In 40 BC, Octavian and Anthony had confronted each other in Brindisi with their armies, without clashing; instead, they had renewed the triumvirate alliance, including once again Lepidus. They agreed to divide the Republic's territories among themselves, without any significant protest by the Senate or other magistrates: Octavian had Europe, Lepidus Africa, and Anthony chose Egypt, Greece and the Middle East. A marriage even sealed this agreement: Anthony married Octavia, Octavian's sister.

The following year, in 39, the triumvirs made an agreement with Sextus Pompey, the general's son, who had recruited a fleet of exiles, proscribed, former slaves and pirates; with them, he had occupied Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and hindered grain supplies from Sicily and Egypt to Rome. In exchange for renouncing such piracy actions, he was guaranteed the government of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Acaia (that is, the Peloponnesus, in Greece).

But this agreement was short-lived. Sextus Pompey, having not received the province of Acaia, decided to resume his piracy actions: in 38, therefore, the triumvirs chose to eliminate him, this time permanently. The decisive naval battle took place in 36 near Milazzo, in Sicily: the fleet of the triumvirs, led by General Marcus Agrippa, a peer and a friend of Octavian, defeated the one of Sextus Pompey, who fled to Asia and later was killed there. With him, the last member of the factions linked to the Republican system was eliminated.

A few weeks later, Lepidus, who had brought his troops from Africa to Sicily to fight against Pompey, and was not happy about his subordinate role in the triumvirate, attempted to regain some weight and rebelled against Octavian. But Octavian was clearly too strong for Lepidus, and Lepidus’ soldiers knew it. It was enough, for Octavian, to show up at Lepidus’ camp, alone and unarmed, as Caesar, son of Caesar! And Lepidus' troops instantly passed on his side: Lepidus had his life saved and retired to private life in a splendid villa at Circeo. Having cleared the fleet of Sextus Pompey and neutralized Lepidus, Octavian was now the absolute master of Italy and the western provinces.

On November 36, Octavian returned to Rome and celebrated his triumph. The Senate granted him the inviolability for life, a prerogative of the tribunes until then, and the right to wear the laurel wreath, as Caesar already had done before him.

Now, what was Mark Anthony doing in the meantime? In 41, at the time of his first voyage to the East, after the victory in Filippi, he had ordered Cleopatra, you remember, the charming Queen of Egypt, Caesar's lover, to meet him in Tarsus, in Greece.

Anthony remembered her as a young girl, he had met her a few years before in Alexandria, but he had not seen her since. That day, Cleopatra arrived at the meeting determined to assert all her skills as a seductress. She showed up on a ship with red sails, the crew was composed of servants dressed as nymphs, and she was dressed in a provocative Venus costume. When he saw her, Anthony was stunned. Now he understood why even Caesar, who had had so many women, had been bewitched by her. He could not resist her. They went together to Alexandria, and here the refinement, the luxury of the life with Cleopatra conquered him, who had lived a soldier’s life until then.

Behind Anthony’s decision to embark the army and confront Octavian in Brindisi in 40, there was probably Cleopatra. And when Anthony returned to the East in 39, he was a married man and none other than Octavian’s sister, Octavia. But, regardless of his bond in Rome, Anthony resumed his relationship with Cleopatra and began to live permanently with her at the Court of Alexandria. In fact, he even married her!

The marriage between a Roman citizen and a foreigner was invalid under Roman law; in any case, it was an affrònt to Octavia, his legitimate wife and Octavian's sister, who had remained in Rome with their two children and was pregnant for the third time. It was easy for Octavian to present Anthony as an individual who, overwhelmed by his passion for a corrupt foreign woman, failed in his duties as husband and father. But it was not the only fault in the eye of the public opinion in Rome.

In 36, Anthony organized a great expedition against the Parthian empire, the only adversary powerful enough to contrast Rome: you probably remember that 17 years earlier, in 53, the Parthians had annihilated Crassus' army in Carre. Now, taking advantage of the chaos of the civil wars, the Parthians had occupied much of Syria and Asia Minor (that’s present-day Turkey). Anthony hoped to achieve a final, definitive victory against the only real opponents of Rome, which would bring him eternal fame and popularity.

The expedition was the biggest ever organized by Rome: 60,000 infantrymen, 10,000 cavalrymen, another 30,000 troops provided by the kings of the kingdoms of the area allied to Rome. But it had started late in summer; Anthony ran unnecessarily behind the enemy for 500 km, leaving behind the siege machines that were intercepted and destroyed by the Parthians. The city where the king's family lived resisted the siege, so that in autumn, Anthony couldn’t help but retreat. The loss of food and the continuing attacks by the Parthians turned the retreat through hostile land into a disaster, with the loss of 1/4th of the troops.

Despite his disastrous retreat, in 34 Anthony offered himself a solemn triumph in Alexandria, scandalizing Rome, and married Cleopatra, giving the whole Middle East as dowry to her two sons. Caesarion, the son of her and Caesar, was proclaimed crown prince of Egypt and Cyprus. Anthony then sent a divorce order to Octavia: thus, he was breaking the only bond that still tied him to Octavian.

Anthony now acted as if the eastern provinces had been his private property: it seemed that he wanted to transform the rule of Rome into an oriental monarchy, with its capital in Alexandria. Also, he recognized the son he had had from Cleopatra as legitimate and gave him the name of Alexander: a Greek name, not a Roman one, that is, the name of that Alexander the Great, from which the oriental kingdoms originated.

Attracted by the dream of an oriental monarchy, Anthony had lost contact with Rome: the public opinion now favoured Octavian, who proposed himself as the defender of the genuine Roman tradition. Anthony now looked like a puppet in the hands of the beautiful, corrupt and corrupting queen of Egypt.

Octavian was a master of communication, with a modern but inappropriate term we may say he was a master of propaganda. Romans always painted the East as a place of corruption, sensuality, excesses. And Octavian had an excellent game presenting himself as the champion of pure Roman and Italic values, then East versus West, Italy against Egypt.

By the year 32, the powers of the triumvirs, ten years after 43, had expired. Each of the two contenders was preparing for open war, but neither wanted to be attributed the responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities. Octavian then appeared in the Senate, surrounded by a group of soldiers and armed friends, to defend himself against his opponent's accusations. Actually, it was a coup d'état, but carried out without violence; Octavian wanted to appear only as a political leader, eager to defend his reputation. And the two Consuls, who favoured Anthony, helped him by leaving Rome. Octavian did not have any more adversaries on the Roman political scene.

Since then, Octavian exploited every move Anthony made to throw mud on his conduct, to present him as the traitor of Rome. Even some of Anthony's closest followers preferred to pass on Octavian's side. The former consul Lucius Plancus revealed to him not only Anthony's plans but also the contents of his will and who had been entrusted with it.

It was an unexpected gift for Octavian. He quickly found the will, which was in possession of the Vestals, the priestesses of Vesta, seized it and took it first to the Senate, then to the people's assembly, where he had it read. In it, Anthony solemnly stated that Caesarion was the true son of Caesar; thus, he wanted to overshadow Octavian, who was only the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Also, Anthony designated the sons he had from Cleopatra as his only heirs, and Cleopatra herself as regent. Finally, wherever he died, he was to be buried in Egypt!

The document was most likely a fake, but it confirmed all the suspicions that most Romans had towards this intriguing traitor and allowed Octavian to banish a war. A war that he, very perceptively, declared not to Anthony but to Cleopatra: the conflict was presented as if it was directed against a foreign power and not as a new civil war; Anthony was portrayed just as a  traitor, subject to the queen of Egypt.

The two opponents prepared for the fight. Although not in any official position, Octavian obtained the oath of allegiance and, therefore, funds and troops from Italy and the other western provinces. On Anthony's side were Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, Cyrenaica, the Egyptians and numerous kings and princes of states bordering with Roman rule in the East.

Octavian's propaganda was very skilful at presenting the war as the clash between the Latin and Latinized West, morally healthy, the faithful guardian of tradition, respectful of the Republic, and the Greek and barbarian East, refined but corrupt.

It was a sea war. The two fleets clashed at Actium, in northwestern Greece, on September 2nd of the year 31 BC. Octavian’s navy, led once again by Marcus Agrippa, though inferior in numbers, succeeded in routing Anthony and Cleopatra’s fleet. Cleopatra fled with her naval team even before the battle was definitively lost, and Anthony followed her with some ships. It was a huge mistake because the 19 legions on the ground, camped around Actium, were not even engaged in a battle.

Octavian did not chase the fugitives right away. He knew that time worked for him and that the longer Anthony stayed in Egypt, the more he burned out. He landed in Athens to restore order, then crossed Asia to dismantle, one by one, all of Anthony’s alliances, isolating him, and eventually moved to Alexandria. On the way, he received three letters: one from Cleopatra, promising submission, and two from Anthony, asking for peace. To him, he did not answer; to her, he let her know that he would leave her on the throne if she killed her lover.

When Octavian arrived in Alexandria, he locked the city. The next day, Cleopatra's mercenaries surrendered. Anthony received news that the queen had died; he believed it and suicided. But Cleopatra was alive, and she asked Octavian for permission to bury Anthony’s corpse and be granted an audience. And Octavian agreed. She presented herself to him as she had done with Caesar and Anthony: scented and cloaked in veils. But, under those veils now, there was a 40-year-old woman, not a 29-year-old girl, at the top of her charm. Octavian was much younger than her, not like Caesar or Anthony, and he did not need to resort to a great strength of character to treat her coldly: he announced that he would take her to Rome and she would walk as an ornament of his chariot during his triumph. Cleopatra felt lost, and this drove her to suicide; she had herself poisoned by the bite of a snake.

Octavian treated the dead with a touch from which we can reconstruct his character. He allowed the two corpses to be buried next to each other. In the meantime, to avoid any misunderstanding, he sent the sons of the two to Octavia, his sister, who raised them as if they had been her own; he had Caesarion killed, to get rid of a possible rival, and proclaimed himself king of Egypt, so as not to humiliate it by declaring it a Roman province, but also to make it his private property and pocket its immense treasure.

At that time, Octavian was just 31; he was the only and absolute heir of Caesar and the owner of the Roman State! Finally, the civil wars were over; with them, not formally but certainly in fact, also the history of the Roman Republic had come to an end!

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