Around 20 May 44 BCE, Antony returned to Rome — together with several thousand veterans settled at Casilinum and Calatia (Appian, Bellum Civile 3.5 mentions 6,000), whom he had recruited by means of evocatio (‘recall into active service’) in the course of his journey through Southern Italy. From then on, he used this army as a bodyguard and to intimidate senate and people. At Philippic 5.17–20, Cicero gives an extensive account of how the presence of Antony’s troops shaped events in September 44 (the imaginary context of Philippic 2). The sections of greatest relevance to our passage are 17–18:
An illa non gravissimis ignominiis monumentisque huius ordinis ad posteritatis memoriam sunt notanda, quod unus M. Antonius in hac urbe post conditam urbem palam secum habuerit armatos? quod neque reges nostri fecerunt neque ii, qui regibus exactis regnum occupare voluerunt. Cinnam memini, vidi Sullam, modo Caesarem; hi enim tres post civitatem a L. Bruto liberatam plus potuerunt quam universa res publica. non possum adfirmare nullis telis eos stipatos fuisse, hoc dico: nec multis et occultis. at hanc pestem agmen armatorum sequebatur; Cassius, Mustela, Tiro, gladios ostentantes sui similes greges ducebant per forum; certum agminis locum tenebant barbari sagittarii. cum autem erat ventum ad aedem Concordiae, gradus conplebantur, lecticae conlocabantur, non quo ille scuta occulta esse vellet, sed ne familiares, si scuta ipsi ferrent, laborarent. illud vero taeterrimum non modo aspectu, sed etiam auditu, in cella Concordiae conlocari armatos, latrones, sicarios, de templo carcerem fieri, opertis valvis Concordiae, cum inter subsellia senatus versarentur latrones, patres conscriptos sententias dicere.
[As a record for posterity, must we not brand with a memorial of the most severe censure by this order that in this city, since its foundation, only Mark Antony has openly kept an armed guard at his side! Neither our kings nor those who after the expulsion of the kings tried to seize the kingship ever did this. I remember Cinna, I saw Sulla, recently Caesar. These three possessed more power than the entire commonwealth since Lucius Brutus liberated the community. I cannot affirm that they were surrounded by no weapons, but this I do affirm: not by many, and they were concealed. By contrast, an armed column attended this pest. Cassius, Mustela, Tiro, brandishing their swords, led gangs like themselves through the forum. Barbarian archers had their assigned place in the column. When they reached the Temple of Concord, the steps were packed, the litters were set down — not that he wanted the shields to be hidden, but to save his friends the effort of carrying them. The most loathsome thing of all, not only to see, but even to hear of is that armed men, bandits, cutthroats were stationed in the shrine of Concord. The temple became a prison. The doors of Concord were closed, and members of the senate expressed their views while bandits were moving about amid the benches.]
Cicero luxuriates in the chaos Antony allegedly caused — and his oratory has had a powerful impact on how later ages (including ours) have viewed his actions. It is therefore salutary to try to recover Antony’s own view, as attempted by Sumi (2005: 132):
Antonius himself no doubt would have advertised his return differently. He easily could have called himself Rome’s savior and enumerated all the reasons to justify such an appellation. We know that he did so on two other occasions. … after the senate meeting in the Temple of Tellus, Antonius appeared before a contio, wearing an armored breastplate beneath his tunic, which he showed to the crowd as an indication of the peril he faced on behalf of the Republic (App. BC 2.130.543). At a later contio, he called himself guardian of the city (custos urbis) and described his efforts to protect Rome [Phil. 3.27; 5.21]. He could have explained his recruitment of soldiers and subsequent march on Rome in the same way: he was returning to defend the Roman people, not enslave them. D. Brutus was in Gaul mustering forces; C. Trebonius was on his way to Asia where he soon would have access to enormous resources and manpower; M. Brutus and Cassius had fled from Rome but were still in Italy — and who could say whether they would attempt to regain their dignitas through force of arms? It appeared that everyone had an army except the consul who was obligated to defend the state.