Marc Antony – 42 BC

Marc Antony

Born 83 – Died 30 BC, age 53

Imperator, 46 – 30 BC

Marcus Antonius was born in 83 BC, the son of Antonius Creticus and Julia, who was related to Julius Caesar. His father was a rather unsuccessful admiral who died early during his childhood. His mother remarried to P. Cornelius Lentulus who raised him for most of his childhood. In 63 BC, Lentulus was strangled on the orders of Cicero for his involvement in the Catiline Affair. This would prove to be an event in Antony’s life that he would never forget and which Cicero would ultimately pay for with his own life at the hands of Antony.

At sometime around 58 BC, Marc Anthony traveled to Syria and at the age of 22, he became a cavalry commander who served with distinction in Judaea and Egypt under Aulus Gabinius in 57 – 54BC. Antony was later assigned to Caesar in Gaul where he became a staff member. His service to Caesar proved useful and in 52 BC he was given the title Tribune of the People. Thus, Antony became a Quaestor with a reputation of being very vocal on behalf of Caesar’s interests while serving out his duty in Rome.

It was during this period in Rome where Antony first married Fulvia, the widow of Clodius Pulcher. Fulvia also made the same enemy in Rome before her marriage to Antony – the senator Cicero. Her husband had been murdered by Milo, a friend of Cicero and in fact Cicero defended him at his trial. Nonetheless, Milo was found guilty and Fulvia became a hated enemy of Cicero. Therefore, Antony and Fulvia at least had one thing in common – their dislike of Cicero.

In 49 BC, Marc Antony received the title of Augur (priest and soothsayer). It was during this same year when he vetoed the Senate’s attempt to strip Caesar of his command. Antony was forced to flee Rome and return to Gaul, but as things calmed down he returned to Rome to watch over Caesar’s interests. He was so vigorous in his support of Caesar at the outbreak of the hostilities between Caesar and Pompey, that he was expelled from the Senate chambers. Antony fled Rome once again and joined Caesar before he would face Pompey in battle.

Antony commanded the left wing of Caesar’s Legions at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC where Pompey was soundly defeated. Following the end of hostilities, Antony became Caesar’s right-hand man in Rome and was given the title, co-consul in 44 BC.

The debt crisis that raged during this period cast Caesar as the man of the people against the corrupt Senate of Rome. Antony himself was convinced that upon total victory, Caesar would simply nullify all outstanding debt. His conviction in this matter was so strong, that Antony purchased the estate of Pompey assuming that the debt would be wiped out by Caesar and he would have the assets at little or no cost.

Caesar did not nullify all debts, but did order state valuers thereby forcing the moneylenders, many of whom were senators, to accept the return of assets against which they had once lent money. He also applied all interest payments to principle thus indeed creating one of the most unique solutions to a debt crisis in history.

When Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Antony immediately took possession of Caesar’s papers and residence, including whatever assets he had held. He gave his famous oration at Caesar’s funeral in the forum and was instrumental in turning the people against the corrupt Senators led by the assassin Brutus. However, Antony’s actions were not altogether as noble as those of Caesar. For when Caesar’s true heir (Octavian) arrived in Rome, Antony refused to cooperate and acted quite indignant.

Octavian found himself in a difficult position when he arrived in Rome. With Antony’s lack of cooperation and refusal to relinquish Caesar’s assets, Cicero sought to exploit matters between the two greatest threats to the corrupt Senate. Octavian was given the rank of a senator and the Senate backed Octavian against Antony. While initially, Antony was successful in capturing Cisalpine Gaul, he suffered a humiliating defeat in April 43 BC at Forum Gallorum and especially at Mutina, against the young unproven Octavian. Antony was forced to retreat into Galla Narbonensis where he was joined by Plancus, Asinius Pollio and Lepdius.

Second Triumvirate

Octavian came to realize that his true enemy was the Senate and that they were succeeding once again in pitting one supporter against another, as was the case between Pompey and Caesar. Octavian wisely approached Antony in an effort to reach a truce and to combine forces.

During November 43 BC, Antony joined forces with Octavian and Lepidus in what became known as the Second Triumvirate. On November 27th, 43 BC, Cicero gave a particularly vicious and biting attack against Antony that Cicero’s name appeared at the top of a list of men who they condemned to death for constant support of the corrupt system of government that had developed.

The assassins tried to mask their real intentions by calling themselves Republicans. While there were some that perhaps honestly still believed in Republican ideals who had not taken part directly in Caesar’s assassination, most had turned the Senate of Rome into an old boy’s club dividing the spoils of the Empire among them, rigging elections and even going as far as to alter the calendar just to extend their term of office. Both Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the so-called Republicans, were deeply involved in the corruption and had gathered immense wealth due to monopolies in trade won purely by appointments by the Senate. Thus, the conflict that emerged was indeed far more than Caesar trying to become Dictator. It was the collapse of Democracy by its own hand that allowed corruption of the Senate to escalate to such an extent that free elections had become a thing of the past.

The new combined forces of the Triumvirate marched against the corrupt forces of the Senate. In 42 BC, the two opposing armies met at Philippi in Thessaly where the Triumvirate won a brilliant victory led primarily by Antony, (Octavian was ill at the time) in two separate battles. The two assassins who were the leaders of the corrupt Senate, Brutus and Cassius, committed suicide. Some of those who survived the battle, like the son of Cicero and Murcus, fled to Sicily where they joined Sextus Pompey. Cicero, on the other hand, attempted to flee but was hunted down by Antony’s soldiers, captured and executed. His head and hands were chopped off and sent back to Rome where his head was at first given to Fulvia as a gift for what she had suffered at his instigation. Cicero’s hands were nailed to the Rostra in the Forum.

Tetradrachm Mark Antony with Cleopatra

After the Battle of Philippi, Octavian returned to Rome, while Antony remained in Tarsus in Asia Minor where he planned to carry out Caesar’s original intention to invade Parthia. In 41 BC, while still in Tarsus, Antony summoned Cleopatra VII, now Queen of Egypt, and former lover of Caesar, to answer reports that she had aided his enemies. Cleopatra used her legendary charms on Antony and managed to successfully exonerate herself. The two of them then travelled to Alexandria, Egypt, where history informs us of the complete attraction each had for the other. Antony’s fellow officers said he was under her “spell,” and he spent most of his time during the winter of 41 – 40 BC in Cleopatra’s court.

Tensions between Octavian and Antony began to resurface. Matters were not helped by Antony’s wife Fulvia and his brother Lucius back in Italy. The two had openly engaged in conflict against Octavian in what became known as the Perusine War. They were easily defeated by Octavian and Fulvia fled to Athens. Antony had been unaware that tensions between his wife and Octavian actually came to war. Upon learning of what happened, Antony quickly traveled to Athens to confront his wife. Fulvia became ill and died shortly thereafter and Antony never visited her even when he heard that she was close to death. Nonetheless, the death of Fulvia ended the hostilities and Octavian and Antony once again made peace at a meeting in 40 BC. At Brundisium, Octavian gave his sister Octavia to Anthony in marriage receiving in return Antony’s province of Cisalpine Gaul.

The Triumvirate was renewed for an additional five years in 37 BC and Antony launched his Parthian campaign the following year. Antony’s dream of a Parthian conquest proved to be far from successful. While he managed to turn back the Parthian King Phraates IV at Phraaspa, he was ultimately forced to retreat due to the heat and cunning skills of the legendary Parthian calvary.

Lepidus, a successful general in his own right, tired of handling administrative matters in Rome and as Governor in Africa. Consequently, Lepidus made an ill-fated attempt to acquire Sicily for himself in 36 BC. As a result, he was deprived of all his powers and administrative offices except that of Pontifex Maximus, which he held until his death in exile in 13 BC. This reduced the Triumvirate effectively to two partners, in an association that became increasingly strained. Antony controlled the military power of the East, and Octavian held the West.

Antony began to dream of a new great Eastern Empire and no doubt the ambitious Cleopatra helped in that direction. Tensions between Octavian and Antony once again started to emerge. Antony infuriated Octavian, as well as his own supporters, by his notorious infidelity toward Octavia. He even had several children with Cleopatra. Egypt had become his ally and Cleopatra had the wealth to entice her new lover.

The final split between Antony and Octavian came 33 BC followed by Antony’s divorce of Octavia. Antony had granted “gifts” of kingdoms and provinces which should have been Roman to his new Queen, Cleopatra. Octavian knew that the people still loved their Antony and he needed to somehow win universal support. Octavian read Antony’s will which left large gifts to his illegitimate children by Cleopatra. The Senate ultimately was obliged to declare war against Cleopatra, not Antony, but stripped Antony of all power.

Legionary Coinage of Antony

Octavian was given a fleet of ships, and he advanced towards Egypt. Antony met Octavian’s fleet outside the Gulf of Actium on the western coast of Greece on September 2nd, 31 BC. Antony had heavier ships equipped with better artillery, while Octavian’s ships were lighter and able to maneuver quickly. Octavian also had Marcus Agrippa, his old schoolmate, the naval genius who had previously defeated Sextus Pompey’s fleet. As the ships jockeyed for position and advantage, Cleopatra’s fleet arrived to assist Antony. Octavian’s fleet out maneuvered Antony and the Egyptians, and in the middle of the battle the tide was turning against them. Cleopatra, sensing defeat, fled the battle early and Antony abandoned his own troops and followed her to Alexandria with a fleet of sixty of Cleopatra’s smaller, faster ships.

Octavian then pressed onward to Alexandria finally arriving after almost a year’s slow journey. Cleopatra tried once again to use her charms on Octavian, but they had no effect. Cleopatra could not charm nor negotiate her way out of this situation. Antony fell upon his sword and after learning of Antony’s demise, Cleopatra took her own life with a poisonous snake (asp) in August of 30 BC. Octavian took Alexandria and executed Marc Antony Junior, his son by Fulvia, who was also there in Alexandria with his father. Caesarian, Cleopatra’s son she claimed was Caesar’s, was also executed by Octavian. However, at least some of Antony’s children with Cleopatra were spared for political purposes. Their daughter, also named Cleopatra, was married to Juba II, King of Mauretania. Antony’s children with Octavia did become heirs to Octavian in the future Emperors Caligula, Claudius and Nero who were all descendants of Antony’s daughter with Octavia, Antonia.

With Lepidus reduced to obscurity in exile (although he was never a real threat to Octavian), Antony and Cleopatra dead, their personal treasure and the considerable wealth of Egypt captured, the Pompeian party mostly dead or in disarray, and the corruption eliminated from the Senate, Octavian became the de facto master of the Greco-Roman-Egyptian World.

Monetary System

Mints: Rome, Gallia Transalpina, Gallia Cisalpina, traveling mint

Obverse Legends:



AU Aureus (8 grams)
AR Denarius (3.94 grams)
AR Legionary Denarius (struck to pay for Actium)
AR Quinarius (1.78 grams)
Æ As

With Caesar

AR Denarius (3.94 grams)

With Lucius Antonius

AU Aureus (8 grams)
AR Denarius (3.94 grams)

With Octavian

AU Aureus (8 grams)
AR Denarius (3.94 grams)
AR Quinarius (1.78 grams)

With Lepidus

AU Aureus (8 grams)
AR Denarius (3.94 grams)
AR Quinarius (1.78 grams)

With Octavia

AU Aureus (8 grams)
AR Cistoporus
Æ Sesterius
Æ As

With Cleopatra

AR Tetradrachm (14.12 grams)
AR Denarius (3.94 grams)
Æ As

Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong