Battle of Actium

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Coin stamped about 31 B.C. commemorating the victory over Egypt, symbolized by a chained crocodile, and the twin victors at Actium, Octavian and Agrippa.

The Battle of Actium took place on September 2, 31 B.C. in the waters off Acarnania, Greece, in which a Roman naval force under Octavian scored a decisive victory over an Egyptian fleet under the command of Queen Cleopatra VII and the Roman triumvir Mark Antony. The battle would prove to be the last one in a short civil war between Octavian and renegade forces under Antony.

After he had learned that Roman territories in the eastern Mediterranean had been given to Cleopatra by Antony, as well as the disgraceful way Antony had divorced his sister, Octavian sent a force under his leading general Agrippa of 400 ships and 80,000 soldiers across the Ionian Sea and occupied Patrae, Corinth, and Ambracian Gulf; facing him to the south was Antony’s force of 500 ships and 70,000 men. In a short time Octavian would join them, and would cut off the Peloponnese and Antony’s communications with Egypt there. Due to the lack of unity among Antony’s generals, as well as Cleopatra’s insistence on being present at his headquarters, morale deteriorated and desertions increased as Antony’s men were forced back from their lines by Agrippa’s skillful maneuvering.

Forced to take some sort of decisive action, Antony took to sea and engaged his combined fleet against Octavian’s squadron. As each side out-maneuvered the other, it was unclear as to who was winning until, either deliberately or prearranged, Cleopatra took her Egyptian fleet and left the area; Antony, upon seeing this, ended his own engagement and fled with a few ships. The remainder of the naval and land forces soon surrendered to Octavian.

Both Antony and Cleopatra would survive the battle for a year in Egypt, severely-weakened militarily and awaiting the inevitable arrival of the Romans; both would commit suicide. Octavian built a monument dedicated to his victory at Actium, a primarily-block wall embedded with the bronze rams taken from the captured ships.

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