The Battle of Philippi: The Battle that Changed the Course of Western Civilization

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Excerpt There are few events in world history that are “game changers,” that change the course of human history and civilization. December 7, 1941 stands out because it was a “day that will live in infamy.” That was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor which led the United States into World War II. Continue reading

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Introduction

 

In antiquity, there were other dates. On September 25, 480 BC the battle of Salamis in Greece took place. In this naval battle the Greeks stopped the Persian advance into Europe.

 

The Great Siege of Malta ended on September 8, 1565. The Ottoman’s were finally driven from the island at St. Paul's Bay on September 11 of that year. The 8th is the Festival of Santa Maria because according to church tradition, the virgin Mary was born on that date. The lifting of the siege prevented the Ottoman’s from penetrating into Europe.

 

The Moslem siege of Vienna was lifted on Sept. 11, 1683 by a combined army of Polish, German and Austrians soldiers led by a Polish king, Jan Sobieski, whom the pope and European leaders hailed as the "Savior of Western Civilization." This was the furthest the Ottoman’s were able to penetrate into Europe from the east.

 

Of course, September 11, 2001 changed the world as we know it. Moslems have long memories and dates are important! September 11, 2001 was like saying: “We’re just picking up where we left off!”

 

Date

 

In the year 42 BC, the month of October was a pivotal month in the history of Western Civilization. Two large Roman armies were amassed against each other on the plains to the west of the ancient city of Philippi in Macedonia. One army was led by the Liberators, Brutus and Cassius, and the other army was led by Mark Antony and Octavian, later to be known as Caesar Augustus. What was at stake in this conflict was which direction the Roman Republic would take. Dio Cassius (AD 150-235) pointed out: “Now as never before liberty and popular government were the issues of the struggle.  … One side was trying to lead them to autocracy, the other side to self-government” (Roman History 47.39.2; LCL 5: 197).

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Background

 

More than two and a half years earlier, on the Eids of March, 44 BC (March 15), Julius Caesar was murdered by a conspiracy of Liberators lead by Marcus Brutus and Cassius. The Liberators commemorated this event by minting a denarius coin with a liberty cap in the center flanked by two daggers and the words “Eid Mar” underneath the cap.

 

In their minds, Julius Caesar was a tyrannical dictator who had usurped the Roman constitution. Brutus and Cassius wanted to restore the Roman Republic to its constitution. One of their friends was Cicero, a great political thinker and orator. He was a strong advocate for the restoration of the Roman Republic back to its constitution. He did not participate in the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar, but he did congratulate the assassins for a job well done.

 

A quote attributed to Cicero about the state of the Roman Republic is this: "The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

 

In 1787, the Constitutional Convention decided on a constitutional republic for the United States. After the convention, Ben Franklin was asked what form of government we had. He replied, “We have a republic form of government, if we can keep it!” The United States is not a democracy, which is another word for “rule of the people by popular elections.” It is also another name for mob rule!

 

After the death of Julius Caesar, the Second Triumvirate, comprised of Mark Anthony, Lepidus and Octavian, got together out of convenience to figure out what to do about a possible return of Brutus and Cassius. An army was needed in order to defend Rome from a possible attack by the Liberators. This would cost money because they had to raise an army. The three decided the best way to raise money was by proscription. In ancient Rome, that meant a wealthy person was declared an enemy of, or charged with crimes against, the State; a death sentence was pronounced upon them and they were executed. Their property was confiscated by the State, so that the family could not inherit the property. The Triumvirate drew up a list of 150 to 300 wealthy people that were to be executed in order to raise the necessary funds for a new Roman army. They also raised taxes on everybody as well as stole money from the Temple of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum (Plutarch, Antony 21:3, 4; LCL 9: 183).

 

Among those on the proscription list was Cicero. Mark Antony had a personal vendetta against him because of what Cicero wrote about Antony. After Cicero was beheaded, his head and hands (the ones that wrote “Philippies”) were brought to Rome in 43 BC. Mark Anthony rejoiced and said, “Now let our proscriptions have an end” (Plutarch, Cicero 49:1; LCL 7:207).

 

The Battle of Philippi

 

Cicero’s property, along with other wealthy Romans, was confiscated and the money used by Mark Antony and Octavian to raise an army to fight Brutus and Cassius, friends of Cicero!

 

Several ancient historians record an account of the battle of Philippi. The lengthiest discourse is by Appian, a Greek official in Alexandria, Egypt. He died in the first half of the 2nd century AD (Roman History 4:105-138; LCL 4:315-373).  Dio Cassius (AD 150-235) wrote a lengthy history of Rome that included the pivotal battle of Philippi (Roman History 47:35-49; LCL 5:189-217). Plutarch (AD 45-120) wrote a number of books comparing the lives of Greek personalities with a Roman counterpart, including Brutus and Mark Antony (Parallel Lives, Brutus 38-53; LCL 6: 209-247; Antony 22; LCL 9:183,185). Even Caesar Augustus boasts about, but I dare say exaggerates, his participation in the battle.

 

Octavian and Mark Anthony set out from Rome with their armies. While they were crossing the Adriatic Sea, they sent out an advance search party to look for Brutus and Cassius along the Via Egnatia. The search party got as far as the pass overlooking Kavala, until Brutus and Cassius snuck around them and Octavian and Mark Antony’s forces retreated west.

 

The armies of Brutus and Cassius set up their camps about 2 miles to the west of Philippi; Brutus, near the hills, and Cassius, to the left of the Via Egnatia.  Both armies were about a mile apart. When they arrived, Mark Antony and Octavian put their armies about a mile further to the west.

 

The Liberators had the advantage and the superior positions. They were on elevated ground; Antony and Octavian’s forces were on the plain. Brutus and Cassius had fuel from the mountains, while Antony and Octavian had fuel from the marsh. Brutus and Cassius had water from the springs and river in the area; Anthony and Octavian had to dig wells in the marsh. The Liberators had their supplies from Thasos; on the other hand, Antony and Octavian had a much longer supply line with supplies coming from Amphipolis. The armies of the Liberators consisted of 19 legions, but some were incomplete. Antony and Octavian had a slight advantage with 19 complete legions. Brutus and Cassius had 20,000 cavalry, while Antony and Octavian had only 13,000 cavalry. During most of the campaign, Octavian was sick.

 

The motivations to fight were different on each side. The Liberators were fighting for liberty, their Republic and freedom from tyrants. The forces with Mark Antony and Octavian were fighting to revenge the death of Julius Caesar, to claim the property of their enemies, and for their pay of 20,000 sestesces. But ultimately it was to rule the world!

 

The First Battle: October 3, 42 BC

 

The battle of Philippi actually took place in two separate phases. The first occurred on October 3rd, and the second, a few weeks later.

 

The battle began by the forces of Mark Antony cutting a path through the marsh in order to get behind Cassius’ line, thus cutting of the Liberators supply line to sea. During this phase of the battle, Mark Antony vanquished Cassius’ forces, even though 8,000 of Cassius’ troops were killed and double the number for Mark Antony’s force died. Cassius, being an Epicurean and thinking Brutus’ forces were defeated as well, committed suicide. This occurred on his birthday with the help of Pindarus. Ironically, Cassius used the same dagger that he used to kill Julius Caesar!

 

Brutus lost an experienced general and had his remains cremated and buried on the island of Thassos, just off the coast from Philippi. An interesting side note: In the Nov. 23, 1902 issue of the New York Times (p. 5) it was reported that the tomb of Cassius was discovered on the island of Thassos by Theodore Bent. I have tried to follow up on this report but have not been successful. Whether it is true or not, remains a mystery to me.

 

Brutus, on the other hand, was victorious. His forces overran the camp of Octavian and plundered it, but they did not pursue the enemy. Their greed for material possessions robbed them of the ultimate victory over their foes!

 

Octavian was fortunate to escape with his life. He had been sick the whole campaign. While lying in bed the night before the battle, he was warned in a dream to flee the camp. The superstitious Octavian heeded the warning and fled the camp. His life was spared and he went on to eventually rule the world!

 

The first battle ended in a stalemate. Both sides won a victory and both sides suffered a defeat. But Brutus lost a good general. For the next three weeks, Brutus carried out a war of attrition with the opposing forces. Among other things, he diverts the river to flood the camps of Mark Antony and Octavian. Their troops were not happy campers!

 

The Second Battle: October 23, 42 BC

 

Just before the second battle of Philippi, there were several ill-omens for Brutus. On the night before the battle the phantom that appeared to him before and said, “I’ll see you at Philippi,” reappeared. I assume he said, “Hi! I’m back, remember me?” Also, just before the battle, two eagles engaged in an aerial combat above the battle field. The eagle that approached the battlefield from Brutus’ side lost. Brutus realized this was not going to be his day!

 

By all accounts, Brutus should have won the day. He had superior forces and a superior position. Mark Antony and Octavian were running out of money and food, and their supplies were cut off. They also found out that the Liberators navies had defeated their navies in the Ionian Sea. Their forces were getting weaker. Brutus only finds this out right before the battle. From a military perspective, Brutus should have waited a bit longer, but the battle ensued.

 

At the end of the day, Mark Antony was victorious. Brutus, a man of virtue and honor, committed suicide. Mark Antony had some respect for Brutus and gave him a proper Roman burial. He had Brutus cremated and his ashes sent home to Brutus’ mother. His head, however, was decapitated and sent to Rome to be placed at the foot of a statue of Julius Caesar!

 

The Aftermath of the Battle

 

Brutus and Cassius had both committed suicide. After the battle was over, a general amnesty was proclaimed and many of Brutus and Cassius forces joined Antony and Octavian. This was the high-point in the military career of Mark Antony. He was a great general, but he had the morals of an alley cat. He and Octavian divided up the Roman Empire. Mark Antony took the eastern part and began a relationship with Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavian on the other hand, was destined for imperial rule. The astrological sign he was born under, Capricorn, indicated he would rule the world.

 

A number of veterans from this conflict retired from military duty and settled in Philippi after it was declared a Roman colony. Interestingly, when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi more than 100 years later, he uses military terminology when he calls Epaphroditus a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25).

 

An Historical Judgment

 

History always makes value judgments. Usually the victor is portrayed in a good light, especially by his friends and willing accomplices in the media. On the other hand, the vanquished is generally put in a bad light because he is not around to defend himself. The axiom holds true: “Everybody loves a winner!”

 

In this conflict we must ask, “Which side was the good side? Which side was the bad side? Who were the good guys? Who were the bad? Which side, if any, would the LORD God Almighty side with? Which side did Satan side with?”

 

Historians always judge history through their theological lenses, their personal bias, or perspective. In the Popeye cartoon, who is the “bad guy”? It is Brutus. How many people do you know with the name Brutus? You may name your dog Brutus, but never your child. Ironically, John Wilkes Booth fancied himself to be a 19th century Brutus because he assassinated, from his political perspective, the tyrant Abraham Lincoln!

 

I would like to suggest that God in His sovereignty allowed the “good” guys to lose the battle of Philippi!

 

A Spiritual Perspective

 

All history is really His-story because God is sovereign and He is in control of history in order to bring about His plan, program and purposes.  The Apostle Paul wrote of God’s plan in the book of Galatians: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4, 5). God’s program included seventy weeks (“sevens”) that were determined upon the people of Judah and the Holy City of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:24-27). At the end of the sixty-ninth week, the Messiah (“Anointed”) would be “cut off, but not got Himself” (9:26).

 

Satan was aware of this time frame and he prepared his puppet, Octavian – the “anointed one” - to rule and bring world peace, hoping that this would distract people from God’s Anointed, the Lord Jesus Christ (Ps. 2:2).

 

Paul instructs believers in the Lord Jesus to pray for all people and “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). The Apostle Peter admonishes us to “Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:13-17). Paul reminds Titus to “be subject to rulers and authorities” (Tit. 3:1).

 

In whatever form of government we, the believers in the Lord Jesus, find ourselves in, we should remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working to which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20, 21).

 

So we must remember, God is sovereign and in control of history and He will bring about His plan, program and purposes.  After the battle of Philippi, that plan was to bring His Son into the world in order to redeem those who were under the law. After the death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross and His bodily resurrection, His plan is for believers to wait for His Son to return from Glory and change our lowly bodies. Until that day, we are to honor the king, pray for those in authority over us and be subject to those rulers.

 

Bibliography

 

Appian

2000 Roman History.  Vol. 4.  Trans. by H. White.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 5.

 

Dio Cassius

1989 Roman History.  Books 46-50.  Vol. 5.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 82.

 

Everitt, Anthony

2003 Cicero.  The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician.  New York: Random House.

 

Plutarch

1993 Lives.  Dion and Brutus.  Timoleon and Aemilius Paulus.  Vol. 6.  Trans. by B. Perrin.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 98.

 

1994 Lives.  Demosthenes and Cicero.  Alexander and Caesar.  Vol. 7.  Trans. by B. Perrin.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 99.

 

1996 Lives.  Demetrius and Antony.  Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius.  Vol. 9.  Trans. by B. Perrin.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 101.

 

Suetonius

1989 Lives of the Caesars.  Vol. 1.  Trans. by J. C. Rolfe.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 31.

 

Comments Comment RSS

11/17/2011 7:25 PM #

Thank you for an excellent and interesting article!

John Eidsmoe - 11/17/2011 7:25:27 PM

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