One of the last titans of the Roman Republic, Mark Antony’s legacy is almost as long lasting as it is far reaching. Not only was he a distinguished military commander, he also embarked on a doomed love affair with Cleopatra and helped bring about the end of the Roman Republic through civil war with Octavian.
Here are 10 facts about Antony’s life and death.
1. He was something of a troubled teenager
Born in 83 BC to a plebeian family with good connections, Antony lost his father aged 12, which worsened his family’s financial woes. According to the historian Plutarch, Antony was a teenager who broke the rules.
He spent many of his teenage years wandering Rome’s back streets and taverns, drinking, gambling and scandalising his contemporaries with his love affairs and sexual relationships. His spending habits drove him into debt, and in 58 BC he fled to Greece in order to escape his creditors.
2. Antony was a key ally of Caesar’s in the Gallic Wars
Antony’s military career began in 57 BC, and he helped secure important victories at Alexandrium and Machaerus the same year. His associations with Publius Clodius Pulcher meant he quickly managed to secure a position on Julius Caesar’s military staff during the conquest of Gaul.
The two developed friendly relations and Antony surpassed himself as a commander, ensuring that when Caesar’s career advanced, so did his.
3. He briefly served as governor of Italy
As Caesar’s Master of the Horse (second in command), when Caesar left for Egypt to strengthen Roman power in the kingdom there, Antony was left in charge of governing Italy and restoring order to an area that had been torn apart by war.
Unfortunately for Antony, he quickly and unsurprisingly came up against political challenges, not least over the question of debt forgiveness, which had been raised by one of Pompey’s former generals, Dolabella.
The instability, and near anarchy, which debates over this caused led Caesar to return to Italy early. The relationship between the pair was severely damaged as a result, with Antony being stripped his positions and denied political appointments for several years.
4. He avoided his patron’s grisly fate – but only just
Julius Caesar was assassinated on 15 March 44 BC. Antony had gone with Caesar to the Senate that day but had been waylaid at the entrance to the Theatre of Pompey.
When the conspirators set up on Caesar, there was nothing that could be done: Caesar’s attempts to flee the scene were fruitless with no one in the vicinity to help him.
5. Caesar’s death thrust Antony into the centre of a battle for power
Antony was the sole consul following Caesar’s death. He quickly seized the state treasury and Calpurnia, Caesar’s widow, granted him possession of Caesar’s papers and properties, giving him clout as Caesar’s heir and effectively making him leader of the Caesarian faction.
Despite Caesar’s will making it clear his teenage nephew Octavian was his heir, Antony continued to act as head of the Caesarian faction and portioned off some of Octavian’s inheritance for himself.
6. Antony ended up in a war against Octavian
Unsurprisingly, Octavian was unhappy at being denied his inheritance, and Antony was increasingly seen as something of a tyrant by those in Rome.
Although it was illegal, Octavian recruited Caesar’s veterans to fight alongside him, and as Antony’s popularity waned, some of his forces defected. Antony was roundly defeated at the Battle of Mutina in April 43 BC.
7. But they soon became allies once more
In an attempt to unite Caesar’s legacy, Octavian sent messengers to negotiate an alliance with Mark Antony. Along with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the governor of Transalpine Gaul and Nearer Spain, they formed a three man dictatorship to govern the Republic for five years.
Known as the Second Triumvirate today, its aim was to avenge Caesar’s death and to make war upon his murderers. The men split power pretty much equally between them and purged Rome of their enemies, confiscating wealth and property, stripping citizenship and issuing death warrants. Octavian married Antony’s stepdaughter Claudia to reinforce their alliance.
8. Relations quickly became strained
Octavian and Antony were never comfortable bedfellows: both men wanted power and glory, and despite attempts to share power, their ongoing hostility eventually erupted into civil war and resulted in the demise of the Roman Republic.
On Octavian’s orders, the Senate declared war on Cleopatra and labelled Antony a traitor. A year later, Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium by Octavian’s forces.
9. He famously had an affair with Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra’s doomed love affair is one of the most famous in history. In 41 BC, Antony ruled over Rome’s eastern provinces and established his headquarters in Tarsos. He repeatedly wrote to Cleopatra, asking her to visit him.
She sailed up the Kydnos River in a luxurious ship, hosting two days and nights of entertainment on her arrival in Tarsos. Antony and Cleopatra quickly developed a sexual relationship and before she departed, Cleopatra invited Antony to visit her in Alexandria.
Whilst they certainly seem to have been sexually attracted to one another, there was also a significant political advantage to their relationship. Antony was one of the most powerful men in Rome and Cleopatra was pharaoh of Egypt. As allies, they offered each other a degree of security and protection.
10. He ended up committing suicide
Following Octavian’s invasion of Egypt in 30 BC, Antony believed he had run out of options. With nowhere else left to turn and believing his lover, Cleopatra, was already dead, he turned his sword on himself.
After inflicting a mortal wound on himself, he was told Cleopatra was still alive. His friends took the dying Antony to Cleopatra’s hiding place and he died in her arms. She conducted his burial rites, and took her own life shortly afterwards.