May 28, 2015

1. Ancient Rome

A. Civil War: Caesar vs. Pompey

The First Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus) lasted from about 60 BC until 50 BC. During most of this time, Caesar was in Gaul, and Pompey was in Rome. Caesar’s troops were battle-hardened veterans, while Pompey needed time to organize his army. Pompey had few troops in Italy, but he had troops in Spain, Africa, and the Near East, whereas Caesar had only his Gallic troops.

Caesar was known for speed of decision and action (Caesariana celeritas), and when the civil war started in 49 BC, Caesar moved swiftly south, driving Pompey’s forces all the way to Brundisium, on the southeast coast of Italy. Pompey managed to ferry his troops over the Adriatic, along with many Roman senators and magistrates. Brundisium was Pompey’s Dunkirk — a retreat, yes, but a successful retreat, a retreat that enabled the retreating army to re-group, and fight another day. Since Caesar lacked ships, he couldn’t pursue Pompey over the Adriatic. Caesar controlled Italy, but he didn’t take this opportunity to punish his enemies, and run riot. In his younger days, he had decried the massacres of Sulla. Now his troops “observed an exemplary discipline.”1

North Africa was controlled by Pompeians. Caesar sent a small force, and an inexperienced general, against these Pompeians, and Caesar’s force was decisively defeated. Meanwhile, Caesar himself attacked the Pompeians in Spain, won a quick victory, and then returned to Rome.

Pompey collected a large force in the Eastern provinces — eleven legions, numerous ships, and a substantial cavalry. He concentrated his forces at Dyrrhachium on the Adriatic coast (modern Albania), planning to retake Italy in 48 BC. But early in 48, Caesar crossed the Adriatic and besieged Pompey’s forces. Since Caesar’s navy was inferior to Pompey’s, Pompey could obtain supplies by sea, so the besiegers became hungrier than the besieged. To avoid starvation, Caesar withdrew into central Greece.

Now the momentum was with Pompey, and the senators with Pompey’s army were already confident of winning the war, and had begun arguing about how to divide the spoils. Two years earlier, these senators had pressured Pompey to challenge Caesar, and now they pressured Pompey to make a quick end of Caesar’s army.

At the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar had only about 22,000 troops to Pompey’s 37,000. Pompey tried to use his superior cavalry to outflank Caesar’s army. Anticipating this, Caesar had posted special forces on his wings, with instructions to strike Pompey’s cavalry with long spears (pila). Once Caesar had stopped Pompey’s advance, he threw in his reserves, routing Pompey’s army. Pompey himself rode away to save his skin.

Pompey and a few associates made their way to Egypt, which was ruled by King Ptolemy XII. The king’s ministers promptly murdered Pompey, who was an “embarrassing visitor.” Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt, and after he heard of Pompey’s death, he lingered in Egypt, partly to collect a debt, partly to arbitrate a dispute between Ptolemy XII and his sister, Cleopatra, who was the co-ruler of Egypt.

Caesar offended Ptolemy’s ministers by his “peremptory manner,” so they surrounded his quarters with troops, kept him penned up for several months, and forced him into street battles. Caesar was finally rescued in early 47 BC by some troops from the East. He then defeated Ptolemy’s troops, and killed Ptolemy, in a pitched battle. Cleopatra, who had helped Caesar when he was besieged by Ptolemy’s troops, took power in Egypt. (George Bernard Shaw dealt with these events in his play Caesar and Cleopatra.)

Caesar then returned to Rome via Judaea and Asia Minor. In Asia Minor, Caesar clashed with Pharnaces, son of Mithridates. Caesar defeated Pharnaces in a five-day campaign that he later described in three words: veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). When Caesar returned to Rome, his best legion, the Tenth, was in the middle of a mutiny. Caesar quelled the mutiny “with a curt order to ‘get out of uniform.’”2

Though Pompey was dead, there were still Pompeian forces in various Roman territories; the war wasn’t over. In late 47 BC, Caesar headed to Africa, where the Pompeian party, allied with King Juba of Numidia, had assembled about 14 legions and 15,000 cavalry. The Pompeians had a first-rate cavalry leader in Labienus, who had been Caesar’s chief lieutenant during his Gallic campaign, and had later defected to Pompey’s side. Though Caesar had only 8 legions, he routed the Pompeians at the Battle of Thapsus.

During the pursuit Caesar’s troops got out of hand and refused to give quarter, so that the encounter at Thapsus ended in a carnage far worse than that of Pharsalus, and all the leading Pompeian officers except Labienus perished in the rout or shortly after.3

Caesar’s old enemy, Cato the Younger, had been left in charge of the Pompeian garrison at Utica, and committed suicide after the Battle of Thapsus. Cato’s suicide was often admired in antiquity. Cicero wrote a laudatory memoir of Cato, to which Caesar responded with pamphlets called “anti-Catones.” Cary and Scullard say that Cato was a devotee of the Stoic philosophy, and his suicide was a tribute to that philosophy. They say that Cato the Younger, like Cato the Elder, possessed “heroic personal integrity and inhuman unforgivingness.” They don’t admire his suicide, saying that it acquired “undeserved notoriety.”4

The final campaign of the war took place in Spain, where Pompey’s son had recruited native troops, and was joined by Labienus and other Pompeians who had escaped from Thapsus. The Pompeians in Spain had about thirteen legions to Caesar’s eight. At the Battle of Munda, the Pompeians forced Caesar’s army to attack uphill. It was “one of the hardest fought of Caesar’s battles,” but Caesar’s army once again emerged victorious, and in early 45 BC, the war came to an end.

Caesar was lenient toward former foes. Brutus and Cassius, for example, were not only pardoned but promoted to praetor. (Brutus had fought on Pompey’s side at Pharsalus, Cassius was “one of Pompey’s best admirals.” Later they were leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.) The Romans were deeply impressed by Caesar’s clemency, and erected a temple to the clemency of Caesar (Aedes Clementia Caesaris).

B. Caesar’s Domestic Reforms

Caesar displayed as much energy in domestic affairs as he did in military affairs. Like Napoleon, Caesar enacted countless reforms; “there was scarcely a department of administration on which Caesar did not leave an enduring mark.”5 He reformed municipal government, reformed the census, and reduced the tax burden on certain provinces. He made plans to drain marshes, and build a new harbor at Ostia. Since he only lived one year after the civil war, many of his projects weren’t completed until after his death.

The Romans had financial panics just as we do, and after one such panic, Caesar “arranged an equitable accommodation between lenders and borrowers.”

Caesar drew up a plan to organize and codify Roman laws (again one is reminded of Napoleon, and his Napoleonic Code). Caesar also planned a public library, under the direction of a prominent scholar, Varro (this would have been the first public library in Rome). Caesar’s most lasting reform was a reform of the calendar; he introduced “a solar calendar based on the calculations of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian man of science.” Caesar’s calendar is still in use today (in slightly modified form). One of the perks of being a calendar-maker is that you can name a month after yourself (“July” is from Julius). According to Cary and Scullard, Caesar enacted only one stupid law: a sumptuary law (a tax on luxuries). Like Sulla’s sumptuary law, Caesar’s was a failure.

Caesar tried to improve the city of Rome, which had about one million inhabitants. He slashed the number of Roman residents receiving free corn, and sent 80,000 Roman residents to overseas colonies. He also settled many of his old soldiers in overseas colonies. These colonies spread Roman civilization into the provinces.

Caesar also brought the provinces into Roman civilization by giving them political rights; he extended the franchise to northern Italy and to various provincial cities. He broke down the barrier between Italians and provincials, thus “converting the Roman Empire from a military dominion into a mere commonwealth. [This was] his most important contribution to Roman statesmanship.”

Did Caesar’s assassins understand how many positive measures he was taking? Did they realize that, by assassinating Caesar, they would plunge the Empire into civil war?

C. Foreign Affairs

Caesar was concerned about the northern borders of Illyria and Macedon. These borders were often penetrated by Balkan tribes. Apparently Caesar hoped to push these borders north to the Danube.

Caesar was also concerned about Dacia (modern Hungary), which had built a large empire under a ruler named Burebistas.

But Caesar’s chief concern was Parthia, which had inflicted a crushing defeat on Crassus in 53 BC, and had collaborated with Pompey during the recent civil war. When Caesar died in 44 BC, he was preparing a large-scale invasion of Parthia. Was this invasion necessary? Was Parthia threatening any Roman territories? Didn’t Caesar have more pressing business closer to home?

D. The Ides of March

After Caesar defeated Pompey, some people became concerned that Caesar was going to destroy the Republic, and make himself king, or perpetual dictator. Caesar arbitrarily changed the number of aediles, praetors, and quaestors. Sometimes he didn’t bother to hold elections; sometimes he held meaningless elections, at which he “virtually appointed all the higher magistrates.”6 He blurred the distinction between the human and the divine by allowing a statue showing him with a globe beneath his feet, and by allowing a statue of himself to be placed in a temple. He also displayed “a growing imperiousness of manner” and “petty tyranny... especially during the last months of his life.”

Senators vied with each other in paying homage to Caesar. The Senate decreed that, on public occasions, he was to sit on a gold chair. Cary and Scullard speak of “the number and extravagance of [the Senate’s] complimentary decrees.” Senators also pledged themselves to defend Caesar’s life, even at the risk of their own lives. Caesar was becoming more than a man, or at least more than a Republican magistrate.

Many Senators were pro-Caesar because Caesar had appointed them to the Senate. But other Senators looked askance at Caesar’s growing power. Cicero spoke for many when he began describing Caesar as “the tyrant.” And every educated Roman knew the stories from Greek history about heroes who slew tyrants. Caesar’s assassins were probably inspired by stories of tyrannicide, as John Wilkes Booth was inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. After Caesar is killed, Shakespeare makes Cassius say,

    How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

The drama was performed over and over in reality as well as on stage.

During 44 BC, rumors about assassination began floating around, but Caesar made no effort to protect himself; “shortly before his death he dismissed his personal bodyguard.” Did Caesar have a death-wish? Caesar was assassinated on March 15 (the Ides of March) 44 BC, at age 56. There were 60-80 conspirators, many of whom had been officers in Caesar’s army. The chief motive of the conspirators, according to Cary and Scullard, was “a desire to serve the Republic according to their lights.”7

Reviewing Caesar’s career, Cary and Scullard say that the Republican government failed because it couldn’t “control the chiefs of the professionalized army.” So Caesar tried a new system: put the leading general in charge of the government.

Brutus, like other Roman generals, coined money to pay his troops
The image on the left is inscribed “Brut Imp” (Brutus Imperator) and “L Plaet Cest” (Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus, the mint-supervisor or moneyer)
The image on the right is inscribed “Eid Mar” (Ides of March)
The two daggers represent the assassination
The hat (between the daggers) is a pileus,
worn by ex-slaves to celebrate their freedom

E. An Uneasy Peace

After the assassination of Caesar, the assassins were unsure what to do next. Apparently they thought that, as soon as “the tyrant” was killed, the Republic would immediately spring back to life, and they would be lauded as heroes. But the Republic no longer existed, Caesar was the government, and Caesar’s death created a vacuum, created anarchy. Brutus and Cassius and the other assassins saw themselves as liberators, tyrannicides, but many senators seemed to view the assassination as partisan murder, and the prelude to further bloodshed. When Caesar fell, most senators “stampeded out of the council chamber,”8 fearing that they would be caught up in a bloody melee.

So the assassins made their way to the Forum, hoping that the public would receive the news enthusiastically, but here again they were disappointed. Now they began to get worried. They enlisted some gladiators for protection, and made their way to the Capitol, a defensible height where people went if they feared attack.

Mark Antony called a meeting of the Senate for March 17. Cary and Scullard say that Antony was from an aristocratic family, but one that had been relegated to the sidelines during the last century or two. He was a prominent officer in Caesar’s Gallic campaign, and Caesar’s top deputy during his war with Pompey. Antony had a habit of “reckless spending,” and his “boisterous good humor” made him popular with the troops.

When the Senate met on March 17, they granted an amnesty to the assassins, hoping to avert civil war. But they also granted a public funeral to Caesar. When the people saw Caesar’s corpse and blood-stained toga, and heard Antony’s eulogy, they were furious with the assassins. Brutus and Cassius fled Rome to escape mob violence.

But Antony continued to pursue a conciliatory policy, allowing several assassins to take up provincial commands. There were, however, two factors that disturbed the harmony between Antony and the Senate: Antony couldn’t stop spending money, and Octavius arrived on the scene.

Octavius (later known as Augustus) was Caesar’s 18-year-old grand-nephew, adopted son, and heir. Caesar made him his heir because Caesar had no children in line to inherit, because Octavius was a blood relative, and because Caesar had been impressed with his conduct.

I might mention in passing that Caesar’s contingent heir was Decimus Brutus, one of the assassins. It is said that, on the morning of the assassination, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, persuaded him not to go to the Senate meeting (she had heard rumors of a plot). But then Decimus Brutus came by, and persuaded Caesar to go with him to the Senate meeting. Decimus Brutus led Caesar to the meeting by a back way, in order to avoid Mark Antony, who was trying to warn Caesar about the plot. Decimus Brutus should not be confused with Marcus Brutus, who’s generally referred to as “Brutus.” Caesar was also closely connected to Marcus Brutus; some people believed that Marcus Brutus was Caesar’s natural son. When Marcus Brutus stabbed Caesar, Caesar is said to have uttered the famous words et tu, Brute (you, too, Brutus)? Decimus Brutus was apparently the last to stab Caesar; perhaps he was hesitant because he had led Caesar to the meeting, and he was a close friend of Caesar.

When the 18-year-old Octavian arrived in Rome, he met with Antony, and asked Antony for his share of Caesar’s vast fortune. But Antony had already spent much of Caesar’s estate, and wasn’t inclined to give the unspent portion to Octavian. Antony tried to silence Octavian; he responded to Octavian’s request with “an ostentatiously rude refusal.” But Octavian didn’t give up easily, he was a canny political operator, and he had some cards to play. He persuaded some of Caesar’s former troops that he was the “new Caesar,” and that Antony was cooperating with Caesar’s assassins.

In addition to quarreling with Octavian, Antony also quarreled with Brutus and Cassius, and with Cicero. Brutus and Cassius were demanding major provinces for themselves, a demand that our authors call “wholly unreasonable.”9 When Antony responded roughly to this demand, Brutus and Cassius decided to take up arms, using the Eastern provinces as their base.

F. Cicero’s Philippics Against Antony

Meanwhile, Cicero had begun to despair of the Republic, and no longer attended Senate meetings. Antony construed Cicero’s absence as an insult to himself. So Cicero returned to the Senate, and delivered a speech that became known as the First Philippic. Cicero took a dim view of Antony, and felt that the assassins should have killed Antony as well as Caesar. Cicero’s First Philippic enraged Antony, and prompted Antony to make “a violent rejoinder.” Cicero continued the quarrel with a long series of Philippics, warning the Romans against Antony as the Greek orator Demosthenes had once warned the Greeks against King Philip of Macedon.

While Cicero was delivering his Philippics against Antony, and turning Roman opinion against Antony, Antony was collecting troops in Gaul, Spain, etc. He eventually collected 22 legions, and entered northern Italy, where Decimus Brutus was governor. At Antony’s approach, Decimus Brutus abandoned his province, and his soldiers abandoned him; he was soon killed.

Meanwhile, Octavian was leading the anti-Antony forces — the forces of the Senate and Cicero. The Senate asked Octavian to combine with Decimus Brutus, but Octavian refused because Decimus Brutus was one of the assassins (Octavian had positioned himself as the avenger of Caesar, and the punisher of the assassins). Tension between Octavian and the Senate grew, as the Senate sensed that Octavian was just as likely as Antony to establish a military dictatorship, and destroy the Republic. Finally, in the summer of 43 BC, Octavian marched on Rome and established the military dictatorship that Cicero had striven to prevent.10

G. The Second Triumvirate

Octavian didn’t want to quarrel with the Senate and Antony and the assassins at the same time. So while he quarreled with the Senate, he made peace with Antony. The Senate had granted an amnesty to the assassins, and declared Antony an outlaw. Octavian reversed this: he declared Brutus and Cassius to be outlaws, and repealed the law against Antony. Though his army was the real power at Rome, Octavian preserved the formalities of the Republic — elections, assemblies, consuls, etc.

In the fall of 43, Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus met at Bologna, and formed the Second Triumvirate. United, these three could confront Brutus and Cassius, who controlled the Eastern provinces, and commanded large armies. But if Brutus and Cassius were defeated, what could hold these three together? To cement the alliance, Octavian married Antony’s step-daughter, Claudia. But this marriage lasted even a shorter time than the Triumvirate.

Coins of the Second Triumvirate
a gold aureus (top) and a silver denarius
the aureus shows Antony (left) and Octavian
the denarius shows Lepidus (left) and Octavian
all four images are inscribed “III VIR R P C”
which is an abbreviation of tresviri rei publicae constituendae
(One of Three Men for the Regulation of the Republic)

The first act of the triumvirs was to massacre their political opponents; they killed 300 senators and 2,000 Equites (Equites were just below Patricians in the social scale). One of those killed was Cicero, Antony’s bitter enemy. One motive for the killings was the fear of assassination. But the chief motive for the killings was the desire to confiscate the estates of those killed; both Antony and Octavian had promised their troops large bonuses, so they desperately needed money.

The next act of the triumvirs was to declare Caesar a god, thus making Octavian the son of a god (divi filius). After Octavian died, he was also declared a god, and his adopted son Tiberius became divi filius.

Since Octavian took the name of his adoptive father Caesar,
this coin refers to him as “Caesar Divi F” (Caesar, son of a god, DIVI F[ILIUS])
on the right is the divine Julius

Two of Octavian’s closest associates, early in his career and also later, were Maecenas and Agrippa. Maecenas became famous as the patron of Vergil and Horace. Agrippa was a great admiral, married Octavian’s only biological child (Julia), and became the grandfather of the Emperor Caligula.

A coin with Octavian/Augustus (left) and Agrippa
the image of Agrippa is inscribed with the name of the mint-director, Platorinus

Agrippa commissioned the original Pantheon (the current Pantheon dates from about 125 AD). The current Pantheon is inscribed as the original was: M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT (“built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third term as consul,” M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit).

H. The Battle of Philippi

In 42 BC, Antony decided to cross the Adriatic, and attack Brutus and Cassius, who were in Macedonia. But the fleet of Brutus and Cassius prevented Antony from crossing the Adriatic, so Antony called on Octavian for assistance. Though Antony and Octavian were able to land their troops in Greece, the fleet of the assassins continued to harry their supply lines.

The army of Brutus and Cassius was entrenched near Philippi, in Macedonia. In terms of numbers, it was roughly equal to the army of Antony and Octavian; each side had about 100,000 “regular troops,” plus additional auxiliary troops. The Battle of Philippi was actually two battles. In both battles, Antony proved himself to be a first-rate commander; Octavian was “little more than an onlooker.” The first battle prompted Cassius to commit suicide; the second battle, fought about three weeks later, ended with Brutus’ suicide.

I. Tensions in the Triumvirate

As soon as Brutus and Cassius were defeated, the victorious generals (Antony and Octavian) turned against the third triumvir, Lepidus, and divided his provinces between them. So the triumvirate became a duumvirate. Would the remaining two turn against each other?

In 41 BC, Antony was in charge of the Eastern provinces, and Octavian was in charge of Italy. Octavian had the difficult task of discharging 100,000 soldiers, and providing them with pensions and land. To acquire land for the soldiers, he confiscated land around Italy, making himself very unpopular.

Antony’s wife (Fulvia) and younger brother (Lucius Antonius) took advantage of this unpopularity, and tried to portray Octavian as the “bad guy.” Their propaganda was effective, they became over-confident, and they took up arms without Antony’s approval. Octavian’s generals, Salvidienus and Agrippa, laid siege to Lucius Antonius’ troops, who had sought refuge in Perugia. Perugia was starved into surrender.

After the surrender, Octavian massacred the Senate of Perugia, though they were just bystanders. Octavian spared the instigator of the war, Lucius Antonius, for fear of angering Mark Antony. At the end of the “Perusine War,” Octavian controlled the western half of Rome’s territory (Spain, Gaul, and Italy).

In 40 BC, Antony returned from the East, and found the port of Brundisium closed to him. So he landed troops close by, and blockaded Octavian’s commander in Brundisium. Octavian responded by bringing his troops to the area. But the armies that had recently fought together weren’t eager to fight against each other, so discussions took place, and an agreement was reached (the “Peace of Brundisium”). This agreement left Antony in charge of the eastern provinces, Octavian of the western, and Lepidus of Africa (the province of Africa, not the continent). To cement the agreement, Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia (Antony’s previous wife, Fulvia, had recently died, and Octavia’s previous husband, Gaius Claudius Marcellus, had recently died).11

J. War With Sextus Pompeius

Meanwhile, a son of Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, had never accepted the rule of the triumvirate. He had attracted to his camp the remnants of Pompey’s army, and the remnants of the army of Brutus and Cassius. He had assembled a strong navy, and was able to block grain shipments from reaching Rome, reducing the city to starvation, and forcing Octavian to negotiate with him. At a conference at Misenum, Octavian made various concessions to Sextus, in exchange for Sextus allowing grain to reach Rome. But soon both sides infringed the treaty, and war broke out.

In 38 BC, Octavian’s navy suffered several defeats at the hands of Sextus. Octavian also had to cope with unrest on the home front. So Octavian called on Agrippa and Antony for assistance. Agrippa built and trained a new navy, and Antony gave Octavian 120 ships.

In 36 BC, Octavian’s forces attacked Sextus in his stronghold in Sicily. Sextus decided to stake everything on a naval battle. Agrippa defeated Sextus at the Battle of Naulochus, where 300 ships fought on each side — “the largest and most decisive of ancient naval encounters in western waters.”12

Octavian’s victory was complete. Having captured many of Sextus’ ships, he now had 500-600 ships and 45 legions, so he was more than a match for Antony. He began gaining support in Italy, where he seemed to offer the best hope of order and stability. He seemed to be leaving aside the cruelty that had marked his early career. He was setting up a “new regime based on consent rather than force.”13

K. Antony and Cleopatra

When Caesar was assassinated, he was about to embark on a campaign against the Parthians. Antony seemed to think that, with Caesar dead, the responsibility and glory of the Parthian campaign had devolved on him. So after the Battle of Philippi, Antony began preparing for a campaign against the Parthians. Antony set about collecting money for the campaign; he contacted Eastern rulers, and Eastern cities, in search of funds. One of the rulers he contacted was Cleopatra.

We think of Cleopatra as Egyptian, but she was part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, a Macedonian dynasty that began with Alexander’s conquests.14 The Ptolemies were Greek-speaking, and generally refused to learn Egyptian. In 47 BC, Cleopatra had become Caesar’s mistress, and had born him a son (Caesarion). In 44 BC, at the time of Caesar’s death, Cleopatra was visiting Caesar in Rome. Now, in 41 BC, she began an affair with Mark Antony, and bore him twins.

When the Parthian king learned that Antony was preparing to invade, he struck first, sweeping through Syria and Asia Minor. In 39 BC, however, Antony’s lieutenant, Ventidius, was able to re-conquer the lost provinces.

In 36 BC, Antony finally began his invasion of Parthia. He adopted Caesar’s plan: attack from the north, through Armenia, instead of marching eastward from Syria toward Babylonia. Though Antony reached a major Parthian city, he couldn’t capture it because he had lost his siege weapons during his long march. When winter weather set in, he had no choice but to march back toward his starting-point, losing some 22,000 soldiers in the process. Cary and Scullard compare Antony’s retreat to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

In 34 BC, Antony re-grouped and seized Armenia, and in the following year, he again marched to the outskirts of Parthia, but he was forced to retreat because trouble was brewing in the West.

Antony’s Eastern setbacks made him dependent on Cleopatra’s largesse, and susceptible to her flattery. Cleopatra “gradually reduced him to be an instrument of an un-Roman policy.”15 In 34 BC, Antony and Cleopatra staged a pageant in Alexandria, in which Cleopatra’s son by Caesar (Caesarion) was declared Caesar’s legitimate son and rightful heir. This was a challenge to Octavian, who was Caesar’s adopted son. Cleopatra’s children by Antony were declared the rulers of various Eastern realms. These “gifts” of territory are called the “Donations of Alexandria.” The Donations established, or attempted to establish, a separate empire within the Roman Empire, and therefore they could be construed as treason on Antony’s part. The Donations probably contributed to an erosion of support for Antony within Italy, and an increase of support for Octavian. Octavian was winning the war of public opinion.

As Antony drew closer to Cleopatra, he moved further away from his wife Octavia, sister of Octavian. After 35 BC, Antony refused to see Octavia, and in 32 BC, he divorced her. For Octavian, this was the last straw; this created a permanent rupture between Octavian and Antony. Wikipedia calls Octavia “one of the most prominent women in Roman history,” and says that she was “respected and admired by contemporaries for her loyalty, nobility and humanity, and for maintaining traditional Roman feminine virtues.” If Antony had been loyal to Octavia, he might have avoided a rupture with Octavian.

In 32 BC, Octavian brought armed supporters to the Senate, and drove Antony’s supporters out of Rome. In 31 BC, some deserters from Antony’s base in Alexandria told Octavian about Antony’s will, which provided clear evidence of Antony’s devotion to Cleopatra. There were also rumors that Antony was going to transfer the Roman government to Egypt. Public opinion in Italy turned against Antony. Many cities in Italy and the western provinces swore allegiance to Octavian.

Antony and Cleopatra left Egypt and went to Greece, to prepare for the showdown with Octavian. Antony made his base at Actium in western Greece. Both sides had about 30 legions of infantry and 500 ships. Octavian’s admiral, Agrippa, blockaded Antony by sea, while Octavian’s infantry blockaded Antony by land, causing supply problems for Antony. Morale among Antony’s forces was low; many of his troops and ships deserted to Octavian. When he had only 200 ships left, Antony decided to try to escape from Greece. Though he and Cleopatra made it to Egypt, many of his ships and troops quickly surrendered to Octavian.

In 30 BC, with Octavian closing in on them, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian killed the last of the Ptolemies, Caesarion, made Egypt into a Roman province, and carried off the royal treasure. Octavian was now, at age 33, the undisputed ruler of the Roman world.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Ch. 27, #1 back
2. Ch. 27, #3 back
3. Ch. 27, #4 back
4. If Cato the Younger had survived the civil war, would he have joined the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar? Or was he too proud, too honest, to conspire? back
5. Ch. 27, #5 back
6. Ch. 27, #7 back
7. Before Lincoln was assassinated, he had many dreams/premonitions of death. It’s likely that Caesar, too, had premonitions of death. back
8. Ch. 28, #1 back
9. Ch. 28, #2 back
10. Cary and Scullard suggest that Cicero himself contributed to the death of the Republic: his quarrel with Antony destroyed the possibility of an entente between Antony, the Senate, and the assassins. When the Senate declared Antony an outlaw, it paved the way for Octavian’s coup d’état. back
11. Cary and Scullard argue that Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue, which “foreshadows the birth of a child who would bring in the Golden Age,” is referring to a child of Octavia and Antony. Octavia and Antony had two daughters, Antonia Major and Antonia Minor. But Antony later divorced Octavia and married Cleopatra. back
12. Ch. 28, #6 back
13. Ch. 28, #6 back
14. Cary and Scullard call Cleopatra “an almost pure-blooded Macedonian.”(Ch. 28, #9) back
15. Ch. 28, #7 back