Before the close of B.C. 32, Octavian, by the authority of the senate, declared war nominally against Cleopatra. Antony, roused from his sleep by reports from Rome, passed over to Athens, issuing orders everywhere to levy men and collect ships for the impending struggle.
Continuing Death of Antony and Cleopatra,
our selection from A History of Rome by Henry George Liddell published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously on Death of Antony and Cleopatra.
Time: August 30 BC
Place: Alexandria, Egypt
In point of fidelity to his marriage vows Octavian was little better than Antony. He renounced his marriage with Clodia, the daughter of Fulvia, when her mother attempted to raise Italy against him. He divorced Scribonia, when it no longer suited him to court the favor of her kinsman. To replace this second wife, he forcibly took away Livia from her husband, T. Claudius Nero, though she was at that time pregnant of her second son. But in this and other less pardonable immoralities there was nothing to shock the feelings of Romans.
But Octavian never suffered pleasure to divert him from business. If he could not be a successful general, he resolved at least to show that he could be a hardy soldier. While Antony in his Egyptian palace was neglecting the Parthian War, his rival led his legions in more than one dangerous campaign against the barbarous Dalmatians and Pannonians, who had been for some time infesting the province of Illyricum. In the year B.C. 33 he announced that the limits of the empire had been extended northward to the banks of the Save.
Octavian now began to feel that any appearance of friendship with Antony was a source of weakness rather than of strength at Rome. Misunderstandings had already broken out. Antony complained that Octavian had given him no share in the provinces wrested from Sext Pompeius and Lepidus. Octavian retorted by accusing his colleague of appropriating Egypt and Armenia, and of increasing Cleopatra’s power at the expense of the Roman Empire. Popular indignation rose to its height when Plancus and Titius, who had been admitted to Antony’s confidence, passed over to Octavian, and disclosed the contents of their master’s will. In that document Antony ordered that his body should be buried at Alexandria, in the mausoleum of Cleopatra. Men began to fancy that Cleopatra had already planted her throne upon the Capitol. These suspicions were sedulously encouraged by Octavian.
Before the close of B.C. 32, Octavian, by the authority of the senate, declared war nominally against Cleopatra. Antony, roused from his sleep by reports from Rome, passed over to Athens, issuing orders everywhere to levy men and collect ships for the impending struggle. At Athens he received news of the declaration of war, and replied by divorcing Octavia. His fleet was ordered to assemble at Corcyra; and his legions in the early spring prepared to pour into Epirus. He established his head-quarters at Patrae on the Corinthian Gulf.
But Antony, though his fleet was superior to that of Octavian, allowed Agrippa to sweep the Ionian Sea, and to take possession of Methone, in Messenia, as a station for a flying squadron to intercept Antony’s communications with the East, nay, even to occupy Corcyra, which had been destined for his own place of rendezvous. Antony’s fleet now anchored in the waters of the Ambracian Gulf, while his legions encamped on a spot of land which forms the northern horn of that spacious inlet. But the place chosen for the camp was unhealthy; and in the heats of early summer his army suffered greatly from disease. Agrippa lay close at hand watching his opportunity. In the course of the spring Octavian joined him in person.
Early in the season Antony had repaired from Patrae to his army, so as to be ready either to cross over into Italy or to meet the enemy if they attempted to land in Epirus. At first he showed something of his old military spirit, and the soldiers, who always loved his military frankness, warmed into enthusiasm; but his chief officers, won by Octavian or disgusted by the influence of Cleopatra, deserted him in such numbers that he knew not whom to trust, and gave up all thoughts of maintaining the contest with energy. Urged by Cleopatra, he resolved to carry off his fleet and abandon the army. All preparations were made in secret, and the great fleet put to sea on the 28th of August. For the four following days there was a strong gale from the south. Neither could Antony escape nor could Octavian put to sea against him from Corcyra. On the 2d of September, however, the wind fell, and Octavian’s light vessels, by using their oars, easily came up with the unwieldy galleys of the eastern fleet. A battle was now inevitable.
Antony’s ships were like impregnable fortresses to the assault of the slight vessels of Octavian; and, though they lay nearly motionless in the calm sea, little impression was made upon them. But about noon a breeze sprung up from the west; and Cleopatra, followed by sixty Egyptian ships, made sail in a southerly direction. Antony immediately sprang from his ship-of-war into a light galley and followed. Deserted by their commander, the captains of Antony’s ships continued to resist desperately; nor was it till the greater part of them were set on fire that the contest was decided. Before evening closed, the whole fleet was destroyed; most of the men and all the treasure on board perished. A few days after, when the shameful flight of Antony was made known to his army, all his legions went over to the conqueror.
It was not for eleven months after the battle of Actium that Octavian entered the open gates of Alexandria. He had been employed in the interval in founding the city of Nicopolis to celebrate his victory on the northern horn of the Ambracian Gulf, in rewarding his soldiers, and settling the affairs of the provinces of the East. In the winter he returned to Italy, and it was midsummer, B.C. 30, before he arrived in Egypt.