What Was the Battle of Actium?

The Ionian Sea.
The Ionian Sea.

The Battle of Actium was a naval conflict which occurred on September 2, 31 BC. The battle was a decisive conflict in the Final War of the Roman Republic. The war was a naval engagement between Octavian’s forces and the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, which fought on the Ionian Sea near Actium. Marcus Agrippa commanded Octavian's fleet, while Queen Cleopatra supported Mark Antony's fleet. Octavian’s victory helped him take over the Roman Republic.

What Caused the War?

The strong alliance between Marcus Lepidus, Mark Antony, and Octavian, referred to as the Second Triumvirate, was renewed in 38 BC for a 5-year term. The Second Triumvirate fell apart after Octavian saw Queen Cleopatra and Caesarion, the son of Julius Caesar’s, as a threat to his power. Octavian noticed this after Anthony abandoned his wife, Octavia Minor, and moved to Egypt to begin his long romance with Cleopatra and became Caesarion’s step-father. Anthony was considered the leader of the separatist movement by both Octavian and the Roman Senate, and this relationship threatened the unity.

Octavian had been adopted by Caesar and was the sole heir of his wealth, and the adoption of Caesarion by Antony threatened his ambition to take over the Roman Republic. After many years of loyal cooperation between the two, Antony started acting independently, which aroused Octavian’s suspicion that Antony wanted to become the sole ruler of Rome. After moving to Egypt, the Roman Senate believed he was trying to become the unchecked ruler of Egypt while still maintaining his command in Rome. He even tried to pass Caesarion as the principal heir of Caesar.

When Did the Battle Start?

Octavian and Antony’s fleets met at dawn on September 2, 31 BC outside the Gulf of Actium. Antony arrived with a fleet of 500 vessels with 230 war galleys carrying armed men which he led through the channel at the Gulf of Actium. Octavian was waiting for him with his fleet of 250 warships led by Admiral Agrippa commanding from the left, Marcus from the right, and Lucius at the center. Gellius and Antony commanded from the right wing of Antony’s fleet, Marcus Insteius, and Marcus Octavius commanded from the middle, with Cleopatra’s navy behind them.

Before the war began, Quintus Dellius, one of Antony’s generals, defected and joined Octavian with Antony’s war plans. Therefore, when Antony sent his biggest vessel to draw Agrippa’s wing, they did not come forward so he was forced to deviate from his plan and he attacked, which resulted in a raging war which lasted the entire afternoon and resulted in Cleopatra’s fleet fleeing. Antony was forced to retreat after his fleet was defeated.

What Was the Aftermath of the War?

After losing his fleet, Antony became a rebel and fugitive without a legal position, which he had before the war. Octavian visited Asia, Samos, and Greece. While in Samos he received a message with gold throne and crown from Cleopatra, who had offered to resign in favor of her children. Antony found himself deserted. Therefore, he sent his son Antyllus to Octavian with money plus an offer for him to move to Athens and live as a private citizen. On July 31, 30 BC, Antony was defeated again by Octavian, and stabbed himself after believing a false report that Cleopatra had committed suicide. Cleopatra killed herself later on August 12, 30 BC, and then Octavian murdered Caesarion to solidify his legacy as the only son of Caesar.


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