Marc Antony and the rise of the Roman Empire

Marc Antony, Who?

Bust of Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) from the Vatican Museums, via Ancient History Encyclopedia. Public Domain

Bust of Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) from the Vatican Museums, via Ancient History Encyclopedia. Public Domain

Ancient Roman politician and army general Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony in English; 83–30 B.C.E), was an ally of Julius Caesar. Although Antony played a significant role in turning Rome from a republic to an empire, his efforts have been overshadowed by Caesar’s achievements as the head general. Born into a family of generals, Marc Antony was destined to be a leader. Much of Ancient Roman history revolves around Julius Caesar’s dictatorship—and everything seemed to cease after his assassination. After Caesar’s death, Marc Antony actually went on to lead much of the Roman Republic (using the Second Triumvirate) before his suicide with Cleopatra in 30 B.C.E.  

Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, wrote that Marc Antony’s “open and lavish hand in gifts and favors to his friends and fellow-soldiers, did a great deal for him in his first advance to power”. This helps us understand that it enabled Antony to be of assistance to Caesar in the conquest of Gaul and promoted his subsequent rise to power. With Antony’s ability to pay powerful people as well as soldiers, Caesar had more than enough resources and manpower to invade what is modern France and Belgium during the Gallic Wars. Marc Antony would later gain control of northern and central Gaul, as well as northern Italy for five years, after Caesar’s death in 44 B.C.E. Having land that he could control, Marc Antony could begin building up his power with help from papers that Caesar left behind after his assassination, as well as the treasury.

Caesar's Best Friend

The "Death of Julius Caesar", as depicted by Vincenzo Camuccini; Created 1804 - 1805. via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

The "Death of Julius Caesar", as depicted by Vincenzo Camuccini; Created 1804 - 1805. via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Caesar's murder brought a scramble for power among several people—the start of Antony’s “empire” was in jeopardy due to Caesar’s then nineteen-year-old heir, Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian). While Antony seeked revenge on Caesar's killers in Gaul, Octavian's armies attacked Antony, forcing him to retreat to southern Gaul. Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, were preparing to claim Rome for themselves when Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed a coalition: the Second Triumvirate. They later defeated Brutus and Cassius’s efforts in the battle of Phillipi in 42 B.C.E.  

All three men, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, agreed to split Rome’s holdings among them to rule jointly. Lepidus was given Africa to rule, Octavian the West, from Rome, and Antony the East. The political agreement between the three men made looking after the republic much easier, as Rome expanded beyond the boundaries of Italy. The coalition was formed with the only intention of salvaging what was left of the government after Caesar’s murder. However, Antony used the Second Triumvirate as a tool to get rid of the people he did not like; first on his list: Cicero. Cicero was known to despise Antony and wanted him dead along with Caesar; which Antony really did not like the sound of. Hence, Cicero was caught trying to escape and as a punishment, his hands were cut off (for writing essays that offended Antony), and his head decapitated (which was nailed to a platform at the Forum).

Antony’s eloquence showed itself during Caesar's funeral, where in his eulogy, he managed to convince the public that there was no intention of forming an empire; his actions were in fact for the public interest. This helped empower not only the public, but also helped Antony bring a stable and competent rule all whilst having the public support—setting up the Second Triumvirate and bringing Egypt closely into the fold with Rome. Here, Egypt, being so vital because of its grain production, was a sort of necessity to form an alliance with. Antony did this by forming an alliance with Cleopatra. Antony needed Cleopatra’s financial and political support in order to plan an attack on Parthia (modern Iran).

Well, What Did He Do? 

An empire would enable the people to enjoy more peace, as the stability that it would bring would significantly reduce the potential wars that would be fought, an appealing thought as compared to that of a republic, where the abundance of city-states would result in increased potential enemies and partners in war. In the case where a city-state creates trouble, other city-state would be affected. With no central power, city-states would be free to do whatever they please, including declaring wars on each other.

Nonetheless, it was still impossible for an empire to be entirely peaceful, as the empire could be attacked from the outside, or through their conquest to expand their territories, inevitably leading to wars. In addition, an empire would be more prosperous due to its ability to function as an extensive free trade zone. Trading during the ancient times would mostly require the people to travel long distances, but with a well-established empire, the fear of being attacked during a long distance trading would be reduced significantly. Furthermore, within a republic, there would be many city-states, which then would require taxes to be paid during trading. Similarly, different city-states would have different laws as well. But with an empire, there would be no taxes and different laws implemented during trading—it would then lead to a significant increase in trade, resulting in the abundance of prosperity.

The Forgotten One

Despite Antony’s defeat and subsequent death in 30 B.C, his contributions to Rome then were significant in terms of bringing it prosperity and development. One could say that without Marc Antony’s help in preserving Caesar’s legacy, Rome (Italy) would not have been as much important for history as it is considered up to date. The civil war between his two most powerful adherents effectively ended the credibility of the Roman oligarchy as a governing power and ensured that all future power struggles would consist of two or more individuals achieving supreme control of the government, rather than just an individual. Thus, Marc Antony, Caesar's key personnel and one of the two men around whose power coalesced following his assassination, was one of the three men responsible for the defeat of the Roman Republic.