I was with Julius Caesar on the day he died on the ides of March in 44 BC. In fact, I had been with my friend Julius for over ten years at that point, all through Gaul and even to the island of Britain and the blue painted savages there.
Marcus Antonius, one of our better generals and a friend of Caesar, was also there at the time and he asked me to work with him in memory of our beloved Commander. He started by sending me out with messages to all the Legions that Caesar had commanded, asking for their support in finding and eliminating his murderers.
I knew that Caesar’s adopted great nephew, Gaius Octavius Thurinus, who had also fought in Gaul with us (now only a strapping boy of nineteen) wanted to succeed Caesar as leader of Rome. Caesar’s last will named him chief heir and son, changing his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. He was in Brundisium at the time of Caesar’s death and immediately changed his name from Octavianus to Caesar.
I was hanging out at the palace when Octavian came to see Antony a few weeks later. Instead of greeting him like he should have, as equals, Antony completely ignored Octavian. I told him that it wasn’t a smart thing to do, but then again, I’m only a lowly Centurion and generals don’t often take the advice of Centurions.
Instead of taking me to Brundisium when he left to talk with the Legions that Octavian had tried to persuade to join him, Antony sent me to keep an eye on our boy general. I have to admit, Octavian was smart, and he was quick, and he was a very good orator for one so young.
As soon as Antony left, Octavian went into Campania and started recruiting Caesar’s own veteran legionnaires. I guess the name of Caesar was magic with these tough old guys. I knew it was with me because I loved Caesar. I had never really seen eye to eye with Antony, he was a sort of vain and arrogant fellow and took too much credit for the things he didn’t do. As it turned out, I switched sides and joined young Octavian, because so many of my old veteran friends went with him. I guess that at least ten thousand or more joined up!
Unfortunately, Octavian knew I was close to Antony and that Antony trusted me, so instead of taking over a Cohort, which I was qualified and eager to do, I got stuck with the ugly duties of double agent. "Go back to Antony and keep me informed of his actions," the young Octavian told me. Nothing I could say would change his mind.
We got word a few weeks after I returned to Antony’s camp that Senator Cicero had announced in the forum his support of Octavian. Cicero was probably the most respected politician and orator in Rome and the most influential. Antony was so mad at the old man he could have spit fire from his arse.
Our next little jaunt was to a hole in the wall place called Bononia. Octavian and Antony stayed there for two days and finally decided to form a second Triumvirate (that’s where three guys rule at one time) and they picked Marcus Ameilius Lepidius, an over the hill general to join them.
Lepidius, a dour faced man we legionnaires called "Old Pickle Puss", was just a figurehead on account of we all knew it was Antony pulling the strings. In fact, Lepidius got so bored that he retired a year later, leaving the empire for Antony and Octavian to split – (after he pulled a few little shenanigans.)
In October of 42 BC, we headed for Macedonia to where Caesar’s assassins had fled. In two quick and brutal battles at a place called Philippi, Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus were beaten and fell on their gladius like the good little Romans they were.
Then things got quiet for a spell, but Antony soon started acting in character again. He divorced his wife Fulvia and married Octavian’s sister, Octavia, just to get Octavian to extend their partnership for another five years. He then went to the east and started hanging out with that strange Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, the daughter of Ptolemy XI, unfortunately, the same one Caesar screwed around with.
I was with Octavian in December of 33BC when their terms of office ended. I was still a double agent, but spent most of my time with the palace girls. The next month Octavian went to the full Senate and denounced Antony, stating that he was planning on splitting the empire in half and giving half of it to his playmate, Cloepatra, and moving the capitol of the empire to Alexandria. Well, you might say the dog bit his tail then! The Senate was in an uproar and the people even more agitated. Most of the Senators sided with Octavian, but a few stuck with Antony and took ship for Egypt.
The dice had been rolled and my beloved empire was again in the depths of civil war. It was bad because I had fought with many legionnaires on both sides and respected most of them and we didn’t know which way to turn. So, off to Greece I went to see what my old friend Antony was up to. He had established his base camp at a town called Patrae, on the southern cost of the Gulf of Corinth. Octavian said he would make his camp on the northern shore at a place called Actium.
I knew that Octavian was in a world of hurt because, not only did Antony have more men and better commanders, in everyone’s opinion he was a much more experienced and able general. However, Antony was no admiral and knew little of warfare at sea, whereas, Octavian had the famous Admiral Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa commanding his fleet. It was rumored that this was supposed to be a combined battle at sea and on land.
After a period of several months I returned to Octavian’s camp and a lot of the old legionnaires deserted Antony’s forces and came over with me. Malaria had broken out, food was bad, and they just didn’t like that Egyptian Queen that Antony was so mad about. They figured she was a sorceress or witch who had placed a spell on Antony.
The soldiers told us that Antony’s generals wanted to fight us on land because he had around 19 legions, most of them veterans of various campaigns. Plus, we all knew that Octavian was not the general that Antony was. However, Cleopatra was pressing him to fight at sea because he had a much bigger fleet than we did. In the end Antony decided to do both.
General Delius, one of the guys that came over to us, told us that Antony had burned some of his older ships and distributed the best crews among the remaining ships. Delius also knew Antony’s overall plan of attack, which gave us a small advantage.
On the morning of September 2, 31 BC, Antony left his base and moved through the straits of Actium to meet our fleet of 400 ships. His fleet consisted mainly of massive quinqueremes, huge ships whose bows were armored with bronze plates and massive timbers making them difficult or almost impossible to ram.
His ships also had massive rams weighing up to three tons. These ships were 200 feet long and manned by 400 rowers. Naturally, they had catapults and the dreaded corvus, a large bridge like platform with a spike in the end that was lowered on the deck of the other ship so the infantry could cross over and do what they do best.
Our ships were mostly Liburnian vessels, smaller, faster but with much better trained and fresher crews. We could out run Antony’s ships but couldn’t ram them because of their bronze plating.
Antony’s fleet rushed toward us at the charge with his massive ships in the lead all bunched up like a Legion line. Agrippa continued to back our ships up to keep away from the big monsters, and at the same time to tire Antony’s crews.
For over three hours we continued our retreat, until we noticed that Antony’s crews were becoming very exhausted trying to row their huge monster ships. Agrippa gave the signal for our ships to engage. He was one smart cookie, for a sailor.
We quickly spread out in a wide crescent forcing his ships to split up in every direction. We continued to circle around, tiring out his crews more and more, then like a pack of hungry wolves, ¬ we struck.
We didn’t fight them ship on ship. Since our smaller ships were much faster and more maneuverable and Antony’s were big and lumbering, we assaulted each of his big ships with three or four of our smaller ones, like a hungry pack of dogs on a deer.
As soon as we got rid of one big ship we sailed as a pack and found another one. Before long Antony’s fleet started falling apart and desperately tried to make for land.
About that time, Octavian pointed over the port bow. The Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, was carving a passage through our lines with about 60 of her ships. We thought the Egyptians were finally entering the battle, but she wasn’t attacking, she was running like a scared rabbit. As soon as Antony saw her leaving, he moved his flag to a small, very fast ship, and chased after her like a dog in heat, leaving his fleet to fend for themselves.
After seeing their cowardly commander and his queen sail off to safety, Antony’s men started throwing their catapults and armor and anything heavy into the sea to lighten their ships so they could make a run for it.
We fell on them with a vengeance, cutting oars, snapping off rudders, and climbing on to their decks so our infantry guys could earn their pay. They fought back but we were tired of the fight and wanted to get it over with. We started burning Antony’s ships, throwing blazing missiles at them from all directions, lighted javelins, and jars full of oil and charcoal and pitch. Soon Antony’s entire fleet was a blazing inferno with black smoke pouring into the sky in all directions.
From the original 500 ships of Antony’s fleet, we captured 360 and destroyed or sunk 80. Fewer than 60 badly scared or wounded men survived, with well over 5,000 killed or drowned. The armies watching our sea battle from the high cliffs never struck a blow.
We later learned that Antony’s land commander, General Publius Canidus Crassus, who had been ordered by Antonyto bring the army back to Egypt, simply abandoned the troops – (some 19 infantry legions and 12,000 cavalry) – and slipped out of camp after dark like the craven coward he was. The leaderless men promptly joined our forces, doubling the size of Octavian’s army.
We heard that Antony made for Lybia and tried to reassemble what little army he had left. Old General Lucius Pinarus, "Goat Bugger” we called him, refused to let his legion join him, so Antony fled to Egypt with his witch queen.
We advanced on to Egypt via Syria and arrived in Alexandria on July 31, 30 BC. Antony’s Calvary put up a pretty good fight but the very next day, his entire force; infantry, cavalry and naval forces, defected en-masse to Octavian. The battle was over and our beloved empire reunited.
We learned that Antony attempted suicide by stabbing himself but missed his heart. He lived long enough to be carried to his Egyptian Queen where it is said he died in her arms. Cleopatra tried to charm or be-witch Octavian as she had Caesar and Antony, but our boy general would have nothing of her. She committed suicide shortly thereafter. They say she poisoned herself with a snake or something silly like that.
A few more of Antony’s supporters were executed, but most of them (they were good soldiers) were spared. Cleopatra and Caesar’s bastard son, Caesarion, then 15, was executed as was Antony and Cleopatra’s oldest son Antyllus who was 7. Octavian spared their young three-year old son.
About a year later, my friend Octavian changed his name to Augustus Caesar and he turned out to be a competent, wise and just ruler. We have grown quite accustomed to yelling “Hail Caesar.” I guess that will be our tribute for years to come.
On another note, I can’t keep from wondering about Antony. Was he truly bewitched by that eastern harlot? While sitting in the pub with my old retired military friends, we often discuss the what-if issues. After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of both armies, we unanimously agreed that Antony had the better trained army and the best commanders and we would have lost had it come down to a land battle at Actium.
What if Antony had returned to his army instead of chasing after that Egyptian Queen? Chances are more than likely we’d be yelling, “Hail Antony,” instead.
The Gods sure work in mysterious ways!
Next time I’ll tell you about that battle we had against the Blue Brits.