Dramatis Personae of the Battle of Actium

By pallin

It was September 2, 31 BC. Augustus and Mark Antony would battle it out for the future of Roman civilization. Near the Roman colony of Actium situated in Greece, Rome's future would be decided.

Mark Antony

Mark Antony was a member of the Second Triumvirate, along with Augustus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Born in 83 BC, his grandfather was executed by Marius' supporters. In 54 BC, Antony became a member of Caesar's armies. Although he was extremely loyal to Caesar, his personality was said to irritate him at times. When Caesar cast the die and marched across the Rubicon, Antony served as his second-in-command. Leading the left wing of the army, he had Caesar's utmost confidence. Following Caesar's appointment as dictator, he was made master of the horse, the most important person to the dictator. His rule as the administrator of Italy while Caesar fought the remaining supporters of Pompey was an awful one. Many people were killed, causing Rome to fall into anarchy. When Caesar came back, he deposed Antony of all political duties. However, they settled together in 44 BC. Then, on March 15, 44 BC came the assassination of Caesar. Another civil war was about to begin.

Mark Antony
A bust of Mark Antony

Caesar Augustus

Caesar Augustus was born into royalty on September 23, 63 BC. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Caesar, and his father was governor of Macedonia. In 46 BC, Augustus was adopted as Caesar's heir. After Caesar's assassination, he recruited an army from Caesar's legions, forming a formidable one of his own. When relationships between him and the other members of the Second Triumvirate broke through, civil war for control of Rome erupted.


Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a close ally to Augustus, ultimately winning the Battle of Actium. He was born in 63 BC and served as a cavalry officer with Augustus under Caesar. Sent by Caesar to study with the Macedonian legions, Agrippa and Augustus became close friends. In 41 BC, Agrippa was ordered by Augustus to put down the rebellion of Fulvia, Anton's wife. Another one of Agrippa's military achievements was defeating Sextus Pompeius, one of Pompey the Great's sons, at Mylae and Naucholus. Previously, Augustus had attempted to do the same, but failed. In 33 BC, Agrippa was elected aedile. He enlarged the sewers (Cloaca Maxima), and improved the existing aqueducts. Then, he was commanded to take over Augustus' fleet at the Battle of Actium.

Second Triumvirate

Thus, the Second Triumvirate would soon come about. The Lex Titia, passed in 43 BC, gave Antony, Augustus, and Lepidus pretty much absolute power for five years. Proscription lists were put up demanding that 300 senators and 2,000 equites should relinquish their property. Augustus married Clodia, Anton's step daughter, to further the claim of ally. Then, the Triumvirate divided up into three parts. Lepidus would proceed to the western provinces, Augustus would remain in Italy, and Antony would go east. Here, he met Cleopatra in 41 BC at Tarsus.

In Italy, Fulvia, Antony's wife, rebelled against Augustus' administration. Since Augustus had divorced Clodia on the simple reason that she was 'annoying', Fulvia was determined to revenge her daughter. Raising eight legions, she invaded Rome. However, Augustus besieged her in Perusia and caused her to surrender. She was then exiled to Sicyon. Anton's relationship with Augustus was patched when Antony married Augustus' sister, Octavia.

In 33-32 BC, alliances between Antony and Augustus fell apart. Antony divorced Octavia and made the accusation that Augustus usurped power. Augustus countered by saying that Antony was guilty of treason. In 31 BC, the war started.

At the Battle of Actium, Augustus' fleet commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa fought Antony and Cleopatra's combined fleet. Although the figures conflict, it is approximated that each side had over 200 ships. Antony's less motile fleet attempted to crush Octavian's extremely mobile ships with artillery. Soon, Anton's fleet was set on fire, and the battle was lost. A year later, Antony and Cleopatra would commit suicide. Augustus would go on to become the unchallenged first emperor of Rome.

Battle of Actium
A painting of the Battle of Actium done in 1672

Sources: Wikipedia