Octavian’s victory over Mark Antony in the battle of Actium is labeled as the most important battle of Antony’s civil war. It directly led to Octavian’s final conquest over Rome and is labeled as the defining moment of the birth of the Roman Empire. Despite fairly evenly matched forces, an overwhelming lack of leadership on Mark Antony’s part and many brilliant tactical moves made by Octavian and his Admirals allowed this battle to be an extremely decisive victory in Octavian’s favor. This paper will analyze the tactical and leadership based decisions made by both sides.
In 44 BCE, Gaius Caesar was assassinated, leaving a power vacuüm for the leadership of the Roman Republic. A ruling body known as the second triumvirate was established between the potential rulers of Rome: Gaius Octavian, Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus. In 36 BC, Octavian convinced the Senate to exile Lepidus. Shortly thereafter, tensions between Mark Antony and Octavian built. These tensions centered on Antony abandoning Octavian’s sister for Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt and Antony’s lover.
In 34 BCE Antony donated the territories of Armenia, Syria and Cyrenaica to the Egyptian empire in the “Donations of Alexandria”. This donation represented a large fraction of Rome’s Eastern territory and was all land Antony was charged with protecting. Shortly thereafter Octavian convinced the republic to declare war on Egypt and Mark Antony.
Build up to the Battle
The next few years saw minor conflicts between the two bodies, during which both commanders built their navies. Octavian sent his admiral, Marcus Agrippa, to summon Roman fleets across the Mediterranean. These fleets were mostly composed of Triremes, the standard naval vessel of the time, and were equipped with ballistae and firebrands. Meanwhile Cleopatra moved Egypt’s fleet up into the Gulf of Ambracia where Antony’s armies were stationed. Antony built himself around 230 large warships, each having between 4 and 10 banks of oars and armed them with heavy ballistae and large quantities of marines. (Shuckburgh) By the time of the battle, Octavian’s fleet numbered around 400 and Antony’s fleet totaled around 500. (Shuckburgh)
In 31 BCE, Octavian’s ground forces had pushed Antony’s forces back to the south side of the entrance to the Gulf and his fleets arrived. At the request of Cleopatra, Mark Antony ordered his fleets to sail for Egypt, leaving only enough troops to offer the cities some minimal protection. A series of defections by senior officers from Antony’s staff cost him dearly in information n and ships, especially one Quintus Dellius who brought Antony’s war plans to Octavian. (Dio) On 2 September, Antony set sail with his admirals Cleopatra, Antius and Caius Sosius in command of units.
When Antony’s fleet sailed out of the gulf, Octavian and his admirals blockaded the ships preventing them from escaping to see. The fight was long with both forces being fairly evenly matched both in strength and numbers....