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Did Cleopatra really lose the Battle of Actium?

Background to the Battle of Actium
Octavius battled with Mark Antony for command of Rome.
Octavius battled with Mark Antony for command of Rome.

After Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., Antony and Octavius began vying for the top spot in Rome. Although Caesar named Octavius as his rightful heir, Antony considered him too inexperienced. Militarily speaking, Antony had more notches in his belt and wielded greater influence over the Roman Senate. But in a spirit of coalition, Antony, Octavius and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C. to share command of Rome. But just like the original Triumvirate, comprised of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, collapsed, the second incarnation didn't fare well.

A couple of years later, in 41 B.C., Antony and Cleopatra met for the first time as adults (he met her briefly when she was a child) in Tarsus [source: Porter]. Intending to confront her about possibly aiding one of Julius Caesar's assassins, the encounter would kindle romance instead. Married to his third wife, Fulvia, Antony had a reputation for wanton ways with women. Contemporary historians described tawdry parties and orgies that he attended even after his consuming passion for Cleopatra ignited.

Following Fulvia's sudden death, Octavius arranged a political marriage between Antony and his sister, Octavia, in 40 B.C. Soon thereafter, Antony began to strike out independently from the Second Triumvirate as the flames between Cleopatra and him burned brighter. Without bothering to divorce Octavia, Antony and Cleopatra wed in 37 B.C., which vexed Octavius and severed the tenuous alliance between the two men [source: Porter]. Tensions peaked when Antony gathered a military force with Egypt to invade the eastern empire of Parthia (modern-day Iran) in a blatant effort to expand his political reach.

In response, Octavius launched a full-scale campaign against Mark Antony in the Roman Senate. When Antony drafted a loyal consul to speak out on his behalf, Octavius beat him to the punch by producing what he claimed to be Mark Antony's will. Reading it before the Senate, the document outlined Antony's plans to bequeath significant property to Cleopatra and her children and to be buried beside the queen in Alexandria. That alone convinced a majority of the senators, fearing the cunning queen's potential land grab, to side with Octavius.

War was on the horizon. Octavius readied the Roman legions with the brilliant general Agrippa at his side. To the south, Antony and Cleopatra joined forces on the Grecian coast for the impending fight. On Sept. 2, 31 B.C., hundreds of ships met in the Ionian Sea as the Battle of Actium commenced.

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