On This Day In History: The Battle Of Actium – Sep 2, 31 BC

On September 2, 31 BC, an important historical event took place just outside the Gulf of Actium in Greece. The fleet of Roman Mark Antony and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt met the fleet of Octavian leader who is known as the emperor Augustus after 27 BC.

Large ships of Mark Antony’s ships were built for ramming and sinking enemy’s vessels; however, they were also seriously undermanned due to a malaria outbreak which had struck the crew.

Before their forces suffered final defeat, Antony and Cleopatra broke though the enemy lines and fled to Egypt, where they would commit suicide the following year. Octavian’s ships, on the other hand, were smaller and fully manned with healthy crews.

Octavian drew Antony’s fleet out and, sometime after mid-day, Antony engaged his enemy. It was apparent, shortly, that the battle was not going well for Antony. Cleopatra, with her sixty ships, raised sail and left the battle for the open ocean. Antony immediately left his command ship and followed Cleopatra with forty of his own ships, leaving some 5,000 men and 300 ships to be destroyed by Octavian.

Why Cleopatra, then Antony, left the battle has always been a matter of speculation.

Some say Antony lost his nerve when he saw Cleopatra leaving the fight while others claim their action was a pre-planned escape should the battle go toward Octavian’s side. Whatever the reason was, the result was complete victory for Octavian, but for Antony, was one defeat after another. The following August, he committed suicide by stabbing himself, dying in Cleopatra’s arms, and she, then, allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp preferring death to humiliation by Octavian.

Later Octavian executed Cleopatra’s son, Caesarion and annexed Egypt into the Roman Empire. Cleopatra’s treasure was to pay off his veterans.

Less than three years after the battle, declared himself Emperor Augustus Caesar. He ruled a peaceful, prosperous, and expanding Roman Empire until his death in 14 A.D. at the age of 75.

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