Augustus Caesar was the first Roman Emperor and officially held this title from 27 B.C until his death in AD 14. It was to endure until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 heralded the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. Historians typically suggest that the Empire reached its peak in AD 117 when it was deemed to be Western Civilization’s most extensive social and political structure. In AD 285, the Emperor Diocletian elected to divide the vast empire into West and East and named Maximian as a senior co-emperor.
The Empire in the West officially fell in AD 476 with Romulus Augustus named as the last emperor even though he wasn’t recognized as such by Zeno, the Emperor in the East. The Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantium Empire, lasted until 1453 with Constantine XI the final ruler. In this article, I will look at 6 battles that had a significant impact on the Western and Eastern Roman Empires beginning with the battle that started it all.
1 – Battle of Actium (31 B.C)
When Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C, Rome fell into a civil war that threatened the existence of the Republic. The Second Triumvirate (made up of Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony) was formed in order to calm things down. The empire was divided into three parts with Mark Antony taking over in the eastern provinces. He was seduced by Cleopatra who slowly but surely increased her influence over him. Mark Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia in order to keep the peace but separated from her in 37 B.C and went back East where Cleopatra was waiting for him with twins (a boy and a girl).
Octavian saw Mark Antony as a threat and began to launch a propaganda campaign and declared war on Cleopatra in 31 B.C as he felt he had the support of Rome. Octavian enjoyed early successes in the war and things came to a head on 2 October 31 B.C when his fleet clashed with Mark Antony’s at Actium in Greece. After an intense naval battle, Octavian’s fleet, led by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, achieved victory as Cleopatra broke from the engagement and fled to Egypt with 60 ships. Mark Anthony quickly followed and his fleet fell to defeat.
Actium was the beginning of the end for Mark Antony although it took another year for Octavian to track him down in Alexandria, Egypt. Mark Antony actually won the initial battle but when more of his men deserted, he had no chance and Octavian captured the city in a second attack. Mark Antony committed suicide on 1 August 30 B.C and Cleopatra followed suit soon after. Octavian had rival heirs executed and annexed Egypt as a Roman province.
He was to become Augustus Caesar and Rome’s ‘First Citizen’. His victory at Actium more or less ended the Roman Republic and transitioned it into an empire. He was officially given the name Augustus by the Senate on 16 January 27 B.C and became the first Emperor of Rome; an empire that was to rule in the West for over 500 years and was to endure in one form or another for almost 1,500 years.