Why Antony Lost Against Octavian
After all, he was in fact the great Julius Caesar’s second in command. Through much of the internal conflict of his time, he did astoundingly maintain at least some support in Rome. However, his failing to acknowledge Octavian’s military and political potential was his first mistake. Octavian learned that as Julius Caesar’s adopted great nephew, he was entitled to be the legal principle heir of all that belonged to Caesar.
Although taking on such a role was a high risk to his own safety, making him a target by association with Caesar and his agenda, he pressed forward with an insatiable ambition. Possibly driven by the Roman cursus honorum, a lust for power and riches, and a desire for avenging the death of his great uncle, Octavian already had an advantage from the beginning. The citizens of Rome were promised a sum of money, but had been refused payment by Antony. The young New Caesar stepped in and raised his own money by selling his land and giving it to the people.
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Though only a mere 18 or 19 years of age, had not served in any Roman political capacity, nor had any military achievements under his belt, young Octavian had managed to muster up some support in Rome using only his newly assumed name, Caesar, and his overly liberal donations to the people. He was their connection to their beloved general, Julius Caesar, the “son of a god. ” Octavian began to reinforce his strength with his personal forces with Caesar’s former loyal veterans. Underscoring his status as heir to Caesar and armed with a rising, dedicated military force of his own, he boldly marched to Rome.
It was now that he was a definite political threat to Antony. However, Antony seemingly ignored this fact as he remained away from Rome in the east. Another major reason for losing was his lack of political support from Rome. Generally many viewed him as a brilliant general. He had a reputation of fighting alongside his own comrades at the front line, right in the heat of battle. This fact curried the favor of his legions from the ground up. Conversely, others viewed his personal life as detrimental to his reputation and by extension his ability to be a successful leader.
Even prior to the assassination of Julius Caesar, he was slowly digging his own political grave. Plutarch reports that he was lazy, had a bad temper, and cavorted other men’s wives. His personal lifestyle later led to his lack of support from the general populace and the senate. It is reported that Cicero, an oratory enemy, stated that general members of society who are upright and moral “intensely disliked him, and were disgusted” by his drunkenness, making a showy display of his extravagances, and frolicking other men’s women.
Cicero’s speeches and publication of propaganda against Antony deeply impacted the Senate’s view of him. In fact, an army was sent to defeat him for bullying Lepidus in Cisalpine Gaul, whom Rome viewed as the rightful governor. It was largely Cicero’s oratory speeches that shifted the public opinion to such an extent that the Senate was moved to declare him an enemy of the state, driving him out of Italy. In the end, Antony loses his reputation and support from the state, something every rising, successful commander needs in order to survive and thrive in Roman politics.
If only he would have remained in Rome, he could have at least had the opportunity to defend his position as Caesar’s second in command and repaired his reputation. However, in his absence, it was Octavian and Cicero who was there to slowly demolish his chances at political and military success. The alleged poor choice of habits that governed his personal affairs were generally recognized as a trigger for the increased factional schisms that eventually would prove injurious to his political career and ultimately an desertion from the Senate.
Antony’s dealings with Cleopatra and Egypt proved to further soil his reputation among the Romans. His abandonment of the beloved Octavia, his legal Roman wife, in lieu of Cleopatra, a foreigner, didn’t sit well with the general public opinion in Rome. After having twins and yet another son with Cleopatra, he was deeply indebted to her, possibly both emotionally and politically. Onlookers must have imagined how such attachment must have been negatively viewed as deeds of a traitor in Rome.
To top it all off, although by illegal means by Octavian it was later realized that Antony had secretly recorded in his will that the kingdoms conquered by Egyptian warfare be divvied up to the Egyptians, not Rome. This fact further alienated Antony as what he truly was, an enemy of the state, eliminating any possible assistance from Rome. As Rome hears the news, Octavian is gathering more and more backing from Rome in pursuit of Antony. In what some would say is the deciding battle in the drama with Antony and Octavian, two large forces collide at Actium in western Greece in 31 B.