Philippics 2.83 essay

In this and the following paragraph Cicero dwells on the moment Antony decided to invalidate or at least vitiate the election of Dolabella, which had just run its course, by announcing that he had become aware of a natural disturbance that signaled divine displeasure. He used the ritual phrase that calls for postponement: alio die means ‘Sorry, just got a communiqué from above: let’s reconvene to repeat the proceedings on another day’. This reiteration never happened; and hence Dolabella’s suffect consulship was technically speaking marred by a religious flaw in the electoral proceedings that would need to be referred to the augural college for discussion. A passage in Cicero’s dialogue On the Laws (de Legibus) gives a sense of the importance of augural approval (or disapproval) in the political decision-making processes of the Roman republic (2.31): 

Maximum autem et praestantissimum in re publica ius est augurum cum auctoritate coniunctum, neque vero hoc quia sum ipse augur ita sentio, sed quia sic existimari nos est necesse. quid enim maius est, si de iure quaerimus, quam posse a summis imperiis et summis potestatibus comitiatus et concilia vel instituta dimittere vel habita rescindere? quid gravius quam rem susceptam dirimi, si unus augur ‘alio <die>’ dixerit? quid magnificentius quam posse decernere, ut magistratu se abdicent consules? quid religiosius quam cum populo, cum plebe agendi ius aut dare aut non dare? quid, legem si non iure rogata est tollere…? nihil domi, nihil militiae per magistratus gestum sine eorum auctoritate posse cuiquam probari?

[But the highest and most important legal instance in the commonwealth is that of the augurs, to whom is accorded great authority. I hold this opinion not because I am an augur myself, but because it is necessary for us the augurs to be esteemed thus. For if we consider their legal rights, what power is greater than to be able to adjourn assemblies and meetings convened by the most powerful magistrates endowed with the highest imperium, or to declare null and void the acts of assemblies presided over by such officials? What is of graver import than to abandon any business already begun, if a single augur says, ‘On another day’? What power is more impressive than that of forcing the consuls to resign their offices? What right is more sacred than that of giving or refusing permission to hold an assembly of the people or of the plebs, or that of abrogating laws illegally passed? … Indeed, no act of any magistrate at home or in the field can have any validity for any person without their authority.]

The religious flaw could be summoned as an argument in political discussion about the validity of Dolabella’s actions as consul. Indeed, it was made to backfire on Antony once he accepted Dolabella’s election to the consulship as valid: his own religious objection now also came to vitiate any action he jointly undertook with his colleague. Cicero does not fail to point this out. See Phil. 3.9, where Antony is blasted as being a worse tyrant than the kings of old (at least those respected the auspices): servabant auspicia reges; quae hic consul augurque neglexit, neque solum legibus contra auspicia ferendis, sed etiam conlega una ferente eo quem ipse ementitis auspiciis vitiosum fecerat (‘The kings observed the auspices, which this consul and augur has neglected, not only by putting through laws in defiance of the auspices, but by doing so jointly with the very colleague whose election he had flawed by falsifying the auspices’) and Phil. 5.9.