Rivalry, power-plays, one of the world’s most legendary love affairs . . . Add a decisive naval battle into that mix, and you’ve got history in overdrive: a crucial turning point in the saga of ancient Rome—and the sea fight that determined its destiny.
The game-of-thrones struggle that culminated in the Battle of Actium, fought off western Greece in the Ionian Sea on 2 September 31 BC, had begun 13 years earlier, in the city of Rome, where senators gathered on 15 March 44 BC and put the daggers to Julius Caesar. The assassination of the dictator led to a power vacuum, and politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. By the 30s BC, the main contenders for the coveted Caesarean mantle had come down to two men: Mark Antony—a relative, ally, and former general of Caesar’s; and Octavian—the great-nephew and adopted son of Caesar. Antony ruled in the East, Octavian in the West.
Both Antony and Octavian had their ties to Caesar—and they also had ties to one another: Antony was married to Octavian’s sister. But Antony also happened to have a torrid thing going with that celebrated temptress of antiquity (a former lover of Caesar’s, actually): Cleopatra, queen of Egypt.
John M. Carter, The Battle of Actium: The Rise & Triumph of Augustus Caesar (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1970).
Valleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, Frederick W. Shipley, transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1924), 227–33.
Plutarch, “The Life of Antony,” in Plutarch’s Lives, John Dryden, transl. (New York: Modern Library, 1969), 1139–43.
VADM William Ledyard Rogers, USN (Ret.), Greek and Roman Naval Warfare (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1937, 1964), 517–38.