Mark Antony

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Historical figures

Bust of Mark Antony
Bust of Mark Antony

Marcus Antonius (Latin: M·ANTONIVS·M·F·M·N) (c. 83 BC– August 1, 30 BC), known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. He was an important supporter of Gaius Julius Caesar as a military commander and administrator. After Caesar's assassination, Antony allied with Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to form an official triumvirate which modern scholars have labelled the second triumvirate. The triumvirate broke up in 33 BC and the disagreement turned to civil war in 31 BC, in which Antony was defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium and then at Alexandria. Antony committed suicide along with his lover, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, in 30 BC.

Early life

A member of the Antonia gens, Antony was born in Rome, around 83 BC. His father was his namesake, Marcus Antonius Creticus, the son of the great rhetorician Marcus Antonius Orator executed by Gaius Marius' supporters in 86 BC. Through his mother Julia Antonia, he was a distant cousin of Caesar. His father died at a young age, leaving him and his brothers, Lucius and Gaius, to the care of his mother. Julia Antonia (known in sources by her married name, to distinguish her from the other Julias) then married Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, a politician involved in and executed during the Catiline conspiracy of 63 BC.

Antony's early life was characterized by a lack of parental guidance. According to historians like Plutarch, he spent his teenage years wandering through Rome with his brothers and friends ( Publius Clodius among them—probably out of hostility to Marcus Tullius Cicero, who had caused Lentulus Sura to be put to death as a Catilinarian; the connection was severed by a disagreement arising from his relations with Clodius's wife, Fulvia). Together, they embarked on a rather wild sort of life, frequenting gambling houses, drinking too much, and involving themselves in scandalous love affairs. Plutarch mentions the rumor that before Antony reached 20 years of age, he was already indebted the sum of 250 talents (equivalent to several million dollars).

After this period of recklessness, Antony fled to Greece to escape his creditors and to study rhetoric. After a short time spent in attendance on the philosophers at Athens, he was summoned by Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, to take part in the campaigns against Aristobulus in Judea, and in support of Ptolemy XII in Egypt. In the ensuing campaign, he demonstrated his talents as a cavalry commander and distinguished himself with bravery and courage. It was during this campaign that he first visited Alexandria and Egypt.

Supporter of Caesar

In 54 BC, Antony became a member of the staff of Caesar's armies in Gaul and early Germany. He again proved to be a competent military leader in the Gallic Wars, but his personality caused instability wherever he went. Caesar himself was said to be frequently irritated by his behaviour.

Nevertheless, raised by Caesar's influence to the offices of quaestor, augur, and tribune of the plebes (50 BC), he supported the cause of his patron with great energy. Caesar's two proconsular commands, during a period of ten years, were expiring, and the general wanted to return to Rome for the consular elections. But resistance from the conservative faction of the Roman Senate, led by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, demanded that Caesar resign his proconsulship and the command of his armies before being allowed to seek re-election to the consulship. This he could not do, as such an act would leave him a private citizen—and therefore open to prosecution for his acts while proconsul—in the interim between his proconsulship and his second consulship; it would also leave him at the mercy of Pompey's armies. The idea was rejected, and Antony resorted to violence, ending up being expelled from the Senate. He left Rome, joining Caesar, who had led his armies to the banks of the Rubicon, the river that marked the southern limit of his proconsular authority. With all hopes of a peaceful solution for the conflict with Pompey gone, Caesar led his armies across the river into Italy and marched on Rome, starting the last Republican civil war. During the civil war, Antony was Caesar's second in command. In all battles against the Pompeians, Antony led the left wing of the army, a proof of Caesar's confidence in him.

When Caesar became dictator, Antony was made Master of the Horse, the dictator's right hand man, and in this capacity remained in Italy as the peninsula's administrator in 47 BC, while Caesar was fighting the last Pompeians, who had taken refuge in the African provinces. But Antony's skills as administrator were a poor match to those as general, and he seized the opportunity of indulging in the most extravagant excesses, depicted by Cicero in the Philippics. In 46 BC he seems to have taken offense because Caesar insisted on payment for the property of Pompey which Antony professedly had purchased, but had in fact simply appropriated. Conflict soon arose, and, as on other occasions, Antony resorted to violence. Hundreds of citizens were killed and Rome herself descended into a state of anarchy. Caesar was most displeased with the whole affair and removed Antony from all political responsibilities. The two men did not see each other for two years. The estrangement was not of long continuance; for we find Antony meeting the dictator at Narbo (45 BC), and rejecting the suggestion of Trebonius that he should join in the conspiracy that was already afoot. Reconciliation arrived in 44 BC, when Antony was chosen as partner for Caesar's fifth consulship.

Whatever conflicts existed between the two men, Antony remained faithful to Caesar at all times. In February 44 BC, during the Lupercalia festival ( February 15), Antony publicly offered Caesar a diadem. This was an event fraught with meaning: a diadem was a symbol of a king, and in refusing it, Caesar demonstrated that he did not intend to assume the throne.

On March 14 44 BC, Antony was alarmed by a talk he had with a Senator named Casca, who told him the gods would make a strike against Caesar in the Roman Forum. Fearing the worst, the next day he went down to head off the dictator. Unfortunately, the Liberators reached Caesar first, and he was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C, the date known as the Ides of March. In the turmoil that surrounded the event, Antony escaped Rome dressed as a slave, fearing that the dictator's assassination would be the start of a bloodbath among his supporters. When this did not occur, he soon returned to Rome, discussing a truce with the assassins' faction. For a while, Antony, as consul of the year, seemed to pursue peace and the end of the political tension. Following a speech by Cicero in the Senate, an amnesty was agreed for the assassins. Then came the day of Caesar's funeral. As Caesar's ever-present second in command, partner in consulship and cousin, Antony was the natural choice to make the funeral eulogy. In his speech, he sprang his accusations of murder and ensured a permanent breach with the conspirators. Showing a talent for rhetoric and dramatic interpretation, Antony snatched the toga from Caesar's body to show the crowd the stab wounds, pointing at each and naming the authors, publicly shaming them. During the eulogy he also read Caesar's will, which left most of his property to the people of Rome, demonstrating that, contrary to the conspirator's assertions, Caesar had no intention of forming a royal dynasty. Public opinion turned, and that night, the Roman populace attacked the assassins' houses, forcing them to flee for their lives.

Antony surrounded himself with a bodyguard of Caesar's veterans, and forced the senate to transfer to him the province of Cisalpine Gaul, which was then administered by Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, one of the conspirators. Brutus refused to surrender the province, and Antony set out to attack him in October 44 BC.

Later in October Antony set out to Egypt and met Caesar's former lover, Cleopatra. He wanted Cleopatra for Egypt's wealth, and she wanted Antony for the Roman armies under his control.

The second triumvirate

Denarius minted by Mark Antony to pay his legions. On the reverse, the standard of his Third legion.
Denarius minted by Mark Antony to pay his legions. On the reverse, the standard of his Third legion.

The death of Caesar had left an empty space in Rome's politics. The Republic was dying, and yet another civil war was starting. It was then that Octavian, Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son, arrived from Illyria, and claimed the inheritance of his "father." Octavian obtained the support of the senate and of Cicero; and the veteran troops of the dictator flocked to his standard. He was also very willing to fight for power with the other two main contestants: Antony himself and Lepidus.

Antony was denounced as a public enemy, and Octavian was entrusted with the command of the war against him. Antony was defeated at Mutina (43 BC) where he was besieging Brutus. The consuls Aulus Hirtius and Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus, however, fell in the battle, and the Senate became suspicious of Octavian, who, irritated at the refusal of a Triumph and the appointment of Brutus to the command over his head, entered Rome at the head of his troops, and forced the senate to bestow the consulship upon him ( August 19). Meanwhile, Antony escaped to Cisalpine Gaul, effected a junction with Lepidus and marched towards Rome with a large force of infantry and cavalry. Octavian betrayed his party, and came to terms with Antony and Lepidus. The three leaders met at Bononia and adopted the title of Triumviri reipublicae constituendae as joint rulers. Gaul was to belong to Antony, Hispania to Lepidus, and Africa, Sardinia and Sicily to Octavian.

The Triumvirs for the Organization of the People gained official recognition by the Lex Titia, a law passed by the Assembly in 43 BC, which granted them virtually all powers for a period of five years. To solidify the alliance, Octavian married Clodia Pulchra, Antony's step-daughter. The triumvirs then set to pursue the assassins' faction, who had fled to the East, and to murder the conspirators' supporters who remained in Rome. A reign of terror followed; proscriptions, confiscations, and executions became general; some of the noblest citizens were put to death. Cicero was the most famous victim of these violent days, having been executed during his attempt to flee, according to Anthony Everitt's recent biography. Antony and his new third wife Fulvia did not spare the body: Cicero's head and hands were posted in the Rostra, with his tongue pierced by Fulvia's golden hairpins. After the twin battles at Philippi and the suicides of Brutus and Cassius, the senatorial and republican parties had been annihilated; no one else would defy the triumvirate's power.

With the political and military situations resolved, the triumvirs divided the Roman world among themselves. Lepidus, marked out as an unequal partner took control of Africa, and Octavian remained in Italy with control of the Western provinces and the responsibility of securing lands for the veteran soldiers—an important task, since the loyalty of the legions depended heavily on this promise. As for Antony, he went to the Eastern provinces, to pacify yet another rebellion in Judea and attempt to conquer the Parthian Empire. During this trip, he met Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt in Tarsus, in 41 BC, and became her lover, spending the winter in her company at Alexandria.

Meanwhile, in Italy, the situation was not pacified. Octavian's administration was not appeasing, and a revolt was about to occur. Moreover, he divorced Clodia, giving a curious explanation: she was annoying. The leader of this revolt was Fulvia, the wife of Antony, a woman known to history for her political ambition and tempestuous character. She feared for her husband's political position and was not keen to see her daughter put aside. Assisted by Lucius Antonius, Mark Antony's brother, Fulvia raised 8 legions with her own money. Her army invaded Rome, and for a while managed to create problems for Octavian. However, in the winter of 41–40 BC, Fulvia was besieged in Perusia and forced to surrender by starvation. Fulvia was exiled to Sicyon, where she died while waiting for Antony's arrival.

Coin depicting Mark Antony and his wife Octavia Minor, sister of Octavian.
Coin depicting Mark Antony and his wife Octavia Minor, sister of Octavian.

Fulvia's death was providential. A reconciliation was effected between the triumvirs, and cemented by the marriage of Antony with Octavia, Octavian's beloved sister, in October 40 BC. A new division of the Roman world was made, Lepidus receiving Africa, Octavian the West, and Antony the East. This peace, known as the Treaty of Brundisium, reinforced the triumvirate and allowed Antony to finally prepare his long-awaited campaign against the Parthians.

Antony and Cleopatra

With this military purpose on his mind, Antony sailed to Greece with his new wife, where he behaved in a most extravagant manner, assuming the attributes of the god Dionysus (39 BC). But the rebellion in Sicily of Sextus Pompeius, the last of the Pompeians, kept the army promised to Antony in Italy. With his plans again severed, Antony and Octavian quarreled again. This time with the help of Octavian, a new treaty was signed in Tarentum in 38 BC. The triumvirate was renewed for a period of another five years (ending in 33 BC) and Octavian promised again to send legions to the East.

But by now, Antony was skeptical of Octavian's true support of his Parthian cause. Leaving Octavia pregnant of her second Antonia in Rome, he sailed to Alexandria, where he expected funding from Cleopatra, the mother of his twins. The queen of Egypt loaned him the money he needed for the army, but the campaign proved a disaster. After a series of defeats in battle, Antony lost most of his army during a retreat through Armenia in the peak of winter.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the triumvirate was no more. Lepidus was forced to resign after an ill-judged political move. Now in sole power, Octavian was occupied in wooing the traditional Republican aristocracy to his side. He married Livia and started to attack Antony in order to raise himself to power. He argued that Antony was a man of low morals to have left his faithful wife abandoned in Rome with the children to be with the promiscuous queen of Egypt. Antony was accused of everything, but most of all, of "becoming native", an unforgivable crime to the proud Romans. Several times Antony was summoned to Rome, but remained in Alexandria with Cleopatra.

Again with Egyptian money, Antony invaded Armenia, this time successfully. In the return, a mock Roman Triumph was celebrated in the streets of Alexandria. The parade through the city was a pastiche of Rome's most important military celebration. For the finale, the whole city was summoned to hear a very important political statement. Surrounded by Cleopatra and her children, Antony was about to put an end to his alliance with Octavian. He distributed kingdoms between his children: Alexander Helios was named king of Armenia and Parthia (not conquered yet), his twin Cleopatra Selene got Cyrenaica and Libya, and the young Ptolemy Philadelphus was awarded Syria and Cilicia. As for Cleopatra, she was proclaimed Queen of Kings and Queen of Egypt, to rule with Caesarion (Ptolemy XV Caesar, son of Julius Caesar), King of Kings and King of Egypt. Most important of all, Caesarion was declared legitimate son and heir of Caesar. These proclamations were known as the Donations of Alexandria and caused a fatal breach in Antony's relations with Rome.

Distributing insignificant lands among the children of Cleopatra was not a peace move, but it was not a serious problem either. What did seriously threaten Octavian's political position, however, was the acknowledgement of Caesarion as legitimate and heir to Caesar's name. Octavian's base of power was his link with Caesar through adoption, which granted him much-needed popularity and loyalty of the legions. To see this convenient situation attacked by a child borne by the richest woman in the world was something Octavian could not accept. The triumvirate expired on the last day of 33 BC and was not renewed. Another civil war was beginning.

The Last Republican Civil War

During 33 and 32 BC, a propaganda war was fought in the political arena of Rome, with accusations flying between sides. Antony (in Egypt) divorced Octavia and accused Octavian of being a social upstart, of usurping power, and of forging the adoption papers by Caesar. Octavian responded with treason charges: of illegally keeping provinces that should be given to other men by lots, as was Rome's tradition, and of starting wars against foreign nations (Armenia and Parthia) without the consent of the Senate. Antony was also held responsible for Sextus Pompeius' execution with no trial. In 32 BC, the Senate deprived him of his powers and declared war against Cleopatra. Both consuls ( Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Gaius Sosius) and a third of the Senate abandoned Rome to meet Antony and Cleopatra in Greece.

In 31 BC, the war started. Octavian's loyal and talented general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa captured the Greek city and naval port of Methone, loyal to Antony. The enormous popularity of Octavian with the legions secured the defection of the provinces of Cyrenaica and Greece to his side. On September 2, the naval Battle of Actium took place. Antony and Cleopatra's navy was destroyed, and they were forced to escape to Egypt with 60 ships.

Octavian, now close to absolute power, did not intend to give them rest. In August 30 BC, assisted by Agrippa, he invaded Egypt. With no other refuge to escape to, Antony committed suicide by falling on his sword in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra had already done so (30 BC). A few days later, Cleopatra committed suicide. Her servants, Iras and Charmion, also killed themselves, and Caesarion was murdered. Antony's own children were spared .

Aftermath and legacy

When Antony died, Octavian became uncontested ruler of Rome. In the following years, Octavian, who was known as Augustus after 27 BC, managed to accumulate in his person all administrative, political, and military offices. When Augustus died in 14 AD, his political powers passed to his adopted son Tiberius; the Roman Principate had begun.

The rise of Caesar and the subsequent civil war between his two most powerful adherents effectively ended the credibility of the Roman oligarchy as a governing power and ensured that all future power struggles would centre upon which of two (or more) individuals would achieve supreme control of the government, rather than upon an individual in conflict with the Senate. Thus Antony, as Caesar's key adherent and one of the two men around whom power coalesced following his assassination, was one of the three men chiefly responsible for the fall of the Roman Republic.

Antony's marriages and descendants

Antony had been married in succession to Fadia, Antonia, Fulvia and Octavia, and left behind him a number of children. Through his daughters by Octavia, he would be ancestor to the emperors Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

  1. Marriage to Fadia
  2. Marriage to Antonia Hybrida (his first cousin patrilineally). According to Plutarch, Antony threw his cousin out of his house, because she slept with his friend, the tribune Publius Cornelius Dolabella. However, it is not known whether they divorced or she died, before Antony married Fulvia.
  3. Marriage to Fulvia, by whom he had two sons
    • Marcus Antonius Antyllus, executed by Octavian in 30 BC
    • Iullus Antonius, married Claudia Marcella Major, daughter of Octavia
  4. Marriage to Octavia Minor, sister of Octavian, later Augustus; they had two daughters
    • Antonia Major, married Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; grandmother of the Emperor Nero
    • Antonia Minor, married Drusus, the son of Livia; mother of the Emperor Claudius, grandmother of the Emperor Caligula, great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero
  5. Children with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and former lover of Julius Caesar
    • The twins
      • Alexander Helios, the sun
      • Cleopatra Selene, the moon, married King Juba II of Numidia (and, later, Mauretania)
    • Ptolemy Philadelphus.


  • 83 BC—born in Rome
  • 54–50 BC—joins Caesar's staff in Gaul and fights in the Gallic wars
  • 50 BC— Tribune of the Plebeians
  • 48 BC—Serves as Caesar's Master of the Horse
  • 47 BC—Ruinous administration of Italy: political exile
  • 44 BC—First Consulship with Caesar
  • 43 BC—Forms the Second Triumvirate with Octavian and Lepidus
  • 42 BC—Defeats Cassius and Brutus in the Battle of Philippi; travels through the East
  • 41 BC—Meets Cleopatra
  • 40 BC—Returns to Rome, marries Octavia Minor; treaty of Brundisium
  • 38 BC—Treaty of Tarentum: Triumvirate renewed until 33 BC
  • 36 BC—Disastrous campaign against the Parthians
  • 35 BC—Conquers Armenia
  • 34 BC—The Donations of Alexandria
  • 33 BC—End of the triumvirate
  • 32 BC—Exchange of accusations between Octavian and Antony
  • 31 BC—Defeated by Octavian in the naval Battle of Actium
  • 30 BC—Antony commits suicide in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra had already done so
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