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Dreams of Empire - Fall of Rome
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The Fall of Rome
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The Fall of Rome

Dreams of Empire - The Fall of the Roman Empire
Dreams of Empire
The Fall of the Roman Republic

by Addison Hart

The Enemy in the East
Though Antonius had hard work ahead of him, Octavian's task of holding Italy together was rather tough going. The problem was land grants to veterans. Eighteen cities had been confiscated by the government for land for the veterans of the army, but the inhabitants of the city were, understandably, rather ticked off by the idea of simply being shoved out of their dwellings so as some cut-up, battle-weary soldier could move in. With the support of both Antonius and, unsurprisingly, Sextus Pompey, the ancient Etruscan city of Perusia arose in full revolt, rallying some small army to attempt to gain it's own independence, or at least to show this upstart Octavian some sense. Despite the total destruction of Perusia itself, the Perusian Wars seemed to last longer than they should have, thanks to Antonius. The Eastern triumvir actually dared to sail towards Italy. Was this to be the start of some nasty little political coup?

Of course, it was all stopped before it could get out of hand. Antonius, Octavian, and Lepidus met at Brundisium in 40 BC, signing a treaty that set the borders of the triumvirs. Poor Lepidus was surely not pleased with his meager portions, but no one really cared all that much about what he felt. The treaty of Brundisium, which carved up the Republican 'empire', was really the second-to-last nail in the coffin of the aging, senile Republic, which could barely thrash back at the triumvirs who seemed so keen on the idea of finally killing it. Octavian then assured peace with Antonius (or so he hoped) by offering his dear twenty-four year old sister, poor, soft-spoken Octavia, in marriage to the forty-two year old triumvir of the East. The marriage was a disaster from the start. Rather than spend his time with poor little Octavia, Antonius preferred the company of the Queen of Egypt, the infamous Cleopatra.

Cleopatra of Egypt had a big nose and an even bigger ambition. She doesn't seem to have been knock-dead gorgeous, but she wasn't ugly as sin either. She certainly had the stuff to attract such men as Caesar and Antonius, who both ended up giving her children in the end. Whether or not she really loved Antonius, or just saw in him the means to keeping Egypt forever free is debatable, but she obviously wasn't stupid. She'd already taken over the throne herself, with the help of Caesar defeating her brother Ptolemy XIII, and then herself ordering the murder of her younger brother and husband, little Ptolemy XIV, and was now the Queen, paving the way for her son, Ptolemy, a.k.a. Caesarion, the son of Caesar. She'd lost her three best Roman protectors already. Pompey and Caesar had all been assassinated, and Dolabella, her latest chum, had committed suicide when he was defeated in battle by Cassius during the war with the assassins. When she met Antonius in one of his visits to Alexandria, she put on all the charm she could to win him over, and her tactics worked, Antonius soon became her lover, much to the chagrin of Octavia, poor dear. She somehow got him to take a cruise with her on her infamous royal barge. She, dressed as Aphrodite, was being as horrifically vulgar as possible in order to win over this rather vulgar man.

Octavian had married recently as well. His new wife was the beautiful, intelligent Livia Drusilla, whose husband (Tiberius Claudius Nero) had grudgingly divorced her so that she could marry this new Caesar, despite the fact that she was heavily pregnant with Tiberius' son, also Tiberius, and the future emperor of Rome. Livia Drusilla was soon more than Octavian's beloved wife, she was his propaganda machine. What he had was something that Antonius didn't, namely a happy marriage. The other things he had that Antonius did not have, were morals. Octavian was creating a good public image while Antonius did not. While he and Livia were faithful to each other, he would suggest, Antonius was unfaithful to Octavia. Octavian and Livia had a high moral code; Antonius had no moral code. While Octavia sat at home, being the faithful wife, Antonius ran through the streets of the Eastern cities, drunk as a skunk, and carousing with many other women, that sinful temptress Cleopatra and that actress Volumnia Cytheris among them.

Of course, Antonius was slightly busy as well. The Parthians, under King Pacorus (Orodes having long since passed on), had invaded. Quintus Labienus had betrayed Antonius, leaving the legions and flying to Pacorus. Now Pacorus was on the move, in the year 40 BC he invaded Syria at the head of his men, crashing through Antonius' defenders, and heading straight for the coast. Luckily, Antonius was able to stem the Parthian tide, and in the year 39 BC his general Ventidius Bassus defeated a Parthian army on Mount Amanus. Quintus Labienus had been caught and beheaded in the aftermath. Despite this victory, the war was hardly over, and Sextus Pompeius' pirates were picking off Rome's sea forces. Finally, in 39 BC, the Triumvirate was changed in it's entirety at Misenum. Poor Lepidus was accused of treason and sent into exile (no one cared what he thought anyway), and in his place was none other than Sextus Pompeius, who was given Achaea, Sardinia, and Sicily. Antonius' brother Lucius, a Consul, was leading a new rebellion against Octavian, easily crushed by Octavian's right-hand-man Marcus V. Agrippa, and things were looking increasingly bad for Antonius. The city of Rome was behind Octavian; everyone was sick and tired of this foolishness, what with the rebellions and all. Antonius' relationship with Cleopatra was viewed as a disgrace, something not to be tolerated. When he ("whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak") married Cleopatra at Antioch in 37 BC, committing bigamy, Octavian came very close to finally hauling off and giving Antonius the chop, but the one thing that saved him was the fact that he was expanding the borders, crossing the Euphrates, his general Bassus scoring a major victory over the Parthians at Gindarus, taking the city of Samosata, and killing King Pacorus himself. The victory had been won due to the use of the famous testudo (tortoise) formation, which had literally caught the Parthians off guard, their arrows simply bouncing off the tough Roman shields.

Things didn't stop there, of course. Cleopatra soon bore Antonius twins: Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. Antonius remained in Athens, controlling his bit of the Empire, Octavia the ignored by his side. In reality, he was eating out of the Queen's hand, and doing for her whatever she asked, including arranging the assassination of Cleopatra's own sister Arsinoe. After the Triumvirate was renewed at Tarentum in 38 BC (in which Sextus Pompeius, that growing embarrassment, was totally axed out of the treaty), Antonius went down to Syria, leaving Octavia once again, marrying Cleopatra, and taking her with him on to glorious defeat at the hands of the Parthians, managing to get himself thoroughly whipped by the enemy (he was, some said, drunk at the time), and barely escaping back through Armenia. It wasn't anything to be proud of, but Antonius didn't mind all that much. At least he had Armenia under his thumb now, and he celebrated it in the triumph at Alexandria in 34 BC. While Antonius became more and more dependent on Cleopatra, Octavian became dependent on men who you could actually depend on: namely Agrippa and the chief minister, Cilinus Maecenas. While Antonius got himself thrashed, Octavian actually scored victories. Sextus Pompeius was finally drawn to battle, the tremendous sea fight at Naulochus ending in a decisive Agrippan victory. Sextus got the axe, quite literally this time, shortly thereafter. Next, of course, came in Marcus A. Lepidus, again, hoping to re-enter this triumvirate, and bringing along an army just to make sure that he did. He didn't of course, the ever-busy Agrippa thrashing him, most of Lepidus's boys deserting before the enemy. Lepidus conceded defeat, and instead of losing his head, he regained the office of Pontifex Maximus. Perhaps he was finally contented, but no historian of antiquity ever writes if he was or if he wasn't, but they probably didn't care too much about it one way or the other.

In 34 BC, Antonius had finally left Octavia for the last time, though, at that point, no one would know that for sure. It was to be expected however. The Queen had seduced Antonius for the last time, and he finally left Octavia in Athens, never to return to her. Octavian was hoping for this sort of thing, no doubt, he was always looking for a good reason to finally vanquish his old and hated rival Antonius, and to take back the East for the final time. It was in the bag, it seemed there would be no way out of it now. If Antonius dared divorce Octavia, Octavian would lunge out against him with all his power, and with the mighty fist of Republican Rome (or was that now an oxymoron?) he'd reduce Antonius to something resembling a little squashed bug. While Octavian was slowly bubbling over with rage, Antonius was busy setting up the 'Association of Inimitable Livers' with Cleopatra, or as Plutarch would have called them, the 'Inimitable Lovers'. Of course, this association gained notably scorn from, well, most everybody. Things were getting from bad to worse, it seemed. In Alexandria, a statue was set up in an old district of the city that depicted 'Antonius, the Great, lover without peer'. The inscription, of course, was a sly Alexandrian pun on the name of Antonius' rather detestable association. Now Antonius was not simply the target of Octavian's propaganda assaults, but he was the butt of some rather bad jokes (that were carved into the city's venues), as well. This stuff never ends, he must have thought. He was trying his hand at propaganda himself now, but it wasn't much of an attempt. The idea was to assume the roles of Dionysus and Aphrodite and their Egyptian counterparts Isis and Osiris. The idea didn't really catch on.

When 33 BC came, it was evident that the storm was about to break and that sooner or later, Egypt would be showered with blood. It was coming on fast, no one doubted that. But what exactly was "it"? The year 33 BC started out with an election for the post of Consul, and that election was easily won by, of course, Octavian himself. There was no use in trying to project the idea that he was still nothing more than the benevolent military controller, he was really the top dog in Rome. Soon after this, Antonius made a return trip from Armenia. The triumvirate was up for renewal as well, this year, but oddly enough, there was no renewal. There was no trip to Tarentum, there was no document signed, there was nothing. It was almost as if there had never been such a thing as the 2nd Triumvirate. The old year ended as Antonius and Cleopatra wintered at Ephesus, and the new year, 32 BC, began with a divorce. Antonius, as usual, was being tactless. Was it not Cicero who had said "Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error"?

The Storm Breaks
By the time Octavia, the poor, long-suffering tragic heroine, was finally divorced by Antonius, Octavian had everything on his side. Twelve years had given him the time to entrench himself in Roman politics, gain support, and friends, and gain the love of the legions. What did Antonius have? He had a few tired, defeated troops, a navy, and a universally hated wife, Cleopatra ("Queen of Kings"), of course. If it wasn't stupid enough to divorce Octavia, what Antonius did next took the first prize for stupid actions. He declared that all of the eastern provinces of the Republic's Empire were now the property of Cleopatra, her four children (another had been brought into the world since the twins), and the Royal House of Egypt. Heavens, he also wrote that, of all things, if he were killed in his "campaign in Italy" his body was to be brought back to Cleopatra. This man could be no Roman; he had to be a fool. Octavian was enraged by this betrayal, and he called upon the Senate for assistance, assistance that they were only too pleased to provide. Octavian declared war.

Quickly, the two men began to build their armies. Octavian had the most money, and he was the best loved of the two, and so, naturally enough, he attracted the larger numbers of troops. While his legions were trained, he began to amass a tremendous armada of ships, which he would put under the command of his old friend, the iron-fisted Marcus V. Agrippa, and send right for Antonius in order to block off any sea movements. Octavian opted not to take the field himself; he'd leave the fighting to the more experienced officers, like Agrippa and Gaius Cornelius Gallus. Antonius, on the other hand, would lead his men himself, and Cleopatra would be coming with him. Other than his legions and Cleopatra's Egyptian troops (ships included), Antonius had relatively few men, and was having an incredibly hard time trying to muster too many troops. However, he was already optimistic, planning a sweeping movement from Greece up Italy's boot.

Octavian's best weapon was, as always, propaganda. He said that he was fighting for Roman morality, while Antonius was fighting for Egyptian decadence and immorality. Furthermore, he'd handed over Rome's lands to this immoral, adulterous wretch of a Queen. Cleopatra wasn't the Queen of Egypt, but she was the Queen of Sin. Antonius wasn't any good at propaganda at all, as he evidenced in a foolish letter sent off to Octavian in response to his declarations. The message was crude, stupid, and hastily executed and sent. No doubt he deeply regretted sending it after Octavian began to show it off as another example of Antonius' crass immorality. One couldn't abide someone so stupid, decadent, lecherous, and treacherous, Octavian reminded his people and his huge armies. Late in the year, Octavian landed his troops in Epirus, not far from Antonius' own forces, but wisely held off from making a full-scale attack. Instead, he played the waiting game, and when the winter came, Antonius began to suffer. When the next year came, Octavian still avoided a full battle, and watched over much of the year as Antonius' army slowly began to dwindle. Many of Antonius' troops were untrustworthy anyway, and a good number simply deserted while they sat waiting for a movement. Instead of simply deciding to sit and wait for Octavian to come attack (not that he'd actually do such a thing while Antonius was still around), he boarded his ships that summer at the Gulf of Ambracia, setting up camp at a city known as Actium, the site of a temple to Apollo.

Actium, placed on a promontory on the western coast of Greece, on the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, would hence become the site of Antonius' positions for the rest of the year. Unfortunately for him, Octavian soon set up camp on the northern promontory, five miles away. Then, across the mouth of the Gulf, he threw out Agrippa's huge armada, which formed a blockade, keeping the navy of Antonius trapped in the waters of the Gulf. Then, with Antonius in this potentially nasty situation, Octavian decided to wait out the rest of summer. As Antonius' troops dwindled further, and the summer heat took it's toll on the rest of his men, Antonius and Cleopatra tried desperately to find an avenue of escape, even trying to cut a canal through the promontory. It was a failure, of course.

Actium
Finally, by the end of August 31 BC, Antonius decided to abandon his army, and to break through Agrippa's blockade. It was a doomed fleet, he knew that, but perhaps some of his ships could break through, and he'd be able to get back to Egypt to build a reliable army with which he could finally destroy his nemesis. It was not to be, Agrippa swiftly noticed Antonius, and on September 2nd, 41 BC, came the battle of Actium. As Antonius' large navy came forward, in an organized battle formation, Agrippa's men moved forward, rows of oars splashing through the waves, the curled prows, some with figureheads, such as heads of Athena or Roma on their fronts, came forward, approaching the enemy. As the ships, some with eyes painted on their sides, rolled forward, the orders to attack were given. Immediately there came the crunching sounds, ships tearing into ships, cries of "Ramming speed" cut through the air. As prows slammed into the ship's sides, it was evident that Antonius was going to be, quite literally, sunk. Agrippa was ordering that his men set the enemy ships aflame, and soon the Egyptian ships began to disappear into the roaring flames. The sea, it seemed, was alight. Nothing, of course, could have saved the Egyptian fleet. Firstly, the Egyptian sailors were suffering due to a plague that had broken out in camp. To add to that, the oversized, bulky Egyptian ships were hard to maneuver in this water, and the smaller Roman ships were, of course, not hard to move at all. As the legionnaires bunkered down to protect themselves from the hails of arrows, the cries of the dying and the wounded became deafening.

All over the water, prows tore through the enemy vessels, and the Roman fleet began to send in their boarding parties, who, once aboard the ships, immediately proceeded to kill everyone aboard, crewmen, swordsmen, and archers alike. "When things were in this situation," writes Plutarch, "and nothing decisive was yet effected, Cleopatra's ships suddenly took to flight through the midst of the combatants, throwing their own fleet into confusion." Cleopatra, it seemed, was on the lam, her own large flagship, surrounded by sixty warships from her squadron, slipping past the enemy vessels. However, through his act, Cleopatra had ruined any chance of victory. In the rush to follow Cleopatra, many ships simply stopped attacking in order to slip through the hole, and were quickly destroyed. All organization was lost. "No sooner did Antony see her ships hoisting sail then, forgetting everything else, he took a small galley and followed her," writes Plutarch. Indeed, now both leaders had abandoned their ships and armies to utter destruction at the hands of Marcus Agrippa. Antonius had fled the coup, boarded Cleopatra's galley, and sat in the bows in despair, speaking to no one for a good two days. Agrippa soon punched the remaining enemy ships to oblivion, capturing a good number of enemies. Abandoned and tired, the remainder of Antonius' troops in Greece surrendered to Octavian without a fight. Antonius was now to be pursued and killed. He was not to be allowed to slip through Octavian's fingers again. Almost immediately after dealing with the remnants of Antonius' force, Agrippa and Octavian's troops left Greece for Alexandria.

Immediately, the immense propaganda machine of Octavian, alias Caesar, started rolling into action yet again. Antonius and Cleopatra were (as usual) denounced, and their defeat at Actium was praised as a great victory of Roman morals over the despicable morals displayed by those two. Octavian proclaimed the victory the work of great Apollo, the sun god, and all about the provinces, Apollo was praised. Coins were soon minted in honor of the great battle of Actium, displaying the fact that the crocodile, the Grecian and Roman symbol of Egypt, had been overcome. Octavian, ob cives servatos (having saved his fellow citizens), was a true hero. Even now, with the people of Rome rejoicing over Actium, Octavian and his lieutenants were setting out for the last battle, and no doubt, the greatest victory. In July 30 BC, Octavian, personally leading his military forces, with men like Agrippa and Gallus at his side, landed with his large and well-prepared army at Pelusium. Antonius was unprepared, with only a small group of men. There was little at all he could actually do in the situation, and so he sent Octavian a challenge to single combat. The idea must have seemed to Octavian to be rather ridiculous, he was in his very early thirties, Antonius was in his late forties, Octavian was a rather small man, and really no good at anything physical, whereas Antonius, well, he was exactly the opposite. Octavian turned down the offer (not that there was any chance that he'd accept), writing to him "There are many ways to die."

Apparently, Antonius knew that. By the time that Octavian entered Alexandria, capturing Cleopatra, her family, and her palace, Antonius was already dead. Apparently, he'd somehow been separated from her as the forces of Octavian moved inland, and he'd received a false rumor that she'd been killed. Immediately, he ordered his slave to hold out his sword so that he could run on it. Despite being stabbed through the belly, Antonius still survived it long enough to be taken to Alexandria by his slaves and to the arms of Cleopatra, who he was most pleased to find alive. Plutarch says he died in her arms as the result of those same self-inflicted stab wounds. Whatever the case, Marcus Antonius was long dead by the time Octavian marched into Alexandria.

First things come first. Octavian arranged for the nice, quiet execution of Caesarion. It was, of course, necessary in old Octavian's opinion, as Caesarion was, firstly, the son of Caesar, indeed, a closer relation to Caesar than Octavian himself, and thus a great threat to Octavian's claim to Caesar's title, fortune and power. Secondly, he was the rightful king of Egypt, and if he were allowed to live he might just still become a major pain in the future, which passed all too quickly for guys like Octavian, who seems to have destroyed all of his enemies before he was thirty-three. And so, on a hot August day in 30 BC, a swing of the sword separated young Caesarion's head from his neck. Now, of course, came the matter of how to deal with Cleopatra.

Cleopatra was immediately shocked to learn, much to her horror, that Octavian had arranged for her to be playing a major part in his upcoming triumph. She'd be displayed in a cage, in chains, the conquered beast, much like her own equally clever and ambitious sister Arsinoe during the time of Julius Caesar. This was really too much to bear, she'd seen Arsinoe in the triumph parade after the Alexandrian War. The jeering of the crowd, the obscene comments, the hurled objects, it was not something she'd like to go through. She soon made an attempt to seduce the morally firm Octavian himself, which was a mistake indeed. Unlike the late general Antonius, Octavian was not the sort to given into that sort of thing. There was now only one avenue of escape open, and that was, regrettably, suicide. The rumors were that she and her slaves had been found dead in her bedroom. A deadly asp, the royal symbol of the kings of Egypt, was rumored to have been found in her room along with the bodies. Cleopatra had apparently smuggled the snake in with a basket of figs, and allowed it to take a nip at her bosom, and she soon died as a result of it's poison. Actually, in all probability, despite what the old romantic diehards would like to say, if there was a snake that killed old Cleopatra, it probably wasn't an asp at all, but a cobra. Asps don't give you a bite that quickly kills, the poison instead takes a good amount of time and usually the victim is subject to a loss of the control of the bowels, as well. Any Egyptian would have known that, and besides, who wants to die slowly and painfully when a cobra kills you almost instantly?

Cleopatra and Antonius were buried together in Alexandria on Octavian's orders (as Antonius had allegedly asked for in his will), and poor old Caesarion was buried nearby. The remaining three children, all children of Antonius, were allowed to live. Alexander, for example, was sent off to Armenia as a ruler, and Cleopatra Selene was married off to the new King of Mauritania, Juba II, a Roman ally. The two lived out the rest of their days happily in exile on the Canary Islands. The royal fortune was to be divided up, and given as pay to Octavian's brave and noble Roman veterans. All over the city statues of Antonius, Cleopatra, and Caesarion were removed, or defaced. In their places were statues and portraits of noble Octavian. Indeed, there was one colossal statue made of him from solid marble.

Dreams of Empire
Cassius Dio wrote: "Cleopatra's brazen desire for passion and wealth was insatiable. By love she had made herself queen of Egypt. But she failed in her goal to become queen of the Romans." Horace wrote a poem soon afterward, portraying the great victory over the Egyptians and their seductress queen. "Drink we now, and dancing round, Press with footsteps free the ground; Pour we now the rosy wine, And, in honor of the gods, Comrades in their own abodes Pile we the banquet on each holy shrine. Sin it were ere now to pour Forth the cellar's generous store; While the haughty queen of the Nile, With her base and scurvy crew, Dared unbridled to pursue Wild hopes, and drunk with Fortune's favoring smile, Madly dreamed the Capitol Soon should totter to it's fall, And the Empire's self should die; When all of the ships of the Nile From Rome's avenging fires scarce one could fly…"

And here was Octavian. At the age of thirty-two, he'd literally seen over the ultimate destruction of each and every one of his enemies, and when he arrived from Epirus in 44 BC after the death of Caesar, he certainly had many of those. It's definitely not something most could boast of, but Octavian had done it, and survived. The people loved him, and the Senate loved him. From then on, his path to greatness was quick, and by 23 BC, he was imperator, in other words, conqueror, dictator, emperor. More than that, he would become the majestic one, Caesar Augustus himself. Octavian's ultimate victory was over the Republic itself. He would rule for nearly thirty years, Livia always his beloved and devoted wife, Agrippa always his friend and advisor. He was not simply the first emperor of Rome: he was the greatest.

And what of the Republic? The Republic was finished in 23 BC, the Empire replaced it. When the Social War came to a close, the Republic was left mortally wounded, but the Republic would take on nearly ninety years and many more wounds to die. That venerable Republic, always beloved by it's citizens and protected by it's Senators, was now becoming too old for it's own good, and had to finally be put down. The Republic, which had held firm for about four hundred years, was finally scrapped. It was, it seems, now obsolete, out of date, much like the old Roman calendar itself. And also much like the old Roman calendar, it had been a Caesar that had done it in.

- - -

Copyright © 2002 Addison Hart.

Written by Addison Hart.

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