ca. 82-30 B.C.
Roman military officer and Politician
* quaestor Roman financial officer who assisted a higher official such as a consul or praetor
* tribune in ancient Rome, the official who protected the rights of plebeians from arbitrary actions by the patricians, or upper classes
Marcus Antonius, better known as Mark Antony, was one of the most important military and political leaders in the last days of the Roman Republic. A friend and supporter of Julius Caesar, Antony was a courageous soldier and skilled administrator. But as he rose to the highest levels of power, his quick temper and fondness for pleasure brought him trouble.
Born into a prominent Roman family, Antony had a reputation as a wild youth. About 58 B.C., he began a military career, serving with distinction in Egypt and Palestine and then joining Julius Caesar in Gaul. On his return to Rome, Antony held the offices of quaestor* and tribune*. As tribune, he opposed the Senate decree that attempted to take away Caesar’s armies and weaken his power. In the civil war that followed, Antony fought along with Caesar, commanding troops at the battle in Greece and defeating Pompey, Caesar’s former friend turned rival. Antony and Caesar then served together as consuls* of Rome.
The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. abruptly changed the political situation in Rome. Antony seized Caesar’s property and claimed to be his successor. He also aroused public sentiment against Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, who fled Rome. Soon, however, a rival for power emerged—Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian (Octavianus Augustus). At first, Octavian joined forces with Antony’s opponents in the Senate, led by the great statesman Cicero. Their armies defeated Antony in northern Italy in 43 B.C. Antony withdrew to Gaul but returned shortly to Rome with a new army.
Octavian made peace with Antony. They joined with Aemilius Lepidus to form the Second Triumvirate, a government in which the three leaders shared power. Antony ruled the eastern provinces and Gaul, Octavian took control of Italy and Spain, and Lepidus governed Africa. Antony had his enemies in Rome, including Cicero, killed, and in 42 B.C. he defeated Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in Macedonia. Both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide.
While in his eastern provinces, Antony met Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. He became involved in a passionate relationship with this foreign ruler, which resulted in his losing support in Rome. At the same time, his alliance with Octavian began to crumble. In an effort to halt the further deterioration of the friendship, Antony returned to Rome and married Octavian’s sister in 40 B.C. Three years later, though, he left his Roman wife and returned to Cleopatra. Antony proclaimed himself and Cleopatra co-rulers of Egypt and other Roman provinces in the east.
The Romans grew increasingly critical of Antony and his foreign lover. Octavian used Antony’s loss of popularity to increase his own power. He claimed that Antony planned to subject Rome to foreign rule and published Antony’s will to prove this charge. In his will, Antony left large territories to his illegitimate children by Cleopatra and named Caesarion, Cleopatra’s son by Julius Caesar, as Caesar’s heir. Judging the terms of the will as disloyal to Rome, the Roman Senate stripped Antony of his power and position.
Octavian then declared war on Cleopatra. The war reached a climax in September 31 B.C., when Octavian’s navy defeated the forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium off the coast of Greece. The couple fled to the city of Alexandria in Egypt. A year later, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian, taking the name Augustus, became the first emperor of Rome. (See also Caesar, Gaius Julius; Consuls; Quaestor; Rome, History of: Roman Republic, Late; Senate, Roman; Tribunes.)
* consul one of two chief governmental officials of Rome, chosen annually and serving for a year