The whole of Italy of its own accord took an oath of allegiance to me and demanded that I should be its leader in the war which I won at Actium -Res Gestae of Augustus.

The site of the final battle between Octavian (no longer Octavius, not yet Augustus) and the combined forces of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.

After Caesar's death in 44 B.C., two men struggled for control of Rome: the young Gaius Octavius, Julius Caesar's adopted son, and Marcus Antonius, his former military commander (there was also a third in the second triumvirate, Marcus Lepidus, but he was never really a contender). The treaty of Brundisium divided the empire into three sections; the East would be controlled by Marc Antony, Italy and lower Gaul by Octavian, and northern Africa by Lepidus. All three, of course, began a propaganda campaign, declaring themselves the true saviours of Rome. While Marc Antony was galloping across the east, winning minor victories over pirates and cheating on his wife, Octavian's sister, with Cleopatra, Octavian spread devastating rumours about Antony's reckless, eastern behaviour and foreign pollution. Antony's support in Rome slowly dwindled, so that by 31 B.C., the battle could easily be painted as a war between Rome and some evil foreigners instead of a true civil war.

The battle between the two finally came to a head at Actium in September of 31 B.C.; Octavian's fleet, under the command of Marcus Agrippa, sailed out to meet the planned invasion fleet of Egypt off the coast of Greece.

The site is really a set of facing promontories guarding the Ambracian Gulf. At the time, there was little there besides the wilderness and a lone temple of Apollo on the southern promontory on which Marc Antony had encamped his forces.

The battle, though one of the largest naval engagements in the ancient world, was soon over. Four days of delay ended in a single day of combat, during which Octavian's fleet, though smaller and outclassed, rounded up the hulking boats of Antony in the narrow, cramped bay and destroyed them. Cleopatra and Marc Antony escaped in her flagship, fleeing before the battle was even finished.

After the battle, Octavian built a large memorial, consisting of the beaks of the Egyptian galleons, set in the stone cliffs (the notches are still visible today), below which he built a small "victory city", Nicopolis, and held celebrations for several weeks.

Of course, Octavian eventually followed to Egypt, where Antony and Cleopatra had already died, and swallowed the Egyptian lands into the expanding Roman empire. The details of that belong elsewhere.

Actium soon became a rallying point of propaganda for Octavian. He declared that he won a great victory for Roman liberty by crushing not Antony, but the mad bitch-tyrant Cleopatra. Finally, with the threats to the Republic destroyed, he could begin a true era of peace and prosperity, the pax Augusta.

Literature was not to be left out by the great war; Vergil inserted some intricate descriptions of the Great Augustus and his victory for freedom everywhere. Perhaps the most memorable is still Horace Ode I.37, which begins:

Now we get drunk, now pound the ground
with dancing, now's the time to deck
the couches of the gods with sumptuous
feasts, my comrades.

Before, who would have thought to break
the good wines from the ancient cellars,
while some mad bitch plotted
ruin for the empire,

With her disgusting flock of followers,
diseased and tainted, hoping in vain
for something, anything, drunk
on power
...

Staged in the south of Macedonia, on the isle of Achaea to be technically correct, the Battle of Actium was Antonius' last stand, and the final Civil War in Rome for quite some time. The battle consisted of Octavian's legions and navy, with Lepidus' legions under Octavian's control, Antionius' small rebel legions and rebel navy and Cleopatra's entire Egyptian army and navy.

Going back a few years, to 40 B.C., the Treaty of Brundisium was signed, dividing the Empire into three portions. The East would go to Antonius, Spain and Gaul to Lepidus, Italy, Africa and the mediterranean islands to Octavian. This was soon to change, in 37 B.C. with the Treaty of Misenium. Here, Lepidus unoficcialy lost control of Spain and Gaul, and was kepy silent with Africa, Octavian assuming control of his former provinces. Antonius' provinces were left unchanged, but the mediterranean islands had been siezed by the republican Sextus Pompeiius. After the war with Sextus was over, in 33 B.C., Lepidus attempted to sieze Sicily for himself, and here he was oficially expelled from the Second Triumvirate. He was treated well, however, as Octavian and Antonius were elated to be rid of him. He was confirmed as governor of Africa, allowed to keep his title Pontifus Maximus, and stripped of his legions.

I go into this much detail of Lepidus as he is important in understanding Actium, due to his lack of importance in the coming events. Lepidus sat in Africa, content to have secured a safe political career and a safe future. The war of propoganda that followed was only between Antonius and Octavian, Lepidus remained completely out of it, however he now utterly and entirely backed Octavian. In my opinion, the war of propoganda in 32 B.C. was the beginning of Actium. Octavian, in the West, spread tales of Antonius' affair, and warned that Antonius sought to sit a line of Ptolemy Kings (Cleopatra's family) upon the Roman throne. Indeed it seemed this was his intention when he nominated one of Cleopatra's sons as the scion (heir to the throne). It was also rumored that Antonius had divorced Octavian's sister and married Cleopatra legally now, but this was most likely just Octavian's propoganda.

In the East Antonius warned of the retribution and harsh treatment Octavian would bring, and he urged all to join him in his struggle for freedom. While Octavian's campaign was brilliantly succesful, raising an immense army, Antonius' was not. The small army he did raise was only marginally loyal, and many of his men fled to Octavian immediately. Fortuneately for Antonius, Cleopatra pledged the entire Egyptian army and Navy to his aid. Still, this was not enough.

In the September of 31 B.C. the propoganda war turned into outright Civil War as Octavian moved his meager Navy into the eastern mediterranean. There are many accounts of this battle, by historians and poets alike, and they show many conflicting views. Historians such as Tacitus and Plutarch had written of this, and poets such as Horace, Vergil and Propertius have also given conflicting opinions. Nevertheless, a general idea has been agreed upon. Octavian's navy was tiny compared to Antonius' and Cleopatra's combined forces, but Octavian had a very able tactician at his side, Marcus Agrippa, who had defeated Sextus Pompeiius. The battle began and Agrippa sunk several of Antonius' ships, and Antonius foolishly ordered them to retreat into the Bay of Actium, thus giving them only a small space to maneuver. Agrippa began closing in on the bay while Octavian lead his legions from Italy, down the Thracia to meet Antonius' army at the city of Actium. The land battle was over quickly, while the naval battle still raged, and Antonius' troops were routed. Octavian blocked the only land route, and Antonius' navy was engaged and, therefore, could not transport his fleeing troops. Hence, the troops deserted to join Octavian, and the army continued marching up to the land later known as Constantinople.

Meanwhile, Antonius was beginning to lose his composure as he watched Agrippa carefully decimate his entrapped navy, and soon Antonius took his flagship, which was at the rear of the battle, and charged straight through the centre of the battle. This was the final mistake Antonius had to make, and any chance of winning the battle was lost now. His loyal navy scattered in an attempt to secure a safe passage for their commander, and as they began to close back in, Cleopatra brought her flagship through the centre yet again, causing them to scatter again. During this double retreat, Agrippa had managed to both destroy many ships as they scattered in confusion, and "plug the gap" by bringing his ships into the centre of the bay. Antonius' navy was now pressed into the most shallow parts on the edge of the bay, and with severely reduced numbers. Agrippa pressed the attack, decimating what was left of the navy, and any survivors surrendered immediately.

Now Agrippa brought his navy around to meet Octavian's legions on the western side of the contantinople province. He brought them to the Eastern side and the legions marched through the East to Egypt, where Lepidus' legions, under Octavian's command, marched across North Africa to reach Egypt. Along the way Octavian had picked up Antonius' forces that were readily defecting, and his ranks swelled, easily defeating the Egyptian army in 30 B.C. and seizing the province. Antonius and Cleopatra commited suicide in the face of defeat.

Yet Egypt was one of the greatest military mights known to the world, and it had untold riches to back its claim. Therefore, what caused such a large navy, and mighty army, to be defeated? Ignoring the foolish tactics of Antonius, it must be remembered that the Egyptian Empire had long been in decline at this stage, and Cleopatra had only managed to marginally reclaim its former glory. Its navy and army was large and grand also, but it was technologically backwards as well, and therefore was far easier to defeat than it would have been if it had modern technology.

The conquest of Egypt is, in my opinion, a continuation of the Battle of Actium, for several reasons. Firstly, it was not simply a naval battle, but also a land battle, and Octavian's forces continued to march and fight all the way to Egypt. Secondly, the motives behind this battle were not only to defeat Antonius, but to eradicate the threat of an Egyptian dominance in Rome. After Egypt was conquered Octavian sought out the scion, and every last one of Cleopatra's relatives, completely destroying the Ptolemy line and ending any age of prosperity and strength for Egypt. Thus the Battle of Actium was a success, Antonius was defeated and dead, and the threat of Egypt removed. Going even further, Actium can be seen as part of a grander "Tour of Force" if you will. This began back in 36 B.C. when Octavian marched into Illyricum (lower Hungaria) and defeated the rebel Dalmatians by 33 B.C. His army then marched on to Actium, then to Egypt. He later celebrated a triple Triumph over Illyricum, Actium and Egypt.

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