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The civil war between Octavian and Mark Antony continued at the naval "Battle of Actium", fought on September 2nd near the Roman colony of Actium (near the modern-day city of Preveza), on the Ionian Sea. Octavian's fleet was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Antony's fleet was supported by the fleet of his lover, Cleopatra, queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. Finally the Senate deprived Antony of his power and declared war against Cleopatra. A third of the Senate and both of the consuls joined Antony's side and in 31 BC, the war started when Octavian's talented general Agrippa captured the Greek city and naval port of Methone which was loyal to Antony. Mark Antony was an excellent soldier, but his lack of experience in naval engagements was to be his downfall. Additionally, Antony and Cleopatra had been camping near the mosquito infested swamps near the modern Cape Actium and their troops, and of particular importance to the forthcoming battle, their oarsmen, fell victim to malaria, which hugely decimated their numbers. Antony then burned the ships he could no longer use because he could no longer man them. He and Cleopatra then continued South with the remaining fleet.

The two fleets met outside the Gulf of Actium, on the morning of September 2, 31 BC, with Mark Antony leading 220 to 230 warships through the straits toward the open sea. There he met the fleet of Octavian, led by Admiral Agrippa, arranged to block his exit in an arc from the south. The fleets faced one another and began catapulting large stone balls (weighing just under ten pounds each) at one another.

Mark Antony's warships were mostly massive quinqueremes, huge galleys with massive rams that could weigh up to three tons. The bows of the galleys were armored with bronze plates and square-cut timbers making it difficult to successfully ram them with similar equipment. Unfortunately for Antony, because his ships were undermanned, he was unable to execute the tactics for which the galleys were designed--powerful, head-on collisions. Also the morale of his troops had weakened due to the cutting of supply lines.

Octavian's fleet outnumbered Antony's by almost 2 to 1 and was made up of mostly smaller fully manned Liburnian vessels, armed with better trained and fresher crews. His ships were also lighter and could protect themselves by outmaneuvering the quinqueremes in Roman naval battle, where one objective was to ram the enemy ship and at the same time kill the above deck crew with a shower of arrows and catapult-launched stones large enough to decapitate a man. Before the naval battle Mark Antony's general known as Delius defected to Octavian and brought with him Mark Antony’s battle plans. Antony had hoped to use his biggest ships to drive back Agrippa's wing on the north end of his line, but Octavian's entire fleet stayed carefully out of range. Shortly after mid-day, Antony was forced to extend his line out from the protection of the shore, and then finally engage the enemy.

Seeing that the battle was going against Antony, Cleopatra's fleet of 60 vessels retreated to open sea without firing a shot. Cleopatra's retreat started a trend. Mark Antony retreated to a smaller vessel with his flag and managed to escape the battle, taking a few ships with him as an escort to help break through Octavian's lines. Those that he left behind, however, were not so fortunate: Octavian's fleet captured or sank all of them.

The victory led Octavian to be titled the Princeps Augustus, and eventually to be considered the first Roman Emperor; for this reason the date of the battle is often used to mark the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.


Emperor Augustus fresh from his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium renewed the plan to make Bouthroton a veterans' colony. New residents expanded the city and the construction included an aqueduct, a Roman bath, houses, a forum complex, and a nymphaeum.

§Middle East


Judea suffers a devastating earthquake. Octavian defeats Mark Antony, so Herod switches allegiance to Octavian, later known as Augustus.


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Page last modified on October 09, 2010, at 04:44 PM