Mark Antony

January 14, 83 BC – August 1, 30 BC

Marcus Antonius (Latin: M·ANTONIVS·M·F·M·N[1]) (c. January 14, 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 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. Disagreement between Octavian and Antony turned to civil war in 31 BC. Antony was defeated by Octavian at the naval Battle of Actium and then in a short land battle at Alexandria. He committed suicide, and his lover, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, killed herself soon afterwards.

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, in the care of his mother, who 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 the streets of Rome with his brothers and friends, Publius Clodius among them. The connection was eventually severed by a disagreement arising from his relations with Clodius's wife, Fulvia. While they were friends, they embarked on a rather wild 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 $165,000,000 USD).

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 behavior.

Nevertheless, raised by Caesar's influence to the offices of quaestor, augur, and tribune of the plebs (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 in 50 BC, and he 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 Caesar would 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. On February 15, 44 BC, during the Lupercalia festival, 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. The Liberatores reached Caesar first, however, 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.

Enemy of the state and triumvir

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. Antony was now besieging Decimus Brutus at Mutina. Encouraged by Cicero, the Senate granted Octavian imperium (commanding power), which made his command of troops legal, and sent him to relieve the siege along with Hirtius and Pansa, the consuls for 43 BC.In April 43, Antony's forces were defeated at the Battles of Forum Gallorum and Mutina, forcing Antony to retreat to Transalpine Gaul. However, both consuls were killed, leaving Octavian in sole command of their armies.[17]

The senate attempted to give command of the consular legions to Decimus Brutus, but Octavian refused to surrender them. In July, an embassy from Octavian entered Rome and demanded that he receive the consulship. When this was refused, he marched on the city with eight legions. He encountered no military opposition, and was elected consul with his relative Quintus Pedius as colleague. Meanwhile, Antony formed an alliance with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another leading Caesarian.

When they knew that Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius had assembled an army in Greece in order to march on Rome, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus allied together to stop Caesar's assassins. After two battles at Philippi in Macedonia, the Caesarian army was victorious and Brutus and Cassius committed suicide (42 BC). After the battle, a new arrangement was made between the members of the Second Triumvirate: while Octavian returned to Rome, Antony went to Egypt where he allied himself with Queen Cleopatra VII, who was the former lover of Julius Caesar and mother of Caesar's infant son, Caesarion. Lepidus went on to govern Hispania and the province of Africa.

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.

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 once more. This time with the help of Octavia, 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 lent him the money he needed for the army, and after capturing Jerusalem and surrounding areas in 37 BC, he put in Herod the Great as puppet king of Judaea. After invading Cilicia and Syria, Antony invaded the Parthian Empire with an army of 100,000 legionnaries 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 (which was never conquered by Rome), 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.

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 daughters by Octavia were spared, as was his son, Iullus Antonius. But his elder son, Marcus Antonius Antyllus, was killed by Octavian's men while pleading for his life in the Caesarium.

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 paternal first cousin). According to Plutarch, Antony threw her out of his house, because she slept with his friend, the tribune Publius Cornelius Dolabella. Antony divorced her, before he married Fulvia.
  3. Marriage to Fulvia, by whom he had two sons
    1. Marcus Antonius Antyllus, executed by Octavian in 30 BC
    2. Iullus Antonius Creticus, married Claudia Marcella Major, daughter of Octavia
  4. Marriage to Octavia Minor, sister of Octavian, later Augustus; they had two daughters
    1. Antonia Major, married Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; grandmother of the Emperor Nero
    2. 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 VII, Queen of Egypt, and former lover of Julius Caesar
    1. The twins
      1. Alexander Helios
      2. Cleopatra Selene II, married King Juba II of Numidia and later Mauretania
    2. 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—Defeated by 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


  1. Marcus Antonius Marci Filius Marci Nepos, in English "Mark Antony, son of Mark, grandson of Mark".


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