Actium: Battle, Campaign, Turning Point

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Abstract

Periodization is an important tool for all historians, but used unwisely it fosters misconceptions and is at best unhelpful . This essay – bringing together thoughts and ideas from my thinking about Actium – will evaluate different potential ways of approaching Actium : as a battle engaged on 2 September 31 BCE ; a campaign victory ; a catalyst for the transition from Republic to Principate (signifying continuity) ; a main « Augustan » turning-point (a singular event) , or, bringing it all together, as an idea (never static, of victory and peace) and as the foundation myth of the Augustan Principate. Let us start by stating the obvious : Actium was the main turning-point in the war against Cleopatra and Antonius, certainly so from a military point of view. It was also what made monarchy possible, inasmuch as it signified the main defeat of Young Caesar’s enemies. This is where the war was decided . It was declared as a « foreign » war in 32 BCE, against Egypt and Cleopatra – Cassius Dio nicely underscores the official narrative of the Augustan regime when he states that the war was declared against Cleopatra, but was in reality against Antonius – but later it was (also) turned into a civil war by Antonius, helping Cleopatra. Antonius was deprived of all of his powers and of the consulship, which he was due to hold in 31 BCE and was now a privatus ; if he were to take up arms against Young Caesar and the res publica, he would declare war on the state and thus declare himself a hostis, and consequently no official hostis declaration was needed. Finally the wars – civil and foreign – were ended by Young Caesar at Actium 31 BCE, with a postscript at Alexandria 30 BCE . ... ...
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilippe Le Doze (ed.) Le costume de Prince. Regards sur une figure politique de la Rome antique d’Auguste à Constantin
PublisherÉcole française de Rome
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021
SeriesMélanges de l'École française de Rome - Antiquité
ISSN0223-5102

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