Quintus Labienus The Man Julius Caesar Relied on

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By David L. Vagi


39 BC Quintus Labienus was son of Titus Labienus, the legate who Julius Caesar relied upon so heavily during his famous Gallic campaigns of 58-51 BC. That his father abandoned Caesar to join Pompey’s cause in 49 BC (and eventually died at Munda with remnants of the Pompeian Party) no doubt influenced his son to oppose the Caesareans, and later to traitorously defect to the Parthians rather than face the consequences of his wartime allegiances.

Labienus was sent to Parthia by Brutus and Cassius late in 43 or early in 42 BC to seek military support from king Orodes II (whose general Surenas had decimated the armies of Crassus in 53 BC) for their struggle with Antony and Octavian. But time ran short, and Labienus was unable to arrange any assistance before the battles of Philippi were fought in October 42 BC, at which both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. Labienus was consequently in a bind, for he was now unable to return to the West.
In the meantime, however, Labienus convinced Orodes II to invade Syria, and to allow himself to share the command with the king’s own son, Pacorus I. Pacorus had in-vaded Syria more than a decade before, in 51 BC, during the governorship of the famous orator Cicero (in nearby Cilicia). But that invasion had failed. Pacorus had been defeated by the future tyrannicide Cassius, who had remained in the East after surviving the debacle of Crassus in 53 BC.

Together, Labienus and Pacorus invaded Syria. Some scholars place the invasion late in 41 BC, but most agree it began early in 40 BC, during Antony’s absence. The invasion required some 20,000 horsemen, and was a success from the start. The first to be defeated was Antony’s governor, Lucius Decidius Saxa, whose soldiers subsequently defected to Labienus. Saxa fled to Antioch, then to Cilicia, where he was captured and executed. The cities of Apamaea and Antioch quickly surrendered, after which the two leaders pursued separate attack routes Labienus invading Asia Minor, and Pacorus invading Palestine and Phoenicia.

Labienus overran much of Asia Minor, and in the process was hailed Imperator. He was initially hindered by Antony’s ally Plancus, but soon forced him to withdraw. Pacorus seized the coastal cities of Palestine and Phoenicia (except Tyre, which was notoriously difficult to take) and deposed the high priest John Hyrcanus II, replacing him with Mattathias Antigonus, who had by bribery invited the Parthian invasion of Jerusalem.

However, early in 39 BC, a new legate of Antony’s arrived, Publius Ventidius Bassus. Ventidius drove Labienus and Pacorus out of Roman territories with remarkable success. He first pursued Labienus, defeating him at Mount Taurus and at the Cilician Gates in 39 BC, when the outlaw was captured and executed. Ventidius next drove the Parthians across the Euphrates, and when Pacorus invaded Syria yet again, in 38 BC, he also was defeated and killed by Ventidius in battle at Gindarus in Cyrrhestica.

NUMISMATIC NOTE: The histori­cal circumstance and engraving style of Labienus’ aurei and denarii point to Antioch as the probable mint. Though they may have been struck early in 39 BC, they most probably belong to the latter half of 40 BC, before he and Pacorus pursued separate routes of con­quest. Local tetradrachms and aes of Antioch dated to the period of his occu­pation may also be ascribed to Labienus.

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