordered white toga and prized the iron ring of some senators over a ton of gold rings; an iron ring meant that a Roman family had been in and out of offi ce for five hundred years. A thought that made poor Dellius automatically hide his gold senatorial ring in a fold of toga; no Dellius had yet reached the consulship, no Dellius had been prominent a hundred years ago, let alone five. Caesar had worn an iron ring, but Antony did not; the Antonii were not quite antique enough. And Caesar's iron ring had gone to Octavian.
Oh, air, air! He needed fresh air!
The palace was built around a huge peristyle garden that had a fountain at its middle athwart a long, shallow pool. It was fashioned of pure white Parian marble in a fishy theme mermen, tritons, dolphins and it was rare in that it had never been painted to imitate real life's colors. Whoever had sculpted its glorious creatures had been a master; a connoisseur of fine art, Dellius gravitated to the fountain so quickly that he failed to notice that someone had beaten him to it, was sitting in a dejected huddle on its broad rim. As Dellius neared, the fellow lifted his head; no chance of avoiding a meeting now.
He was a foreigner, and a noble one, for he wore an expensive robe of Tyrian purple brocade artfully interwoven with gold thread, and upon a head of snakelike, greasy black curls sat a skullcap made of cloth-of-gold. Dellius had seen enough easterners to know that the curls were not dirty greasy; easterners pomaded their locks with perfumed creams. Most of the royal supplicants inside were Greeks whose ancestors had dwelled in the East for centuries, but this man was a genuine Asian local of a kind Dellius recognized because there were many like him living in Rome. Oh, not clad in Tyrian purple and gold! Sober fellows who favored homespun fabrics in dark plain colors. Even so, the look was unmistakable; he who sat on the edge of the fountain was a Jew.
"May I join you?" Dellius asked in Greek, his smile charming.
An equally charming smile appeared on the stranger's jowly face; a perfectly manicured hand flashing with rings gestured. "Please do. I am Herod of Judaea."
"And I am Quintus Dellius, Roman legate."
"I couldn't bear the crush inside," said Herod, thick lips turning down. "Faugh! Some of those ingrates haven't had a bath since their midwives wiped them down with a dirty rag."
"You said Herod. No king or prince in front of it?"
"There should be! My father was Antipater, a prince of Idumaea who stood at the right hand of King Hyrcanus of the Jews. Then the minions of a rival for the throne murdered him. He was too well liked by the Romans, including Caesar. But I dealt with his killer," Herod said, voice oozing satisfaction. "I watched him die wallowing in the stinking corpses of shellfish at Tyre."
"No death for a Jew," said Dellius, who knew that much. He inspected Herod more closely, fascinated by the man's ugliness. Though their ancestry was poles apart, Herod bore a peculiar likeness to Octavian's intimate Maecenas they both resembled frogs. Herod's protruding eyes, however, were not Maecenas's blue; they were the stony glassy black of obsidian. "As I remember," Dellius continued, "all of southern Syria declared for Cassius."
"Including the Jews. And I personally am beholden to the man, for all that Antonius's Rome deems him a traitor. He gave me permission to put my father's murderer to death."
"Cassius was a warrior," Dellius said pensively. "Had Brutus been one too, the result at Philippi might have been different."
"The birds twitter that Antonius also was handicapped by an inept partner."
"Odd, how loudly birds can twitter," Dellius answered with a grin. "So what brings you to see Marcus Antonius, Herod?"
"Did you perhaps notice five dowdy sparrows among the flocks of gaudy pheasants inside?"
"No, I can't say that I did. Everyone looked like a gaudy pheasant to me."
"Oh, they're there, my five Sanhedrin sparrows! Preserving their exclusivity by standing as far from the rest as they can."
"That, in there, means they're in a corner behind a pillar."
"True," said Herod, "but when Antonius appears, they'll push to the front, howling and beating their breasts."
"You haven't told me yet why you're here."
"Actually, it's more that the five sparrows are here. I'm watching them like a hawk. They intend to see the Triumvir Marcus Antonius and put their case to him."
"What's their case?"
"That I am intriguing against the rightful succession, and that I, a gentile, have managed to draw close enough to King Hyrcanus and his family to be considered as a suitor for Queen Alexandra's daughter. An abbreviated version, but to hear the unexpurgated one would take years."
Dellius stared, blinked his shrewd hazel eyes. "A gentile? I thought you said you were a Jew."
"Not under Mosaic law. My father married Princess Cypros of Nabataea. An Arab. And since Jews count descent in the mother's line, my father's children are gentiles."
"Then then what can you accomplish here, Herod?"
"Everything, if I am let do what must be done. The Jews need a heavy foot on their necks ask any Roman governor of Syria since Pompeius Magnus made Syria a province. I intend to be King of the Jews, whether they like it or not. And I can do it. If I marry a Hasmonaean princess directly descended from Judas Maccabeus. Our children will be Jewish, and I intend to have many children."
"So you're here to speak in your defense?" Dellius asked.
"I am. The deputation from the Sanhedrin will demand that I and all the members of my family be exiled on pain of death. They're not game to do that without Rome's permission."
"Well, there's not much in it when it comes to backing Cassius the loser," said Dellius cheerily. "Antonius will have to choose between two factions that supported the wrong man."
"But my father supported Julius Caesar," Herod said. "What I have to do is convince Marcus Antonius that if I am allowed to live in Judaea and advance my status, I will always stand for Rome. He was in Syria years ago when Gabinius was its governor, so he must be aware how obstreperous the Jews are. But will he remember that my father helped Caesar?"
"Hmm," purred Dellius, squinting at the rainbow sparkles of the water jetting from a dolphin's mouth. "Why should Marcus Antonius remember that, when more recently you were Cassius's man? As, I gather, was your father before he died."
"I am no mean advocate, I can plead my case."
"Provided you are permitted the chance." Dellius got up and held out his hand, shook Herod's warmly. "I wish you well, Herod of Judaea. If I can help you, I will."
"You would find me very grateful."
"Rubbish!" Dellius laughed as he walked away. "All your money is on your back."
Mark Antony had been remarkably sober since marching for the East, but the sixty men in his entourage had expected that Nicomedia would see Antony the Sybarite erupt. An opinion shared by a troupe of musicians and dancers who had hastened from Byzantium at the news of his advent in the neighborhood; from Spain to Babylonia, every member of the League of Dionysiac Entertainers knew the name Marcus Antonius. Then, to general amazement, Antony had dismissed the troupe with a bag of gold and stayed sober, albeit with a sad, wistful expression on his ugly-handsome face.
"Can't be done, Poplicola," he said to his best friend with a sigh. "Did you see how many potentates were lining the road as we came in? Cluttering up the halls the moment the steward opened the doors? All here to steal a march on Rome and me. Well, I don't intend to let that happen. I didn't choose the East as my bailiwick to be diddled out of the goodies the East possesses in such abundance. So I'll sit dispensing justice in Rome's name with a clear head and a settled stomach." He giggled. "Oh, Lucius, do you remember how disgusted Cicero was when I spewed into your toga on the rostra?" Another giggle, a shrug. "Business, Antonius, business!" he apostrophized himself. "They're hailing me as the new Dionysus, but they're about to discover that for the time being I'm dour old Saturn." The red-brown eyes, too small and close together to please a portrait sculptor, twinkled. "The new Dionysus! God of wine and pleasure I must say I rather like the comparison. The best they did for Caesar was simply God."
Having known Antony since they were boys, Poplicola didn't say that he thought God was superior to the God of This or That; his chief job was to keep Antony governing, so he greeted this speech with relief. That was the thing about Antony; he could suddenly cease his carousing sometimes for months on end especially when his sense of self-preservation surfaced. As clearly it had now. And he was right; the potentatic invasion meant trouble as well as hard work, therefore it behooved Antony to get to know them individually, learn which rulers should keep their thrones, which lose them. In other words, which rulers were best for Rome.
All of which meant that Dellius held out scant hope that he would achieve his goal of moving closer to Antony in Nicomedia. Then Fortuna entered the picture, commencing with Antony's command that dinner would not be in the afternoon, but later. And as Antony's gaze roved across the sixty Romans strolling into the dining room, for some obscure reason it lit upon Quintus Dellius. There was something about him that the Great Man liked, though he wasn't sure what; perhaps a soothing quality that Dellius could smear over even the most unpalatable subjects like a balm.
"Ho, Dellius!" he roared. "Join Poplicola and me!"
The brothers Decidius Saxa bristled, as did Barbatius and a few others, but no one said a word as the delighted Dellius shed his toga on the floor and sat on the back of the couch that formed the bottom of the U. While a servant gathered up the toga and folded it a difficult task another servant removed Dellius's shoes and washed his feet. Dellius didn't make the mistake of usurping the locus consularis; Antony would occupy that, with Poplicola in the middle. His was the far end of the couch, socially the least desirable position, but for Dellius what an elevation! He could feel the eyes boring into him, the minds behind them busy trying to work out what he had done to earn this promotion.
The meal was good, if not quite Roman enough too much lamb, bland fish, peculiar seasonings, alien sauces. However, there was a pepper slave with his mortar and pestle, and if a Roman diner could snap his fingers for a pinch of freshly ground pepper, anything was edible, even German boiled beef. Samian wine flowed, though well watered; the moment he saw that Antony was drinking it watered, Dellius did the same.
At first he said nothing, but as the main courses were taken out and the sweeties brought in, Antony belched loudly, patted his flat belly, and sighed contentedly.
"So, Dellius, what did you think of the vast array of kings and princes?" he asked affably.
"Very strange people, Marcus Antonius, particularly to one who has never been to the East."
"Strange? Aye, they're that, all right! Cunning as sewer rats, more faces than Janus, and daggers so sharp you never feel them slide between your ribs. Odd, that they backed Brutus and Cassius against me."
"Not really so odd," said Poplicola, who had a sweet tooth and was slurping at a confection of sesame seeds bound with honey. "They made the same mistake with Caesar backed Pompeius Magnus. You campaigned in the West, just like Caesar. They didn't know your mettle. Brutus was a nonentity, but for them there was a certain magic about Gaius Cassius. He escaped annihilation with Crassus at Carrhae, then governed Syria extremely well at the ripe old age of thirty. Cassius was the stuff of legends."
"I agree," said Dellius. "Their world is confined to the eastern end of Our Sea. What goes on in the Spains and the Gauls at the western end is an unknown."
"True." Antony grimaced at the syrupy dishes on the low table in front of the couch. "Poplicola, wash your face! I don't know how you can stomach this honeyed mush."
Poplicola wriggled to the back of the couch while Antony looked at Dellius with an expression that said he understood much that Dellius had hoped to hide: the penury, the New Man status, the vaunting ambition. "Did any among the sewer rats take your fancy, Dellius?"
"One, Marcus Antonius. A Jew named Herod."
"Ah! The rose among five weeds."
"His metaphor was avian the hawk among fi ve sparrows."
Antony laughed, a deep rich bellow. "Well, with Deiotarus, Ariobarzanes, and Pharnaces here, I'm not likely to have much time to devote to half a dozen quarrelsome Jews. No wonder the five weeds hate our rose Herod, though."
"Why?" asked Dellius, assuming a look of awed interest.
"For a start, the regalia. Jews don't bedizen themselves in gold and Tyrian purple it's against their laws. No kingly trappings, no images, and their gold goes into their Great Temple in the name of all the people. Crassus robbed the Great Temple of two thousand gold talents before he set off to conquer the Kingdom of the Parthians. The Jews cursed him, and he died ignominiously. Then came Pompeius Magnus asking for gold, then Caesar, then Cassius. They hope I won't do the same, but they know I will. Like Caesar, I'll ask them for a sum equal to what Cassius asked."
Dellius wrinkled his brow. "I don't ah "
"Caesar demanded a sum equal to what they gave Magnus."
"Oh, I see! I beg pardon for my ignorance."
"We're all here to learn, Quintus Dellius, and you strike me as quick to learn. So fi ll me in on these Jews. What do the weeds want, and what does Herod the rose want?"
"The weeds want Herod exiled under pain of death," Dellius said, abandoning the avian metaphor. If Antony liked his own better, so would Dellius. "Herod wants a Roman decree allowing him to live freely in Judaea."
"And who will benefit Rome more?"
"Herod," Dellius answered without hesitation. "He may not be a Jew according to their lights, but he wants to rule them by marrying some princess with the proper blood. If he succeeds, I think Rome will have a faithful ally."
"Dellius, Dellius! Surely you can't think Herod faithful?"
The rather faunlike face creased into a mischievious grin. "Definitely, when it's in his best interests. And since he knows the people he wants to rule hate him enough to kill him if they get a tenth of a chance, Rome will always serve his interests better than they will. While Rome is his ally, he's safe from all but poison or ambush, and I can't see him eating or drinking anything that hasn't been thoroughly tasted, no going abroad without a bodyguard of non-Jews he pays extremely well."
"Thank you, Dellius!"
Poplicola intruded his person between them. "Solved one problem, eh, Antonius?"
"With some help from Dellius, yes. Steward, clear the room!" Antony bellowed. "Where's Lucilius? I need Lucilius!"
On the morrow the five members of the Jewish Sanhedrin found themselves first on the list of supplicants Mark Antony's herald called. Antony was clad in his purple-bordered toga and carried the plain ivory wand of his high imperium; he made an imposing fi gure. Beside him was his beloved secretary, Lucilius, who had belonged to Brutus. Twelve lictors in crimson stood to either side of his ivory curule chair, the axed bundles of rods balanced between their feet. A dais raised them above the crowded floor.
The Sanhedrin leader began to orate in good Greek, but in a style so florid and convoluted that it took him a tediously long time to say who the five of them were, and why they had been deputed to come so far to see the Triumvir Marcus Antonius.
"Oh, shut up!" Antony barked without warning. "Shut up and go home!" He snatched a scroll from Lucilius, unfurled it, and brandished it fiercely. "This document was found among Gaius Cassius's papers after Philippi. It states that only Antipater, chancellor to the so-called King Hyrcanus at that time, and his sons Phasael and Herod, managed to raise any gold for Cassius's cause. The Jews tendered nothing except a beaker of poison for Antipater. Leaving aside the fact that the gold was going to the wrong cause, it's clear to me that the Jews have far more love for gold than for Rome. When I reach Judaea, what will change from that? Why, nothing! In this man Herod I see someone willing to pay Rome her tributes and taxes which go, I might remind you all, to preserve the peace and well- being of your realms! When you gave to Cassius, you simply funded his army and fleets! Cassius was a sacrilegious traitor who took what was rightfully Rome's! Ah, do you shiver in your shoes, Deiotarus? Well you should!"
I had forgotten, thought the listening Dellius, how pungently he can speak. He's using the Jews to inform all of them that he will not be merciful.
Antony returned to the subject. "In the name of the Senate and People of Rome, I hereby command that Herod, his brother Phasael and all his family are free to dwell anywhere in any Roman land, including Judaea. I cannot prevent Hyrcanus from titling himself a king among his people, but in the eyes of Rome he is no more and no less than an ethnarch. Judaea is no longer a single land. It is five small regions dotted around southern Syria, and five small regions it will remain. Hyrcanus can have Jerusalem, Gazara, and Jericho. Phasael the son of Antipater will be the tetrarch of Sepphora. Herod the son of Antipater will be the tetrarch of Amathus. And be warned! If there is any trouble in southern Syria, I will crush the Jews like so many eggshells!"
I did it, I did it! cried Dellius to himself, bursting with happiness. Antonius listened to me!
Herod was by the fountain, but his face was pinched and white, not suffused with the joy that Dellius expected to see. What was the matter? What could be the matter? He had come a stateless pauper, he would leave a tetrarch.
"Aren't you pleased?" Dellius asked. "You won without even needing to argue your case, Herod."
"Why did Antonius have to elevate my brother too?" Herod demanded harshly, though he spoke to someone who wasn't there. "He has put us on an equal footing! How can I wed Mariamne when Phasael is not only my equal in rank, but also my older brother? It's Phasael will wed her!"
"Come, come," said Dellius gently. "That's all in the future, Herod. For the moment, accept Antonius's judgement as more than you had hoped to gain. He's come down on your side the five sparrows have just had their wings clipped."
"Yes, yes, I see all that, Dellius, but this Marcus Antonius is clever! He wants what the farsighted Romans all want balance. And to put me alone on an equal footing with Hyrcanus is not a Roman enough answer. Phasael and I in one pan, Hyrcanus in the other. Oh, Marcus Antonius, you are clever! Caesar was a genius, but you are supposed to be a dolt. Now I find another Caesar."
Dellius watched Herod plod off, his mind whirling. Between that brief conversation over dinner and this audience today, Mark Antony had done some research. That was why he'd hollered for Lucilius! And what frauds they were, he and Octavian! Burned all Brutus's and Cassius's papers, indeed! But, like Herod, I deemed Antonius an educated dolt. He is not, he is not! thought Dellius, gasping. He's crafty and clever. He will put his hands on everything in the East, raising this man, lowering that man, until the client-kingdoms and satrapies are absolutely his. Not Rome's. His. He has sent Octavian back to Italia and a task so big it will break so weak and sickly a youth, but just in case Octavian doesn't break, Antonius will be ready.
When Antony left the capital of Bithynia, all of the potentates save Herod and the fi ve members of the Sanhedrin accompanied him, still declaring their loyalty to the new rulers of Rome, still maintaining that Brutus and Cassius had duped them, lied to them, coerced them ai, ai, ai, forced them! Having scant patience for eastern weeping and wailing, Antony didn't do what Pompey the Great, Caesar, and the rest had done invite the most important among them to join him for dinner, travel in his party. No, Mark Antony pretended that his regal camp followers didn't exist all the way from Nicomedia to Ancyra, the only town of any size in Galatia.
Here, amid the rolling grassy expanses of the best grazing country east of Gaul, he had perforce to move into Deiotarus's palace and strive to be amiable. Four days of that were three too many, but during that time Antony informed Deiotarus that he was to keep his kingdom for the moment. His second most favored son, Deiotarus Philadelphus, was gifted with the wild, mountainous fief of Paphlagonia (it was of no use to anybody), whereas his most favored son, Castor, got nothing, and what the old king should have made of that was now beyond his dwindling mental faculties. To all the Romans with Antony, it meant that eventually drastic changes would be made to Galatia, and not for the benefit of any Deiotarid. For information about Galatia, Antony talked to the old king's secretary, a noble Galatian named Amyntas who was young, well-educated, efficient, and clear-sighted.
"At least," said Antony jovially as the Roman column set off for Cappadocia, "we've lost a decent percentage of our hangers-on! That gushing idiot Castor even brought the fellow who clips his toenails. Amazing, that a warrior like Deiotarus should produce such a perfect pansy."
He was speaking to Dellius, who now rode an easy-gaited roan mare and had passed the grumpy pony to Icarus, previously doomed to walk. "You've lost Pharnaces and his court too," said Dellius.
"Pah! He ought never to have come." Antony's lips curled in contempt. "His father was a better man, and his grandfather much better still."
"You mean the great Mithridates?"
"Is there any other? Now there was a man, Dellius, who almost beat Rome. Formidable."
"Pompeius Magnus defeated him easily."
"Rubbish! Lucullus defeated him. Pompeius Magnus just cashed in on the fruits of Lucullus's labors. He had a habit of doing that, did Magnus. But his vaingloriousness got him in the end. He began to believe his own publicity. Fancy anyone, Roman or otherwise, thinking he could beat Caesar!"
"You would have beaten Caesar with no trouble, Antonius," said Dellius without a trace of sycophancy in his tone.
"I? Not if every god there is fought on my side! Caesar was in a class all his own, and there's no disgrace in saying that. Over fifty battles he generaled, and never lost a one. Oh, I'd beat Magnus if he still lived or Lucullus, or even Gaius Marius. But Caesar? Alexander the Great would have gone down to him."
The voice, a light tenor surprising in such a big man, held no resentment. Nor even, refl ected Dellius, guilt. Antonius fully subscribes to the Roman way of looking at things: because he had lifted no finger against Caesar, he can sleep at night. To plot and scheme is no crime, even when a crime is committed thanks to the plotting and scheming.
Singing their marching songs lustily, the two legions and mass of cavalry Antony had with him entered the gorge country of the great red river, Halys, beautiful beyond Roman imagination, so rich and ruddy were the rocks, so tortured the planes of cliffs and shelves. There was ample flat ground on either bank of the broad stream, flowing sluggishly because the snows of the high peaks had not yet melted. Which was why Antony was marching overland to Syria; winter seas were too dangerous for sailing, and Antony preferred to stay with his men until he could be sure they liked him better than they had Cassius, to whom they had belonged. The weather was chilly but bitter only when the wind got up, and down in the bottom of the gorge country there was little wind. Despite its color, the water was potable for men as well as horses; central Anatolia was not a populous place.
Eusebeia Mazaca sat at the foot of the vast volcano Argaeus, white with snow, for no one in history remembered its erupting. A blue city, small and impoverished; everyone had looted it time out of mind, for its kings were weak and too parsimonious to keep an army.
It was here that Antony began to realize how difficult it was going to be to squeeze yet more gold and treasure out of the East; Brutus and Cassius had plundered whatever King Mithridates the Great had overlooked. A realization that put him severely out of sorts and sent him with Poplicola, the brothers Decidius Saxa, and Dellius to inspect the priest-kingdom of Ma at Comana, not far distant from Eusebeia Mazaca. Let the senile King of Cappadocia and his ludicrously incompetent son stew in their denuded palace! Perhaps at Comana he would find a hoard of gold beneath an innocent-looking flagstone priests left kings for dead when it came to protecting their money.
Ma was an incarnation of Kubaba Cybele, the Great Earth Mother who had ruled all the gods, male and female, when humanity first learned to tell its history around the campfi res. Over the aeons she had lost her power save in places like the two Comanas, one here in Cappadocia, the other north in Pontus, and in Pessinus, not far from where Alexander the Great had cut the Gordian knot with his sword. Each of these three precincts was governed as an independent realm, its king also serving as high priest, and each lay within natural boundaries like Pontic cherries in a bowl.
Scorning an escort of troops, Antony, his four friends, and plenty of servants rode into the beguiling little village of Cappadocian Comana, noting with approval its costly dwellings, the gardens promising a profusion of flowers in the coming spring, the imposing temple of Ma rising atop a slight hill, surrounded by a grove of birches, with poplars down either side of a paved avenue that led straight to Ma's earthly house. Off to one side was the palace; like the temple, its Doric columns were blue with scarlet bases and capitals; the walls behind were a much darker blue, and the shingled roof edged in gilt.
A young man who looked in his late teens was waiting for them in front of the palace, clad in layers of green gauze, a round gold hat upon his head, which was shaven.
"Marcus Antonius," said Antony, sliding from his dappled grey Public Horse and tossing its reins to one of the three servants he had brought with him.
"Welcome, lord Antonius," said the young man, bowing low.
"Just Antonius will do. We don't have any lords in Rome. What's your name, shaveling?"
"Archelaus Sisenes. I am priest-king of Ma."
"Bit young to be a king, aren't you?"
"Better to be too young than too old, Marcus Antonius. Come into my house."
The visit started off with wary verbal fencing, at which King Archelaus Sisenes, even younger than Octavian, proved a match for Antony, whose good nature inclined him to admire a master of the art. As indeed he might have happily tolerated Octavian, had not Octavian been Caesar's heir.
But though the buildings were lovely and the landscaping good enough to please a Roman heart, an hour on the water clock was quite enough time to discover that whatever wealth Ma of Comana might once have possessed had vanished. With a ride of only fifty miles between them and the Cappadocian capital, Antony's friends were fully prepared to set out at dawn of the following day to rejoin the legions and continue the march.
"Will it offend you if my mother attends our dinner?" the priest-king asked, tone deferential. "And my young brothers?"
"The more, the merrier," said Antony, good manners to the fore. He had already found the answers to several vexed questions, but it would be prudent to see for himself what kind of family had produced this intelligent, precocious, fearless fellow.
Archelaus Sisenes and his brothers were a handsome trio, with quick wits, a thorough knowledge of Greek literature and philosophy, and even a smattering of mathematics.
None of which mattered the moment Glaphyra entered the room. Like all the Great Mother's female acolytes, she had gone into service for the Goddess at thirteen, but not, like the rest of that year's intake of pubescent virgins, to spread her mat inside the temple and offer her maidenhead to the first comer who fancied her. Glaphyra was royal, and chose her own mate where she wished. Her eye had lighted upon a visiting Roman senator, who sired Archelaus Sisenes without ever knowing that he had; she was all of fourteen when she bore the boy. The next son belonged to the King of Olba, descended from the archer Teucer, who fought with his brother Ajax at Troy; and the father of the third was a handsome nobody guiding a team of oxen in a caravan from Media. After that Glaphyra hung up her girdle and devoted her energies to bringing up her boys. At this moment she was thirty-four and looked twenty-four.
Though Poplicola wondered what drove her to appear for dinner when the guest of honor was a notorious philanderer, Glaphyra knew very well why. Lust did not enter the picture; she who belonged to the Great Mother had long ago abrogated lust as demeaning. No, she wanted more for her sons than a tiny priest-kingdom! She was after as much of Anatolia as she could get, and if Marcus Antonius was the kind of man gossip said he was, then he was her chance.
Antony sucked in his breath audibly what a beauty! Tall and lissome, long legs and magnificent breasts, and a face to rival Helen's lush red lips, skin as flawless as a rose petal, lustrous blue eyes between thick dark lashes, and absolutely straight flaxen hair that hung down her back like a sheet of hammered silver-gilt. Of jewels she wore none, probably because she had none to wear. Her blue, Greek-style gown was plain wool.
Poplicola and Dellius were shoved off the couch so quickly that they were hard put to land on their feet; one huge hand was already patting the space where they had reclined.
"Here, with me, you gorgeous creature! What's your name?"
"Glaphyra," she said, kicking off her felt slippers and waiting until a servant pulled warm socks over her feet. Then she swung her body onto the couch, but far enough away from Antony to prevent his hugging her, which he showed every sign of wanting to do. Gossip was certainly right in saying that he wasn't a subtle lover, if his greeting was anything to go by. Gorgeous creature, indeed! He thinks of women as conveniences, but I, resolved Glaphyra, must exert myself to become a more convenient convenience than his horse, his secretary, or his chamber pot. And if he quickens me, I will offer to the Goddess for a girl. A girl of Antonius's could marry the King of the Parthians what an alliance! As well that we are taught to suck with our vaginas better than a fellatrix can with her mouth! I will enslave him.
Thus it was that Antony lingered in Comana for the rest of winter, and when early in March he finally set out for Cilicia and Tarsus, he took Glaphyra with him. His ten thousand infantrymen hadn't minded this unexpected furlough; Cappadocia was a land of women whose men had been slaughtered on some battlefield or carted off to slavery. As these legionaries could farm as well as they soldiered, they enjoyed the break. Originally Caesar had recruited them across the Padus River in Italian Gaul, and, apart from the higher altitude, Cappadocia wasn't so very different to farm or graze. Behind them they left several thousand hybrid Romans in utero, properly prepared and planted land, and many thousands of grateful women.
They descended a good Roman road between two towering ranges, plunging into vast aromatic forests of pine, larch, spruce, fir, the sound of roaring water perpetually in their ears, until at the pass of the Cilician Gates the road was so steep it was stepped at five-pace intervals. Going down, a comb of Hymettan honey; had they been going up, the fragrant air would have been polluted by splendid Latin obscenities. With the snow melting fast now, the headwaters of the Cydnus River boiled and tumbled like a huge swirling cauldron, but once through the Cilician Gates the road became easier and the nights warmer. They were dropping rapidly toward the coast of Our Sea.
Tarsus, which lay on the Cydnus some twenty miles inland, came as a shock. Like Athens, Ephesus, Pergamum, and Antioch, it was a city most Roman nobles knew, even if from a fl eeting visit. A jewel of a place, hugely rich. But no more. Cassius had levied such a massive fine on Tarsus that, having melted down every gold or silver work of art, no matter how valuable, the Tarsians had been forced to sell the populace gradually into slavery, starting with the lowest born and working their way inexorably upward. By the time Cassius had grown tired of waiting and sailed off with the five hundred talents of gold Tarsus had thus far managed to scrape together, only a few thousand free people were left out of what had been half a million. But not to enjoy their wealth; that had gone beyond recall.
"By all the gods I hate Cassius!" Antony cried, farther than ever from the riches he had expected. "If he did this to Tarsus, what did he do in Syria?"
"Cheer up, Antonius," Dellius said. "All is not lost." By now he had supplanted Poplicola as Antony's chief source of information, which was what he wanted. Let Poplicola have the joy of being Antony's intimate! He, Quintus Dellius, was well content to be the man whose advice Antony esteemed, and right at this dark moment he had some useful advice. "Tarsus is a big city, the center of all Cilician trade, but once Cassius hove in view, the whole of Cilicia Pedia stayed well away from Tarsus. Cilicia Pedia is rich and fertile, but no Roman governor has ever succeeded in taxing it. The region is run by brigands and renegade Arabs who get away with far more than Cassius ever did. Why not send your troops into Cilicia Pedia and see what's to be found? You can stay here put Barbatius in command."
Good counsel, and Antony knew it. Better by far to make the Cilicians bear the cost of victualing his troops than poor Tarsus, especially if there were bandit strongholds to be looted.
"Sensible advice that I intend to take," Antony said, "but it won't be anything like enough. Finally I understand why Caesar was determined to conquer the Parthians there's no real wealth to be had this side of Mesopotamia. Oh, curse Octavianus! He pinched Caesar's war chest, the little worm! While I was in Bithynia all the letters from Italia said he was dying in Brundisium, would never last ten miles on the Via Appia. And what do the stay-at-home letters have to say here in Tarsus? Why, that he coughed and spluttered all the way to Rome, where he's busy smarming up to the legion representatives. Commandeering the public land of every place that cheered for Brutus and Cassius when he isn't bending his arse over a barrel for apes like Agrippa to bugger!"
Get him off the subject of Octavian, thought Dellius, or he will forget sobriety and holler for unwatered wine. That snaky bitch Glaphyra doesn't help too busy working for her sons. So he clicked his tongue, a sound of sympathy, and eased Antony back onto the subject of where to get money in the bankrupt East.
"There is an alternative to the Parthians, Antonius."
"Antioch? Tyre, Sidon? Cassius got to them first."
"Yes, but he didn't get as far as Egypt." Dellius let the word "Egypt" drop from his lips like syrup. "Egypt can buy and sell Rome everyone who ever heard Marcus Crassus talk knows that. Cassius was on his way to invade Egypt when Brutus summoned him to Sardis. He took Allienus's four Egyptian legions, yes, but, alas, in Syria. Queen Cleopatra cannot be impeached for that, but she didn't send any aid to you and Octavianus either. I think her inaction can be construed as worth a ten-thousand-talent fine."
Antony grunted. "Huh! Daydreams, Dellius."
"No, definitely not! Egypt is fabulously rich."
Half listening, Antony studied a letter from his warlike wife, Fulvia. In it she complained about Octavian's perfidies and described the precariousness of Octavian's position in blunt, graphic terms. Now, she scrawled in her own hand, was the time to rouse Italia and Rome against him! And Lucius thought this too: Lucius was beginning to enlist legions. Rubbish, thought Antony, who knew his brother Lucius too well to deem him capable of deploying ten beads on an abacus. Lucius leading a revolution? No, he was just enlisting men for big brother Marcus. Admittedly, Lucius was consul this year, but his colleague was Vatia, who would be running things. Oh, women! Why couldn't Fulvia devote herself to disciplining her children? The brood she had borne Clodius was grown and off her hands, but she still had her son by Curio and his own two sons.
Of course by now Antony knew that he would have to postpone his expedition against the Parthians for at least another year. Not only did shortage of funds render it impossible; so did the need to watch Octavian closely. His most competent marshals, Pollio, Calenus, and trusty old Ventidius, had to be stationed in the West with the bulk of his legions just to keep that eye on Octavian. Who had written him a letter begging that he use his infl uence to call off Sextus Pompeius, busy raiding the sea lanes to steal Rome's wheat like a common pirate. To tolerate Sextus Pompeius had not been a part of their agreement, Octavian whinged did Marcus Antonius not remember how the two of them had sat down together after Philippi to divide up the duties of the three triumvirs?
Indeed I remember, thought Antony grimly. It was after I won Philippi that I saw as through crystal that there was nowhere in the West to reap enough glory for me to eclipse Caesar. To surpass Caesar, I will have to crush the Parthians.
Fulvia's scroll fell to the desk top, curled itself up. "Do you really believe that Egypt can produce that sort of money?" he asked, looking up at Dellius.
"Certainly!" said Dellius heartily. "Think about it, Antonius! Gold from Nubia, ocean pearls from Taprobane, precious stones from the Sinus Arabicus, ivory from the Horn of Africa, spices from India and Aethiopia, the world's paper monopoly, and more wheat than there are people to eat it. The Egyptian public income is six thousand gold talents a year, and the sovereign's private income another six thousand!"
"You've been doing your homework," said Antony with a grin.
"More willingly than ever I did when a schoolboy."
Antony got up and walked to the window that looked out over the agora to where, between the trees, ship's masts speared the cloudless sky. Not that he saw any of it; his eyes were turned inward, remembering the scrawny little creature Caesar had installed in a marble villa on the wrong side of Father Tiber. How Cleopatra had railed at being excluded from the interior of Rome! Not in front of Caesar, who wouldn't put up with tantrums, but behind his back it had been a different story. All Caesar's friends had taken a turn trying to explain to her that she, an anointed queen, was religiously forbidden to enter Rome. Which hadn't stopped her complaining! Thin as a stick she had been, and no reason to suppose she'd plumped out since she returned home after Caesar died. Oh, how Cicero had rejoiced when word got around that her ship had gone to the bottom of Our Sea! And how downcast he had been when the rumor proved false. The least of Cicero's worries, as things turned out he ought never to have thundered forth in the Senate against me! Tantamount to a death wish. After he was executed, Fulvia thrust a pen through his tongue before I exhibited his head on the rostra. Fulvia! Now there's a woman! I never cared for Cleopatra, never bothered to go to her soirees or her famous dinner parties too highbrow, too many scholars, poets, and historians. And all those beast- headed gods in the room where she prayed! I admit that I never understood Caesar, but his passion for Cleopatra was the biggest mystery of all.
"Very well, Quintus Dellius," Antony said aloud. "I will order the Queen of Egypt to appear before me in Tarsus to answer charges that she aided Cassius. You can carry the summons yourself."
How wonderful! thought Dellius, setting off the next day on the road that led fi rst to Antioch and then south along the coast to Pelusium. He had demanded to be outfi tted in state, and Antony had obliged by giving him a small army of attendants and two squadrons of cavalry as a bodyguard. No traveling by litter, alas! Too slow to suit the impatient Antony, who had given him one month to reach Alexandria, a thousand miles from Tarsus. Which meant Dellius had to hurry. After all, he didn't know how long it was going to take to convince the Queen that she must obey Antony's summons, appear before his tribunal in Tarsus.
Copyright © 2007 by Colleen McCullough
Table of Contents
List of Maps
Part I - Antony in the East - 41 B.C. to 40 B.C.
Part II - Octavian in the West - 40 B.C. to 39 B.C.
Part III - Victories and Defeats - 39 B.C. to 37 B.C.
Part IV - The Queen of Beasts - 36 B.C. to 33 B.C.
Part V - War - 32 B.C. to 30 B.C. 17
Part VI - Metamorphosis - 29 B.C. to 27 B.C.