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Marcus "The Orator" Antonius (Marc Antony)

Roman general under Julius Caesar and later triumvir (43-30 BC), who, with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was defeated by Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) in the last of the civil wars that destroyed the Roman Republic.

Mark Antony was the son and grandson of men of the same name. His father was called Creticus because of his military operations in Crete, and his grandfather, one of the leading orators of his day, was vividly portrayed as a speaker in Cicero's De oratore. After a somewhat dissipated youth, the future triumvir served with distinction in 57-54 as a cavalry commander under Aulus Gabinius in Judaea and Egypt. He then joined the staff of Julius Caesar, to whom he was related on his mother's side, and served with him for much of the concluding phase of Caesar's conquest of central and northern Gaul and its aftermath (54-53, 52-50). In 51 Antony held the minor office of quaestor, an office of financial administration that gave him a place in the Senate, and he was subsequently elected to the politically influential priesthood of the augurs.

In 49, the year in which the Civil War broke out between Pompey and Caesar, Antony became tribune of the people (an official with the traditional function of protecting the plebeians from arbitrary actions of the magistrates) and vigorously supported Caesar in the Senate. He fled from Rome to his patron's headquarters after receiving threats of violence. After Antony had fought in the brief Italian campaign in which Pompey was forced to evacuate the Italian peninsula, Caesar left him in charge of Italy, a post he again occupied in 48-47 as Master of the Horse (the dictator's assistant) after the decisive battle at Pharsalus (in Thessaly) in which he had commanded Caesar's left wing. Thereafter, because his methods as regent of Italy had displeased Caesar, he was removed from the post and was without employment until 44 when he became consul as the dictator's colleague. After Caesar's murder, he used a variety of methods, including the falsification of the dead man's papers, to control events and to arouse the people against Caesar's assassins, Marcus Brutus and Cassius. In June, Antony was granted a five-year governorship of northern and central Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Comata) and Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy). Despite his growing power and popularity among the people, the orator Cicero attacked him fiercely in a series of speeches from September 44 to April 43 BC (he never tired of saying that Antony should have been murdered also), and the 19-year-old Octavian, Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son, gradually emerged as a rival. In April 43 a coalition of Octavian, the two consuls of the year, and Decimus Brutus (another of the former conspirators against Caesar) defeated Antony at Mutina (Modena) and compelled him to withdraw into the southern part (Narbonensis) of Transalpine Gaul. There, however, he was joined by a number of leading commanders including Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who, after Antony, had been Caesar's Master of the Horse. In early November Octavian met Antony and Lepidus in Bononia (Bologna), and the three entered into an official five-year autocratic pact, the second triumvirate (November 43). The enemies of the triumvirs, including the orator Cicero, were proscribed and executed, and in the following year Marcus Brutus and Cassius killed themselves after their defeat at the Battle of Philippi, in which Antony greatly distinguished himself as a commander. The republican cause was now dead.

The triumvirs had agreed to divide the empire; so Antony proceeded to take up the administration of the eastern provinces. He first summoned Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, to Tarsus (southeastern Asia Minor) to answer reports that she had assisted their enemies. She successfully exonerated herself, and Antony spent the winter of 41-40 as her lover at Alexandria. In spite of the romantic accounts of ancient authors, however, she did not at this stage establish a permanent dominance over him, since he made no move to see her again for more than three years.

Early in 40 he received two pieces of bad news: that his brother Lucius Antonius and his third wife, Fulvia, on their own initiative and without success, had revolted against Octavian, thus setting off the Perusine War (after the central point of the rising, Perusia, the modern Perugia); and that the Parthians, the eastern neighbours of the empire, had invaded Roman Syria. In spite of the latter information, Antony first proceeded to Italy, where he became reconciled to Octavian at Brundusium (Brindisi), and, since Fulvia had died in the meantime, he married Octavian's sister Octavia. The two triumvirs agreed that Herod, who had fled from Judaea to escape the Parthians and their Jewish allies, should be encouraged to retake the country and become its king. In the following year they concluded the short-lived Treaty of Misenum with Pompey's son Sextus Pompeius, who because of his control of wide areas of the Mediterranean had been pirating Roman ships.

Accompanied by Octavia, Antony then proceeded to Athens, where he was enthusiastically greeted and hailed as the New Dionysus, mystic god not only of wine but also of happiness and immortality. In 38 Antony's lieutenant Publius Ventidius won a decisive victory over the Parthians, and, in the following year, Herod was able to reestablish himself at Jerusalem. Meanwhile, however, further differences had arisen between Antony and Octavian, and, although these were ostensibly settled by the Treaty of Tarentum, which prolonged the triumvirate for a further five years, Antony sent Octavia back to Italy from Corcyra (modern Corfu, or Kérkira) when he left again for the east and arranged for Cleopatra to join him in Syria. Henceforward, apart from his absences on land campaigns, they lived together for the remaining seven years of their lives.

Religious propaganda declared Cleopatra the New Isis, or Aphrodite, to his New Dionysus, and it is possible (but unlikely) that they contracted an Egyptian marriage: it would not have been valid in Roman law since Romans could not marry foreigners. Apart from their undoubted mutual affection, Cleopatra needed Antony in order to revive the old boundaries of the Ptolemaic kingdom (though her efforts to convince him to give her Herod's Judaea failed), and Antony needed Egypt as a source of supplies and funds for his planned attack on Parthia. His invasion, however, of Parthia's ally Media Atropatene (southwest of the Caspian) in 36 BC ended in a retreat involving heavy losses. On his return to Syria, Cleopatra met him with money and supplies. Octavian, exploiting the occasion and the contrast of Antony's failure with the decisive victory he himself--or rather his admiral Agrippa--had won against Sextus Pompeius, sent Octavia to Antony along with troops and provisions. But the soldiers fell far short of the numbers Antony expected (and were owed by his fellow-triumvir), and he then made a future breach between the two leaders almost inevitable by ordering Octavia to return to Rome.

The break was accelerated in 34, when he celebrated a successful expedition to Armenia by appearing in a triumphal procession through the streets of Alexandria, a proceeding regarded by Romans as an impious parody of their traditional Triumph. A few days later he staged a ceremony at which Cleopatra was pronounced Queen of Kings, her son and joint monarch Ptolemy XV Caesar, or Caesarion (for Cleopatra, and now Antony, claimed that Julius Caesar had fathered the boy), was declared King of Kings, and the two sons and a daughter that Cleopatra had borne to Antony were also given imposing royal titles. The exact significance and substantiality of these Donations are disputable, but critics interpreted them as involving the transfer of Roman territories into alien, Greek, hands. In the next year, 33, the Roman leaders launched unprecedented, savage propaganda attacks upon one another, including the production by Octavian of a document (of dubious though possible authenticity) that purported to be a will of Antony favouring the children of Cleopatra and providing for his own burial at Alexandria. In 32 the triumvirate had officially ended, although Antony continued to call himself triumvir on his coins. Both consuls at Rome, however, happened to support Antony, and now, threatened by Octavian, they left for his headquarters, bringing numerous, probably more than 200, Roman senators with them. After Antony had officially divorced Octavia, her brother formally broke off the ties of personal friendship with him and declared war, not against him but against Cleopatra. Antony successively established his headquarters at Ephesus (Selçuk), Athens, and Patras (Pátrai) and marshalled his principal fleet in the gulf of Ambracia (northwestern Greece). More naval detachments occupied a long line of posts along the west coast of Greece. But Octavian's admiral Agrippa, and then Octavian himself, succeeded in sailing from Italy across the Ionian Sea and effecting landings, and Agrippa captured decisive points all along the line.

As Antony lost more ground, the morale of his advisers and fighting forces deteriorated, a process aided by Cleopatra's insistence on being present at his headquarters against the wishes of many of his leading Roman supporters, thus providing Octavian with fresh propaganda fuel. Because of this lack of unity and the inexperience of Antony's crews, the decisive battle was lost before it ever began. It took place off Actium, outside the Ambracian Gulf, on Sept. 2, 31 BC. Antony suffered the inevitable defeat, but Cleopatra, by prearranged plan rather than treachery, broke through the enemy line with her 60 ships (carrying her and Antony's treasury) and, joined by her lover, made for Egypt. It was nearly a year before Octavian reached them there, but soon after his arrival, when resistance proved impossible, first Antony and then Cleopatra committed suicide (August 30 BC).

Antony was a man of considerable ability and impressive appearance, far more genial than his adversary but not quite equal to Octavian's exceptional efficiency and energy and, in particular, unfit or unwilling to grasp the moment for action. Nevertheless, he was an outstanding leader of men and a competent general, though, in the end, not such a successful admiral as the experienced Agrippa. As a politician, he was astute enough--aided by a talent for florid oratory--but gradually lost touch with Roman feeling and fatally lacked the cold deliberateness of Octavian. Since the latter proved victorious in his struggle for power, it is his interpretation of events, rather than Antony's, that has remained lodged in the history books. Cicero had earlier depicted Antony as a drunken, lustful debauchee--though his adulteries may have been less extensive than Octavian's. More significantly for history, the outcome of the battle off Actium made certain that Octavian's Roman-Italian policy prevailed throughout the empire, and the Antonian theme of Greco-Roman collaboration was not given a trial until the emperor Constantine captured Byzantium three centuries later.

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