come to bury Caesar, not to praise him ..." (from Julius
Caesar, by William Shakespeare)
Marc Antony was Caesar's second in command at the time of Caesar's assassination. He used the occasion of Caesar's funeral to incite the populace against Caesar's assassins, and the Republicans weren't much of a threat to his power after that. But he had one remaining obstacle -- Caesar's nephew, Octavian. In the end, the leadership of the most powerful empire in the world was decided by a single sea battle that could have gone either way.
|Antony and Octavian Denarius|
|About this coin: Commemorates the alliance between Marc Antony and Octavian. Some believe the coin was designed by a supporter of Antony, and attribute the apparent immaturity of Octavian's portrait to a deliberate propagandistic statement.|
A big loveable teddy bear of a man, Marc Antony was Caesar's most loyal supporter. He defended Caesar in a Senate that much preferred Caesar's rival, Pompey. After Pompey's defeat, Caesar left Marc Antony in charge of affairs in Rome.
Upon Caesar's assassination by pro-Republican conspirators Brutus and Cassius and many other senators, Antony so roused the populace that Brutus and Cassius fled Rome for their own safety. But the popular image of Antony giving an eloquent speech at Caesar's funeral is not quite accurate. Instead, in a brilliant stroke, he used the Senate's own words to crush support for a return to a Senate-controlled republic. He simply ordered that the Senate's proclamations declaring Caesar dictator-for-life and granting him the Senate's protection be read at the funeral, adding only a few words of his own. But that was quite enough.
His next move was not so successful. He tried to thwart the efforts of Caesar's heir, Octavian, to collect his political inheritance. Octavian reacted by raising an army among Caesar's veterans and chasing Antony from Rome. He also allied himself with the famous orator, Cicero, though it's not clear whether the idea was Cicero's (who despised Antony) or Octavian's. In any case, Cicero won Octavian the support of the Senate, and Octavian led an army to attack Antony in Gaul.
Instead of fighting, though, they talked over their differences. They agreed to a power sharing arrangement that left Antony, Octavian, and a relatively unimportant fellow named Lepidus in charge, forming the so-called "Second Triumvirate" (the first being Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar). This proved unfortunate for Cicero. As part of the deal, Antony asked that Cicero be executed, and Octavian readily agreed. This probably should have alerted Antony that Octavian wasn't the most reliable of friends.
The first order of business after killing Cicero was to deal once and for all with Caesar's assassins, who still controlled Rome's eastern provinces. Antony and Octavian's armies made short work of it, and both Brutus and Cassius were soon history. Things got a bit rocky between Antony and Octavian after that, but once again they renewed the Triumvirate, this time giving Octavian the west, Antony the east, and Lepidius the African provinces. It was during this period that Herod I gained Antony's assistance in defeating the last of the Hasmonean rulers of Judaea.
Antony then got cozy with Caesar's former lover, Cleopatra VII, in Egypt. After a disastrous campaign against the Parthians, Antony retreated to Egypt, and appeared content to play house with Cleo. When the Second Triumvirate expired in 33 BCE, Octavian used Antony's relationship with Cleopatra for its propaganda value to undermine Antony's support.
|Marc Antony Legionary Denarius|
|About this coin: After the collapse of the Second Triumvirate, denarii like this one were minted by legions loyal to Marc Antony to pay the troops. They featured a war galley on the obverse and a legionary eagle ("Bird on a Stick") flanked by two legionary standards on the reverse. They were typically poorly struck and made of relatively low-grade silver.|
Octavian declared war against Egypt in 31 BCE. It came as no surprise to anyone that Antony came in on the side of Egypt. They met at Actium on September 2, 31 BCE, in a great sea battle, and Octavian's forces eventually won, though it was close. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, but Antony decided that the cause was lost and committed suicide. Cleopatra did the same shortly thereafter, once she decided that she would not be able to successfully ply her charms on Octavian.