Does This Post Make My Asp Look Big?

Octavian may have won the battle, and the war, but he hadn’t completely ground Antony into the dust, so he didn’t consider his work quite finished yet. In 30 BC he launched the attack of Alexandria and pretty much pwnd everything. Knowing that all was lost, Antony and Cleopatra decided to make Romeo and Juliet look like a pair of tragic amateurs.

Upon hearing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony drew his sword and stabbed himself. Unfortunately, the message was one day too early. Failing to die promptly, Antony was carried in to Cleopatra who had taken refuge in her own mausoleum. Talk about being prepared. According to Shakespeare, Antony just has time to spiel out some longwinded remarks, and then bites it.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, was not relishing the idea of surrendering to Octavian. After negotiating for her children’s lives, she figured it was better to shuffle off this mortal coil than be taken to Rome and paraded around like an elephant. Ancient sources agree that she got an asp or two to bite her. One modern historian believes that due to the slow-acting nature of snake venom she would have drunk a mixture of poisons instead, but he’s probably just saying that to be a pain in the asp.

With both Antony and Cleopatra out of the way, Octavian was now free to annex Egypt and add it to the Roman Empire. Because he didn’t want anyone else to get their grubby little hands on it, Octavian handled it as his own private territory, and senators were neither allowed to govern or visit it. Egypt was huge politically, producing both grain and treasure. Octavian didn’t want any Egyptian fiasco to cause a famine or otherwise come back to bite him in the asp.*

So in 29 BC Octavian returned to Rome. He celebrated a three-fold triumph over the defeat of Cleopatra (represented in effigy on account of being dead), the battle of Actium, and the battle of Illyium (a flyspeck on the pages of history—he didn’t really deserve a triumph for this one). The doors of the Temple of Janus were closed, for the first time in just about forever, signaling an end to warfare (like that’s gonna last).


*It’s amazing how much use you can get out of this pun.


Octavian vs. Antony: Round 7

With the second triumvirate completely at an end, Octavian and Antony finally found themselves free to express their complete and utter loathing of each other. Unfortunately for Octavian, Antony was the Senate’s golden boy. Both consuls and a third of the senate were (for the moment) on his side. The consuls even made a blistering speech against Octavian in the senate. The courage of their convictions abandoned them, however, when Octavian marched his army through the doorway. Facing a lot of swords does that to people.

Seeing as how Octavian was making Rome too hot to handle, Antony gathered his forces in Greece. And being safely, hundreds of miles away, he finally divorced Octavian’s shrew of a sister. (Considering how he had been spending all his time at Cleo’s these days, she probably saw that one coming.) In retaliation, Octavian found Antony’s will and published the least flattering parts. He even began building a mausoleum for himself to prove he would be buried in Rome and not stinking foreign soil. (Antony wanted to be buried in Alexandria, probably so he could finally be away from the gods-be-damned Senate.)

In 32, Octavian formally declared that Antony no longer held imperium. Antony declared that the declaration was bullshit. Octavian said that it didn’t matter what Antony declared, and they both descended into a fit of name-calling that only ended when Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. He should have declared war on Antony, but they weren’t on speaking terms anymore. By 31 Octavian and his best bud/general Marcus Agrippa had crossed the Adriatic with their forces. Agrippa blockaded Antony’s ships and furnished Octavian with good advice.

Antony found himself in a world of trouble. His soldiers were sick with summer fevers, malaria, and dysentery, and people were deserting right and left. (This goes back to the trend of Romans failing to pick healthy locations to set up shop. It’s amazing their civilization didn’t die out sooner.) With no other choice at hand, Antony decided to do what all men must do: run away. The decisive naval battle at Actium was not an attempt to defeat Octavian but instead to get Cleopatra’s ships to safety with their precious cargo of treasure, Antony, and Cleopatra. If it hadn’t been for Agrippa, it might have been a smashing success. Unfortunately, for once in his life, Octavian did as he was told and followed Antony’s ships immediately. The result was a complete rout. Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and Antony had lost most of his army, becoming a wanted fugitive. Tough break.

The Origin of the “Don’t Invade Russia in the Winter” Rule

While Octavian was prancing around after Sextus Pompey, Antony went to war against Parthia. And for once, he didn’t start it. Fortunately, Antony had been spending some time in Alexandria, and with the help of a certain Egyptian queen, Antony was able to repel the invasion. To make sure they didn’t try it again, he led an attack against the Parthian homeland itself. Antony started his campaign late in the year and decided to leave his siege engines and baggage behind with the intention of returning for them later. The Parthians thought Christmas had come early, and circling behind him, systematically destroyed them all. Due to this case of stunningly bad planning, the campaign ended in disaster at the city of Phraaspa when Antony lost thousands of soldiers in a retreat due to the cold weather. (This will later be known as the “don’t invade Russia in the winter, you bleeding moron” rule.) Altogether Antony lost a quarter of his troops to the elements and disease. But after all, seventy-five percent is still a passing grade.

With Antony looking like an idiot, the unmemorable member of the triumvirate, Lepidus, thought his moment had finally come. He mentioned that it might be a wee bit unfair that he had the smallest third of the empire, and if you please, sir, could he have some more? Lepidus succeeded in at last becoming memorable by uniting Antony and Octavian in their decision to boot him out of the triumvirate. The greedy bastards didn’t want to share. Exiled to a small town, Lepidus lived out the rest of his completely forgettable life under house arrest.

Never one to let a sleeping dog lie, Antony decided to take a second stab at the Parthian problem in 34 BC. This time he decided to go after neighboring Armenia instead. (They looked easier to conquer. And his ego was still bruised.) Naturally, this being fought between the Romans and Armenians, it is still considered a part of the Parthian War. Because, you know, if the Parthians had wanted to join in they could have… right? Anyway, Antony made short work of capturing the King of Armenia and holding a triumph. But because he wanted to show off for Cleo he held the triumph in Egypt. After all, he knew she had a thing for conquerors.

The Romans were shocked that Antony would break tradition and not hold his triumph in Rome. (They were even willing to import an elephant.) But no, instead he had to sit on a pair of gold thrones with Cleo and divide up the booty. Antony gave Cleo Egypt (which was technically already hers if you think about it), Syria, and Cyprus to share with her son Caesarian. Antony also recognized Caesarian as the son of Caesar and gave him the title King of Kings. Needless to say, Octavian was not pleased about this. Pissed as hell, he said that Antony was giving away territory to non-Romans, and more importantly was trying replace Octavian with Caesarian. He was right, too. So in 34 BC the second triumvirate was officially over.

Egyptian Female In Search of Roman Dictator

Caesar and Cleopatra had the greatest love affair in the ancient world, second only to Antony and Cleopatra (she knew how to get around). But their affair could hardly be surprising considering he was a scrawny, graying, rat-faced man of 52 and she a sensuous and nubile young girl of 21. Oh, and they each ruled the greatest empires of their day. Like I said: Soul Mates.

Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy XII, better known as the drunk, flute playing one. After her father died, Cleopatra and her younger brother/husband (where is Darwin when you need him?) Ptolemy XIII became co-rulers of Egypt. This was all well and good, but as Cleopatra was eight years older than Ptolemy she started getting the idea she knew better than a kid not even in his teens. Before long, she was doing all the ruling on her own and upsetting people who didn’t think a woman should be that smart. In 48 BC a group of courtiers led by the eunuch Pothinus (somehow, he seemed immune to her charms) made Ptolemy the sole ruler and pushed Cleopatra into exile.

This didn’t sit too well with Cleopatra, so she began plotting. Meanwhile, our old friend Pompey fled to Egypt to escape Caesar and had his head removed for his trouble. Ptolemy may have only been thirteen, but he knew how to hold a dramatic execution. Oddly enough, Caesar was pissed when he found out that someone else had done his dirty work. After all, he may have hated Pompey, but he had still been a Roman and a Consul. You didn’t want people getting funny ideas about that sort of a thing. So Caesar seized control of Egypt and declared himself the arbiter between Ptolemy and Cleopatra’s still feuding forces.

Cleopatra had figured out which way the wind was blowing, so she had herself hidden inside a bedroll and smuggled past her brother’s guards to see Caesar. (Some people persist in saying she came in a rolled up rug which is not nearly as practical. Either way, Caesar was impressed.) While historians don’t know anything at all about what Cleopatra may have looked like, their best guesses range from “she was a surpassing beauty” to “she had a large nose.” In her defense, large noses were considered distinguished back then.  Plutarch said it best: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behavior towards others, had something stimulating about it.” In other words, looks aren’t everything.

Ptolemy was a little surprised when he came down to meet Caesar the next morning and found he’d already been seduced by Cleopatra. But hey, all’s fair in love and war. In 47 BC Cleopatra gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar or Caesarian and Caesar gave up on being fair. He declared war on Ptolemy and had Cleopatra restored to the throne—later Ptolemy somehow wound up dead in the Nile. Then, because we all know women can’t rule, Caesar had Cleopatra married to her other younger brother Ptolemy XIV because that worked out so well last time.

Although Caesar had to return to Rome, their affair was not over. In 46 BC Cleopatra and their son came to visit for a summer. The Romans were not impressed. She was simply too scandalous for them. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra had been staying in Rome again. She left quickly. It’s not that she didn’t love him. She just didn’t want to be next.