Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD)
Emperor: 27 BC - 14 AD
The contribution of Augustus to the consolidation and stabilization of the 'Empire' from a governing and military perspective was immense, but the legacy of the man is perhaps best exemplified in his contribution to public works and infrastructure.
Whilst Augustus was a necessity to the success of the new imperial government, veiled as a continuation of Republican ideals, without his other contributions, its continuing success may have been in jeopardy.
His reinstitution of conservative policy and wide scale public improvements helped to not only bring Rome out of the ashes of a century of civil war, but established Augustus as the unassailable and unchallenged ruler of the Roman world for nearly half a century.
Gaius Octavius was born on 23 September 63 BC, and though of distant relation to Caesar, his eventual rise to prominence was unexpected. He was the son of a 'new man' bearing the same name from Velitrae in Latium. His father had reached the rank of praetor before dying when Octavian was a boy of only 4 years old, just as Caesar was launching his war in Gaul. His father was married to Atia, the daughter of a somewhat obscure Senator, M. Atius Balbus and Julia, sister of Julius Caesar, making him the great nephew of the dictator. There were other first nephews, but Caesar didn't seem to hold them in as high regard as the young Octavian, though one, Q. Pedius, did serve Caesar as a legate. Despite his relation to Caesar, there was some questionable lineage throughout his family.
Later opponents, Mark Antony included, attacked his heritage by claiming his ancestors were freedmen and moneychangers, not the sort of lineage that one might expect from a rising star in Roman politics. Suetonius claims that Octavian carried another surname as a youth, Thurinus. This, Suetonius claims, either represented Octavian's historical familial roots, or the place where his father bested remnants of slave armies while he served as governor of Macedonia. Suetonius even reports that he came into a statue of Octavian as a boy bearing the inscription Thurinus, which he promptly gifted to the Emperor Hadrian, who prized it highly. Whatever the case, some evidence suggests that opponents like Antony may have used this surname against Octavian.
At the age of twelve (51 BC), Octavian's grandmother and sister of Caesar, died, ushering him into his first major public appearance. He delivered her eulogy, and like many other young political hopefuls, this was the first opportunity to make a mark on both the aristocracy and the common masses alike. While young Octavian was certainly noticed by Caesar at some point, evidence of direct involvement is conflicting. Octavian was coming into adulthood just as Caesar was embroiled in Gaul and in the Civil War that followed, and there certainly wouldn't have been much time for camaraderie. With Octavian's age, and reports of sickliness as a child, contact must have been limited. This, however, didn't stop Caesar from having an impact on the young man's career. In 48 BC, Octavius was appointed as a pontiff (priest) at the tender age of 15. It is possible that Caesar planned to take his protégé with him to Africa to face of against the Republicans there, but either sickness, or an over protective mother shot down this idea.
In 46 BC, Octavian took part in Caesar's triumphal parades in Rome, earning himself some military award, despite taking no part in the effort. Clearly this shows that Caesar at least had some design on his great nephew's future. The following year Octavian followed Caesar to Spain, where the dictator conducted the last battle of his career against the sons of Pompey at Munda. Though Octavian himself took little part in the actual military aspect of this campaign, his journey to join Caesar seems a significant development in the relationship. While en route, Octavian was faced with difficulties in avoiding enemy resistance, including a shipwreck which could've been disastrous. When the two finally crossed paths, Caesar was apparently very pleased with his nephew's daring determination and courage. Other than Caesar's short triumphal visit to Rome, this period in Spain was likely the first time the two were truly able to foster a serious relationship. If at any time, this was the chance for Octavian to impress Caesar, and for Caesar to bring the young man under his wing. While there is little historical documentation, Octavian likely learned a great deal about provincial administration, warfare and political manipulation while a part of his uncle's entourage. Nicolaus of Damascus, though his account is unreliable at best, indicates that Octavian was so firmly entrenched with Caesar that he was able to have considerable influence. In one example, Nicolaus states that Octavian begged a pardon for the brother of his great boyhood friend, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who had served under Cato in Africa. Despite beginning to retract on the number of pardons issued by this time in the civil war (as many who were pardoned would continue to fight), Caesar relented, and may have helped cement a lifetime friendship with the two future leaders of Rome.
By the end of the campaign in Spain, Octavian was sent to Apollonia in Illyricum to further his studies, along with his friend Agrippa. Here he was to continue his education, while waiting to accompany Caesar on a campaign against the Dacians and the Parthians. Octavian was still a very minor player in the politics of Rome at this point, but his star was certainly on the rise. Caesar, having selected various political offices years in advance (one of many slights against Republican tradition), had slotted his nephew to serve as his right hand man, or master of horse, in the year 43 or 42 BC. At the age of 20 or 21, Octavian was expected to occupy the second most powerful position in the Roman world, but fate, and the Ides of March would have a different plan.
On March 15, 44 BC, the Roman world was shaken to it's foundation with the assassination of Julius Caesar. Though the effect would prove to be staggering, (ie the plunge into yet another devastating civil war), no Roman was as profoundly affected as Gaius Octavius. Nearly 19 years old, Octavian was studying in Apollonia and awaiting the start of Caesar's next campaign against Parthia. Octavian's plan to join this campaign came to a crashing halt with the murder of his great uncle, and two equally possible roads soon opened to the young man.
When word reached Octavian of Caesar's murder, the naming of Octavian as his uncle's heir and posthumous adoption, reaction was mixed among his family and friends. His friends, likely Agrippa included, urged him to go to Macedonia and take refuge with Caesar's former legions there. His mother and step-father, L. Marcius Philippus on the other hand, pressed him to return to Rome as a private citizen and refuse Caesar's inheritance out of fear for his personal safety. Octavian sided in part with his family and decided to return to Rome, but readily accepted the adoption and the portion of Caesar's estate that was willed to him. He took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, as was his right by virtue of adoption, but Octavianus was dropped from conscious thought. It's been used throughout the study of history to define him from his adoptive father, but he identified himself simply as Caesar. In so doing, he immediately entrenched himself as a favorite both with the masses and the all important veteran legionaries.
After making the decision to return to Rome to claim his inheritance, Octavian first crossed the Adriatic and landed in Brundisium, where he decided the safest course of action was an appeal to Caesar's troops. A bold and daring move, and seemingly necessary to ensure his safety, it turned out to be the only way to ensure his legitimacy. As Octavian marched to Rome, and gathered support among Caesar's Italian veterans, the de facto leader in Rome, Marcus Antonius, essentially ignored the youth. Not only did he blatantly disregard Caesar's will, but made no effort to discuss the situation with Octavian or learn of his intentions. When Octavian finally arrived in Rome in late April, 44 BC, Antony still ignored him, and still attempted to block passing on Caesar's inheritance. Octavian, however, garnered support from the masses and conflict seemed inevitable.
Antony was occupied with his own intentions of taking Cisalpine Gaul from then governor Decimus Brutus. Though the use of the Tribunes, Antony forced through legislation that altered his appointed governership of 43 BC from Macedonia to Cisalpine Gaul. Decimus Brutus, a former supporter of Caesar, yet a key player in the assassination, had the general support of the Senate, and of course, Caesar's assassins. Antony, however, had no intention of waiting for events to unfold and took matters in his own hands. In November of 44 BC, rather than wait for Decimus Brutus' term to expire, Antony moved on Cisalpine Gaul, where he hoped to gather further strength by pushing his control into all of Gaul. In the meantime Octavian, as he was being set aside by the powers that were as a man with a name but no authority, pushed the envelope of daring. He traveled among the veteran colonies of Campania and, risking the enmity of the state, raised a personal army perhaps as strong as 10,000 men. The weight of the Caesar name, as Octavian was still quite unaccomplished on his own merit, proved to be a powerful factor to reckon with.
Antony returned to Rome to deal with this new threat, but 2 of his 5 legions on the way from Macedonia to Gaul deserted him to Octavian's growing army. Rather than risk a war in Italy, Antony rushed back to Cisalpine Gaul with the forces he could muster, where he hoped to seize control from Brutus. At this point, there were three seemingly opposed factions vying for power, the 'Liberators' or Caesar's assassins, Antony and Octavian. The Senate, and Cicero in particular all viewed Antony as the greatest threat to Republican liberty, and he began a campaign of disgracing Antony through the use of his vaunted rhetoric. Viewing Octavian as a tool to be manipulated, the Senate accepted him as a counterforce to Antony's strength and legitimized his command, despite its illegal beginnings. By the close of 44 BC, the various factions continued to shore up their military positions, and war was once again on the horizon.
The Prelude to War
As Mark Antony marched north to besiege Decimus Brutus in Cisalpine Gaul, Octavian, armed with the support of both Cicero and the Senate, readied his forces to follow. Having garnered the support of Cicero, though it was thought to be for the best interest of the Republic, Octavian actually secured his position as a political player of some importance. Despite attempts by the Senate to try and reconcile all the opposing factions, there was little chance now for resolution by peace. In the east, Caesar's assassins continued to spread their control, and in the west the various factions continued to build support for their own causes.
In April of 43 BC, Octavian marched north to face Antony, and was joined by the current consuls for the year, Pansa and Hirtius. The three men had mutual cause in defeating Antony, but otherwise the two consuls would have little use for Caesar's heir. The three commanders camped their armies separately near Bononia, not far from where Antony had Decimus Brutus besieged at Mutina. Antony broke off the siege with his main army, leaving his brother Lucius in command there. Antony drove down on Pansa first, defeating his Consular army, and inflicting what would become mortal wounds on Pansa himself. Next he sought to defeat Hirtius in turn, but the combined strength of two powerful enemies turned the tide against him. Antony retreated into Transalpine Gaul, where he hoped to build support from the Caesarian forces still in power there, but the armies of his enemies suffered a terrible loss. Not only had Pansa succumbed to his wounds, but Hirtius was killed in the battle as well, leaving the Republic without its Consuls. Decimus Brutus wanted Octavian to join forces with him and pursue Antony, but Octavian refused to join with one of the murderer's of his adoptive father.
While Antony fled and then joined forces with Lepidus, the pro-Caesarian governor of Spain, the Senate's faction attempted to shun Octavian and bestow prestige among Brutus and other allied parties. Among other slights, the Senate ignored land settlement requests for Octavian's veterans and refused to consider his petition to be named suffect Consul (along with Cicero) for the remainder of the year. While Cicero continued to support who he though was his young prot?g?, the assassins of Caesar saw the situation much more clearly. While Antony was a threat, to be sure, they feared Octavian, with his massive public popularity, as the continued presence of Caesar's legacy. Denying Octavian at every turn, the young man decided on another bold and daring move. Rather than wait for events to unfold, Octavian marched south, leaving Antony and Lepidus in a stalemate against Decimus Brutus and his allies.
Word had come to Octavian that the Senate and even Cicero, viewed him as a convenient tool to use against Antony. When the need was gone, the Senate would surely dismiss Octavian, but they underestimated both him, and his popularity with the legions. It's suspected that Antony may have even played a part, probably taunting Octavian with the fact that he was just an unwitting pawn in the Senate's power game.
As Octavian marched on Rome, the Senate was unable to put up resistance, with their main armies facing off against Antony and Lepidus in Gaul and the other 'Liberators' in the east. It's also interesting to note that while the assassins such as Brutus and Cassius participated in Caesar's murder as a pretense to preserving the Republican tradition, they seemingly has no qualms about illegally taking control of they eastern provinces to build their own strength. Regardless, the Senate initially accepted Octavian's demands, such as naming him Consul and granting land to his veterans, but when word arrived that legions had arrived from Africa to support the Senate, the offers were rescinded. These legions, however, refused to fight Caesar's heir, and switched their loyalty without a single engagement. As the calendar reached mid summer, Octavian, still only 19 years old, was confirmed as Consul along with his cousin Q. Pedius and set about an extraordinary bit of political legislation. He seized the state treasury, paying off his troops, and finally received the distribution of Caesar's will. More importantly, however, he changed the focus of Senatorial politics by authorizing a special law revoking the amnesty of the 'Liberators'.
In one single day, he tried and convicted Caesar's murderers in abstentia, and set stage for the civil war to finally end the collapsing Republic. Octavian rose to power as the first Roman in history to do so almost completely with the support of the army. Unlike previous political powerhouses, like Marius, Sulla and Caesar, Octavian had little to any real support among the political forces that were. As a young man without an established client base, the maneuverings of men such as Cicero helped set him up on the public stage, but it was the legions, and the use of his adoptive name, Caesar, that secured his position among Rome's elite. By the autumn of 43 BC, Octavian prepared for his next move, to alter the state of the political landscape and reconcile with Antony.
The Second Triumvirate
After forcing through his own political agenda in Rome, the situation with Antony was still precarious. Antony had reached Gaul and gathered strength from the legions stationed there. Together with Lepidus in Spain, the two were a formidable force. Octavian, despite having considerable strength himself, would be hard pressed to meet that challenge alone.
By passing a law that found all the members of Caesar's assassination plot to be guilty of a capital crime, he certainly couldn't count on any support from that quarter, not that he wanted it. Decimus Brutus, for so long holding the support of the Senate against Antony, now found himself sandwiched between Antony, Lepidus and Octavian, and decided to flee to the safer eastern territories. He was not so lucky, however, and was captured and executed en route, becoming the first of the major players in Caesar's murder to pay for his 'crime'.
Octavian decided that the prudent course of action was to reconcile with Antony and stabilize the Caesarean faction. He marched north and met with Antony and Lepidus on a small river island near Bononia. For two days the three political leaders of the western Roman world hammered out the details of an agreement that would set them up as the official government of Rome. In establishing the triumviri rei publicae constituendae, the three men divided the western 'empire' between them.
Antony would stay entrenched in Gaul, Lepidus, the leading pro-consular patrician member of Roman government still alive, maintained control of Spain and Narbonensis and Octavian received Africa, Sardinia and Sicily. Octavian's status as the junior member of the group relegated his authority to these more minor territories, by comparison. Not that they weren't important, but Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great, had already established himself as a pirate captain in the Mediterranean and made control of Octavian's provinces difficult at best. By the time the Second Triumvirate was cemented, Pompey had already taken control of the islands, and was lurking dangerously off the Italian shore.
This Second Triumvirate was different than the First arranged by Caesar, Pompey and Crassus some 16 years earlier. While the first was really a secret pact that forced the 3 men to pledge mutual support, leaving the Republican system largely intact, this new triumvirate was a legal arrangement, written into the constitution by the Lex Titia in November, 43 BC. In essence, this new government was a joint dictatorship, where the three members had ultimate authority capable of completely disregarding Republican and Senatorial tradition through the use of military force.
With their agreement firmly in place, the triumvirate first focused on both gathering enough funds to stabilize their authority and eliminate political opposition. This meant the return of Sulla's dreaded political tool, the proscriptions. There is some dispute whether the proscriptions were intended merely as a means for financial gain, or directly intended as a political affirmation, but regardless, the use of proscription produced both results. Being sure not to make the mistake Caesar had made in pardoning his most dangerous threats, the proscriptions of the second triumvirate were as brutal and all encompassing as those of Sulla.
In all, some 130 to 300 Senators were proscribed, but most only faced confiscation of property. Worse though, estimates of up to 2,000 equites were said to be on the proscription list. Members of the Triumvirs own families were not exempt either. Lepidus' own brother was proscribed, as well as Antony's cousin and Octavian's distant relative through adoption, Lucius Caesar. Though they survived and their proscription was a matter of financial necessity, it was clear that the Triumvirs would use any means necessary to advance their agenda.
The most notable victim of the proscriptions was Marcus Tullius Cicero. After having opposed Antony for so long, including vicious attacks through the use of his rhetoric and oration, Antony simply couldn't allow Octavian's mentor to live. Despite Cicero's support of Caesar's heir, Octavian agreed that Cicero had to go. On December 7, 43 BC, Cicero was captured attempting to flee to Greece, and the relative safety of the 'Liberators' provinces. Much like the proscriptions of Marius and Sulla, Cicero's head and hands were cut off and displayed on the Rostra in the forum. Unlike their predecessor's mass displays, however, Cicero was the only victim to be publicly exhibited this time around. To add insult to injury, and as a symbolic gesture against Cicero's vaunted power of speech, Antony's wife, Fulvia pulled out Cicero's tongue and jabbed it repeatedly with a pin.
Though the proscriptions didn't yield as much financial gain as the triumvirs had hoped, they did provide enough of a boon to turn their attention on their mutual enemies in the east. Despite a certain animosity between them, they were secured by the presence of a common foe, and the triumvirate was stable for the time being. The next year, 42 BC, would be focused on eliminating Caesar's assassins and strengthening their own power.
In 42 BC, Octavian and Antony combined their forces, 28 legions in total, and sailed across the Adriatic and into Greece. The 'Liberators' Brutus and Cassius had 19 of their own legions, which were heavily supplemented by auxilia provided by eastern client kingdoms.
Brutus and Cassius had been plundering and taking control of the east for nearly two full years since the murder of Caesar. Despite having an army made up largely of Caesar's former troops, they used this plunder and distributed it among the men to secure their loyalty.
As Octavian's and Antony's armies arrived and assembled near Dyrrhachium, the site of Caesar's near defeat to Pompey 6 years earlier, Octavian battled with his own poor health. Often described as a sickly youth, he was apparently stricken with a terrible illness just as the fate of the Roman world was about to be decided. Antony, however, likely saw a grand opportunity to win a great victory for his own cause without being forced to share any credit with his young fellow triumvir and rival. As Antony marched his army east towards the Macedonian - Thracian and border and confrontation with the enemy, Octavian had no choice but to follow, despite his illness, or risk being left out of the battle to revenge his adoptive father.
Initially both sides jockeyed for position, and the 'Liberators' hoped to win a battle of attrition by delaying Antony's advance. Antony however, often considered second only to Caesar in military ability during this era, would have none of it and forced the enemy into battle. On October 3, the two armies drew up near the Macedonian town of Philippi. Cassius commanded the left wing of the Republican forces directly across from Antony while Brutus confronted Octavian's army with the right wing. Octavian, however, despite his presence in the area was still terribly ill.
He was forced to stay behind the lines in his tent, while his officers conducted the battle on his behalf. As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left. Brutus, though, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back. Octavian was forced to flee his camp, taking refuge in a nearby marsh.
Cassius' defeat was significant and yet the entire affair could've been stabilized by Brutus's success. Cassius though was certainly unaware of his ally's good fortune and decided to take his own life, rather than submit to Antony. Despite his own loss, Cassius was the stronger military mind of the Republican side and his own death began to sound the end of their ability to resist. Brutus managed to regroup and take command of Cassius' remaining army, but the writing was on the wall. Antony assuredly reveled in his own victory while Octavian was forced to retreat, but Brutus held his ground and delayed Antony's triumph. On October 23, perhaps losing the confidence of his men, or willing to risk a final last ditch effort at victory, Brutus launched an attack.
At the Battle of 2nd Philippi, Octavian was seemingly recovered from his illness and commanded his own army. He and his men were certainly embarrassed by their defeat just 3 weeks earlier and were prepared to give a better account. This time they proved themselves up to the challenge, and the triumvir's army overran Brutus. Octavian's forces captured Brutus' camp and they were atoned for their previous defeat.
The battle spelled the end of the Republican cause, and Brutus committed suicide on the following day. A great number of those involved in the plot against Caesar also lost their lives at Philippi and Octavian was brutal in exacting vengeance. Though some escaped to join with Sextus Pompey in his Sicilian stronghold, the battles of Philippi essentially assured the end of Republican government and paved the way for a final conflict between the victorious triumvirs.
After the battles, Octavian marched his army back to Italy, where he was now faced with the unenviable task of finding a retirement settlement for his veterans. Antony continued east where he began to secure loyalty of client kings and provincial governors alike. He imposed serious penalties on Asia Minor in particular and essentially plundered those provinces for disloyalty, despite already having been looted by Brutus and Cassius.
In light of the altered state of the Roman world, the triumvirs realigned their positions. Antony received the entire east as his new territory, yet retained Transalpine Gaul. Octavian now moved into the second position among the three received Spain, Italy, Cisalpine Gaul and the Mediterranean islands. Lepidus, clearly relegated to third on the list, was moved to Africa, where he would essentially linger as a bit player in the remaining days of the Republic.
The Perusine War
In early 41 BC, Octavian returned to Italy from Philippi and was hard at work attempting to settle 40,000 veterans. He had a major problem in this task: a promise made that the legionaries would receive rich and fertile land around 18 major cities in Italy. This was an issue because the current inhabitants would have to be displaced, certainly a cause for serious social disorder. Compounding the problem was dissatisfaction among the troops who always felt that they weren't receiving what was promised. Among those dispossessed of home and property were the poets Virgil and Horace, the latter of whom served Brutus as a Tribune in his army. Those who had land confiscated were not compensated in any way, and anger against Octavian was growing to a cascade.
Lucius Antonius, brother of Mark Antony, sought to take advantage of the situation for his own, and most likely his brother's advantage. Though Antony seemingly had no involvement, he certainly hoped to gain at Octavian's expense. At the height of resentment against Octavian, Lucius and Antony's wife Fulvia, began to champion the cause of those who had been effected by Octavian's plan. Adding to the fuel, they began to spread the idea that Antony's troops were being under compensated in the whole affair in comparison to Octavian's own men. Some of Antony's men arranged a meeting between Octavian and Lucius to settle the affair, but a fight broke out between troops from both sides who went to the site ahead of their leaders.
Lucius gathered the forces loyal to Antony and marched on Rome, and Octavian was forced to withdraw to Etruria where he could prepare his men. Lucius quickly realized that his position was untenable and decided to head north to Cisalpine Gaul, where he could join with and coordinate with his brother's generals there. Octavian, however, wouldn't allow this to happen. He was faced with a serious threat from Sextus Pompey in Sicily, Lucius Antonius right in Italy, Antony's men in Gaul, and perhaps Antony himself from the east. Octavian cut off Lucius' retreat and besieged him at Perusia, effectively eliminating the threat of coordination with Antony's men in Gaul. After a short siege, Lucius realized that help was not going to come, and rather than starve to death, was forced to surrender.
By February of 40 BC, the so-called Perusine War ended as Lucius gave up the town. Likely fearing reprisal from his fellow triumvirate, Octavian took no action against Lucius, or Antony's wife Fulvia, but exacted revenge on the town itself instead. While Lucius was pardoned, the town magistrates were put to the sword (save for one who had supported the condemnation of Caesar's assassins some years prior), and the town was opened up to his men. At first Antony seemed to have little reaction to these events that took nearly a year to materialize. In the interim, however, Antony's governor in Gaul had died, and Octavian moved in to establish his own control of the province. While Antony, for the most part, ignored the trouble stirred up between his brother and Octavian, he had to respond to the loss of a major territorial stronghold.
By spring of 40 BC, Antony sailed to Brundisium in Italy's heel, but was refused entry by Octavian's garrison commander. Rather than be turned away, Antony besieged the city, and Octavian was forced to move south to meet this new threat. In the meantime, Antony had reconciled with the remaining Republicans under Sextus Pompey, and now it seemed that war was inevitable with a clear advantage going to Antony. Things looked so bleak for Octavian that he divorced his wife Claudia (step-daughter of Antony) and married Pompey's sister-in-law, apparently in an attempt to keep Sextus out of any coming fight between the two triumvirs. At this point, however, as the two armies prepared to meet near Brundisium, Anotny found that his men didn't have the stomach to do battle with their comrades, and Caesar's heir. Forced into negotiation, Octavian's future was saved by Antony's own men, and war was diverted, at least temporarily.
As a result of a new agreement between them (the Pact of Brundisium), both men confirmed the situation as the status quo. Octavian was ceded Gaul and Antony was reaffirmed as supreme commander in the entire east. Lepidus, the third member of the so-called triumvirate still languished as a bit player in Africa, and clearly fell behind his rivals for the ultimate power in the Roman world. As luck would have it, Antony's wife Fulvia died shortly after her involvement in the Perusine War, and Antony was free to remarry. Cementing their alliance, Antony married Octavian's sister, Octavia, and the two returned to Rome together and amidst a great deal of relief by the masses. They began to make plans to procure their own global dominance; Antony certainly wanting to return east where he hoped for his own campaign against the Parthians, and Octavian wanted to deal with Sextus Pompey once and for all.
After the pact of Brundisium, Sextus Pompey (or Magnus Pius as he called himself), son of Gnaeus Pomepius Magnus, maintained a stranglehold in Sicily and on the Roman grain supply. A short lived agreement with Antony to work in cooperation against Octavian fell apart after Brundisium, but the two triumvirs were in no position to challenge Pompey's naval superiority. By 39 BC, Pompey's fleet was near to causing famine in Italy, but rather than risk immediate hostilities, the two Roman power brokers sought to appease their hostile neighbor and cut him in on the action.
At Misenum on the Bay of Naples, the three men met to make arrangements for a peaceful end to Pompey's obstructions. While Pompey certainly thought to be included as a major player in the Roman political system, Antony and Octavian preferred honoring what would amount to honorary accolades. They offered him the Consulship for 38 BC (by this time a mostly ceremonial position), and was allowed to retain control of Sicily and Sardinia as well as the Greek Peloponnesus for a period of 5 years. His troops would receive similar retirement benefits to those of Antony and Octavian's, but most importantly, Pompey's followers, including most of the remaining Republican supporters would be scratched from the list of the proscribed and be allowed to return to Rome. With the treaty of Misenum set, Antony prepared to move east to begin his Parthian campaign, and Octavian likely sought to focus on domestic issues.
This was not to be the case, however. Within a short time Pompey complained that the Greek Peloponnesus had been essentially raped of their value prior to his arrival, though both Antony and Octavian claimed it was Antony's right to secure tax profits prior to Pompey's takeover. To insult Pompey further, his Sardinian governor defected to Octavian giving him control of that island; and in retaliation, Pompey's fleets began disrupting the grain supplies once again. Within a year of the treaty of Misenum, the peace was being quickly unraveled. Because of that treaty, however, most of Pompey's support within the Senate was gone. Republican holdouts against Octavian and Antony seemingly grew tired of Sicilian exile and with the door to return opened, joined either Antony's or Octavian's camps. Pompey, despite his position as the last bastion of the old Republican defiance, was still considered to be little more than a pirate, and his associations were increasingly anti-Roman.
Meanwhile, Octavian's status continued to rise. Starting just 5 years earlier as a virtually unknown boy simply with the luxury of being named Caesar's heir, he had risen to stand as the joint ruler of the Roman world. Through proscription, political cunning and some military bravado, he had built up a considerable amount of support both with the new and old aristocracy. Upon the return of so many exiled Senators and leading families, Octavian sought to make peace and build alliances. The day after his then current wife, Scribonia (a relation of his new enemy Sextus Pompey), gave birth to his daughter Julia (Julia and not Octavia because Octavian referred to himself as C. Julius Caesar, not Octavian), he divorced her and was impassioned by Livia Drusilla the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero. On January 17, 38 BC, Octavian and Livia were married in an arrangement that would last an unprecedented 52 years. Though they never had children of their own, Livia's children by Claudius Nero would eventually inherit the imperial throne. Octavian, seemingly emboldened by his new found alliances, and in need to impress the population against Sextus Pompey (Magnus Pius), adopted a new name to counteract Pompey's military success. From at least 38 BC on, Octavian was referred to as Imperator Caesar Divi Filius (or General Caesar, son of a god). In so doing, he further strengthened his bond with Caesar, and pumped up his own military clout, simply through the use of a name.
Despite this posturing, as war opened against Pompey, things did not initially go well. An attempted invasion of Sicily in 38 BC had to be aborted due to poor weather, and Pompey's successful intervention. By the following spring, 37 BC, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Consul and lifelong friend of Octavian, had gathered a massive fleet and trained it within an artificially enclosed harbor at Naples. Antony as well contributed 120 ships of his own to help in the cause, in exchange for the transfer of 20,000 troops to be used against Parthia. In setting this arrangement, the two renewed their alliance and made it an official form of government for another 5 years until 33 BC. By July of the following year, 36 BC, Agrippa as admiral, led Octavian's fleet in a three pronged invasion of Sicily. Two fleets sailed from Italy, and the oft-ignored Lepidus finally got back into the act and invaded from Africa.
Though there were several engagements which set back the invasion, Agrippa turn the tide at the battle of Naulochus in September of 36 BC. Using a technique to grapple Pompey's swifter more maneuverable ships, Agrippa turned the tide and utterly defeated Pompey's fleet. Pompey fled to the east and never re-established a position of strength and was eventually destroyed by Antony in 35 BC. Lepidus meanwhile had Pompey's land forces under siege on Sicily. When news of the battle of Naulochus reached Pompey's men, they wished to surrender to Lepidus but Octavian refused it. Lepidus ignored this order, however and accepted the surrender, demanding control of Sicily as a result. Octavian replied with a brilliant stroke of political strategy. Arranging in advance to bribe Lepidus men to his own side, Octavian entered Lepidus' camp and essentially stripped him of all his political value. Taking Lepidus' nearly 18 legions under his own command, Lepidus was sent into partial exile in a small Italian town, where he lived out his remaining years as a relative non-player. Though he held the position of Pontifex Maximus, which he was given upon the death of Julius Caesar, he was virtually removed from all aspects of political life. When he eventually died in 12 BC, the title of head priest of the Roman Religion passed to Octavian (by then Augustus) and it forevermore was passed to each emperor in turn. At this point in 36 BC, the Triumvirate was officially over, leaving Octavian as the sole ruler of the west and Antony in the east, and though issues were settled for the time being, the monumental clash was inevitable.
Antony and Cleopatra
Mark Antony Heads East
After the defeat of the Republicans at Philippi, and Sextus Pompey in Sicily, Octavian set about organizing the west under his control. In the meantime, Marcus Antonius moved east to do the same, and to seek further glory against Parthia. Antony had met with Cleopatra of Egypt as early as 41 BC in Tarsus, and while Octavian struggled with his own problems, including Antony's brother, in Italy, Antony was seemingly satisfied to allow the east to rest in political turmoil. He spent the winter of 41 and 40 BC with Cleopatra in Egypt, where she bore him twin children, and their affair blossomed.
A Divided Empire Briefly Allows Rome's Enemies to Attack
Before the victory at Philippi, however, the Republican general Cassius had sent Q. Labienus, the son of Caesar's Legate Titus Labienus, into Parthia to solicit support for their cause. With the unstable political climate in both the west and east, and Antony mostly idle in Egypt, Orodes the King of Parthia, commissioned a joint command under his son Pacorus and Labienus to invade Roman territory. In early 40 BC, the Parthians took Syria, while Labienus continued south into Judaea and eventually west all the way to Asia Minor. At this point, the situation with Sextus Pompey in Sicily had come to a head, and Antony was forced to act. Ignoring Labienus and the Parthians for the time being, Antony moved west to aid Octavian. While Antony was in the west however, where they would eventually be victorious in 36 BC, he sent a command under P. Ventidius Bassus to deal with Labienus.
Rome Re-Establishes Its Control
Bassus proved an effective commander and dealt with Labienus swiftly and effectively. In three consecutive battles in 39 BC, Bassus defeated this final remnant of Republican resistance in Asia Minor. Over the next two years, Bassus reclaimed lost territory, pushing his way into Syria and forcing the Parthians to withdraw. In 38 BC, Bassus met Pacorus at the Battle of Gindarus in Mesopotamia, ironically on June 9, the anniversary of Crassus' great defeat at Carrhae. This time the Romans won a resounding victory, in which Pacorus was killed, and by the time Antony returned for good in 36 BC, the east was essentially secured. With the death of Pacorus, King Orodes of Parthia abdicated his throne in favor of a second son Phraates, but Phraates had his father murdered to ensure his rule, and Antony felt the time was right for revenge and invasion.
The following campaign year, 37 BC, he initiated a campaign similar to his eastern predecessor, Pompey the Great. The tribes of the Caucasus region were subdued in order to secure peace from the north, and rather than follow Crassus' disastrous course into Mesopotamia, Antony marched east through Armenia. By 36 BC, he had secured the support of Artavastes, King of Armenia and the two continued the campaign into the Parthian territory of Media. Antony's main force moved ahead of the baggage train, which was left in the protection of Artavastes, and while Antony besieged Phraaspes, the Parthian capital of Media, the Parthians wisely turned on Artavastes. The vital supply train was captured, and Artavastes retreated to Armenia, leaving Antony to fend for himself in the rough and hostile Parthian territory. Antony knew his invasion had failed and was forced to withdraw, losing nearly one quarter of his men in the process. Unlike Crassus, however, Antonius maintained his command integrity and extricated the survivors mostly intact, and without major incident.
Mark Antony Further Embraces the East
In the meantime, Octavian was having his own success in a campaign against Illyrian tribes, and his prestige continued to grow. On the political stage, the situation with Cleopatra was beginning to cast Antony as a sell-out against Roman culture, and Octavian would seize at the opportunity to publicly chastise him. While still married to Octavia, with whom Antony had 2 daughters; Cleopatra bore him another son in 36 BC. The following year, Octavia brought reinforcements from her brother to aid Antony, but he sent her back to Italy in an obvious slight against Octavian, and the shaky peace was beginning to unravel. Antony had seemingly begun to take to eastern culture on a grand scale, adorning himself in Egyptian dress, practicing eastern customs while ignoring those of Rome, and doling out great gifts to Cleopatra. Among these gifts was the division of the eastern empire under Cleopatra's children. Each child, Caesarion the son of Caesar included, was placed as regent of various kingdoms effectively making Cleopatra the Queen mother of several Roman territories. By 34 BC, Antony seized Armenia from his former ally Artavastes and staged a magnificent spectacle in Alexandria to commemorate the event.
The Propaganda Campaign Increases in Intensity
In these "Donations of Alexandria" Antony declared Cleopatra as the Queen of Kings, and Caesarion as King of Kings. In so doing, he sought to undermine Octavian's claim as Caesar's heir by recognizing Caesarion as Caesar's legitimate son. This was seemingly the final straw against Octavian, and the propaganda campaign in Rome against Antony's outrages began in earnest. Antony was portrayed as a pawn of Cleopatra, the foreign Queen who, it was said, sought to become Queen of Rome. Antony had declared himself the human incarnation of Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythos), and Cleopatra claimed to be Aphrodite (Venus). This had relevance in Egyptian culture as the two Greek gods were often associated with the gods of nobility Osiris and Isis.
While initially, these declarations seem to have little impact on Antony's supporters in the east, they did allow Octavian to vilify him in the west. The gifting of client kingdoms to important foreign magistrates was certainly nothing new in Roman culture, but placing so much territory within the influence of one royal family certainly was cause for consternation. While Octavian was busy solidifying his western popularity through great building and maintenance projects conducted by Agrippa, Antony continued to slip in the views of the traditional Roman. In what may have been the final proof needed, Antony seemingly married Cleopatra, at least by 32 BC, even before officially divorcing (the mistreated virtuous Roman wife) Octavia in the same year. Unlike Caesar before him, who propped Cleopatra up politically, but refused to acknowledge her in any official capacity under Roman law (as it was illegal for a Roman to marry a foreigner), Antony plunged head first into direct enmity with Octavian. Though Octavian would use political guile to gain support for his cause, the door to the final civil war of the Roman Republic was wide open.
The War Between Mark Antony and Octavian
As the legal arrangement for the triumvirate between Octavian, Antony and Lepidus (even though he was no longer an official part of the arrangement) expired at the end of 33 BC, 32 BC turned into a year of political posturing and strained anticipation. Without legal triumvir powers, Octavian technically reverted to no more than a leading member of the Senate, and the Consuls for 32 BC, Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus and C. Sosius both Antony supporters, sought to bring Octavian down.
While Octavian was outside of Rome, Sosius launched an attack on Octavian's legal position to the convened Senate. Though the precise nature of the attack is unknown, it's safe to assume that the Antony supporters definitely wished to limit Octavian's power and position. What they surprisingly failed to count on was Octavian's support among the army and his boldness in using it. When he returned to Rome he called the Senate to meet, backed by an armed escort, and proceeded to turn the tables on the sitting consuls. Launching his own attack on Antony, it was clear that the Roman world was once again heading towards civil war. In Rome, despite Octavian's lack of legal right to rule, it was also quite clear that he was in fact, the unchallenged leader of the west. Not even Antony's supporters attempted to dispute him, and many Senators (up to 300) fled to Antony, rather than attempt to put up a false front that all was well.
News soon returned to Rome that Antony intended to set up a separate eastern Senate in Alexandria to govern the eastern part of the empire. He also officially divorced Octavian, denouncing her in favor of the foreign Queen, Cleopatra. Octavian knew that war was coming, but now needed to rally support among the masses. By fortunate circumstances, two important supporters of Antony had defected to Octavian's cause and returned to Rome about this time. L. Munatius Plancus and M. Titius brought word to Octavian that Antony's will, now deposited with the Vestal Virgins, contained incriminating evidence of Antony's anti-Roman, and pro-Cleopatra stand. Both men, it seemed, had been witnesses to the document, and Octavian illegally seized the will from the Vestals. In it, Antony recognized Cleopatra's son Caesarion as Caesar's legal heir, propped up his own eastern appointments by leaving large inheritances to his children by Cleopatra, and finally indicated his desire to be buried with Cleopatra in Alexandra. Though the first two matters wouldn't be considered all that unusual, it was the third that set off a firestorm of anti-Antonian sentiment. Already suspecting him of abandoning Rome for Cleopatra, the people clearly saw his rebuttal of Roman cremation tradition and the favoring of eternal burial with Cleopatra as proof of him falling under the Queen's sway.
Octavian seized the opportunity to gain from the people's sentiment, and encourage the rumors that followed. If the people believed that Antony had every intention of making Cleopatra the Queen of Rome, and by virtue of his new eastern Senate would move the capital to Alexandria, it could do nothing but favor Octavian. He was reserved in his intentions, however, and knew that Antony still had some supporters. Civil War too, simply for the benefit of Octavian would never be popular. He also wished to make it easy for Antony supporters to willingly switch sides without seemingly being disloyal. Rather than announce war with his rival Antony, Octavian declared war on the hated Queen Cleopatra, the perceived cause of all the trouble. As both sides geared up for the conflict that would seem to be the largest and costliest ever for the Roman state, a remarkable show of public support took place. The people of Italy and the western provinces swore on oath of loyalty directly to Octavian, rather than the Roman state. Though this was likely a greatly orchestrated political maneuver by Octavian, a now brilliant politician, it had the desired effect of at least giving him the public support he needed to take the nation to war. While by no means presenting Octavian with any sort of legal power over the Roman world, it did help to clarify for everyone that not only did Octavian maintain power through the legions, but also through the good will of the Roman people.
Antony and Octavian's Civil War
The civil war between Antony and Octavian seemed assured of dwarfing even the massive conflict between Caesar and his Republican opponents. Both sides had massive armies at their disposal, and Antony added the support of Rome's eastern client kings, including Cleopatra of Egypt. By mid-summer of 31 BC, Octavian's war against his rival, though popularly characterized as being against the Egyptian Queen, had worked itself into little more than a stalemate. Antony had marched his army into Greece where he planned to oppose Octavian's advance, and the two considerable forces began to take up position against one another.
A Period of Stalemate Sets In
While the armies were of relatively equal strength, Octavian's fleet was vastly superior. Antony's fleet was made up of large vessels, though with inexperienced crews and commanders. On the other hand, Octavian's fleet of smaller, more maneuverable vessels was under the command of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the proven admiral who excelled in the war against Sextus Pompey. While Octavian crossed the Adriatic to confront Antony near Actium in Epirus, Agrippa menaced Antony's supply lines with the fleet. Octavian wisely refused to give battle with the army, and Antony did likewise at sea. As the summer waned, both armies seemed to settle in for a battle of attrition.
Defections and Disease Turn the Tide Towards Octavian
The stalemate was working decidedly in Octavian's favor. The presence of Cleopatra with the Roman army of Antony was making the loyalty of his men a considerable challenge. For Antony's men, facing the son of Caesar, a god, was bad enough, but facing a Roman army while under the influence of an Egyptian Queen seemed an impossible situation. Defections from all quarters of Antony's support, to Octavian's side, were occurring in massive numbers. Agrippa's blockade against Antony tightened, and disease swept through Antony's camp. Common legionaries, commanders and Senators switched sides as the inevitable victory for Octavian seemed only a matter of time. By the time the calendar approached September of 31 BC, only 3 Consular magistrates remained with Antony.
Antony Flees to Egypt
On the 2nd September 31 BC, Antony desperately attempted a breakout with his fleet to escape the blockade and regroup in Egypt. With his large ships, he sailed out of the gulf of Actium and engaged Agrippa's prepared navy. Though Antony's under-matched forces fought valiantly, they were simply unable to counter Agrippa's vast superiority. Under the watchful eye of both armies on land, and as the tide turned against Antony, Cleopatra seized an opportunity to flee the battle with her own ships that were held in reserve. As a gap opened in Agrippa's blockade, she funneled through, and was soon closely followed by Antony's command ships. The commanders of Antony's land forces, which were supposed to follow him to Asia, promptly surrendered without a fight. Octavian stood as the master of the Roman world, east and west, and to commemorate his victory, he founded the city of Nicopolis (City of Victory) on the site.
Octavian Closes In
All was not over just yet, however. Trouble with Octavian's veterans forced him to abandon pursuit of his eastern rival, and final victory would be delayed for a year. Octavian also wisely decided to put an end to any chance for Antony to regain strength from eastern kings by marching through the eastern provinces rather than sail directly to Egypt. Meanwhile, Antony attempted to secure an army in Cyrene from L. Pinarius Scarpus, but Scarpus refused and offered loyalty to Octavian. Trapped in Egypt with what remained of his former army, Antony and Cleopatra bided their time awaiting Octavian's arrival. As Octavian marched through Asia, Syria and Judaea establishing his authority, Scarpus sailed to Cyrenaica and moved east towards Egypt to pinch Antony between a two-pronged front.
Death of Antony and Cleopatra
After Mark Antony had attempted to forcibly take command of the army in Cyrene from L. Pinarius Scarpus but was refused, he considered suicide as the honorable Roman thing to do. However, perhaps he thought that final victory could still be secured if the forces in Alexandria could be properly compared. He left Cyrene and sailed back to Egypt where Cleopatra waited, likely now fretting her own political ambitions. There they waited for nearly a year while Octavian and Scarpus closed in around them.
As Octavian approached Antony and Cleopatra's defenses in Alexandria, Antony enjoyed one last victory, albeit a minor one, in his heralded career as a general. His men chased off a small contingent of Octavian's cavalry as they scouted their enemy, but this was a short-lived success. As the opposing armies prepared for what seemed to be the final battle after nearly 20 semi continuous years of Civil War, the engagement turned out to be an anti-climactic affair, much like events at Actium a year earlier. Antony's cavalry and fleet surrendered to Octavian first and were shortly followed by the infantry, once again without major engagement of any sort. As Antony looked on, during this fateful first day of what would become known as the month of August, he was abandoned by his army and his efforts to become sole ruler of the Roman world were lost to the young man who was virtually unknown just a few short years before.
Cleopatra fled into a mausoleum, which she had previously constructed as her likely final resting place, with little hope of escaping the inevitable. Antony, knowing the game was finally over, finally accepted his fate and attempted to fall on his sword as Roman tradition often dictated. According to the ancients, however, he was not entirely successful and with an open wound in his belly, was taken to join Cleopatra. Here, in events immortalized over a millennium later by Shakespeare, Antony did finally succumb to his wound and supposedly died in his lovers arms, leaving her completely at the mercy of Octavian. Cleopatra did not however immediately join her lover in death and instead entered into last ditch negotiations with Octavian. Over the period of just over a week, she probably realized that her only fate was to march in Octavian triumphal parade and her children would never be allowed to maintain any sort of hereditary control of Egypt or other eastern Kingdoms. On August 9, 30 BC, Cleopatra ended her own life and left Egypt to the fate of Octavian's will.
Within a month Octavian was named Pharoah, and Egypt became his personal possession. Though administered in similarity to a province, the personal rule of Egypt and the title of Pharaoh would become a permanent right of ascension of each Roman Emperor. While Octavian was now the clear and unequivocal force in the Roman world, there was still some minor unfinished business to take care. Though executions of Antony's supporters were limited, likely to bring 20 years of war to a final closure, an unfortunate few still had to pay with their lives. Among those executed was Caesarion, Cleopatra's oldest son by Caesar, as it was a necessity to avoid any potential hereditary claims or conflict of interest. Cleopatra's other children by Antony were too young to be of much concern, would eventually march in Octavian's triumph and were allowed to live. Antony's oldest son by his wife Fulvia was killed, but his younger son by Fulvia was taken in by his step-mother Octavia and he was seemingly favored by Octavian's entire family. Years later, however, he would be executed in 2 BC for his scandalous affair with Julia, the daughter of the man who would then be Augustus.
Backed by the name of Caesar and the loyalty of his adoptive father's troops, Octavian finished what Caesar had started, yet was unable to complete: the final unification of Rome under a single man. At the age of 33, the Republic was finally ready to succumb to imperial authority. Though there was still some work to be done, opposition simply no longer existed in any meaningful form. Years of civil war, and hundreds of years of social strife had broken the will of resistance. Octavian rose above all, not just for being in the right place at the right time, but by expanding upon the strengths, and learning from the weaknesses of his predecessors, along with playing the political game with an unmatched determination.
Discover more about Augustus by reading about some of his life and achievements below: