After his victory in the civil war, Caesar, while nominally upholding republican traditions, effectively exercised autocratic powers and could determine whom to reward when with what position in the state. As Denniston (1926: 144) puts it: ‘After the victory of Munda the senate voted Caesar, among other honours, the right to appoint the magistrates. Outwardly he declined the privilege, but by “recommending” certain persons to the people for election he accepted the substance of it (Dio, xliii 45, 1; Suet. Iul. 41)’. This distribution of favours did not always happen without friction among his faithful. Cicero here homes in on a tussle between Antony and Dolabella over appointments to the consulship for 44 BCE. Despite the fact that both benefitted from Caesar’s patronage, the two had a fractious history: in 47, Antony clamped down violently on Dolabella’s attempt to push through a debt cancellation, and there were also rumours (picked up by Cicero in § 99) that Dolabella had committed adultery with Antony’s then-wife Antonia. Cicero dwells at length (§§ 79–84a) on this contretemps between Antony and Dolabella. Dolabella, despite being his former son-in-law, remained a puzzle for Cicero: ‘Before the end of April Cicero had already reason to believe that Antony and Dolabella were hand in glove (Att. 14.14.4 = 368 SB; 28 or 29 April: rumour of an extended provincial command for both consuls). And on 9 May, in the very midst of his rhapsodies about the overturned pillar, he accuses Dolabella of sharing with Antony the spoils from the temple of Ops (Att. 14.18.1 = 373 SB). Cicero’s unbalanced and volatile temperament is strikingly illustrated by the correspondence of the first half of May, which shows clearly that he did not know what to make of Dolabella’.
In order to understand what happened, we need to distinguish between consules ordinarii, i.e. the two consuls who were initially elected and took office at the beginning of the year, and consules suffecti, i.e. ‘substitute consuls’ who replaced the elected consuls if they died or were otherwise incapacitated during their time in office. (Even being a suffect consul was a great honour, though people thought Caesar made a mockery of it when the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus died on 31 December 45 BCE and he appointed Gaius Caninius Rebilus as suffect consul for the last few remaining hours of the year.)
For the consulship of 44 BCE, Cicero implies the following timeline:
Sometime in 45:
Caesar promises the two consulships for 44 to Antony and Dolabella.
Antony manages to prevail upon Caesar to change his mind, break his promise to Dolabella, and take up the second consulship himself.
As consolation prize, Caesar designates Dolabella consul suffectus upon his departure for Parthia (scheduled for 18 March), when he would have stepped down from his consulship.
This irritates Antony, who announces that he would try to thwart Dolabella’s election. (The date when Caesar designated Dolabella as consul suffectus remains vague — though in § 81Cicero implies that it happened some time ago: Antony made his objections known ‘many months before’ (multis ante mensibus) the actual election.)
An irritated Dolabella expresses his annoyance with Antony in a speech to the senate.
During the election of Dolabella to the suffect consulship, Antony voices religious objections
Caesar gets murdered.
Antony accepts Dolabella as his colleague in the consulship.
It is not entirely straightforward to sift facts from fiction here. Sometime in 45 BCE, Caesar indeed must have decided that Antony and himself should be the consules ordinarii for 44, with Dolabella becoming a consul suffectus upon his departure for the campaign against Parthia. Likewise, there is no reason to doubt that Antony vigorously opposed the plan to make Dolabella suffect consul. Conversely, however, there is no evidence to corroborate Cicero’s assertion that Caesar initially designated Dolabella as one of the two consules ordinarii and then, at the advice of Antony, changed his mind. This vacillation, which makes Caesar look feeble and Antony treacherous, is most likely a Ciceronian construct. He milks it for all it is worth, at seemingly excessive length (§§ 79–84a), partly to drive a wedge between the two prominent Caesarians who jointly held the consulship at the time Cicero composed Philippic 2, partly because it enables him to suggest that Antony’s conduct has been at variance with Rome’s civic religion, out of ignorance and/or impudence.