It is possible
that Mark Antony met the young Cleopatra when he served under the Roman general
Gabinius in 55 BCE, but it is their formal meeting, following the death of
Julius Caesar and the events thereafter that is well known, inspiring paintings,
poetry, plays, engravings, and scores of television series and movies. But the
Roman statesman and general, born on 14 January 83 BCE, was much more than the
Ptolemaic Egyptian queen’s ill-besotted lover. An officer of Julius
Caesar, Mark Antony fought and was finally defeated by Caesar’s heir Octavian —
the future emperor Augustus — in the civil war that ended the Roman Republic.
friend and mentor Caesar helped Antony win election in 50 as tribune; the
rights that this magistrate enjoyed, including the veto, allowed Antony to
champion Caesar’s cause as the threat from Pompey the Great and Pompey’s new
conservative friends grew. But with his veto ignored and purporting to be
endangered, Antony fled with a colleague to Caesar in January 49 BCE. Caesar
used their treatment as a pretext to invade Italy and start a civil war. Antony
took part in fighting and was left in charge of Italy during Caesar’s campaign
in Spain. After holding command of Caesar’s left wing at the battle of
Pharsalus, Antony resumed his control of Italy in late 48 BCE.
Caesar’s assassination in March 44 BCE, Antony seized control of the late dictator’s personal
funds and papers and organized a funeral that incited Caesar’s veterans and the
people of Rome. The assassins, though officially pardoned, were forced to flee
Rome, while Antony gained part of Caesar’s army and a five-year command over
the Gallic provinces. A rival finally emerged only in Octavian, who rallied the
support of Caesar’s friends, officers, and veterans.
Octavian returned to Italy to settle veterans, Antony went east to raise funds
and make arrangements with local authorities. After a meeting with Cleopatra in
41 BCE, Antony wintered with her in Alexandria, and the Egyptian queen
subsequently gave birth to twin children.
periods of negotiations and battles with Octavian, Antony was defeated
conclusively in the naval Battle of Actium. Though Antony and Cleopatra escaped
by sea from Actium in western Greece, they lost most of their forces. Antony’s
remaining supporters, including Herod, defected, and Antony committed suicide
when Octavian entered Alexandria in August 30 BCE.
benefits from a nuanced biography by Plutarch, who recognized Antony’s military
achievements. But the fine portrait of the simpleminded soldier, tragically
brought down by love, belongs to literature, not history. The real Antony’s
miscalculations lay elsewhere. Ruthless himself, Antony failed to recognize
soon enough the even greater ruthlessness of Octavian.
Reference: “Antony, Mark.” In The Oxford Companion to Classical
Literature, edited by Howatson, M. C.: Oxford University
of Mark Antony, c. 30 BCE. Turquoise. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of
Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, a division of Florida State University,
Battista Tiepolo, Meeting of Mark Antony
and Cleopatra, c. 1750. The National Gallery, London.
of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, 32 BCE. Issued in the eastern Roman Empire. The
British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
Workshop; Boccaccio, Des Cas Des Mobles
Hommes et Femmes: fol. 15v: Tomb of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, c.1411. University
of California, San Diego.
Gatti, Cleopatra and Marc Antony at Table,
Emblemata of Paolo Maccio, 1628. The
Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 41, Italian Masters of the Seventeenth Century.
Further Reading: Josiah Osgood. Caesar’s Legacy: Civil War and the
Emergence of the Roman Empire. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press,
Plutarch. Life of Antony. Edited by C. B.
R. Pelling. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.