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Old August 11th, 2018, 05:43 PM   #1

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Changing Opinions: Mark Antony


For most of my life, I never really considered Marcus Antonius to be a particularly good general or statesman. At best, he was an above-average general who wasn't quite up to Caesar's level.

However, after reading Patricia Southern's Mark Antony: A Life, I am warming to Antony both as a general and a statesman.

1. Caesar was no fool, and if Cicero and Octavian's propaganda told the whole story about him, it is unlikely Caesar would have kept him around. Further, much modern opinion of Antony is based on Octavian's propaganda: Octavian made a significant effort to both blacken his name and erase much of his history.

2. He commanded larger formations than pretty much any previous Roman commander. At the battle of Phillipi, he commanded a combined army of about 108,000 (Octavian was sick in his tent). Not even Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus, Marian, Sulla or Pompey commanded such large formations. As far as I can tell, Antony commanded the largest army in Roman history up to that point and won.

3. At Mutina, he employed a Napoleonic strategy that nearly paid off. Being outnumbered about 2-1, he nearly won the tactical battle with quick maneuvering and won a strategic victory by avoiding encirclement and indirectly forcing the Republican-Octavian alliance to sign a treaty with him.

4. His Parthian Campaign was another near-success that could be attributed to Octavian breaking his promise to provide 20,000 soldiers. The two legions guarding his siege train might have succeeded with the equivalent of 4 additional legions of troops as protection.

5. There is strong evidence he would have won at Mutina if one of his generals had not betrayed him and his battle plan to Octavian.

6. There aren't many details about his Armenian campaign. None-the-less, it was a success, so much so that Octavian had to spin the victory as one not attributable to Antony's generalship but trickery and luck.

Antony the Statesman

1. In the aftermath of Caesar's murder, Antony managed to shore up Caesarian support and force the assassins into a compromise without blood. Rome was in a state of chaotic uncertainty and Antony managed to stabilize the government in a matter of weeks without using direct force.

2. His governance of the eastern provinces after Caesar's assassination was quite good. He managed to stabilize the eastern provinces after Brutus and Cassius taxed them into destitution. After Antony's suicide, Octavian didn't change many of Antony's policies or appointed client state rulers.

3. He didn't have dreams of absolute power, and was generally supportive of the Republic. Unlike Octavian, Antony largely supported a return to the Republic, at least more so than Octavian.

4. He generally acted in good faith toward Octavian. While both exchanged nasty propaganda, Antony supported Octavian against Sextus Pompey and other threats. The same could not be said for Octavian, who back stabbed Antony in regards to his Gallic provinces and in the Parthian campaign.

5. He was much more scholarly than pop culture portrays him. He studied philosophy and rhetoric in Athens, and returned to the learned Greek city on many occasions.

Certainly, Antony had many faults and vices. He was nowhere near the statesman or general that Julius Caesar was. As a general, he bears ultimate responsibility for the failure of the Parthian Campaign and his defeat at Actium. He enjoyed alcohol, whores and opium a little too much, and made a serious mess of things in Italy while Caesar was in Greece. Cleopatra likely did not have him "in her thrall" as he denied many of her requests. But it is likely she had an unhealthy influence on him.

Octavian and Cicero's propaganda do not tell the whole story, and it is unfortunate that much of what we know about Antony comes from what we can gleam from them. If Antony was a rank incompetent, it is doubtful Caesar would have kept putting him in trusted positions of authority.

Overall, Antony was in the upper 20th percentile of the generals of history and an above-average statesman whose successes were as dramatic as his failures. Mutina was almost his Austerlitz or Chancellorsville, and was still a strategic victory. His big failures like Parthia and Actium are at least partly attributable to Octavian's sabotage, either by denying him troops (borderline treasonous) or subverting his generals (fair enough in war).

Octavian and Cicero's attempt to destroy Antony in the eyes of future generations was not successful. Antony owes much to William Shakespeare for painting him as a great orator and romantic tragic hero in both Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. Charleton Heston's numerous portrayals are quite good, as was James Purefoy in the HBO series Rome.

Most importantly, if I were going to have a party with a bunch of strippers and booze, Mark Antony would certainly be invited before Julius Caesar, Cicero, Cato or Octavian. Of all the famous Romans of his era, he was probably the most fun to hang out with.
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Old August 11th, 2018, 06:07 PM   #2
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Great insight, frog. I knew very little about Mark Antony, and deemed him inferior than Octavian in both military and politics, and considered him "soft and weak" sometimes considering of Cleopatra's huge influence upon him. Your analyze changed my impression to him.

Perhaps Mark Antony was underrated too much, just like the Sengoku Era's Takeda Katsuyori, who was actually a great military commander and administrator even ended up like a loser.

The idiom said, "the victor writes history." Propaganda and popular culture had too much influence on our viewpoint somehow. So it's time for "revisionism" to come out and fix everything right in historiography.
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Old August 11th, 2018, 06:43 PM   #3
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I'll defer to all of you in regards to the historical Antony, but, based solely on how he was portrayed by Purefoy on HBO.... he's probably the most entertaining and fun Roman....ever
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Old August 11th, 2018, 06:45 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by Tokugawa Ieyasu View Post
Great insight, frog. I knew very little about Mark Antony, and deemed him inferior than Octavian in both military and politics, and considered him "soft and weak" sometimes considering of Cleopatra's huge influence upon him. Your analyze changed my impression to him.

.
I held the same opinion until reading Southern's biography. IMO, he was a far better soldier and general than Octavian. Octavian was the superior politician/statesman, but not nearly by the margin generally believed.

If Octavian was the "Napoleon of Political Maneuvering" then Antony's political acumen would make him the "Soult", "Ney" or "Massena" of Political Maneuvering.
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Old August 12th, 2018, 12:14 AM   #5

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I've always been pro-Antony, probably because I started with Plutarch ... who wants tell a morality tale and makes his military career look good. I forgot which author it is that talks about how he was educated in Athens in a particular style of speech-making that made a big enough impression that he was quoted or at least paraphrased. I think his speech after Caesar's death is discussed by a couple of authors. It turns the crowd around from "yeah! the tyrant is dead!!" to "GET THOSE MURDERERS!!"

You got me. I'll have to read that book. How did she explain "The Donations"? It's the one thing I can't get my head around. It makes no sense to me ... unless Antony just said "what the hell, the Civil War is ON!!!"

Did she talk about the controversy of the forged/modified will? There's at least one book on JSTOR about this, and a number of articles. Ocatavian (now Augustus) stole Antony's will from the vestals, took it home by himself to "examine" it, and then reads preposterous things to the Senate which ANY educated Roman knew would invalidate the will (inheritance to a non-citizen). There was a legitimate legal will, that Augustus modified to damn Antony (so the controversy goes) ... and the senators knew it

I started a post on searching Cicero's letters (no takers). There's one exchange that's available on the standard selection of letters: Antony politely/diplomatically asks for Cicero's assistance in the Senate .. Cicero OOOZES insincerity and possibly bitter sarcasm with his response. There's also a non-Cicero exchange between Augustus & Antony in Egypt: Augustus insults Cleopatra ... Antony replies with something like "you mean my wife of 9 years? You sleep with anything in a skirt ...." .... are there more references to letters? I hope?
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Old August 12th, 2018, 12:38 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by frogsofwar View Post
If Antony was a rank incompetent, it is doubtful Caesar would have kept putting him in trusted positions of authority.
This is exactly what I've always thought. There was no reason Caesar had to put up with Antony. Caesar did not approve of the civilian part of his life style, until he married Fulvia (quote at bottom). ANYWAY, he didn't like his private life but still continued to involve him with politics and military stuff.

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Originally Posted by frogsofwar View Post
Overall, Antony was in the upper 20th percentile of the generals of history and an above-average statesman whose successes were as dramatic as his failures.
Not from me, but I predict a backlash over this. There are some that take a dim view of Antony's military career after Gaul. Not exactly sure why they're so vehement.

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Originally Posted by frogsofwar View Post
Most importantly, if I were going to have a party with a bunch of strippers and booze, Mark Antony would certainly be invited before Julius Caesar, Cicero, Cato or Octavian. Of all the famous Romans of his era, he was probably the most fun to hang out with.
I don't think Antony is unusual in this. There are many examples in history of men with two sides: one a down-to-business, successful leader ... the other almost a 180 degree turn to some vice. Plutarch tells very nice stories of Cleopatra and Antony playing pranks on each other, sneaking around at night in Alexandria knocking on doors & running away ... as well as opulent parties when they were at the top ... and also when they knew it was all over. The pearl-dissolved-in-wine comes from Antony-time.

Caesar himself was a womanizer. Cleopatra wasn't his first queen. Allegedly, the military invented the phrase: "Caesar is every woman's man, and every man's woman." I think this was spawned from a single episode where he stayed "too long" with some king. This doesn't seem to bother anyone since the other side of the man was pretty spectacular.



Plutarch, of course:
"She was a woman [Fulvia] who took no thought for spinning or housekeeping, nor would she deign to bear sway over a man of private station, but she wished to rule a ruler and command a commander. Therefore Cleopatra was indebted to Fulvia for teaching Antony to endure a woman's sway, since she took him over quite tamed, and schooled at the outset to obey women."

Last edited by Dios; August 12th, 2018 at 12:51 AM.
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Old August 12th, 2018, 02:07 AM   #7

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Did she talk about the controversy of the forged/modified will? There's at least one book on JSTOR about this, and a number of articles. Ocatavian (now Augustus) stole Antony's will from the vestals, took it home by himself to "examine" it, and then reads preposterous things to the Senate which ANY educated Roman knew would invalidate the will (inheritance to a non-citizen). There was a legitimate legal will, that Augustus modified to damn Antony (so the controversy goes) ... and the senators knew it
The Donations weren't really news when the will was read. He openly announced them, and the Roman people weren't really that pissed. What really pissed them off was Antony not wanting to be buried in Rome and his potential plan to move the capitol, something Caesar had considered.

As far as the will goes, she emphasizes that Octavian was the only one that read it. There isn't a any evidence he falsified it, but it would have been in his benefit to spin it in the most negative light possible.
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Old August 12th, 2018, 02:46 AM   #8

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3. He didn't have dreams of absolute power, and was generally supportive of the Republic. Unlike Octavian, Antony largely supported a return to the Republic, at least more so than Octavian.
Now that's an interesting one. Whether he dreamt of such power is not known because he never achieved it but as a major warlord in the late republic he certainly worked toward it. He was also involved in a final contest with his triumviral stablemate Octavian, the result of which could only have resulted in personal power, and for that matter, he was already running the eastern empire as agreed by the Triumvirate. Further, his relationship with Cleopatra, whilst obviously pleasurable, had very strong political motives. Cleopatra wasn't out just to survive - she was Queen of Egypt and wanted to dominate, and her dalliances with Rome were attempts to use the power of SPQR to her advantage. Even if Marc Antony (Mark is the Germanic spelling BTW) wasn't out to rule, she was, and his association with her meant only one thing.
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Old August 12th, 2018, 05:40 AM   #9
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Plutarch says:
"It was his nature to rise to his highest level when in an evil plight, and he was most like a good and true man when he was unfortunate."

Antonius' enmity with Cicero goes back to the execution of his stepfather P Cornelius Lentulus (cos 71) for involvement in the conspiracy of Catiline. Lentulus had been Sullas' quaestor, and Antonys' grandfather had been executed by Marius and Cinna. Apparently, Curio (who also taught him other bad habits) and his mother Julia brought him to Caesars' attention.

Antonius also distinguished himself while serving under Gabinius, governor of Syria, both in Judaea and Egypt.

Last edited by Dentatus; August 12th, 2018 at 07:15 AM.
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Old August 12th, 2018, 10:04 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by Dios View Post
I've always been pro-Antony, probably because I started with Plutarch ... who wants tell a morality tale and makes his military career look good. I forgot which author it is that talks about how he was educated in Athens in a particular style of speech-making that made a big enough impression that he was quoted or at least paraphrased. I think his speech after Caesar's death is discussed by a couple of authors. It turns the crowd around from "yeah! the tyrant is dead!!" to "GET THOSE MURDERERS!!"

You got me. I'll have to read that book. How did she explain "The Donations"? It's the one thing I can't get my head around. It makes no sense to me ... unless Antony just said "what the hell, the Civil War is ON!!!"

Did she talk about the controversy of the forged/modified will? There's at least one book on JSTOR about this, and a number of articles. Ocatavian (now Augustus) stole Antony's will from the vestals, took it home by himself to "examine" it, and then reads preposterous things to the Senate which ANY educated Roman knew would invalidate the will (inheritance to a non-citizen). There was a legitimate legal will, that Augustus modified to damn Antony (so the controversy goes) ... and the senators knew it

I started a post on searching Cicero's letters (no takers). There's one exchange that's available on the standard selection of letters: Antony politely/diplomatically asks for Cicero's assistance in the Senate .. Cicero OOOZES insincerity and possibly bitter sarcasm with his response. There's also a non-Cicero exchange between Augustus & Antony in Egypt: Augustus insults Cleopatra ... Antony replies with something like "you mean my wife of 9 years? You sleep with anything in a skirt ...." .... are there more references to letters? I hope?
Historians tend to pedastalize Cicero. While I generally have a positive attitude toward Cicero and Octavian (even while warming to Antony), Cicero was still a politician with his own agenda. He was willing to engage in dirty politics almost as much as his colleagues. Although he was generally more honest during his governorships, he was not above the fray.
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