Marcus Antonius (83 BC – 30 BC)
Mark Antony was a distant relative of Julius Caesar through his mother who was Caesar’s cousin. He had the physique of a gladiator, bearing resemblance to Hercules from whom he claimed descendancy. In his early years, he wandered the the streets of Rome with his two younger brothers, Gaius and Lucius, and other friends. The historical record indicates that his closest friend may have been Gaius Scribonius Curio.
Because of the recklessness of his youth, Antony amassed a huge debt. Not being able to satisfy his creditors, he fled to Greece and shortly thereafter was recruited to fight with the Egyptians against Judea. He exhibited great bravery and daring, especially when he was leading cavalry charges. His military talents and fighting abilities were unfortunately matched by his personal depravity. His behavior was inconsistent. He could be at once generous and then tight-fisted. He was a talented speaker who could rally people to his cause, but would soon lose their support by a change in direction or lack of purpose. In these times and thereafter, it was said of him that he was most dangerous when all was against him.
In 54 BC, Antony joined Caesar in Gaul where he became his valued military commander as well as his personal friend. Later, he commanded Caesar’s right wing in the battle of Pharsalus, Greece, in which he was instrumental in supporting Caesar in his defeat of Pompey the Great.
When Caesar went on to Spain to finish off the remnants of Pompey’s army, he sent Antony to Rome as his representative to rule Italy in his absence. Unfortunately, Antony’s lifestyle of excessive self-indulgence and debauchery caused great unhappiness in Rome. The citizens rebelled. Soon there were uprisings which Antony put down with violence, his soldiers killing citizens in the streets. When Caesar returned to Rome, he became unhappy with Antony, and the two became alienated even though Caesar did his best to handle Antony with a gentle and forgiving spirit.
In 50 BC, Antony’s close friend, Curio, became a tribune and shortly thereafter died in war. Over a year later, Antony married Curio’s wealthy and politically powerful widow, Fulvia, who was a tough, domineering, and ambitious woman. She managed to settle Antony down, some of it by helping him with his financial problems.
During this time, Antony was approached by Caius Trebonius who hinted at a plot to assassinate Caesar. Antony understood Trebonius’ meaning. He walked away from it and remained loyal to Caesar, but he did not make Caesar aware of the intended plot.
In 44 BC, Antony and Caesar reconciled when Caesar chose him as his partner consul for that year, the two ruling Rome together. In February, at the festival of Lupercalia, Antony offered Caesar a crown, which he refused, thereby making a symbolic gesture that he did not want to be king.
On the Ides March, 44 BC, while Caesar was being assassinated inside Pompey’s Hall, Antony was detained on the portico outside by Caius Trebonius. That evening, Antony had dinner with Cassius, one of the leaders of the assassination plot, while Lepidus, the Master of the Horse, had dinner with Marcus Brutus the other leader. The next day, Antony called the Senate to a meeting to let them decide what to do about Caesar. During the meeting he manipulated the Senate into declaring Caesar an innocent victim and not a tyrant, but he sought no charges against his murderers.
In the following days, great sympathy grew among the Roman citizens and the soldiers who loved Caesar. Antony then changed his political strategy and gave a fiery funeral oration for Caesar which rallied the people against Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators.
All now seemed to be going Antony’s way, but he could not have imagined how Caesar’s assassination had stirred the vengeful spirit of Caesar’s cunning and dangerous eighteen-year-old great nephew, Octavian, who’d been far away at a military camp in Apollonia, Illyricum (current Albania), at the time of the assassination.