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Showdown with Marcus Antonius

Antonius was living with Cleopatra, who was the ruler of a still independent Ptolemaic Kingdom, with whom he had two sons. His lifestyle became ever more eastern, or at least the rumours in Rome said so. In any case his close personal association with a foreign ruler was used against him. At one occasion Antonius declared Cleopatra "Queen of Kings" and Caesarion, the illegitimate son of Caesar and Cleopatra, "King of Kings". This recognition of Caesarion was a direct attack on Octavian as the legitimate heir to the wealth and power of Caesar.

Octavian, on the other hand, use this to portray Antonius as a defector, who had gone native and who was about to betray Rome and create an independent eastern empire with himself and Cleopatra as rulers. In 32 BCE the elected consuls, allies to Antonius, openly attacked Octavian who was absent from Rome at the time. He swiftly returned, convened the senate and responded so strongly that both consuls and a group of senators loyal to Antonius fled to Egypt.

Octavian used this to claim that Antonius was establishing a separate senate in Alexandria and that he had renounced Octavia. He then illegally seized Antonius' will from the Vestal Virgins and published it. Herein Antonius expressed his wish to be buried in Egypt besides Cleopatra, which was seen as a confirmation of his betrayal of Rome. Octavian then obtained a declaration of war from the senate, not against Antonius but against Cleopatra, a foreign ruler. This was not to be another civil war.

The war was short. Both parties moved their forces to Greece in preparation for a major battle, but the presence of Cleopatra caused defections among Antonius' troops. Also, his fleet got trapped in a bay near Actium by Octavian's navy under the command of Agrippa. When they tried to break out, Antonius' fleet was completely destroyed in the ensuing naval battle. In the midst of the battle, when defeat was evident, favourable winds permitted Cleopatra's ship to escape, and Antonius' followed immediately after. From Greece Octavian moved along the coast in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine into Egypt where he arrived in 30 BCE. Here he defeated Antonius' troops almost without a fight, as most soldiers defected. Antonius and Cleopatra committed suicide to avoid being caught, and Caesarion and Antonius's son were killed by Octavian.

This article has been split into 7 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Civil War
  3. Showdown with Marcus Antonius
  4. The Augustan Principate
  5. The Problem of Succession
  6. Literature and Links
  7. Photographs

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Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-11-20

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