The fight of Actium (2 September 31 BCE, fought in the Ionian Sea turn off Actium, Greece) was the decisive engagement of the civil war fought between Octavian Caesar (l. 63-14 CE, later recognized as Augustus, r. 27 BCE - 14 CE) and also the pressures of note Antony (l. 83-30 BCE) and also Cleopatra VII the Egypt (l. C. 69-30 BCE). The fight was the culmination of over ten years of rivalry between Octavian and also Antony complying with the assassination that Julius Caesar in 44 BCE and also the resultant alliance of Octavian, Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (l. 89-12 BCE) known as the second Triumvirate (43-36 BCE) formed to pursue and also defeat Caesar"s assassins, which they did at the fight of Philippi (42 BCE).

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After Philippi, the second Triumvirate ruled various regions the the roman inn Republic yet mutual suspicion and resentment in between the 3 men led to its fracture in 36 BCE, as soon as Lepidus to be exiled by Octavian, and also end in 33 BCE once Antony refused to participate. The battle of Actium was the conclusion come an enmity between Octavian and Antony which started shortly ~ the formation of the second Triumvirate. Having actually lost the battle, Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves the following year and Octavian came to be the very first Roman emperor in 27 BCE.

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Actium, then, has traditionally been cited together the pivotal fight which gave birth to the roman inn Empire. Historians over the last century have increasingly favored the opinion the Octavian"s reliable use that propaganda made the fight inevitable and its favorable outcome thrust him to power. The underlying forces which drive the various players in the conflict to meet at Actium, however, were set in motion long before.

Caesar, Cleopatra, & second Triumvirate

Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus (l. C. 115-53 BCE), and Pompey the an excellent (l. C. 106-48 BCE) formed the an initial Triumvirate (60-53 BCE) which essentially separated Rome"s territories between them. Rome had become a Mediterranean superpower after the an initial Punic war (264-241 BCE) and also steadily expanded its reach since. Caesar and also Pompey were the 2 leading generals that the day and also Crassus was the richest male in Rome. Crassus, wanting to it is in the same of these two in army matters, led one army against the Parthians in 53 BCE however was killed and also his pressures scattered at the battle of Carrhae.

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Octavian construed that one actual son of Caesar could later exercise claim to rule.

Caesar reinstated Cleopatra VII as queen after ~ she appealed come him for assist in person and also Ptolemy XIII was eliminated in 47 BCE. Caesar and Cleopatra then ended up being lovers, also though he was married come Calpurnia, and she gave birth to his boy Caesarion in 47 BCE. Caesar lugged Cleopatra and Caesarion to Rome in 46 BCE, openly proclaiming her his consort and Caesarion his son, i m sorry upset many of the roman Senate who put the reprimand on Cleopatra because that bewitching Caesar.

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Among those who had the most reason to dislike and distrust Cleopatra was Caesar"s great-nephew Octavian whom Caesar made decision as his heritage in 44 BCE. Octavian taken that one actual boy of Caesar could later exercise insurance claim to rule. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, Cleopatra and also her son fled earlier to Egypt and also Octavian joined v Antony and also Lepidus in the second Triumvirate follow Cassius (l. C. 85-42 BCE) and Brutus (l. 85-42 BCE) to your deaths at Philippi.

Afterwards, Octavian returned to Rome when Antony saw Tarsus in Cilicia whereby he commanded Cleopatra to show up to answer charges she had actually aided Brutus and Cassius. Cleopatra famously met Antony in 41 BCE external the gateways of Tarsus, getting here in high-end aboard her barge ~ above the Cydnus River. The 2 quickly became lovers and also Antony continued to be in the east.

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Second Triumvirate Discord

Also in 41 BCE, Antony"s younger brothers Lucius Antonius revolted against Octavian and also was suppressed and, in response, Antony sided with Sextus Pompey (l. 67-35 BCE), boy of Pompey the Great, who had ongoing the war through Caesar after ~ his father"s fatality in 48 BCE and, due to the fact that Caesar"s assassination, had been running a fleet that pirate ships out of Sicily which was interfering through Rome"s food supply. Antony"s support of Sextus led to his blockading the town of Brundisium and Octavian marched to relax it but, rather of fighting Antony, that made peace which had Antony marrying Octavian"s sister Octavia.

Antony damaged off his accord through Sextus, and also the last was defeated and killed in 35 BCE in a joint effort between Octavian, his brilliant general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (l. 64-12 BCE), and Lepidus, a success due virtually wholly come Agrippa"s skills. Lepidus chose to claim the win for himself and hurried to include Sicily to his holdings. This move was strongly protest by Octavian who then exiled Lepidus from the second Triumvirate, sending out him earlier to Africa where he had been governing.


Division that the second Triumvirate
ColdEl (CC BY-SA)

Octavian and Antony were now the 2 powers in Rome v factions backing each. Antony determined to enlarge Rome"s territory and prestige in the eastern by subduing Parthia – which the chose since of Crassus" previously defeat. His campaign was poorly managed, however, and also he was defeated in 36 BCE with the ns of 30,000 men. Antony"s failed campaign damaged his reputation while elevating Octavian"s who, in 34 BCE, led a collection of brilliantly successful campaigns to secure the north-eastern frontiers the Italy.

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Antony again failure in an attempt to overcome Armenia and also lost further support in Rome by repudiating his wife Octavia, marrying Cleopatra, and also declaring Caesarion “King of Kings”. He additionally appointed his kids by Cleopatra rulers the Syria, Asia Minor, Cyrenaica, Armenia, and Parthia – exercising a power he go not also have over many of those regions. Octavian broke contact with Antony who wrote come the Senate that he would not accept reappointment together a triumvir and the second Triumvirate finished in 33 BCE.

Octavian"s war of Words

Octavian could not declare war on Antony outright since Antony quiet had far-reaching support in Rome. That was educated that Antony had actually placed his will certainly in the treatment of the Vestal Virgins and appeared in ~ the temple of Vesta demanding it. The Vestal Virgins refused to hand that over yet admitted that, if he wanted to take it, they might do small to stop him. Octavian took the will and read it come the Senate and also then the people"s Assembly.


Augustus, bronze Head from Euboea
Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

The will (which numerous historians have said was in reality a forgery) made clear Antony"s intentions to leave his substantial land holdings – genuine or imagined – to his kids by Cleopatra and additionally elevated Caesarion"s was standing by emphasizing he was the boy of the great Julius Caesar. Octavian manipulated the situation to emphasis the people"s creative thinking on Cleopatra who was illustrated as an evil seductress of 2 of Rome"s greatest generals. The world were given to recognize that, if Antony were allowed to obtain power, he would certainly surrender Rome to Cleopatra and move the chair of Roman power to Alexandria. Scholar J.F.C. Fuller, citing historian M.P. Charlesworth, describes the effects of Octavian"s war of words:

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Then versus Cleopatra was launched one of the most damaging outbursts of hatred in history. No accusation was too vile to be hurled versus her and also the charges climate made have actually echoed with the world ever since and have occasionally been naively taken for facts. This accursed Egyptian to be a sorceress who had actually bewitched Antony with drugs, a wanton who offered herself come his pleasures for power; this one and also that one had actually been she paramours; Caesar"s alleged kid was the bastard of one unknown father. She was a worshipper that beast-gods, a queen that eunuchs as foul as herself, a drunkard and a harlot; later she was to be called a poisoner, a traitor, and also a coward. This propaganda was extremely effective. (219)

Octavian rotate the tide of windy opinion against Antony with Cleopatra without straight charging Antony with any type of crime or misdeeds in ~ all. The Senate deprived Antony that his powers together triumvir and also consul, citing national security since he was plainly under Cleopatra"s spell, and avoided offending any type of of his pendant by heralding war top top Cleopatra when elevating Octavian together the would-be savior the the realm. Octavian"s plan worked far better than he can have imagined due to the fact that all battle proceedings were directed in ~ Cleopatra and, indirectly, that was said that this was done to save Antony from her clutches. Octavian knew Antony would not leave Cleopatra and also certainly knew he would never ever accept a subordinate position in Octavian"s Rome; he would certainly condemn self in defending Cleopatra and also so make himself an foe of the state.

Prelude to the Battle

Antony and also Cleopatra mobilized their army and readied your fleet in ~ Ephesus (in contemporary Turkey), wintering there 33-32 BCE. Cleopatra agreed to keep the military fed with provides from Egypt and contributed considerably to the war chest v 20,000 talents. Antony"s officers understood Octavian"s strategy and urged Antony to street himself indigenous Cleopatra by sending her earlier to Egypt and also entering right into negotiations v Octavian, yet Antony refused.


He relocated his command article to Samos in Greece and also had his army and also fleet transported come Athens, whereby he and Cleopatra joined them in feather 32 BCE. He was again urged to different from Cleopatra, yet he refused. As Fuller notes, “by now was plainly impossible, because that without she moral and also financial assistance he can no much longer hope to wage the war” (220). Indigenous Athens, Antony and Cleopatra"s pressures moved north and were at Actium ~ above the Ionian Sea by respectable 32 BCE. Fuller describes Antony"s forces:

The military consisted that nineteen legions, in all from 60,000 come 63,000 men, excluding the light-armed, which most likely numbered 10,000 men, and also perhaps 12,000 horse; and the fleet totaled eight squadrons, each of sixty ships, including one squadron the Cleopatra"s, led by her flagship Antonia. (220)

The military wintered in ~ Actium 32-31 BCE through supplies lugged up from Egypt v a heavily guarded transport course running up the Peloponnesian coastline through Methone and also Leucas. Octavian, meanwhile, had mobilized his pressures of 80,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry, 3000 archers, and over 400 ships. His fleet was made up of light-weight, maneuverable Liburnian vessels, usually used for patrols or commerce, equipped v rams on the prow and catapults because that deploying a maker known as the harpax, a wood harpoon encased in iron with one hook in ~ one end and also a rope at the various other attached come a windlass which to be shot into an opponent ship and also then the rope cranked tightly, illustration the opponent"s ship closer to be boarded. Agrippa commanded the fleet if Octavian would certainly oversee the army.

Agrippa surprised Antony and Cleopatra by appearing in early 31 BCE, while their militaries were quiet in winter quarters, and also seizing Methone, cutting off supplies and also seizing ships and men. Octavian, meanwhile, positioned his floor forces 5 miles come the north of Actium and fortified his camp. Agrippa relocated along the coast and also took Leucas, cutting turn off all supplies to Antony"s forces from Egypt and again seizing ships and also crews. Antony and also Cleopatra were now between Octavian ~ above land and also Agrippa in ~ sea and had come act or starve. Their setup seems to have actually been to deploy the fleet come fight and win but, failing that, to break v Agrippa"s line of ships and also make a run for Egypt. Come this end, castle ordered sails to be kept on ships at the prepared and also put the war chests on the more quickly of Cleopatra"s transports.

The fight of Actium

On September 2, 31 BCE, Antony and also Cleopatra relocated their fleet into the Ionian Sea with the strategy that the wind, coming across seaward toward Agrippa"s ships, would rotate them toward the south away indigenous their strengthened camp which Antony"s soil forces could then strike since it would be left without assistance from the fleet. Octavian, however, had heard reports indigenous deserters native Antony"s army that Antony and also Cleopatra had no on purpose of fighting and also hoped to break v the line and also escape to Egypt. Agrippa, therefore, deployed the fleet because that either eventuality – though he knew a quest of pearl at complete sail would be effective – and his position, in three formations, negate Antony"s hope the the wind would certainly significantly assist his cause.


Around noon, v both fleets facing each various other on the sea, the wind came forcefully across, and Antony introduced his ships towards Agrippa"s, hope to revolve his left flank and break the line. Agrippa"s smaller and faster Liburnians outmaneuvered Antony"s large and slow-moving quinqueremes, the heaviest roman warships, and also Agrippa"s usage of the harpax easily sank 15 the Antony"s ships. Antony"s flagship was struck and grappled through a harpax with resultant hand-to-hand fighting. Agrippa"s pearls rammed the larger quinqueremes repeatedly, sinking or at the very least neutralizing them, if Antony"s ships basically turned right into static floating fortresses hurling stones and also firing arrows but unable to protect against the strikes of the smaller vessels who rams tore with their oars and pierced their hulls.

At part point, 3 of Antony"s squadrons abandoned the fight and also turned back toward Actium and two others surrendered shortly afterwards. Antony signaled to Cleopatra to do a run with the Antonia and the war chests, and Cleopatra v her fleet broke off indigenous the engagement and also hoisted sails because that the open up sea. Chronicler Cassius Dio explains the fight after Cleopatra"s departure:

men damaged the lower parts that the ships every around, crushed the oars, snapped turn off the rudders, and also climbed ~ above the decks, seized host of some of the foe and pulled castle down, propelled off others, combated yet with others…and Antony"s guys pushed their assailants back with boathooks, cut them down with axes, hurled under upon lock stones and heavy missiles made all set for simply this purpose, drove earlier those who tried to climb up, and also fought through those who came in ~ reach. An eye-witness the what take it place could have contrasted it come walled communities or else islands, numerous in number and close together, gift besieged through the sea. (L.33)

Antony"s flagship was deeply enmeshed in a tangle the others and held fast by the harpax therefore he escaped to one more and, with 40 ships, cruised after Cleopatra, boarding the Antonia once he come up alongside. That is claimed to have actually been so damaged by the defeat the he might not face Cleopatra. He sent out word earlier to Canidius Crassus to retract the floor forces, pulling earlier into Asia, and also await more orders there. Agrippa"s fleet hosted their positions at sea transparent the night of 2 September and accepted the surrender that Antony"s remaining ships the next morning, many of which were so badly damaged they were collection on fire, and also the crews were took in by Agrippa"s forces.


Back in Alexandria, Cleopatra plan their following move. Realizing she can not host Alexandria versus Octavian, she suggested they leave for Spain, wherein they could lay hold of the silver mines and raise a brand-new army. Antony was so fully demoralized by his defeat, however, the he walk not also respond to word indigenous Canidius Crassus asking what should be done through the legions in Asia and all he seems to have actually done is drink.

Octavian arrived outside of Alexandria in July the 30 BCE, and also this prompt threat roused Antony from his depression. The mobilized his forces and struck in ~ Octavian"s advancement forces, win the day. By the morning of 1 august 30 BCE, however, many of his troops had deserted, recognizing the they were fighting because that the shedding side. Later on that day, upon hearing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony stabbed himself, questioning to be carried to wherever her body was being kept. The rumor was false, however, and also Antony lived just long sufficient to die in Cleopatra"s eight in the citadel whereby she had actually taken refuge. Octavian then gotten in the city wherein he presented Cleopatra v his state which she had actually no choice but to accept. She asked for and was granted time to placed her affairs in order. Rather than be taken through Octavian to Rome as a compensation in a roman inn triumph, Cleopatra killed herself on 30 respectable 30 BCE.


Octavian granted the wishes of Antony and also Cleopatra that they be hidden together and then notified the execution of Caesarion. Cleopatra"s three kids with Antony – Ptolemy, Cleopatra Selene II, and Alexander – were required to Rome where they marched in the procession of Octavian"s triumph behind one effigy the their mother positioned resting on a couch in Egyptian luxury. Lock were later raised by Antony"s an initial wife, Octavia.

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Octavian to be hailed together the savior of Rome and magnified his reputation by personal taking charge of Egypt and its grain supply to feed the Romans. In order to appeal come Cleopatra"s previous subjects, he accepted the rites, honors, and title the a Ptolemaic pharaoh even though he had no interest in any of these. In January the 27 BCE, responsibility of how dangerous it had been for his great-uncle Julius to appear too ambitious, he claimed that the situation to Rome had passed and also humbly resigned his powers only to have the Senate restore them together with the title Augustus ("illustrious one"). Octavian gratefully accepted this gesture, ending up being Augustus Caesar, the an initial emperor the the roman inn Empire.