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Triumvirate Crumbles

As we have seen, the power between the three men of the Second Triumvirate was uneven. Marcus Lepidus was sidelined almost immediately by his assignment in the relatively insignificant territory of North Africa while Octavian commanded in the west and Antony took control in the east. After the initial five year grant of power had lapsed in 38 BCE, the three men continued on as if the Triumvirate’s powers were still legally binding. In reality, nobody really noticed that their official power had ceased. In 37 BCE, the Triumvirate’s powers were retroactively restored for another five years. Each man continued to deal with various issues in their respective territories: Marc Antony headed to Athens with his wife, Octavia and began preparations to invade Parthia. Octavian, however, was not terribly generous with troops and supplies, and so Antony sought financial support from Rome’s most wealthy ally in the east – Cleopatra in Egypt. He met with the Egyptian queen and together they amassed one of the largest armies Rome had produced. Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship was only beginning.

Meanwhile, Octavian spent several years suppressing a revolt from Pompey’s son, Sextus, who had fled to Sicily after Caesar dislodged him from Spain. Once Octavian, with the help of his childhood friend and military advisor Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, finally quelled the rebellion in 36 BCE, Lepidus saw his chance to gain more power within the alliance. Lepidus attempted to seize control of Italy and Sicily, but his effort was quickly put down because most of Lepidus’ legions defected to Octavian. Because of this power grab, he was ousted from the Triumvirate and forced into an early retirement but maintained his position as Pontifex Maximus. Indeed, he will prove to be the last Pontifex of the Roman Republic.

Tensions soon arose again between the remaining Triumvirs, Antony and Octavian. Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra seemed to be motivated by real affection rather than solely political and financial, and as a result, Cleopatra gave birth to twins, a boy (Alexander Helios) and girl (Cleopatra Selene) and eventually a third child, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Marc Antony sent his legal wife, Octavia, back to Rome and took up openly with Cleopatra. This was a direct slight against Octavian not only because his sister insulted, but it symbolized the break in their alliance as well. Octavian realized he could not compete with the vast wealth of the Egyptian treasury, and so he decided to attack Antony in a different way – by mudslinging.

Octavian began to portray himself as the beacon for public morals in Rome. For example, when the Triumviral authority lapsed for a final time in 33 BCE, Octavian relinquished the title and, officially, returned to his civilian status. Antony, on the other hand, continued to act as though he still had the official power of Triumvir, and held the title until his death. Octavian began spreading rumors that Antony had fallen victim to the seductress, Cleopatra, and the two had designs to take over Rome. Octavian portrayed Antony as weak in character and who had succumbed to the luxuries of the east and even fashioned himself as the New Dionysus. In 32 BCE, Octavian disclosed Antony’s will, which declared Caesarion (Caesar’s son with Cleopatra) the true heir and indicated his preference for his own children and Egypt over Rome. The people of Rome would not stand for the bastard son of a foreign queen to have such authority in Rome. Although many people sided with Octavian, some still supported Antony and many senators and soldiers headed east to join Antony. This was beneficial to Octavian, who now had very little opposition in Rome. He was able to persuade the Senate to declare Cleopatra an enemy of the state. This was a very clever move, as it forced Antony to pick a side – his lover or his country – and he sided with Cleopatra. The pair was headed to war with Octavian.

How would Antony’s actions in the east have appeared to most people in Rome? What does that reveal about Roman values?

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The Fall of the Roman Republic

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