Staged in the south of Macedonia
, on the isle
to be technically correct, the Battle of Actium was Antonius
' last stand, and the final Civil War
for quite some time. The battle consisted of Octavian
, 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.