Marcus Antonius & Cleopatra

WHY WAS CONTROL OF THE EAST SO IMPORTANT TO ANTONY?

Marcus Antonius (83-30BC) has been linked often with the Queen of Egypt; in Roman histories, Shakespeare and Hollywood. The real Cleopatra was unfairly maligned by the patriarchal Romans as a femme fatale, not a powerful queen regnant. Rather than being her victim, Antonius had sound reason to want control of the eastern provinces, rather than just chasing stola.

In the early days of the Triumvirate, “Antony undertook to pacify the eastern provinces if Augustus led the veterans back to Italy.” {Suetonius Augustus II} This may have had something to do with defeating Julius Caesar’s assassins at Philippi, in Macedonia.

The major reason that Antonius wanted control of the east was the wealth of their cities, where he exacted much tribute. {Ward, Heichelheim, Yeo, p220} Hybreas commented: “If you can take tribute from us twice a year, no doubt you can give us two summers and two harvests.” {Plutarch Mark Antony IX}

After he met Cleopatra at Cilicia, as urged by Dellius, “she relied above all upon her physical presence and the speall and enchantment which it could create”. {Plutarch ibid} Love is one thing, there is also politics, power and wealth. “Each had something to gain by cooperating with the other: Cleopatra, the support of Roman arms against her rivals; Antonius, Egyptian wealth to defray the costs of a projected war against Parthia and rivalry with Octavian.” {Ward et al, p221} The wealth and grain supply of Egypt were now behind him.

Roman historians continued the story of Antonius’ extravagances while portraying the Egyptian Queen as a seductress. “Plato speaks of four kinds of flattery, but Cleopatra knew a thousand. Whether Antony’s mood were serious or gay [ie merry], she could always invent some fresh device to delight or charm him. She engrossed his attention utterly and never release him for an instant by day or by night.” {Plutarch ibid} It is possible the adulation that went with being the partner of a “divine” eastern potentate, went to his head somewhat.

In the end, controlling of the east and nothing there could save Antonius from being in the losing fleet in the Battle of Actium. Both he and Cleopatra would be vilified in histories written under the victor, who became the Emperor Augustus.

RESOURCES

Plutarchus, Lucius Mestrius. Makers of Rome. Middlesex: Penguin Classics, 1965.

Suetonius Tranquilis, Gaius. The Twelve Caesars. Middlesex: Penguin Classics, 1957.

Ward, Allen & Heichelhim, Fritz & Yeo, Cedric. A History of the Roman People: Fifth Edition. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010.

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