The Roman Empire
After Caesar died, he left his name and wealth to the 18 year-old Gaius Octavius (known from this time as Octavian until he became Augustus following Actium). But despite Octavian’s right to Caesar’s papers, Antony seized them and claimed his mantle of authority. The Senate threw its support behind Octavian, who seemed more tractable. This mildness, however, was a pose. Actually Octavian wanted to be named Consul, and when the Senate refused to give it to him, he occupied the city with his army and forced his election to office. Then he formed an alliance with Anthony and another of Caesar’s men, Marcus Lepidus. As the Second Triumvirate, these three divided the Empire, Anthony to the East, Lepidus gets Africa, and Octavian in the West: all three shared Rome. But first to deal with the assassins.
Et tu, Brute?
In the immediate aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, his killers lived without reprisal, but after Anthony and Octavian aligned they fled East. Brutus and Cassius, the most famous of the conspirators, both fell on their swords following their defeat at Philippi. With the assassins dead, they turned to disposing of their own personal enemies, real and imagined, among those murdered was the famed Marcus Tullius Cicero (who by this time had antagonized Antony behind repair).
Antony and Cleopatra
Not unexpected the uneasy alliance soon began to turn on itself. In 36 B.C. Octavian ousted Lepidus and took over control of the African provinces, at the same time usurping sole control of Italy. Then Antony, completely captivated by the lovely Cleopatra, rejected his legal wife, Octavian’s sister, and married Cleopatra, the Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. The two men were now entirely alienated: Octavian reviled his brother-in-law, contrasting Antony’s profligacy with his own virtue. In 32 B.C. Octavian produced a document that he claimed was Antony’s will, and read it to the Senate: it bequeathed all of Rome’s Eastern territories to Cleopatra.
The angry Senate promptly gave Octavian permission to annual Anthony’s powers and declare war on Cleopatra. The next year, at the Battle of Actium, the Roman fleet defeated the Egyptians, and Antony and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt. There, in despair, they killed themselves. Actium ended the civil wars that had plagued Rome for a century. It also ended the Republic, although Octavian, kept insisting that he had restored it. In fact, Rome had grown too vast to be managed by anything but a strong central authority. Octavian was to provide that authority.