Mark Antony

Mark Antony

Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was born in Rome in 83 B.C. He was related on his mother's side to Julius Caesar. He was from a prominent noble family and served under Caesar in Gaul (53-50 B.C.).

Mark Antony went to Rome to become tribune of the plebs in 49 B.C. He was expelled from the senate and fled back to the Roman Army. The following year he led the left-wing of Caesar's army at Pharsalia. After defeating Pompey, he was left to govern Italy during Caesar's absence in Africa.

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome he appointed 300 of his supporters as members of the Senate. Although the Senate and Public Assembly still met, it was Caesar who now made all the important decisions. By 44 BC Caesar was powerful enough to declare himself dictator for life. Although in the past Roman leaders had become dictators in times of crisis, no one had taken this much power.

Caesar began wearing long red boots. As the ancient kings used to wear similar boots, rumours began to spread that Caesar planned to make himself king. Caesar denied these charges but the Roman people, who had a strong dislike of the kingship system, began to worry about the way Caesar was dominating political life.

Rumours began to spread that Julius Caesar planned to make himself king. Plutarch wrote: "What made Caesar hated was his passion to be king." Caesar denied these charges but the Roman people, who had a strong dislike of the kingship system, began to worry about the way Caesar made all the decisions. Even his friends complained that he was no longer willing to listen to advice. Finally, a group of senators decided to kill Caesar.

Even some of Caesar's closest friends were concerned about his unwillingness to listen to advice. Eventually, a group of 60 men, including Marcus Brutus, rumoured to be one of Caesar's illegitimate sons, decided to assassinate Caesar.

Plans were made to carry out the assassination in the Senate just three days before he was due to leave for Parthia. When Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate a group of senators gathered round him. Publius Servilius Casca stabbed him from behind. Caesar looked round for help but now the rest of the group pulled out their daggers. One of the first men Caesar saw was Brutus and was reported to have declared, "You too, my son." Caesar knew it was useless to resist and pulled his toga over his head and waited for the final blows to arrive.

At Caesar's funeral, Mark Antony was chosen to give the eulogy. During his speech, he removed the toga from Caesar's body to show the crowd the stab wounds, pointing at each one naming with men who had struck the blows. However, Cicero later commented: "Caesar subjected the Roman people to oppression... Is there anyone, except Mark Antony who did not wish for his death or who disapproved of what was done?... Some didn't know of the plot, some lacked courage, others the opportunity. None lacked the will."

Mark Antony also published Caesar's will which revealed that he had left 300 sesterces to every man in Rome. Caesar also stated in his will that his impressive gardens were to become parks for the people who lived in the city. This action helped Mark Antony to gain political influence over the people of Rome.

At various periods between 49 and 47 Mark Antony administered Italy when Julius Caesar was absent. He was therefore well-placed to assume leadership of the Caesar faction in Rome. Mark Antony allied himself with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in a joint bid for power. However, they were challenged by Caesar's great nephew and adopted son, Octavian. The three men met on an island in a river near Mutina and formed the Second Triumvirate. In doing so, they brought an end to Republican Rome. When the Senate attempted to regain control, Antony and Octavian had 130 of them murdered. Their property was seized and given to those willing to support the new rulers.

Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius were defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian at the Battle of Philippi in October 42 BC. After the battle Octavian returned to Rome and Mark Antony went on to govern the east, whereas Marcus Aemilius Lepidus went on to govern Hispania and the province of Africa.

Fulvia, Mark Antony's wife, was also active in Roman politics. To solidify the political alliance, Fulvia offered her daughter, Clodia, to Octavian. Clodia became his wife but she was later returned when Octavian married Scribonia. According to Suetonius, Octavian's marriage with Clodia was never consummated and that she was returned in "mint" condition.

Fulvia saw this as an insult to her family and she decided to take action. Together with Mark Antony's brother, Lucius Antonius, she raised eight legions in Italy to fight against Octavian. The army occupied Rome for a short time, but eventually retreated to Perusia. Octavian besieged Fulvia and Lucius Antonius in the winter of 41 - 40 B.C., starving them into surrender. Fulvia was exiled to Sicyon. Lucius Antonius, was sent by Octavian to Hispania as governor. To show his commitment to his partner, Mark Antony divorced Fulvia and married Octavian's sister Octavia.

It was while he was in Egypt that Mark Antony met Cleopatra. Like Julius Caesar before him, Mark Antony soon fell in love with the Queen of Egypt. They formed a close alliance as Mark Antony set about reorganizing the eastern provinces.

In 40 B.C. the Parthians invaded Roman territory, occupying Syria, advancing into Asia Minor and installing Antigonus as puppet king in Judaea. Mark Antony sent his general Publius Ventidius to oppose this invasion.

Octavian now agreed for Mark Antony to retaliate by invading Parthia. However, the rebellion in Sicily of Sextus Pompeius kept the army promised to Mark Antony in Italy. This caused a dispute with Octavian but a new treaty was signed in Tarentum in 38 BC.

Mark Antony returned to Egypt and persuaded Cleopatra to lend him the money he needed to form an alliance with Herod the Great. In 37 BC, Herod and the Roman Army took back Judaea. Herod turned Antigonus over to Mark Antony, who had him beheaded.

Mark Antony now felt strong enough to invade Parthia. However, with an army of about 100,000 Roman and allied troops but the campaign proved a disaster and after several military defeats Mark Antony was forced to carry out an humiliating retreat.

Octavian now decided to destroy the triumvirate by forming a new alliance with the traditional Republican aristocracy. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was forced to resign and Octavian began attacking Mark Antony for abandoning his faithful wife, Octavia, to be with the promiscuous Cleopatra. Octavian claimed that Cleopatra was attempting to gain control of the Roman Empire by marrying Mark Antony. Cleopatra replied that her son Caesarion, and not Octavian, was Caesar's true heir.

Octavian responded by declaring war on Cleopatra. Although some Roman legions supported Mark Antony, the vast majority took the side of Octavian.

In 31 BC Octavian defeated Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium on the west coast of Greece. Mark Antony and Cleopatra were forced to flee to Alexandria in Egypt. When Octavian's troops surrounded Alexandria, Mark Antony committed suicide by falling on his sword.

Cleopatra was captured by Octavian who planned to take her back to Rome as his prisoner. However, she was determined not to be humiliated in this way and arranged for a poisonous snake to be smuggled into her room in a large box of figs. Cleopatra then committed suicide by allowing the snake to bite her.

Cleopatra had earlier sent her son Caesarion into hiding but he was betrayed by his tutor. When Octavian found out where Caesarion was he had him murdered but spared Cleopatra's three children by Mark Antony.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Cassius Dio, Roman History (c. AD 215)

Cleopatra had, it was believed, enslaved Mark Antony... that she had laid him under some spell and deprived him of his wits... She came to entertain the hope that she would rule the Romans as well as the Egyptians... The Romans were willing to believe that Antony would hand over the city of Rome to Cleopatra and transfer the seat of government to Egypt.

(2) Appian, The Civil Wars (c. AD 160)

Mark Antony was amazed at Cleopatra's wit as well as her good looks, and became her captive as though he was a young man.

(3) Virgil, Aeneid (c. 19 BC)

On this side Octavian leading the Italians into battle, with senate and people... with the great gods... On the other side, with barbaric wealth and multicoloured armour, Mark Antony... with Egypt and the men of the East... and following (the shame of it) his Egyptian wife.