Final War of the Roman Republic

Final War of the Roman Republic
DateSpring of 32 BC – August (Sextilis) 30 BC
LocationGreece and Ptolemaic Egypt
Result

Decisive victory for Octavian

  • Rome is united under Octavian's rule
  • Octavian becomes Augustus
  • Roman Republic transforms into the Roman Empire
Territorial
changes
Rome annexes Egypt
Belligerents
Roman Republic (supporters of Octavian)Roman supporters of Mark Antony
Ptolemaic Egypt
Commanders and leaders
Octavian
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Mark Antony 
Cleopatra VII 
Strength
198,000 Roman legionaries [1]
260 Roman warships
193,000 mixed Roman and Egyptian soldiers [2]
300 Roman and Egyptian warships
Casualties and losses
UnknownUnknown
All of Antony’s Roman troops either changed loyalty to Octavian or were taken hostage with most of Antony’s fleet destroyed in battle.

The Final War of the Roman Republic, also known as Antony's Civil War or The War between Antony and Octavian, was the last of the Roman civil wars of the Roman Republic, fought between Mark Antony (assisted by Cleopatra) and Octavian. After the Roman Senate declared war on the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, Antony, her lover and ally, betrayed the Roman government and joined the war on Cleopatra’s side. After the decisive victory for Octavian at the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra and Antony withdrew to Alexandria, where Octavian besieged the city until both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

Following the end of the war, Octavian brought peace to the Roman state that had been plagued by a century of civil wars. Octavian became the most powerful man in the Roman world and the Senate bestowed upon him the name of Augustus in 27 BC. Octavian, now Augustus, would be the first Roman Emperor and would transform the oligarchic/democratic Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire.

The last Republican Civil War would mark the beginning of the Pax Romana, which remains the longest period of peace and stability that Europe has seen in recorded history.

Political and military buildup

Cleopatra and Mark Antony on the obverse and reverse, respectively, of a silver tetradrachm struck at the Antioch mint in 36 BC
A reconstructed statue of Augustus as a younger Octavian, dated ca. 30 BC

The Caesarians Octavian (Caesar's principal, though not sole, heir), Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus under the Second Triumvirate had stepped in to fill the power vacuum caused by Julius Caesar's assassination. After the Triumvirate had defeated Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus at the Battle of Philippi (42 BC) and Lepidus was expelled from the Triumvirate (36 BC), Octavian and Antony were left as the two most powerful men in the Roman world. Octavian took control of the west, including Hispania, Gaul, Italia, and Africa. Antony received control of the east, including Graecia, Asia, Syria and Aegyptus.

For a time, Rome saw peace. Octavian put down revolts in the west while Antony reorganized the east; however, the peace was short lived. Antony had been having an affair with the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Rome, especially Octavian, took note of Antony’s actions. Since 40 BC, Antony had been married to Octavia Minor, the sister of Octavian. Octavian seized the opportunity and had his minister Gaius Maecenas produce a propaganda campaign against Antony.

All of Rome felt astonished when they heard word of Antony’s Donations of Alexandria. In these donations, Antony ceded much of Rome’s territory in the east to Cleopatra. Cleopatra and Caesarion were crowned co-rulers of Egypt and Cyprus; Alexander Helios was crowned ruler of Armenia, Media, and Parthia; Cleopatra Selene II was crowned ruler of Cyrenaica and Libya; and Ptolemy Philadelphus was crowned ruler of Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. Cleopatra took the title of Queen of Kings and Caesarion took the title of King of Kings.

In response, Octavian increased the personal attacks against Antony, but the Senate and people of Rome were not convinced. Octavian’s chance came when Antony married Cleopatra in 32 BC before he divorced Octavia. That action combined with information that Antony was planning to establish a second Senate in Alexandria created the perfect environment for Octavian to strip Antony of his power.

Octavian summoned the Senate and accused Antony of anti-Roman sentiments. Octavian had illegally seized Antony’s will from the Temple of Vesta. In it, Antony recognized Caesarion as Caesar's legal heir, left his possessions to his children by Cleopatra, and finally indicated his desire to be buried with Cleopatra in Alexandria instead of in Rome. The Senators were not moved by Caesarion or Antony’s children but Antony’s desire to be buried outside of Rome invoked the Senate’s rage. Octavian, the natural politician he was, blamed Cleopatra and not Antony. The Senate declared war on Cleopatra, and Octavian knew that Antony would come to her aid.

When Cleopatra received word that Rome had declared war, Antony threw his support to Egypt. Immediately, the Senate stripped Antony of all his official power and labeled him as an outlaw and a traitor. Octavian summoned all of his legions, numbering almost 200,000 Roman legionaries. Cleopatra and Antony did the same, assembling roughly the same number in mixed heavy Roman and light Egyptian infantry.

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