Octavian, Anthony and Cleopatra: Propaganda and the ‘Myth of Actium'

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Workshop 1

Octavian, Anthony and Cleopatra: Propaganda and the ‘Myth of Actium'

The creation and subsequent sustaining of the ‘Myth of Actium' is one of the greatest examples of the use of mass propaganda in the ancient world. While scholars such as Murray question the impact that the re-instigation of games at Nikopolis and the extension of the temple of Apollo at Actium would have on the political situation in Rome, its emergence, however, seems to have occurred around 20 BC, a time at which Octavian Augustus has officially restored the Republic (27 BC) and resigned his position as consul, instead holding office as Tribune of the Plebs. The Augustan version of the battle of Actium is one that is displayed by the three passages. They see Octavian and Antony facing each other as men equal in stature and skill, and the subsequent battle one of epic proportions fought with skill and courage, qualities that were the backbone of Rome's magnificence. We see Antony's triumphs as a General lauded and the focus of hate being Cleopatra, guilty of being an enemy off Rome and enchanting one of her best generals. This contrasts readily with the accounts of the battle which we take to be unaffected by myth and legend. Dio describes a battle lacking much bite, with troops suffering from disease and Antony fleeing leaving his troops at the mercy of Octavian. While Octavian had to push on to Egypt before Antony was finally defeated, Actium was decisive in the political battle. We are told that following the surrender of Antony's troops the last of Antony's allies realised that their cause was lost. The way in which we see characters and motives portrayed by the passages often recreates historical fact in order to provide a more useful image that can be accepted by the Roman people. With Antony, we are able to see the shift in the way in which he and his role are projected. The passage taken from Plutarch' Parallel Lives shows Octavian attempting to secure political...
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