Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > From The Battle Of Philippi To The Battle Of Actium - b.C. 41-30

From The Battle Of Philippi To The Battle Of Actium - b.C. 41-30

The battle of Philippi scaled the fate of the Republic. Antony remained in the East to collect money for the soldiers. Octavian, who was in ill health, returned to Italy to give the veterans the lands which had been promised them. Antony traversed Asia Minor, plundering the unfortunate inhabitants, who had already suffered so severely from the exactions of Brutus and Cassias. In the voluptuous cities of Asia he surrendered himself to every kind of sensual enjoyment. He entered Ephesus in the character of Bacchus, accompanied by a wild procession of women dressed like Bacchantes, and men and youths disguised as Satyrs and Pans. At Tarsus, in Cilicia, whither he had gone to prepare for the war against the Parthians, he was visited by Cleopatra. He had summoned her to his presence to answer for her conduct in supplying Cassius with money and provisions. She was now in her 28th year, and in the full maturity of her charms. In her 15th year her beauty had made an impression on the heart of Antony, when he was at Alexandria with Gabinius, and she now trusted to make him her willing slave. She sailed up the Cydnus to Tarsus in a magnificent vessel with purple sails, propelled by silver oars to the sound of luxurious music. She herself reclined under an awning spangled with gold, attired as Venus and fanned by Cupids. The most beautiful of her female slaves held the rudder and the ropes. The perfumes burnt upon the vessel filled the banks of the river with their fragrance. The inhabitants cried that Venus had come to revel with Bacchus. Antony accepted her invitation to sup on board her galley, and was completely subjugated. Her wit and vivacity surpassed even her beauty. He followed her to Alexandria, where he forgot every thing in luxurious dalliance and the charms of her society.

Meantime important events had been taking place in Italy. Octavian found immense difficulties in satisfying the demands of the veterans. All Italy was thrown into confusion. Though he expelled thousands from their homes in Cisalpine Gaul, in order to give their farms to his soldiers, they still clamored for more. Those who had obtained assignments of land seized upon the property of their neighbors, and those who had not were ready to rise in mutiny. The country people, who had been obliged to yield their property to the rude soldiery, filled Italy with their complaints, and flocked to Rome to implore in vain the protection of Octavian. Even if he had the wish, he had not the power to control his soldiers. Fulvia, the wife of Antony, who had remained behind in Italy, resolved to avail herself of those elements of confusion, and crush Octavian. She was a bold and ambitious woman; she saw that, sooner or later, the struggle must come between her husband and Octavian; and, by precipitating the war, she hoped to bring her husband to Italy, and thus withdraw him from the influence of Cleopatra. L. Antonius, the brother of the Triumvir, who was Consul this year (B.C. 41), entered into her views. They proclaimed themselves the patrons of the unfortunate Italians, and also promised to the discontented soldiery that the Triumvir would recompense them with the spoils of Asia. By these means they soon saw themselves at the head of a considerable force. They even obtained possession of Rome. But Agrippa, the ablest general of Octavian, forced them to quit the city, and pressed them so hard that they were obliged to take refuge in Perusia (Perugia), one of the most powerful cities of Etruria. Here they were besieged during the winter, and suffered so dreadfully from famine that they found themselves compelled to capitulate in the following spring. The lives of L. Antonius and Fulvia were spared, but the chief citizens of Perusia itself were put to death, and the town burnt to the ground.

While Antony's friends were thus unfortunate in Italy, his own forces experienced a still greater disaster in the East. Q. Labienus, the son of Cæsar's old lieutenant in Gaul, had been sent by Brutus and Cassius to seek aid from Orodes, the king of Parthia. He was in that country when the news arrived of the battle of Philippi, and had remained there up to the present time. The war in Italy, and Antony's indolence at Alexandria, held out a favorable opportunity for the invasion of the Roman provinces. Orodes placed a large army under the command of Labienus and his own son Pacorus. They crossed the Euphrates in B.C. 40, and carried every thing before them. Antony's troops were defeated; the two powerful cities of Antioch and Apamea were taken, and the whole of Syria overrun by the Parthians. Pacorus penetrated as far south as Palestine, and Labienus invaded Cilicia. Such alarming news, both from Italy and the East, at length aroused Antony from his voluptuous dreams. Leaving his lieutenant Ventidius in Syria to conduct the war against the Parthians, Antony sailed to Athens, where he met his brother and wife. He now formed an alliance with Sextus Pompey, sailed to Italy, and laid siege to Brundusium. Another civil war seemed inevitable; but the soldiers on both sides were eager for peace, and mutual friends persuaded the chiefs to be reconciled, which was the more easily effected in consequence of the death of Fulvia at Sicyon. A new division of the Roman world was now made. Antony was to have all the eastern provinces and Octavian the western, the town of Scodra, in Illyricum, forming the boundary between them. Italy was to belong to them in common. Lepidus was allowed to retain possession of Africa, which he had received after the battle of Philippi, but he had ceased to be of any political importance. It was agreed that Antony should carry on the war against the Parthians, and that Octavian should subdue Pompey, whom Antony readily sacrificed. The Consuls were to be selected alternately from the friends of each. To cement the alliance, Antony was to marry Octavia, the sister of Octavian and widow of C. Marcellus, one of the noblest women of her age. The two Triumvirs then repaired to Rome to celebrate the marriage. These events took place toward the end of B.C. 40.

Discontent, however, prevailed at Rome. Sextus Pompey, who had been excluded from the peace, still continued master of the sea, and intercepted the ships which supplied the city with corn. The people were in want of bread, and became so exasperated that Octavian and Antony found it necessary to enter into negotiations with Pompey. An interview took place between the chiefs at Cape Misenum. It was agreed that Pompey should receive Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Achaia, and that he should send to Rome an immediate supply of corn. The chiefs then feasted one another, and Pompey entertained Octavian and Antony on board his own galley. When the banquet was at its height, a Greek named Menas, or Menodorus, one of Pompey's captains, whispered to him, "Shall I cut off the anchors of the ship, and make you master of the Roman world?" To which Pompey made the well-known reply, "You ought to have done it without asking me" The two Triumvirs, on their return to Rome, were received with shouts of applause. The civil wars seemed to have come to an end (B.C. 39).

Antony, with Octavia, returned to the East, where he found that his legate Ventidius had gained the most brilliant success over the Parthians. This man was a native of Picenum, and originally a mule-driver. He was taken prisoner in the Social War, and walked in chains in the triumphal procession of Pompeius Strato. He was made Tribune of the Plebs by Julius Cæsar, and was raised to the Consulship in B.C. 43. In the Parthian War he displayed military abilities of no ordinary kind. He first defeated Labienus, took him prisoner in Cilicia, and put him to death. He then entered Syria, and drove Pacorus beyond the Euphrates. In the following year (B.C. 38) the Parthians again entered Syria, but Ventidius gained a signal victory over them, and Pacorus himself fell in the battle.

The treaty between Sextus Pompey and the Triumvirs did not last long. Antony refused to give up Achaia, and Pompey therefore recommenced his piratical excursions. The price of provisions at Rome immediately rose, and Octavian found it necessary to commence war immediately; but his fleet was twice defeated by Pompey, and was at last completely destroyed by a storm (B.C. 38). This failure only proved the necessity of making still more extensive preparations to carry on the war with success. The power of Octavian was insecure as long as Pompey was master of the sea, and could deprive Rome of her supplies of corn. Nearly two years were spent in building a new fleet, and exercising the newly-raised crews and rowers. The command of the fleet and the superintendence of all the necessary preparations for the war were intrusted to Agrippa. In order to obtain a perfectly secure and land-locked basin for his fleet, and thus secure it against any sudden surprise, he constructed the celebrated Julius Portus on the coast of Campania, near Baiæ, by connecting the inland Lake Avernus, by means of a canal, with the Lake Lucrinus, and by strengthening the latter lake against the sea, by an artificial dike or dam. While he was engaged in these great works, Antony sailed to Taventum, in B.C. 37, with 300 ships. Mæcenas hastened thither from Rome, and succeeded once more in concluding an amicable arrangement. He was accompanied on this occasion by Horace, who has immortalized, in a well-known satire, his journey from Rome to Brundusium. Octavian and Antony met between Tarentum and Metapontum; the Triumvirate was renewed for another period of five years; Antony agreed to leave 120 ships to assist in the war against Pompey, and Octavian promised to send a land force to the East for the campaign against the Parthians.

Octavian, now relieved of all anxiety on the part of Antony, urged on his preparations with redoubled vigor. By the summer of B.C. 36 he was ready to commence operations. He had three large fleets at his disposal: his own, stationed in the Julian harbor; that of Antony, under the command of Statilius Taurus, in the harbor of Tarentum; and that of Lepidus, off the coast of Africa. His plan was for all three fleets to set sail on the same day, and make a descent upon three different parts of Sicily; but a fearful storm marred this project. Lepidus alone reached the coast of Sicily, and landed at Lilybæum; Statilius Taurus was able to put back to Tarentum; but Octavian, who was surprised by the storm off the Lucanian promontory of Palinurus, lost a great number of his ships, and was obliged to remain in Italy to repair his shattered fleet. As soon as the ships had been refitted, Octavian again set sail for Sicily. Agrippa defeated Pompey's fleet off Mylæ, destroying 30 of his ships; but the decisive battle was fought on the 3d of September (B.C. 36), off Naulochus, a sea-port between Mylæ and the promontory of Pelorus. Agrippa gained a brilliant victory; most of the Pompeian vessels were destroyed or taken. Pompey himself fled to Lesbos with a squadron of 17 ships. Octavian did not pursue him, as Lepidus, who was at the head of a considerable force, now claimed Sicily for himself, and an equal share as Triumvir in the government of the Roman world; but Octavian found means to seduce his soldiers from their allegiance; and Lepidus was at last obliged to surrender to Octavian, and to throw himself upon his mercy. His life was granted, but he was deprived of his Triumvirate, his army, and his provinces, and was compelled to retire to Italy as a private person. He was allowed, however, to retain his property and the dignity of Pontifex Maximus. He lived till B.C. 13.

In B.C. 35 Pompey crossed over from Lesbos to Asia, with the view of seizing that province; but he was easily crushed by the lieutenants of Antony, was taken prisoner as he attempted to escape to Armenia, and was put to death at Miletus. By the death of Pompey and the deposition of Lepidus, Antony and Octavian were now left without a rival, and Antony's mad love for Cleopatra soon made Octavian the undisputed master of the Roman world.

After Antony's marriage with Octavia in B.C. 40, he seems for a time to have forgotten, or, at least, conquered the fascinations of the Egyptian queen. For the next three years he resided in Athens with his wife; but after his visit to Italy, and the renewal of the Triumvirate in B.C. 37, he left Octavia behind at Tarentum, and determined to carry out his long-projected campaign against the Parthians. As he approached Syria, "that great evil," as Plutarch calls it, his passion for Cleopatra, burst forth with more vehemence than ever. From this time she appears as his evil genius. He summoned her to him at Laodicea, and loaded her with honors and favors. He added to her dominions Phœnicia, Cœle-Syria, Cyprus, a large part of Cilicia, Palestine, and Arabia, and publicly recognized the children she had borne him. Although he had collected a large army to invade the Parthian empire, he was unable to tear himself away from the enchantress, and did not commence his march till late in the year. The expedition proved most disastrous; the army suffered from want of provisions, and Antony found himself compelled to retreat. He narrowly escaped the fate of Crassus, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he succeeded in reaching the Armenian mountains, after losing the best part of his troops.

Antony returned to Alexandria, and surrendered himself entirely to Cleopatra. In B.C. 34 he made a short campaign into Armenia, and succeeded in obtaining possession of Artavasdas, the Armenian king. He carried him to Alexandria, and, to the great scandal of all the Romans, entered the city in triumph, with all the pomp and ceremonial of the Roman pageant. He now laid aside entirely the character of a Roman citizen, and assumed the state and dress of an Eastern monarch. Instead of the toga he wore a robe of purple, and his head was crowned with a diadem. Sometimes he assumed the character of Osiris, while Cleopatra appeared at his side as Isis. He gave the title of kings to Alexander and Ptolemy, his sons by Cleopatra. The Egyptian queen already dreamed of reigning over the Roman world.

While Antony was disgusting the Romans and alienating his friends and supporters by his senseless follies, Octavian had been restoring order to Italy, and, by his wise and energetic administration, was slowly repairing the evils of the civil wars. In order to give security to the frontiers and employment to the troops, he attacked the barbarians on the north of Italy and Greece, and subdued the Iapydes, Pannonians, and Dalmatians. He carried on these wars in person, and won the affection of the soldiers by sharing their dangers and hardships.

The contrast between the two Triumvirs was sufficiently striking, but Octavian called attention to the follies of Antony. Letters passed between them full of mutual recriminations, and both parties began to prepare for the inevitable struggle. Toward the end of B.C. 32 the Senate declared war against Cleopatra, for Antony was regarded as her slave. The five years of the Triumvirate had expired on the last day of this year; and on the 1st of January, B.C. 31, Octavian, as Consul of the Republic, proceeded to carry on the war against the Egyptian queen. The hostile fleets and armies assembled on the western coasts of Greece. Antony's fleet was superior both in number and size of the ships, but they were clumsy and unmanageable. They were anchored in the Ambraciot Gulf, in the modern Bay of Prevesa. (See Plan, P.) The army was encamped on the promontory of Actium (Plan, 3), which has given its name to the battle. The fleet of Octavian consisted of light Liburnian vessels, manned by crews which had gained experience in the wars against Sextus Pompey. It was under the command of the able Agrippa, who took up his station at Corcyra, and swept the Adriatic Sea. Octavian in person took the command of the land forces, which were encamped on the coast of Epirus opposite Actium, on the spot where Nicopolis afterward stood. (Plan, 1.) The generals of Antony strongly urged him to fight on land; but the desertions among his troops were numerous; Cleopatra became alarmed for her safety; and it was therefore resolved to sacrifice the army, and retire with the fleet to Egypt. But Agrippa was on the watch, and Antony had no sooner sailed outside the strait than he was compelled to fight. The battle was still undecided and equally favorable to both parties, when Cleopatra, whose vessels were at anchor in the rear, taking advantage of a favorable breeze which sprang up, sailed through the midst of the combatants with her squadron of 60 ships, and made for the coast of Peloponnesus. When Antony saw her flight, he hastily followed her, forgetting every thing else, and shamefully deserting those who were fighting and dying in his cause. The remainder of the fleet was destroyed before night-time. The army, after a few days' hesitation, surrendered, and Octavian pardoned all the officers who sued for his favor. The battle of Actium was fought on the 2d of September, B.C. 31, from which day the reign of Octavian is to be dated.

Plan of Actium
Plan of Actium.

1. Nicopolis
2. C. La Scara.
3. Prom. Actium.
5. Temple of Apollo.
P. Bay of Prevesa

Octavian did not follow Antony to Alexandria for nearly twelve months after the battle of Actium. He sent Agrippa to Italy with his veteran troops, and himself passed the winter at Samos; but he could not satisfy the demands of the soldiers, who broke out into open mutiny. Octavian hastened to Brundusium, and with difficulty raised a sufficient sum of money to calm their discontent.

This respite was of no service to Antony and Cleopatra. They knew that resistance was hopeless, and therefore sent embassadors to Octavian to solicit his favor. To Antony no answer was given, but to Cleopatra hopes were held out if she would betray her lover. She began to flatter herself that her charms, which had fascinated both Cæsar and Antony, might conquer Octavian, who was younger than either. Octavian at length appeared before Pelusium, which surrendered to him without resistance. He then marched upon Alexandria. Antony, encouraged by some slight success in an action with the cavalry, prepared to resist Octavian both by sea and land; but as soon as the Egyptian ships approached those of Octavian, the crews saluted them with their oars and passed over to their side. Antony's cavalry also deserted him, his infantry was easily repulsed, and he fled to Alexandria, crying out that he was betrayed by Cleopatra.

The queen had shut herself up in a mausoleum which she had built to receive her body after death, and where she had collected her most valuable treasures. Hearing of Antony's defeat, she sent persons to inform him that she was dead. He fell into the snare; they had promised not to survive one another, and Antony stabbed himself. He was drawn up into the mausoleum, and died in her arms. She was apprehended by the officers of Octavian, and a few days afterward had an interview with the conqueror. Her charms, however, failed in softening the colder heart of Octavian. He only "bade her be of good cheer and fear no violence" Soon afterward she learned that she was to be sent to Rome in three days' time. This news decided her. On the following day she was found lying dead on a golden couch in royal attire, with her two women lifeless at her feet. The manner of her death was unknown. It was generally believed that she had died by the bite of an asp, which a peasant had brought to her in a basket full of figs. She was 39 years of age at the time of her death. Egypt was made a Roman province. Octavian did not return to Rome till B.C. 29, when he celebrated a threefold triumph over the Pannonians, Dalmatians, and Egypt. The Temple of Janus was closed for the third time in Roman history. The exhausted Roman world, longing for repose, gladly acquiesced in the sole rule of Octavian. The Senate conferred upon him numerous honors and distinctions, with the title of Imperator for life.

Thus ended the Roman Republic, an end to which it had been tending for the last hundred years. The corruption and demoralization of all classes had rendered a Republic almost an impossibility; and the civil dissensions of the state had again and again invested one or more persons with despotic authority. The means which Augustus employed to strengthen and maintain his power belong to a history of the Empire. He proceeded with the caution which was his greatest characteristic. He refused the names of King and Dictator, and was contented with the simple appellation of Princeps, which had always been given to one of the most distinguished members of the Senate. He received, however, in B.C. 27, the novel title of Augustus, that is, "the sacred," or "the venerable," which was afterward assumed by all the Roman emperors as a surname. As Imperator he had the command of the Roman armies; and the tribunitian and proconsular powers which the Senate conferred upon him made him absolute master of the state. He made a new division of the provinces, allowing the Senate to appoint the governors of those which were quiet and long-settled, like Sicily, Achaia, and Asia, but retaining for himself such as required the presence of an army, which were governed by means of his Legati. On the death of Lepidus in B.C. 13, he succeeded him as Pontifex Maximus, and thus became the head of the Roman religion. While he thus united in his own person all the great offices of state, he still allowed the Consuls, Prætors, and other magistrates of the Republic to be annually elected. "In a few words, the system of Imperial government, as it was instituted by Octavian, and maintained by those princes who understood their own interest and that of the people, may be defined as an absolute government, disguised by the form of a commonwealth. The masters of the Roman world surrounded their throne with darkness, concealed their irresistible strength; and humbly professed themselves the accountable ministers of the Senate, whose supreme decrees they dictated and obeyed"

Map of the Provinces of the Roman Empire
Map of the Provinces of the Roman Empire

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