Battle of Mutina
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|Battle of Mutina|
|Roman Republic||Mark Antony's forces|
|Commanders and leaders|
Aulus Hirtius †
Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus †
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Mutina was fought on April 21, 43 BC between the forces of Mark Antony and the forces of Octavian, Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus and Aulus Hirtius, who were providing aid to Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus besieged by Mark Antony.
The battle took place a week after the bloody and uncertain Battle of Forum Gallorum ended with heavy losses on both sides and the mortal wounding of consul Vibius Pansa. The other consul Aulus Hirtius and the young Caesar Octavian launched a direct attack on the camps of Mark Antony in order to break the front of encirclement around Mutina (modern day Modena). The fighting was very fierce and bloody; the Republican troops raided camps but Antony's veterans counterattacked; Hirtius the consul was killed in the melee; Octavius Caesar personally intervened and managed to avoid defeat, while Decimus Brutus also participated in the fighting with part of his forces locked in the city.
After the battle, Mark Antony decided to give up the siege and retreated with skill west along the Via Emilia, escaping the enemy forces and reconnecting with reinforcements of lieutenant Publius Ventidius Basso. The battle of April 21, 43 BC ended the brief war of Modena in favor of the Republicans allied with Octavian but soon the situation would change with the formation of the Second Triumvirate of Antony, Octavian and Lepidus.
Around one year after Julius Caesar's murder, negotiations between the Roman Senate and Antony broke off. Antony was unhappy with the province he was due to govern, Macedonia, after his year as Consul of Rome. Macedonia was too far away if trouble were to threaten him in the capital, Rome. So he exchanged the post for a five-year term in Cisalpine Gaul. From that vantage point he could overawe the capital, and if need be intervene directly, as Caesar did in 44 BC. It did not matter that a governor had been selected who was already in possession of the province. This was Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, a distant relative of Marcus Junius Brutus and a onetime follower of Julius Caesar. He had lost confidence in the Dictator and taken part in his assassination on the Ides of March. Antony planned to transfer his legions in Macedonia to Italy, lead them northward and unseat Decimus Brutus.
Mark Antony had Decimus Brutus confined around Mutina (modern Modena), just south of the Padus (Po) River on the Via Aemilia. Pansa, one of the current Consuls, was sent north from Rome to link with his co-Consul, Hirtius and Octavian in order to provide Brutus with aid. Octavian, Julius Caesar's great-nephew, adopted son and primary heir, had no love for Decimus Brutus, one of Caesar's assassins. However, his position would be legitimized by the Senate if he used his legions, veterans of Caesar's vast army, against Antony. Therefore, after being appointed a Propraetor by the Senate, he joined his forces with those of Hirtius against Antony. On April 14, Antony marched with his praetorian cohort, the II and the XXXV legions, light-armed troops and a strong body of cavalry to cut off Pansa before he could reach the senatorial armies. Antony assumed Pansa had only four legions of recruits, but the previous night Hirtius had dispatched the Martian legion and Octavian's praetorian cohort to assist Pansa. Antony's legions collided with those of Pansa, in the village of Forum Gallorum. In the ensuing Battle of Forum Gallorum, Pansa's troops were routed and the general mortally wounded. However, instead of gaining a decisive victory, Antony was forced to withdraw when reinforcements under Hirtius crashed into his own exhausted ranks. Oddly, Ovid Fasti 4.627-28 lists 14 April as the battle at which Caesar defeated the foe (Antony) at Mutina, but at Tristia 4.10.10-14, the poet lists his own birthday as 20 March - thought to be the exact day of the Battle of Mutina, and he says exactly one year after his brother's birthday. Apparently Ovid was not born on the very day of the battle.
Six days after Forum Gallorum, the two armies met again in the vicinity of Mutina. Octavian's forces were now present and fought on the side of the remaining consul Hirtius. Although Antony was defeated, Hirtius himself was killed in the attack on Antony's camp, leaving the army and republic leaderless. Octavian recovered his body and according to Suetonius, "in the thick of the fight, when the eagle-bearer of his legion was sorely wounded, he shouldered the eagle and carried it for some time." And now with his pro-praetorian imperium, he gained control of the deceased consul's legions. When the Senate ordered that the legions be handed over to Decimus Brutus, Octavian refused and took permanent command of them himself with the result that he now controlled eight legions, loyal to him rather than to the Republic. He explained, with plausibility, that the established legions would refuse to fight under the command of one of Julius Caesar's assassins. Octavian refused to cooperate or further assist Decimus Brutus whose legions at Mutina began deserting him, many deserting to Octavian. His position deteriorating by the day, Decimus Brutus fled Italy, abandoning his remaining legions. He attempted to reach Macedonia, where fellow assassins Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus were stationed but was executed en route by a Gallic chief loyal to Mark Antony, becoming the first of Caesar's assassins to be killed.
Mutina is essentially where Octavian turns from an inferior young man to an equal of Antony. After retreating over the Alps with the remains of his army, Antony soon recrossed the Alps having gathered an army of 17 legions and 10,000 cavalry (in addition to six legions left behind with Varius, according to Plutarch). However, soon after the battle, a truce was formed between fellow Caesarians Antony and Octavian at Bologna. A Commission of Three for the Ordering of the State was to be officially established for five years, known as the Second Triumvirate, with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Octavian and Mark Antony as the commissioners or Triumvirs. They would set aside their differences and turn on the Senators involved in Caesar's assassination while assuming a 3-way dictatorship. Eventually in the ensuing power struggles many years later, Octavian would defeat Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC and usher in the Principate, but Mutina was the milestone where Octavian first established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Without this victory, Octavian might never have achieved the prestige necessary to be looked upon as Caesar's successor, and the stability of the Empire might never have been established in the lasting manner which Octavian had decided for it.
- Jochen Bleicken: Augustus, Fest, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8286-0136-7.
- Ronald Syme: The Roman Revolution, Oxford University Press, Oxford - New York 2002, ISBN 978-0-1928-0320-7.