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Book II
Chapter II

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Augustus
by
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Book III
Chapter I

Book II: Caesar Octavianus

 p96  Chapter III

The Breach with Antony: Actium
(B.C. 37‑30)

"Nous avons perdu le monde, et le monde, nous ; que vous en semble, Tristan ami ?"

"Amie, quand je vous ai avec moi, que me fault‑il donc ? Se tous li mondes estoit orendroit avec nous, je ne verrois fors vous seule."

Le Roman de Tristan.

More than two thousand years it is since she

Was beautiful. . . .

Now she is but a story that is told

Beside the fire! No man can ever be

The friend of that poor queen!

James Stephens.

I

Through seven difficult years Octavian had slowly built up a position which, based at first only on a name and a sentiment, was now solidly founded on popular goodwill. He had contrived the alliance which he had had in view from the start between those who cherished the memory and some of the dreams of Julius, and those who would perpetuate the spirit and most of the forms of the Republic. Rome thirsted for peace, and the pact with Sextus at Misenum had been forced on the triumvirs by public opinion. It was clear that this settlement could not stand, and that there would be no peace until Sextus was crushed, since his ambitions and grievances would remain a perpetual irritant, and he formed a rallying point for all that was most intransigent in Roman conservatism. Therefore two major tasks lay before Octavian, now in his twenty-sixth year. First, he must drive Sextus from the seas and draw his fangs for ever. Second, there must come some day a trial of strength with Antony. There could not be two masters of the empire with irreconcilable temperaments and divergent purposes.

 p97  Defeat of Sextus The campaign against Sextus can be briefly recounted, for it was only a distasteful duty which had to be performed, and revealed nothing about Octavian except that he was no great master of war. The operations of 37 B.C. were mainly preparatory, concerned with the creation by Agrippa of 1 Portus Julius, the new naval base, shipbuilding to supplement Octavian's small fleet — a new type of heavy, high-decked warship suitable for boarding1 — and the training of the crews in seamanship. The campaign of 36 B.C. began on July 1,2 the date being fixed by Octavian for the month called after his adopted father. The plan, in which we may detect Agrippa's hand, was for a converging attack on Sicily — Octavian from 1 Puteoli, Statilius Taurus from 2 Tarentum, and Lepidus from Africa with sixteen legions and a force of cavalry. Sextus was outnumbered, but he made the most of his position, stationing himself at 3 Messana to command the Straits, while he left the defence of 4 Lilybaeum and the west to his lieutenant Plinius Rufus. The elements fought on his side. On the third of the month came a violent storm which sent Taurus limping back to Tarentum, while Octavian, with whom was Agrippa, lost half his squadron off 5 Sorrento. Lepidus alone managed to land in Sicily and blockade Lilybaeum.

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Though the season for seafaring was not far from its close, Octavian dared not wait. Rome was in a ferment, the repute of Sextus had risen high, and Maecenas was sent back to quiet the populace. Octavian refitted in haste his damaged navy, hurried round the colonies to recruit more veterans, and by the middle of August was ready again for sea. His new position was nearer Sicily, at 6 Vibo, while Taurus lay at 7 Scylacium, thirty miles to the east across the neck of land. Sextus, to whom Menas had re‑deserted, watched from Messana the possible landing-places on the north shore of the island. The new plan was for Agrippa to keep him busy while Octavian  p98 and Taurus landed at 8 Tauromenium on the east shore, joined hands with Lepidus, and came in on Messana from the south. At first things went well. Agrippa won a slight naval success at 9 Mylae and occupied several coast towns. But Octavian's landing came to grief. Sextus's cavalry attacked him by land, and Sextus's fleet beat him at sea. For a moment it would seem that Octavian despaired and begged a friend to put him to the sword. By the skin of his teeth he escaped with one companion to the mainland of Italy, where he joined his lieutenant Messalla Corvinus. He had left his legions under Cornificius marooned in Sicily, he did not trust Lepidus, and he had no word of Agrippa.

It was a dark hour, but dawn was near. Agrippa captured 10 Tyndaris, a key position, and Cornificius joined him after a hazardous march over the skirts of Etna. Sextus was doomed, for on all sides the enemy legions were closing in on Messana. He tried his fate at sea, and on September 3 came the decisive battle off Mylae, when Agrippa's dreadnoughts with their superior grappling power overcame the lighter Pompeian craft. Only seventeen of the latter escaped to Messana. Thither Sextus fled, but for him it could be no refuge, and in civilian dress with his few remaining ships he retreated to Antony in the East. Octavian had surmounted the penultimate hazard of his youth.

One lesser task remained — to deal with Lepidus and the swollen army of Sicily. Lepidus, the world's weathercock, had a grievance against his fellow-triumvir, which, as it seemed to his trivial mind, fate had now given him a chance of avenging. He was the general on the spot who received the surrender of Messana, and was enabled to add its garrison to his own forces. Strong in the command of twenty‑two legions he attempted to dictate to Octavian, demanding Sicily in addition to his own province of Africa. There was some justice in his complaint, but he was the type of man who, having no fixity of purpose or dignity of character, invites cavalier treatment. His own troops preferred to follow Octavian, and he was compelled to throw himself at the conqueror's feet. He was allowed to remain Pontifex Maximus, and  p99 he retired into private life enriched by the loot of his triumvirate. The legions were a more serious matter, and Octavian had to deal with one or two ugly mutinies, which he quieted by disbanding twenty thousand men, by the awarding of bounties to those who remained with the colours, by the establishment of colonies, and by honours to commissioned and non‑commissioned officers. To Agrippa, the architect of victory, was given a golden crown decorated with the beaks of ships, to be worn on all triumphal occasions, an honour new in the Roman world.3

II

Octavian's Position At the age of twenty-seven Octavian had attained a power which none but Alexander and Julius had held before in history. Under his command were forty-three legions, a cloud of cavalry and six hundred ships of war. He had for his area of government the whole western empire — Italy, Illyria, Africa, the Gauls and Spain. He had behind him the enthusiasm of the Caesarian veterans and the sympathy of the Roman mob. The middle classes had largely lost their former Pompeian sentiment owing to the doings of Sextus, and had been gratified by the restoration of many thousands of runaway slaves from the vanquished fleets.4 By his marriage with Livia he had entered the inner circle of the nobility, and the most stubborn of aristocrats had come to see in him the only hope of a restored order and peace. The old Republic had gone for good, but in this young man there was something of the ancient Roman virtue. He had reverence for tradition and would not take the office of Pontifex Maximus arbitrarily even from the discredited Lepidus. He gave many proofs that he loved the former ways and that in any reconstruction the focus would be Rome and Italy. The master of the armies of the West was no mere military demagogue, but one who, though Julius's heir, was patently feeling his way to the restoration  p100 of many things which Julius had scorned or neglected. Here was a bridge-builder who would not forget the need for abutments in sound tradition. All classes in the nation were coming round to him, and republicans like Statilius Taurus and Messalla Corvinus now stood staunchly by his side. Moreover, there was about him a strange atmosphere of divine favour. He had come safely through countless hazards and triumphed against incalculable odds. The western world had accepted Octavian's own belief in his star.

Senate and People combined to shower honours upon him, but this remarkable young man showed no special desire for honours. He received an ovation for his defeat of Sextus; a triumph was impossible, since the campaign had been domestic police-work and not foreign conquest. He had the usual statues and triumphal arches, and the right, which Julius had had, to wear at all times a laurel wreath. More notable was his own act when, before his entry into Rome onNovember 13, he assembled the people outside the city bounds and told them what had been achieved.5 That was the behaviour of one who regarded himself as a magistrate and not as a tyrant.

What precisely his status de jure was it is hard to say. He was a triumvir, but the extension of the triumvirate was of doubtful legality. He had assumed for several years the praenomen of Imperator, but this was in the nature of an inherited family title and had no constitutional significance.6 He held his authority by general agreement as de facto tutor, curator, constable of the state. But one privilege was granted him of high significance — the sacrosanctity enjoyed by the tribunes — a privilege extended two years later to Livia and Octavia. This was not the full powers of a tribune — these did not come until six years later — but it involved personal inviolability and the right of sitting with the tribunes in the Senate. With a sure instinct he had always hankered  p101 after the tribunician authority, which gave him not only a much-needed personal protection, but a foothold in the only body from which he might expect serious opposition.7

For four years Octavian set himself the laborious task of making Italy habitable for honest men. He was hard put to it for money, since Sicily had long ago been bled white, and Antony was drawing the revenues of the opulent East. Yet he managed to reduce taxation, and to remit the arrears of the contributions imposed originally by the triumvirs. He restored to the old magistrates certain of the powers usurped by the triumvirate, and he settled his disbanded troops without further confiscations. By building new temples and repairing old ones he provided relief work for the Roman unemployed. He laboured to suppress brigandage throughout Italy and crimes of violence in Rome, and for the purpose established a police force on the Egyptian model. Agrippa as aedile in 33 B.C. (he was now a rich man, having married the daughter of Atticus, Cicero's friend) reconstructed the Roman water supply and drainage system.8 Nor did domestic reforms divert Octavian from the task of guarding his frontiers. Statilius Taurus was sent to restore order in the African provinces, and Messalla to bring the Salassi in the Val d' Aosta to reason. In person he conducted a campaign against the Iapydes among the Croatian hills and forests, where he won a high repute for personal bravery.9 He besieged and captured Siscia, the chief town of the Pannonians at the junction of the Kolpa and the Save, and next year, with Agrippa, carried the war into Dalmatia. By the year 33 B.C. he had, with a most modest expenditure of men and money, brought  p102 the whole coast of the eastern Adriatic under the Roman peace.10

Julius's Bequest But his principal task, which makes these years of supreme importance in history, was to enable Italy to find her soul. He had established his title to his material inheritance as the heir of Julius; he had still to decide what he could accept from the bequest of thought and dream. What the bequest was we can only guess; it is not easy to read behind the blurred palimpsest the original script of that supreme mind; but certain features seem clear. Like Alexander, Julius conceived of a world-empire of which Rome should be the shrine and the heart, but without predominance. That empire would be an oecumene, a unity of civilization, its citizenship would be extended to all found worthy, and Roman law made its common law. A standing army, which should also be a school of citizenship, and a centralized bureaucracy would provide order and just government. The forms of the Roman city-state might to some degree be preserved as antiquarian curiosities, but Julius had the contempt of the realistic mind for shells from which the life had departed. He stood not for Rome or Italy, but for a new imperial culture, which would draw what was best not only from the Latin tradition, but from Greece, from the East, even from the wilder lands of the West and North. At the head of this economy must be one man, a monarch by whatever name he might be called, sole chief of the army and of the bureaucracy, the ultimate fount of power. Such a kingship it is probable that Julius would have made hereditary,11 as the simplest way of ensuring a peaceable succession, and, merely as a practical expedient, he would have surrounded it with something of the half-divine glamour of the eastern thrones; but he meant it to be not a satrapy of slaves but  p103 a commonwealth of free spirits.12 He sought to retain the Latin simplicity and hard good sense and to marry them with the colour and art of more imaginative peoples. His monarchy would have been both Roman and Hellenistic, and such diverse commentators as Mommsen and Eduard Meyer are alike justified. But it would have been a monarchy and not a republic; and we of to‑day, with the history of the later empire in our mind, and with our experience of the brittleness and inelasticity of republican forms, may well pay tribute to the acumen of the boldest of all architects of empire.

Some of this Octavian unhesitatingly rejected as impracticable. The kingship, for instance; Julius might have compassed it, but nothing save supreme genius could force it on a reluctant Rome. Besides, it was Antony's game, and he could only succeed as Antony's anti-type. Some of it he accepted and set himself to work out in his own terms — the single army, the centralized government. Some things he disliked, such as the contempt for the old republican forms; he held that it was bad policy to innovate too rashly, and he was sufficient of the bourgeois — unlike Julius, who was the essential aristocrat — to have a lingering admiration for the old houses and the old ways. But especially he differed from the theory of a flat, unfeatured imperial citizenship, an empire equal in all its parts. Rome must remain the directing mind and Italy the power-house. The logic of the statesman as well as the sentiment of the provincial forced him to this view, for he must have a fulcrum from which to work. We shall see how, when opportunity was given him, he faced his wider tasks; in the meantime, while his authority was not yet beyond question, he turned his mind to the problem of Italy — a proof of where his heart lay.

Condition of Italy Italy needed both a material and a spiritual regeneration. She was wearied by the long years when she had been the cockpit of war, and she had all but lost hope and faith. Octavian set himself two duties especially — to revive her ancient religion, and to restore profit and amenity to rural life. It was a favourable moment, for  p104 misfortune had abated the grandiosity of the Roman temper, and there was a widespread reaction towards simplicity. Men's minds were returning to homely things. Horace, now by grace of Maecenas a member of the leisured classes, exchanged the bitterness of his early satires for the more mellow and cheerful outlook of his second book; Varro put the economy and practice of agriculture into a manual; and Virgil in his Georgics produced the epic of rural Italy. The well-managed soldier-settlements had made countless small farms out of the big estates, and the independent small farmer, the yeoman, the strongest stock in the land, had his numbers multiplied.13 The rural population was greatly enlarged, and rural life was given a new dignity as the one enduring thing in the world of change. There was still no deep fissure between town and country, for the well-to‑do citizen had his country farm, and every Italian market-place was within sight and hearing of the fields. The new emphasis on the preciousness of the Italian soil affected both rustic and townsman.

This rural revival involved a mode of life and a religion. Octavian was not only devout in restoring the urban temples; he revived many old rites and ceremonies, forbade the practice of certain eastern cults, and expelled from Rome Greek and Asiatic magicians. He sought to bring back the "religion of Numa," a religion of usage and sentiment rather than of creed, for the world was sick of the dust of philosophical debate. It was a religion attached to things and places, to homely and familiar "stocks and stones," full of small, friendly rites and kindly mysteries — altars gay with flowers and sweet with green herbs, stumpy wooden images of Ceres and Bacchus garlanded with blossom, a multitude of little household gods more like brownies than deities. There were wilder festivals, too, when the madness of spring and the new moon crept into the rites, and grave ceremonial occasions, like birth and death and the assumption of manhood. In every incident of the year religion played its part, for the rural Italian was a crude Platonist  p105 who found divinity in the humblest objects of common use. But it was an ordered and a bracing life, whether lived in a simple country farm or in a grandee's villa, a life close to nature, where each season brought its duties and its comforts — the freshness of spring, the aromatic heats of summer, the mellow content of autumn, the tonic winters when the hail beat on the shutters, and the household within, and even the images of the dead, were snug in the glow of the hearth-fire.

In this task Octavian had august colleagues. Virgil, introduced by Pollio to Maecenas, was now in the full sunlight of public favour, and the cause of the Italian land was dear to one who had himself known the bitterness of exile. The Georgics, the "best poem of the best poet," as Dryden called it, is partly "laudes Italiae," a fervent panegyric on the homeland, but it is also a guide to the new men just adventuring on the soil, to "show them the way which they do not know." Horace, too, country-bred and now himself a squire, pointed the same moral with a sharper pen, for he was as much moralist as poet. He is not only the panegyrist of country simplicity, but a caustic voice reminding Romans of their duties to the gods.14 Both men saw in Octavian the herald of a nobler world and interpreted his thoughts to the Roman people and to himself.

III

The Parthian War Meanwhile Antony had been following his own course in the East as an independent and somewhat hostile potentate. When he left Italy in the autumn of 37 B.C. it was to enter upon his long-contemplated Parthian campaign. For this he needed money, and he could get it from no other source than Egypt. Cleopatra could provide few troops, since she had only palace guards, but she had a well-filled treasury. She had no interest in the Parthian war, but she was faithful to the main policy of her life, the restoration of Egypt to the position which it had held under the first Ptolemies, and to attain this end and secure Antony's help she must pay his price. She met him at Antioch in the early spring of 35 B.C.,  p106 and in the revulsion from Octavia he fell wholly under her spell. Now at last he became the devout lover. He acknowledged the twins, Alexander the Sun and Cleopatra the Moon, whom she had borne him, and he handed over to her Cyprus, part of Syria, and other old possessions of Egypt as a first instalment of his bargain. He did not yet publicly marry her, but their close alliance was now advertised to the world.15

Antony did not adopt the plan of campaign which eighteen years before had been the ruin of Crassus. He could not afford to be drawn into a lengthy war, with the situation in Italy so hazardous and perplexed. He had the plans of Julius before him, the essence of which was an assault upon the Parthian capital, Ecbatana, by way of Armenia as an advanced base, and accordingly he assembled his ten legions and ten thousand horse at Zeugma on the Euphrates, and turned northward along the right bank of that river. But the plan, which Julius had designed for a lengthy campaign and ample forces, failed when it was put into execution in a hurry with inadequate troops. On the high plateau of Erzerum he was joined by his reserves, and reviewed an army of something over one hundred thousand men. His first objective was the Median capital, Phraaspa, which he reached about the middle of August and to which he promptly laid siege. But, having divided his forces, the Parthians were able to destroy part of them, his intelligence service was defective, his Armenian allies failed him, and, since a winter siege was out of the question, he was compelled to retreat. He wisely chose the difficult route through the mountains of Tabriz, and after twenty-seven arduous days, in which he showed all his old fortitude and resource, he brought his eagles across the Araxes. By the end of the year he had his  p107 remnant safe in Syria with a loss of over twenty thousand men. He reported a victory to Rome, which was only half believed. The first attempt at the conquest of Parthia had failed disastrously.

Cleopatra had met him during his return journey with supplies of food and clothing, and the rest of the winter was spent with her at Alexandria. Early in the spring of 35 B.C., Octavia, hearing of his difficulties, felt it to be her duty to join him, but a curt message from him bade her return at once to Rome. Faithful to her conception of a wife's part, she stayed on in Athens in spite of Octavian's disapproval, taking care of Fulvia's children as well as her own two daughters. Meantime in Alexandria the two elderly lovers — Antony was at least forty‑six and Cleopatra ten years younger — were bringing their purposes into harmony. The queen of Egypt was not ill‑pleased by the Parthian failure, since a resounding success would have made Antony independent of her and revived his prestige in Rome, and she desired that he should be forced to look to her alone for the fulfilment of his hopes. His design of grandiose eastern conquest slowly faded out of the air. He meant, no doubt, to enter Armenia again in the summer of 35 B.C., but the refugee Sextus Pompeius made trouble in Asia before he was hunted down and slain, an achievement which damaged Antony's popularity among the Pompeians in Rome. It was not until 34 B.C. that he overran Armenia and made it a Roman province — a barren conquest which brought him no special repute. Meantime in Alexandria Cleopatra was moulding him to the shape of an eastern satrap.

Antony's Purpose What was now Antony's purpose, for, though he was becoming wax in a woman's hands, the rôle of lover alone could not content him? Cleopatra from her girlhood, with the clear sight of one whose passions were always subservient to her ambitions, had realized that, unless something of the old empire of the Ptolemies could be restored, Egypt must die. That restoration could only be accomplished with the aid of the Roman legions, and to the master of these legions she offered the bribe not only of her person but of an opulent and  p108 glittering eastern throne. Antony for long repelled the temptation. He was well aware how hard it would be to make Roman soldiers the tools of such a plan; they were men of the West, whose ultimate hope was for allotments of Italian land. But fate was constraining him to follow Cleopatra. His Parthian failure had robbed him of the prestige of a conqueror. Octavian had played his game so adroitly that he had won the greater part of Italy to his side. In many ways the young man had disregarded the interests of his fellow-triumvir; he had disgraced Lepidus on his own responsibility; he had not shared with Antony the provinces recovered from Sextus; he had not sent him the agreed Italian contingents; the compact of Tarentum had been shattered. The West was failing Antony, so he must perforce turn to the East. There was also his love for Cleopatra, the passion of a middle-aged roué for something higher than mere comely flesh, for an alert intelligence and an unconquerable spirit. It is likely, too, that years of gross living had somewhat blunted his mind. He was become more of a passive creature, apt for flamboyant dreams rather than the hard Roman realism.16

News out of Egypt He had made his election, and in the autumn of 34 B.C. there were strange doings in Alexandria. Antony celebrated a triumph for his Armenian campaign — a direct insult to Rome.17 It was Cleopatra's hour. She sat on a high throne of gold, assuming the place of the Roman Jupiter Optimus Maximus, to receive the gift of captives. Still more magnificent was the next ceremonial, when she sat beside him robed as Isis, with a little lower their three children, Ptolemy, Cleopatra and Alexander, and the young Caesarion. Antony addressed the people, declaring that Caesarion was the legitimate son of Julius, and hailing him as King of Kings and his mother as Queen of Kings. Then followed what is known as the Donations of Alexandria, by which Alexander was given Armenia and all the lands east of the Euphrates; Ptolemy, Syria and Cilicia and the overlordship of Asia; and the  p109 little Cleopatra, Cyrenaica and Libya. The triumvir himself remained plain Mark Antony, but this was for Roman consumption; to the eastern world he was Dionysus-Osiris, the consort of the goddess-queen of Egypt. But the fact that he had taken upon himself the making of kings is a clue to his true ambition. He virtually proclaimed himself Roman emperor and Cleopatra his empress, a fulfilment of the prophecy that when she had cast down Rome to the dust she would raise it again to heaven, unite East and West, and inaugurate the Age of Gold.18

Antony had played Octavian's game. The latter had his own grievances against him: the unauthorized occupation of Egypt, the execution of Sextus, which had deeply offended Roman sentiment, his treatment of Octavia, his distribution to aliens of Roman lands. But what rankled most deeply was his dishonouring the memory of Julius by his acknowledgment of Caesarion. There was an old tenderness for Antony in Roman society, and many senators were his partisans. But there was no tenderness for Cleopatra. That a woman and an eastern should presume to direct Roman armies and rule Roman lands cut Rome's pride to the quick. Moreover, there was a lurking dread of that spectre which had long haunted the western mind, domination by the East, and the transference of world-power from the Tiber to the Nile. The passionate lines of the poets show how lively was this fear.19 Octavian saw that his policy must be to foster it by every propagandist art. Antony was building a fleet; the last struggle could not be long delayed.

The pace of events quickened during the year 33 B.C., the year of Octavian's second consulship. He had been steadily increasing his repute by his success in the frontier wars and by his domestic reforms, and in that year he received from the Senate the signal honour of an authority to create new patrician families in order to fill the priesthood — a proof of his acceptance by the conservatives.20  p110 He was busy winding up his minor campaigns, and mustering his strength for the final arbitrament. Meantime Antony, after marching to the Araxes and making futile pacts with the king of Media, was concentrating his forces at Ephesus, where Cleopatra joined him with a war‑chest of some four million sterling. To Octavian's protests he returned insulting replies. He had the boldness to send a deputation to Rome demanding the Senate's approval of his Egyptian doings. The consuls for 32 B.C. were Antonians, Gaius Sosius and Domitius Ahenobarbus, and they suppressed this dispatch. But to the Senate they communicated the news that Antony regarded the triumvirate as having expired on the last day of 33 B.C. and did not wish it renewed. He hoped, no doubt, to compel Octavian to assent, and leave him with no legal support for his extra-ordinary powers.21

But the dispute had now gone deeper than legalities. Sinister tales were coming from Egypt. Early in 32 B.C. Octavian attacked Antony in the Senate, and the consul Sosius replied with vehemence, and would have moved a motion against him had not a tribune interposed a veto. Presently the two consuls fled to Antony, and Octavian announced that all who so desired might do likewise, with the result that about one‑third of the Senate left for the East. This proof of Antonian feeling in Rome convinced him that his wise course was to direct the public enmity against Cleopatra rather than against Antony. Plancus, aforetime Antony's henchman, arrived from Egypt to change sides, and furnished him with ample material for such propaganda. Cleopatra had a bodyguard of Roman soldiers; Antony walked by her side among her eunuchs; he wore Egyptian robes and arms, and played a part in religious mummeries hateful to the Roman spirit. Then in May came the news that Antony had divorced Octavia22 and had been publicly  p111 wedded to the Egyptian queen. There was a violent revulsion in Roman sentiment, the former tenderness for Antony died away, and fear of this witch of the East, shamelessly traduced by Octavian's agents, hag‑rode the popular mind. Plancus brought news, too, of a will of Antony's deposited with the Vestal Virgins, and this Octavian seized and published — the only instance in which he violated a religious custom. It affirmed the legitimacy of Caesarion, gave huge legacies to Cleopatra's children, and provided that his body should be buried beside her at Alexandria in the royal mausoleum.23 The natural assumption was that Antony meant to transfer the capital of the empire to Egypt. Popular fury forced the Senate's hand. He was divested of his imperium and deposed from the consulship for 31 B.C. to which he had been elected. In the late autumn, in solemn ceremonial accompanied by the Conscript Fathers, Octavian, as fetial priest, proclaimed war before the temple of Bellona. But against Cleopatra alone; for it was necessary to mass the public resentment against the foreigner, and Octavian already, in 36 B.C., had announced the end of the civil wars.24 The issue was not between Octavian and Antony, but between Rome and the queen of Egypt, between the West and the East.25

The Oath of Allegiance It has been the fashion of historians to describe Octavian's position at this moment as precarious, but in truth he had already the master-hand. First, for his constitutional status. He was still nominally triumvir, with a doubtful legal sanction, but he wisely did not rely upon any such authority. It was a time of revolution, when nice legal distinctions are meaningless, and the commander of the legions fell back upon a power which had always been implicit in the Republic, that of curator  p112 and constable of the state. In the early autumn — perhaps on the advice of Maecenas — he resolved upon a bold step, and summoned the whole western world, senators, troops and civilians, to swear allegiance to him and acclaim him its leader against Antony. The business was elaborately organized, but the oath was voluntary; Bononia as an old client city of Antony's was exempted, but even Antony's own colonists subscribed.26 This was an unprecedented act, but it was in consonance with Roman tradition, and in conjunction with his third consulship in 31 B.C. it brigaded behind him both Senate and People. But it had also vital importance for the future, since it meant not only the fusion of the Caesarian and the republican parties, but the institution of a new political machinery, a form of one‑man supremacy which had no relation to the oriental type of kingship. The triumvirate was wiped out, and Octavian was given a "facultas imperandi," a right of command without limitation of function or time. It was Rome's answer to Antony's un‑Roman doings. The wheel had come full circle. Against a military usurpation was now arraigned the old spirit of republican Rome. It was the beginning of that "civilitas," that deference to public opinion and to republican tradition, which was to characterize the empire.27

It was also a proof of the dawning of that "auctoritas," that personal authority, which, far more than any legal or constitutional device, was the true secret of his later power. In twelve years this young man had won a singular prestige. He had inherited the glamour of Julius, and out of it had made a new thing. He had interpreted his heritage as a duty to serve the people —  p113 noblesse oblige; but he had also construed it as a duty to fear nothing — noblesse ne se laisse pas intimider. He had been marvellously patient and discreet, and he had been miraculously bold. Antony might annex the trappings of Hellenistic monarchy, but Octavian had borrowed from it something profounder, which was a new thing in Rome — a conception of the king as saviour and father. From Homer's Agamemnon, "the shepherd of his people," the conception descends through Greek history, through Plato and the Orators and the Hellenistic kings, and then through Augustus to the Byzantine emperors — the vision of a monarch whose primary attribute should be loving-kindness flowering in good deeds.28

The Rival Forces If Octavian's position was now impregnable in prestige, it was also by far the stronger from the military point of view. Antony had greater financial resources, for Octavian was poor and had to resort to unpopular fresh taxation, but in all other respects he was outmatched by his adversary. Octavian had a loyal and compact army, and in his commander-in‑chief, Agrippa, the best soldier of the age. Antony had around him a coterie of Roman refugees, hopelessly divided in their views, and he had the embarrassing company of Cleopatra. He had a following of client-kings,29 who at the best were half-hearted and were in terror of defying Rome. He had behind him Greece and Macedonia and Thrace, Egypt and Cyrene and the Aegean islands, but Octavian in the West had a better nursery of men. In vain Antony had tried by his propaganda to seduce the loyalty of Italy. He had a fleet of some five hundred ships of the line, most of them new and heavy vessels,30 and he had nineteen Roman legions — a total of over sixty thousand men — and some eighty thousand Asiatic horse and foot. To meet him Octavian did not mobilize his whole strength — not more than eighty thousand foot and twelve  p114 thousand cavalry, and perhaps four hundred ships — for he did not overrate his enemy. Antony's plan of campaign was to stand on the defensive in Greece, since he believed that Octavian dared not delay but must be forced to attack at a disadvantage. It has been a mystery to many why he left the initiative to his enemy, when by an invasion of Italy in 32 B.C. he might have caught Octavian in a difficult hour. But Antony had no choice. He could not take Cleopatra with him across the Adriatic, and Cleopatra would not suffer him to go without her. Also his base was Asia Minor and he had to string out his forces for the defence of Egypt. To concentrate army and fleet and lead them to Italy in 32 B.C. would have been a task beyond the power of Julius himself.31

IV

Actium In the campaign of Actium the main features are clear, but many of the details are obscure, and explanations must be conjectural. Like Aegospotami and Philippi, it was a decisive event in history, but, like these actions, its military interest is small. The traveller who takes boat from Corfu for the Ambracian gulf, and surveys its shining reaches backed by tawny hills and the blue Aetolian mountains, will get no fresh enlightenment from his survey. The riddle of Actium is not in the details of the fighting but in the minds of the combatants.

By the late autumn of 32 B.C. Antony's forces lay along the west coast of Greece from 1 Corcyra (Corfu) to 2 Methone at the extreme south-west point of the Peloponnese. The larger part of his army was in winter quarters at 3 Actium, the southern peninsula at the entrance to the Ambracian gulf, and in the gulf itself was the main strength of his fleet. He and Cleopatra made their headquarters at 4 Patrae, at the mouth of the gulf of Corinth. Supplies could only come by the Egyptian ships, and this explains why the northern coast and the Via Egnatia were surrendered, and with them the best communications with Macedonia and the East. Contingents  p115 at 5 Leucas and Methone were necessary to protect the route from Egypt.

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This fact determined Octavian's initial strategy. He concentrated his forces at 6 Brundisium and 7 Tarentum, and early in 31 B.C. crossed to Greece; why Antony made no effort to prevent him is one of the minor mysteries of the campaign. Maecenas was left in charge in Rome, and Octavian took with him all the senators and knights who might have made trouble in Italy. In order to cover his landing, his admiral, Agrippa, attacked the Egyptian cornº-convoy in the south, took Methone, and slew its commander, Bogudes of Mauretania. Octavian safely reached Epirus, and marched swiftly southward in the hope of surprising Antony in the Ambracian gulf. But the latter, alarmed by Agrippa's doings, had hastened to the gulf, where he found the entry safely blocked by his ships, and had fortified a strong position on the Actian peninsula. Octavian, foiled in his attempt at a surprise, took up position at Mikilitsi in the hills on the north side, near where the city of 8 Nicopolis was afterwards built, and connected his camp by walls and entrenchments with his harbour in the bay of Comarus. When his reserves had arrived Antony endeavoured to force a battle, crossed the strait, and encamped his army two miles south of Octavian, while he sent his cavalry in a broad sweep to the north to cut off his enemy's water supply. But he found blockade impossible, for he could not hold a line five miles long, his cavalry maneuver failed, and he was compelled to fall back to Actium. He was now the blockaded instead of the blockader, for Agrippa had worked havoc with his sea communications. He had captured first Leucas and then Patrae, and there was no more corn from Egypt.

The hot summer dragged on, and every day Antony's position became more comfortless. Octavian's legions and crews were in healthy quarters, but Antony's were weak from malaria and on famine rations. The latter was compelled to bring food from eastern Greece, over the mountain tracks of Aetolia.32 Worse still, desertions  p116 became frequent, and executions of suspects did not mend matters. Amyntas took over to Octavian two thousand Galatian horse;33 Domitius Ahenobarbus, now sick unto death, followed suit; so did Dellius, whom rumour alleged to be Cleopatra's lover. His forces were rapidly getting out of hand, and all summer disputes raged in his councils. Cleopatra had as little love for this campaign as she had had for the Parthian war, for, if Antony defeated Octavian and entered Rome in triumph, he would pass out of her orbit; but she was no fool, and it is hard to believe in the treachery with which Josephus credits her,34 or Ferrero's story of her malign mastery.35 Canidius Crassus would have abandoned the ships, lured Octavian into Macedonia, and fought the final battle on land — an impossible plan in the then condition of Antony's troops. Cleopatra wished to use the fleet and fight a way out; if they succeeded, good and well, if not, she and Antony could at least escape to Egypt, refit their armies, and defend the East against Octavian.36 Her advice was followed, and in the last days of August Antony completed his preparations. A deserter had informed Octavian of the general plan, though not of certain secret details, and he made his dispositions accordingly.

At first he hoped to avoid a battle. He proposed to let the Antonian fleet clear the straits and then overhaul it, believing that the sight of Antony fleeing for Egypt would lead to wholesale desertions. But Agrippa urged that a fight was inevitable, since it was unlikely that his lighter vessels would be able to overtake Antony's monsters under a full spread of canvas. The position had been reversed since the campaign against Sextus, and Octavian had given up his heavy dreadnoughts for smaller and more manageable craft.37 The last days of August were stormy, but the morning of September 2 dawned clear and fine, with the usual light breeze blowing  p117 from the sea. In summer on these coasts the wind changes in the afternoon, and blows with some force from the north-west. Of this Antony meant to take advantage; it might enable him to separate Octavian's fleet from its land base, and, if he failed, it would speed his own retreat. He burned all the ships he did not need, and in the remainder embarked about half his army, while to Cleopatra's detachment he entrusted his treasure-chests. He himself commanded his right wing, and Sosius the left, while Cleopatra was in rear of his centre.

Antony's Flight Early on the 2nd Octavian put to sea, himself taking charge of his right squadrons, while Agrippa, who was also in general command, had the left wing and faced Antony. He took up position a little less than a mile from the entrance of the channel and rested on his oars. Shortly before midday Antony's fleet emerged, and the two waited until the wind shifted. When that moment came the forces joined battle. What followed is not clear, except that Antony and Agrippa were hotly engaged, and that the latter's lighter craft handled Antony's dreadnoughts much as Drake in the English Channel dealt with the leviathans of the Spanish Armada. On both wings the fight was going badly for Antony, and on both he was in danger of being outflanked. Desertions and surrenders seem to have begun in his centre, when suddenly he left his flagship in a galley and joined Cleopatra, who hoisted sail. Who first gave the signal is uncertain, but the plan had been agreed upon beforehand as the last resort in case of defeat. When Antony's fleet saw its commander in flight with the Egyptian ships, its power of resistance broke. Some vessels got back to harbour, and the rest surrendered or were destroyed. Octavian, surprised by this unexpected and crowning mercy, waited all night at sea, rescuing men from the burning hulls, and in the morning returned to the gulf to discover the situation there. He found that the opposition was melting fast. The fleet was gone, but for some days the army under Canidius held its ground; but the desertion of its general had broken its spirit. Presently Canidius fled to Antony in Egypt, and the legions surrendered to Octavian, some being disbanded and sent  p118 to Italy, while the rest were incorporated in his own army.38

Antony's defeat was irretrievable. His own army, Rome, and all the western world had turned against him. His client-kings and Cleopatra herself were ready to forsake him. After Actium the Greek cities at once surrendered, except Corinth, which was taken by Agrippa. Octavian wintered in Athens, and in January, 30 B.C., at Agrippa's request, crossed in wild weather to Brundisium and settled the trouble with the disbanded soldiers and the dispossessed landowners by promising them payment out of the treasure of Egypt. His next task was to secure that treasure and wind up accounts with Antony and Egypt's queen. The purple sails of Cleopatra's flagship brought Antony safely to the East, but there he found that his last hope had gone. His legions in Cyrene repudiated him and joined Octavian's legate, Cornelius Gallus. At Alexandria he fell into a profound melancholy, and listened idly to Cleopatra's gallant schemes for seizing the silver mines of Spain or sailing far into the sunrise and founding a new Indian empire. The virtue had gone out of him. He sent envoys to Octavian to sue for terms, but Octavian returned no answer. Then in July, when the latter's cavalry were near, he made one desperate effort in defence. His troops deserted him, and, when he had the false news that Cleopatra was dead, he fell on his sword and, mortally wounded, begged to be taken to the royal mausoleum where she was secluded. There he died in her arms, to the infinite relief of his conqueror. Octavian had wiped him out of his scheme of things, and now he had opportunely removed himself from the world.

The last act of the drama was a grim one, culminating in one supreme hour of romance. Octavian had replied smoothly to Cleopatra's entreaties, for he wished to preserve  p119 her alive to grace his triumph. It would be a final proof to Rome that the peril from the East had gone. There was little chivalry in the Roman temper. When he met her in Alexandria she tried to move him by impassioned appeals to the memory of Julius, but he listened with downcast eyes and said nothing. He was not amenable to the pathetic. He had had her conveyed to Palace and kept under strict guard. She now knew her fate and met it like a queen. Octavian put to death the two boys, Caesarion aged sixteen, and Antyllus, Antony's son by Fulvia, who was two years younger. It was his last act of public cruelty — politic, because while they lived they endangered the foundations of his power. She realized that to her he would be not less pitiless. An asp, the divine emissary of the Sun‑god, was brought to her in a basket of green figs, and when Octavian, warned by her letter, hastened to her chamber, he found her lying dead — robed and crowned — with her waiting-women, Charmion and Iras, by her side. He was content, for she had solved for him a difficult problem. He allowed her to be buried beside Antony, and gave the faithful maids a splendid funeral.39

V

Character of Antony The death of Antony, when "not cowardly" he put off his helmet, has been made a moment of high drama by the genius of Shakespeare. But his true farewell to life was when he went aboard Cleopatra's galley. The picture of him sitting in the stern, his head sunk on his breast, a refugee with a foreign woman, reveals the downfall of his character and his hopes. For a little while he was execrated in Rome; his statues were overthrown, and his name was blotted from the records; Virgil may have drawn from him the robber Cacus of  p120 the Aeneid.40 But Rome could not long cherish enmity against one so human and in many ways so characteristically Roman. Augustus restored him to the Fasti, and three later emperors were proud to share his blood. His character, like his face, had no symmetry. He had remarkable talents, but they were ill co‑ordinated, and his tempestuous soul was in perpetual disequilibrium. Each of his virtues — and they were many — was nullified by some rampant vice. With the steady resolution and the cool, steeled courage of Octavian his flamboyant and spasmodic qualities could not compete. In him he found his eternal anti-type, and the soothsayer in Shakespeare's play warned him truly:

Thy demon — that's thy spirit which keeps thee — is

Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,

Where Caesar's is not; but near him thy angel

Becomes a fear, as being o'erpowered.

He is the classic instance of the second-rate man who is offered a first-rate destiny, and who, in stumbling after it, loses his way in the world.

Cleopatra Cleopatra has long ago passed beyond the libels with which her reputation was blackened by a terrified Rome — even the maledictions of great poets, whose hate confers an unwelcome immortality. Charmion's tribute, "a lass unparalleled," is the world's verdict. She stands with Helen of Troy as one of the two women whose influence over the hearts of men has become a legend and a symbol. But the common picture of her as a martyr of love, a mortal Aphrodite, does scant justice to her powers of mind. To Egypt she was a wise and capable ruler, and in Egypt for long her memory was cherished. A Coptic bishop of the seventh century could speak of her as the most illustrious of her sex, "great in herself and in her achievements." She was a notable woman of business, she inaugurated and directed industries, and she organized the supplies for Antony's army and fleet. If she wrote a book on cosmetics, she is also credited with works on coinage and weights and measures. She was a friend  p121 of philosophers, like Philostratus the Platonist and Nicolaus the Peripatetic. She had a courage so clear and fine that no man or woman ever made her afraid. In the downfall of Antony's fortunes she did not despair, but struggled on to the end, and welcomed death only when all was over. With much earthy dross in her, she was yet pre‑eminently a creature of "fire and air."

It is easy to dismiss the false Cleopatra, but the true one can only be conjectured, for the material for a reasoned verdict is lost. Could we know what Julius thought of her we should be in a better case, for it is likely that Julius inspired much of her policy, and was the only man who ever captured her mind as well as her heart. Her main purpose is clear. She was the heir of Alexander, and, as we have seen, sought to rebuild the monarchy of Egypt with the help of Rome. But there was more in her than mere dynastic ambition, for she had "immortal longings." She was the prophetess of an ancient culture which she believed to be doomed without her aid. From Julius she may have learned the ideal of an empire which should be a true fellowship of humanity, and in which all the old cultural bequests would be harmonized. Her months in Rome had convinced her of the hardness and narrowness of the Roman temper, and her association with Antony and his friends did not abate her dislike of its grossness. She was in revolt against the Roman philistinism which would crush under its chariot wheels a multitude of ancient and beautiful things, and constrict into a mercantile uniformity the infinite variousness of the world she loved. The virtues of the Italian temper were hidden from her, and she saw only its vulgarity. She stood for Hellenism and for something else — something which only Julius had understood — strange and wonderful things descended from primeval monarchies in the Asian and African spaces, secret lore for which Latin had no idiom:

Imperishable fire under the boughs

Of chrysoberyl and beryl and chrysolite,

And chrysoprase and ruby and sardonyx.

If such was her creed history can pass judgment on  p122 her failure. Hers was a bastard Hellenism, and her conception of world-empire was a whimsy. The grave beauty of the great age of Greece had gone from the world, and the gem‑like flame of its spirit had been replaced by the fires of baser altars. The Hellenistic had ousted the Hellenic. The simplicity and ascēsis of an elder Greece were to be sought in Italy rather than in Egypt, with its garish, superheated court, its pedantic universities and its servile peoples. Alexandria had little to teach Rome. The enduring bequest of the East was to spring half a century later, not from the effete successors of the old monarchies, but from the bare Palestinian hills. As for the dream of the habitable earth peaceful under a universal empire, the dream of Alexander and Julius and Cleopatra, the motive power to realize it must come from the West, where men could still be both disciplined and free. Behind the cold front of Octavian lay the vision, the will, and the power.


The Author's Notes:

1 Agrippa also invented a new type of grappling iron, and a collapsible wooden tower.

Thayer's Note: Appian, B. Civ. V.118; Servius, ad Virg. Aen. VIII.693.

2 This is Appian's date (V.97); Dio puts the beginning of the campaign in the spring.

3 On this "corona classica" see Reinhold, op. cit., 42‑3.

Thayer's Note: More accessibly, the article Corona in Smith's Dictionary.

4 30,000 according to Mon. Anc. V.1‑3.

5 Dio XLIX.15.

6 See on this point C. A. H. X.122 n. He had been already hailed four times as Imperator by the armies in the ordinary way — in 43, 40, 38 and 36 B.C.

7 The grant did not carry the political powers of the tribunician power, "auxilii latio," "coercitio" and "intercessio." Appian (V.132, 548º), who is followed by Orosius (VI.18.34), assumes the grant in 36 B.C. of the full "tribunicia potestas" for life, but Dio (XLIX.15.5‑6) makes it clear that the tribunician power was progressively acquired by Octavian, as it had been by Julius. See Mon. Anc. (ed. Hardy), 42; Rice Holmes, I.221‑2; Niccolini, Il tribunato della Plebe (1932), 159 sqq.

8 For details see Reinhold, op. cit., 47‑52.

9 Pliny N. H. VII.148; Suet. Div. Aug. 20.

10 The authorities for the campaigns are App. Illyr. 13, 15‑28, and Dio XLIX.34 sqq. For the Alpine campaign see E. Pais, Dalle Guerre Puniche a Cesare Augusto (1918), pt. II, 375‑413; for the Illyrian war see N. Vulić in L'Acropole (1932), VII.155 sqq.; Swoboda, Octavian und Illyricum (1932); and G. Veith, Die Feldzüge des . . . Octavianus in Illyrien (1914).

11 At his death he had perhaps reached no decision on the point. Cf. Plut. Brut. 7.

12 This is a natural deduction from Cic. ad Fam. XII.17.

13 For the true status of the Italian yeoman see Tenney Frank, Aspects of Social Behaviour in Ancient Rome, ch. III.

14 e.g. Sat. II.2.103.

15 The date of Antony's formal marriage to Cleopatra by Egyptian rites is disputed, since the ancient authorities are vague. Kromayer (Hermes, XXIX.582‑4), Ferrero (IV.264), and C. A. H. (X.66) place it in the beginning of 35 B.C., while Gardthausen (N. J. cl. Alt. XXXIX, 1917, 161 sqq.) argues for 32 B.C., after the divorce of Octavia, and Rice Holmes (I.227‑31) seems inclined to the same view, based upon the general probabilities and the evidence of Plutarch, Eutropius, Eusebius, and the coins.

16 This was Seneca's view — "a great man turned to un‑Roman ways by his love of drink and Cleopatra." Ep. 83.25.

17 Cf. Bouché-Leclercq, Hist. des Lagides, II.274.

18 Cf. C. A. H. X.80‑83, and the authorities there cited.

19 See especially Virg. Aen. VIII.685‑8, 705‑6; Hor. Epod. IX.2; and Ovid, Met. 15.826.

20 Dio XLIX.43.

21 The date of the expiration of the second term of the triumvirate has ever since Mommsen been the subject of much learned argument, which is examined by Rice Holmes, II.231‑45.

22 Livy, Epit. 132; Plut. Ant. 57; Dio L.3.

23 Suet. Div. Aug. 17; Plut. Ant. 55. Rostovtzeff (Soc. and Econ. Hist. of Rom. Empire, 29) considers this will to have been a forgery; but his view is in defiance of the ancient authorities and — it seems to me — of the probabilities of the case.

24 Dio L.6. Suetonius (Div. Aug. 17) says that Antony was declared a public enemy.

25 "omnigenumque deum monstra et latrator Anubis | contra Neptunum et Venerem contraque Minervam | tela tenent." Virg. Aen. VIII.698‑700.

26 "juravit in meaº verba tota Italia sponte sua . . ." Mon. Anc. V.3‑6; Dio L.6; Suet. Div. Aug. 17. For different views on this point see Caspari, C. Q. V (1911) 230 sqq.,º and Rice Holmes, II.247‑51.

27 Cf. Suetonius of Augustus, "clementiae civilitatisque ejus multa et magna documenta sunt" (Div. Aug. 51), and of Claudius, "in semet augendo parcus atque civilis" (Div. Claud. 12); also Tertullian (Apol. 2), "hoc imperium, cujus ministri estis, civilis, non tyrannica, dominatio." On the importance of the oath see Levi, Ottaviano capoparte, II.177 sqq.

28 φιλανθρωπία revealed in εὐεργεσίαι. The king is φίλος, εὐεργέτης, σωτήρ. Demosthenes, de Corona, 43; Stobaeus, Florilegium (ed. Gaisford) II.314.

29 For the list see Plut. Ant. 61.

30 They had from six to nine benches of rowers — floating citadels or towns, says Florus (Epit. II.21).

31 This question has been fully discussed by Kromayer, Hermes, XXXIII.60 sqq.

32 Plutarch's grandfather was one of the pressed carriers.

33 Hor. Epod. IX.17‑18.

34 in Ap. II.5.

35 IV.90 sqq.

36 Plut. Ant. 63; Dio L.15; cf. Kromayer, Hermes, XXXIV.29 sqq.

37 Reinhold, op. cit., 55‑6.

38 The authorities for Actium are Dio LIsqq.; Plut. Ant. 65 sqq.; Vell. II.84; Florus II.21; Orosius VI.19; Servius on Virg. Aen. VIII. The best modern reconstruction is that of Kromayer, Hermes XXXIV. See also C. A. H. X.103‑5; Rice Holmes, I.135‑8, 259; Gardthausen, II.196 sqq. Important recent studies are those of W. W. Tarn, J. R. S. XXI (1931) 173‑99, and M. A. Levi, Athenaeum X (1932) 1‑21.

39 Later writers, like Suetonius (Div. Aug. 17), Plutarch (Ant. 86), and Dio (LI.14), are inclined to doubt the story of how Cleopatra died, but the earlier writers like Horace (Od. I.37.26‑7) and Velleius (II.87) accepted it; cf. C. A. H. X.110 n. Ferrero (IV.114) is more than usually fantastic. The best account of the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra will be found in Bouché-Leclercq, Hist. des Lagides, II.315‑44.

40 See R. S. Conway, Makers of Europe (1931), 74.


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