La battaglia di Azio. Contesto storico

The Battle of Actium. Historical context

The Battle of Actium was a naval battle fought between Octavian's sea fleet, led by Marcus Agrippa, and the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII Philopator. The battle took place on September 2, 31 BC in the Ionian Sea, near the former Roman colony of Actium, Greece, and was the culmination of more than a decade of rivalry between Octavian and Antony.



At the beginning of 31 BC, the year of the battle, Antony and Cleopatra were temporarily stationed in Greece. Mark Antony possessed 500 ships and 70,000 infantry and established his camp at Actium, whileOctavian , with 400 ships and 80,000 infantry, arrived from the north and occupied Patrae and Corinth, where he managed to cut off Antony's southward communications with Egypt ( through the Peloponnese with the help of Marcus Agrippa.

Octavian had previously achieved a preliminary victory in Greece, where his navy successfully ferried troops across the Adriatic Sea under the command of Marcus Agrippa. Octavian landed on mainland Greece, opposite the island of Corcyra (modern Corfu) and continued south, by land.

Trapped on both land and sea, parts of Antony's army deserted and fled to Octavian's side. Antony's fleet sailed through the bay of Actium on the western coast of Greece in a desperate attempt to break free from the naval blockade.

It was there that Antony's fleet faced the much larger fleet of smaller, more maneuverable ships under commanders Gaius Sosius and Agrippa. Antony and his remaining forces were only spared thanks to a last ditch effort by Cleopatra's fleet waiting nearby. Octavian pursued them and defeated their forces at Alexandria on August 1, 30 BC, after which Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

The victory allowed Octavian to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title Princeps and in 27 BC was awarded the title Augustus by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. Augustus retained the characteristics of a republican leader, but historians generally see his consolidation of power and adoption of these honorific titles as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

At the gates of battle

The alliance between Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus, known as the Second Triumvirate, was renewed for a five-year period at Taranto in 37 BC. However, this alliance began to crack when Octavian perceived Caesarion , declared the son of Julius Caesar and the Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, as a grave threat to her power. The rift worsened when Mark Antony abandoned his wife , Octavia Minor, Octavian's sister, to move to Egypt and begin a long-lasting relationship with Cleopatra, effectively becoming Caesareon's stepfather.

Octavian and most of the Roman Senate saw Antony as the promoter of a separatist movement that threatened the unity of the Roman Republic.

Julius Caesar's prestigious legacy of 44 BC greatly increased the legions' prestige and loyalty to Octavian, who was officially adopted as Caesar's only son and sole legitimate heir to his enormous fortune. Antony, having served as the most successful officer in Caesar's army (magister equitum), claimed a substantial portion of the political support of Caesar's soldiers and veterans.

Both Octavian and Antony had fought against their mutual enemies in the civil war of the Liberatores, which followed Caesar's assassination.

After years of loyal cooperation with Octavian, Antony began to act independently, arousing his rival's suspicions that he aspired to become the sole master of Rome. His move to Alexandria to become Cleopatra's official companion was seen by many Roman politicians as an attempt to become the undisputed ruler of Egypt and other eastern kingdoms, maintaining command over the numerous Roman legions in the East.

As a personal challenge to Octavian's prestige, Antony attempted to have Caesareon accepted as Caesar's true heir, even though the inheritance did not mention him. In 34 BC, Antony and Cleopatra formally elevated Caesarion, then thirteen years old, to the title "King of Kings", a title seen as a threat to Roman republican traditions.

Afterwards, Octavian began a propaganda war, denouncing Antony as an enemy of Rome and claiming that he intended to establish a monarchy over the Roman Empire in Caesarion's name, bypassing the Roman Senate. It was also said that Antony intended to move the imperial capital to Alexandria.

With the formal expiration of the Second Triumvirate on the last day of 33 BC, Antony wrote to the Senate expressing a desire not to be re-elected , hoping to be seen as bettering the ambition of Octavian, who presumably would not abandon his position so similar. The causes of mutual disappointment between the two had accumulated.

Antony complained that Octavian had exceeded his powers by deposing Lepidus, taking control of Sextus Pompeius' territories, and raising soldiers for himself without sending half of them to him. Octavian complained that Antony had no authority to be in Egypt; that his execution of Sextus Pompeius was illegal; that his betrayal of the king of Armenia had dishonored the Roman name, that he had not sent half the loot to Rome, and that his affair with Cleopatra and recognition of Caesarion as Caesar's legitimate son were a degradation of his office and a threat for himself.

In 32 BC, a third of the Senate and both consuls , Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Gaius Sosius, allied themselves with Antony. The consuls had decided to hide the extent of Antony's demands. Ahenobarbus seemed to want to maintain silence, but on January 1 Sosius gave an elaborate speech in favor of Antony and would have proposed confirmation of his acts had it not been vetoed by a tribune.

Octavian was not present, but in the following meeting he gave an answer which provoked the departure of both consuls from Rome to join Antony, the latter, once informed, after publicly divorcing Octavia, immediately headed to Ephesus with Cleopatra, where a vast fleet had been assembled from all parts of the East, of which Cleopatra furnished a large portion.

After staying with his allies in Samos, Antony moved to Athens. His land forces, which had been in Armenia, came down to the coast of Asia and embarked Canidius Crassus under Publius.

Octavian continued his strategic preparations . Military operations began in 32 BC, when its general Agrippa captured Meton, a Greek city allied with Antony. But by publishing Antony's will, which Lucius Munatius Plancus had delivered into the hands of Octavian, and by carefully letting Rome know what preparations were underway in Samos and how Antony was actually acting as Cleopatra's agent, Octavian aroused such a violent outburst of feelings which easily obtained the deposition of Antony from the consulate of 31 BC, for which he had been designated.

In addition to the deposition, Octavian obtained a proclamation of war against Cleopatra. This was clearly intended as an act against Antony, even though he was not named directly. With the declaration of war, the Senate deprived Antony of any legal authority.

I continued with THE BATTLE OF ACTIO

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