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

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After Philippi, the second Triumvirate ruled different regions of the roman inn Republic yet mutual suspicion and resentment between the three men resulted in its fracture in 36 BCE, once Lepidus to be exiled through Octavian, and end in 33 BCE once Antony refused to participate. The fight of Actium was the conclusion to an enmity in between Octavian and also Antony which started shortly after the development of the 2nd Triumvirate. Having lost the battle, Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves the adhering to year and Octavian became the first Roman emperor in 27 BCE.

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Actium, then, has actually traditionally been cited as the pivotal battle which gave birth come the roman inn Empire. Historians over the critical century have actually increasingly favored the opinion the Octavian"s effective use the propaganda make the fight inevitable and its favorable outcome propelled him come power. The underlying forces which journey the assorted players in the problem to accomplish at Actium, however, were set in motion long before.

Caesar, Cleopatra, & 2nd Triumvirate

Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus (l. C. 115-53 BCE), and Pompey the good (l. C. 106-48 BCE) created the first Triumvirate (60-53 BCE) i m sorry essentially separated Rome"s territories between them. Rome had become a Mediterranean superpower after the an initial Punic battle (264-241 BCE) and steadily increased its reach since. Caesar and Pompey were the two leading generals that the day and also Crassus to be the richest male in Rome. Crassus, wanting to it is in the same of these two in armed forces matters, led one army versus the Parthians in 53 BCE but was killed and his pressures scattered at the battle of Carrhae.

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Octavian taken that one actual son of Caesar might later exercise claim to rule.

Caesar reinstated Cleopatra VII together queen after ~ she appealed to him for assist in person and also Ptolemy XIII was eliminated in 47 BCE. Caesar and also Cleopatra then became lovers, also though he was married to Calpurnia, and also she provided birth come his boy Caesarion in 47 BCE. Caesar brought Cleopatra and Caesarion come Rome in 46 BCE, openly proclaiming her his consort and Caesarion his son, i m sorry upset countless of the roman inn Senate who put the reference on Cleopatra for bewitching Caesar.

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Among those who had the most cause to dislike and also distrust Cleopatra to be Caesar"s great-nephew Octavian whom Caesar decided as his heir in 44 BCE. Octavian taken that one actual boy of Caesar can later exercise case to rule. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, Cleopatra and her boy fled back to Egypt and Octavian joined through Antony and also Lepidus in the second Triumvirate pursuing Cassius (l. C. 85-42 BCE) and Brutus (l. 85-42 BCE) to their deaths at Philippi.

Afterwards, Octavian returned to Rome while Antony checked out Tarsus in Cilicia whereby he commanded Cleopatra to appear to answer charges she had actually aided Brutus and Cassius. Cleopatra famously met Antony in 41 BCE outside the entrances of Tarsus, arriving in high-end aboard her barge ~ above the Cydnus River. The two quickly came to be lovers and also Antony continued to be in the east.

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Second Triumvirate Discord

Also in 41 BCE, Antony"s younger brother Lucius Antonius revolted versus Octavian and was suppressed and, in response, Antony sided through Sextus Pompey (l. 67-35 BCE), boy of Pompey the Great, who had continued the war through Caesar after his father"s death in 48 BCE and, because Caesar"s assassination, had been to run a fleet of pirate ships out of Sicily which to be interfering through Rome"s food supply. Antony"s support of Sextus caused his blockading the town of Brundisium and Octavian marched to relax it but, instead of fighting Antony, the made tranquility which contained Antony marrying Octavian"s sister Octavia.

Antony damaged off his accord with Sextus, and the last was defeated and killed in 35 BCE in a share effort between Octavian, his brilliant general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (l. 64-12 BCE), and also Lepidus, a victory due practically wholly come Agrippa"s skills. Lepidus decided to insurance claim the win for himself and also hurried to add Sicily to his holdings. This relocate was strongly opposed by Octavian that then exiled Lepidus indigenous the second Triumvirate, sending him back to Africa wherein he had actually been governing.


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

Octavian and Antony were currently the two powers in Rome through factions backing each. Antony chose to enlarge Rome"s territory and prestige in the east by subduing Parthia – which he chose due to the fact that of Crassus" previously defeat. His project was poorly managed, however, and he was beat in 36 BCE through the ns of 30,000 men. Antony"s failed project damaged his call while elevating Octavian"s who, in 34 BCE, led a series of brilliantly successful campaigns to certain the north-eastern frontiers of Italy.

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Antony again failed in an attempt to overcome Armenia and also lost further support in Rome through repudiating his mam Octavia, marrying Cleopatra, and declaring Caesarion “King that Kings”. He additionally appointed his kids by Cleopatra rulers that Syria, Asia Minor, Cyrenaica, Armenia, and also Parthia – working out a strength he go not even have over many of those regions. Octavian broke contact through Antony that wrote come the Senate the he would not expropriate reappointment together a triumvir and also the 2nd Triumvirate finished in 33 BCE.

Octavian"s war of Words

Octavian could not declare battle on Antony outright due to the fact that Antony still had far-reaching support in Rome. That was educated that Antony had actually placed his will in the care of the Vestal Virgins and appeared at the temple of Vesta demanding it. The Vestal Virgins refuse to hand it over but admitted that, if he wanted to take it it, they can do little to avoid him. Octavian take it the will and read it to the Senate and then the people"s Assembly.


Augustus, copper Head indigenous Euboea
Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

The will certainly (which plenty of historians have suggested was actually a forgery) made clean Antony"s intentions to leaving his substantial land holdings – actual or imagine – come his kids by Cleopatra and additionally elevated Caesarion"s was standing by emphasizing he to be the child of the good Julius Caesar. Octavian manipulated the case to focus the people"s creativity on Cleopatra that was depicted as an evil seductress of 2 of Rome"s biggest generals. The civilization were given to recognize that, if Antony were permitted to gain power, he would surrender Rome to Cleopatra and move the seat of Roman strength to Alexandria. Scholar J.F.C. Fuller, citing chronicler M.P. Charlesworth, describes the impacts of Octavian"s battle of words:

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

Octavian turned the birds of public opinion against Antony through Cleopatra without straight charging Antony with any type of crime or misdeeds in ~ all. The Senate deprived Antony the his powers as triumvir and also consul, citing nationwide security because he was plainly under Cleopatra"s spell, and also avoided offending any kind of of his supporters by heralding war ~ above Cleopatra when elevating Octavian together the would-be savior the the realm. Octavian"s plan worked much better than he could have imagined because all battle proceedings were directed at Cleopatra and, indirectly, it was argued that this was done to save Antony from her clutches. Octavian knew Antony would certainly not leaving Cleopatra and certainly knew he would never ever accept a subordinate place in Octavian"s Rome; he would certainly condemn self in defending Cleopatra and so do himself an adversary of the state.

Prelude to the Battle

Antony and also Cleopatra mobilized their army and also readied your fleet at Ephesus (in contemporary Turkey), wintering over there 33-32 BCE. Cleopatra i agree to store the army fed with supplies from Egypt and contributed substantially to the war chest with 20,000 talents. Antony"s officers interpreted Octavian"s strategy and also urged Antony to distance himself from Cleopatra by sending her ago to Egypt and also entering into negotiations through Octavian, however Antony refused.


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

The military consisted that nineteen legions, in every from 60,000 come 63,000 men, not included the light-armed, which most likely numbered 10,000 men, and perhaps 12,000 horse; and the fleet totaled eight squadrons, each of sixty ships, including one squadron that Cleopatra"s, led by her flagship Antonia. (220)

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

Agrippa surprised Antony and Cleopatra by appearing in early on 31 BCE, when their armies were still in winter quarters, and seizing Methone, cutting off supplies and seizing ships and also men. Octavian, meanwhile, positioned his soil forces 5 miles come the north of Actium and fortified his camp. Agrippa relocated along the coast and took Leucas, cutting off all supplies to Antony"s forces from Egypt and again seizing ships and also crews. Antony and also Cleopatra were now in between Octavian ~ above land and also Agrippa in ~ sea and also had come act or starve. Their arrangement seems to have been come deploy the fleet come fight and win but, failing that, to break with Agrippa"s heat of ships and make a run for Egypt. To this end, lock ordered sails to be retained on ships at the all set and likewise put the war chests on the faster of Cleopatra"s transports.

The fight of Actium

On September 2, 31 BCE, Antony and Cleopatra moved their fleet into the Ionian Sea with the strategy the the wind, coming across seaward towards Agrippa"s ships, would revolve them toward the south away from their fortified camp i beg your pardon Antony"s soil forces might then assault since it would be left without assistance from the fleet. Octavian, however, had heard reports native deserters from Antony"s army that Antony and also Cleopatra had no on purpose of fighting and also hoped come break through the line and 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 also his position, in 3 formations, negate Antony"s hope that the wind would significantly help his cause.


Around noon, v both fleets encountering each various other on the sea, the wind come forcefully across, and Antony released his ships toward Agrippa"s, hoping to revolve his left flank and break the line. Agrippa"s smaller and faster Liburnians outmaneuvered Antony"s huge and slow-moving quinqueremes, the heaviest roman warships, and Agrippa"s usage of the harpax conveniently sank 15 the Antony"s ships. Antony"s flagship to be struck and grappled by a harpax with resultant hand-to-hand fighting. Agrippa"s ships rammed the larger quinqueremes repeatedly, sinking or at the very least neutralizing them, while Antony"s ships usually turned into static floating fortresses hurling stones and also firing arrows yet unable to stop the assaults of the smaller vessels whose rams tore with their oars and pierced their hulls.

At some point, 3 of Antony"s squadrons exit the fight and turned back toward Actium and two rather surrendered soon afterwards. Antony signaled come Cleopatra to make a run through the Antonia and also the war chests, and Cleopatra with her fleet damaged off from the engagement and also hoisted sails for the open up sea. Chronicler Cassius Dio defines the battle after Cleopatra"s departure:

men damaged the reduced parts that the ships every around, crushed the oars, snapped off the rudders, and climbed ~ above the decks, seized host of several of the foe and pulled castle down, moved off others, battled yet with others…and Antony"s guys pushed their assailants ago with boathooks, cut them down v axes, hurled under upon them stones and also heavy missiles made all set for simply this purpose, drove back those who tried to climb up, and fought with those who came within reach. An eye-witness of what take it place can have compared it to walled towns or rather islands, countless in number and close together, gift besieged by the sea. (L.33)

Antony"s flagship was deeply enmeshed in a tangle the others and also held fast by the harpax so he escaped to one more and, v 40 ships, sailed after Cleopatra, boarding the Antonia once he come up alongside. He is stated to have been so damaged by the defeat the he might not confront Cleopatra. He sent out word earlier to Canidius Crassus to retract the land forces, pulling back into Asia, and await more orders there. Agrippa"s fleet hosted their positions at sea throughout the night of 2 September and accepted the surrender of Antony"s staying ships the following morning, most of which were so bad damaged they were set on fire, and the crews were soaked up by Agrippa"s forces.


Back in Alexandria, Cleopatra to plan their next move. Realizing she could not hold Alexandria versus Octavian, she argued they leave for Spain, where they can lay organize of the silver mines and raise a new army. Antony to be so totally demoralized by his defeat, however, the he did not even respond come word indigenous Canidius Crassus questioning what should be done through the legions in Asia and all he appears to have done is drink.

Octavian arrived exterior of Alexandria in July of 30 BCE, and also this prompt threat roused Antony from his depression. He mobilized his forces and also struck in ~ Octavian"s advancement forces, win the day. Through the morning that 1 august 30 BCE, however, most of his troops had actually deserted, recognizing the they to be fighting for the losing side. Later on that day, top top hearing that Cleopatra to be dead, Antony stabbed himself, asking to be carried to wherever her body to be being kept. The rumor was false, however, and Antony lived only long enough to die in Cleopatra"s arms in the citadel wherein she had taken refuge. Octavian then gone into the city wherein he gift Cleopatra with his terms which she had actually no selection but come accept. She request for and was granted time to put her work in order. Quite than be taken by Octavian come Rome together a compensation in a roman triumph, Cleopatra killed herself on 30 august 30 BCE.


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

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Octavian was hailed as the savior of Rome and amplified his call by personally taking charge of Egypt and its grain it is provided to feed the Romans. In order to appeal come Cleopatra"s previous subjects, he embraced the rites, honors, and also title of a Ptolemaic pharaoh also though he had actually no interest in any type of of these. In January the 27 BCE, responsibility of just how dangerous it had been because that his great-uncle Julius to show up too ambitious, he claimed that the situation to Rome had passed and also humbly resigned his powers only to have the Senate reclaim them together with the location Augustus ("illustrious one"). Octavian gratefully welcomed this gesture, coming to be Augustus Caesar, the very first emperor of the roman inn Empire.