Childhood & Early Life
Mark Antony was born on 14 January 83 BC in a family of plebian Antonia gens. His father, Marcus Antonius Creticus, was known to be an ineffective and corrupt military commander and his mother, Julia Antonia, was distantly related to Julius Caesar. His grandfather who had the same name as his father was a consul and orator of considerable repute.
Given the task of battling pirates in the Mediterranean, Mark Antony’s father expired in Crete in 71 BC leaving Mark, and his brothers, Lucius and Gaius, in the care and custody of Julia, who subsequently remarried. Mark’s stepfather, Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura who belonged to the old Patrician nobility was later executed on the orders of Consul Cicero for his involvement in the second Catilinarian conspiracy.
As befitting a young man of a distinguished family, Mark Antony received an education that focused on skills required for a successful career in politics like the art of public speaking, objective thinking and analysis from multiple angles.
While young Antony displayed all the skills that would serve him good in later life; he was brave, loyal, athletic, and attractive, he was also somewhat lazy, reckless, and too fond of gambling, drinking and carousing as well as scandalous liaisons with the opposite sex.
In 58 BC, in a bid to escape from his creditors, Mark Antony fled to Greece, where he studied military strategy, philosophy, and rhetoric.
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At the behest of the Roman general Aulus Gabinius, Mark Antony joined a military expedition against Syria in 57 BC. Proving to be an able cavalry commander, he stayed on with Gabinius to subdue revolts in Egypt against Ptolemy XII.
His military skills having come to prominence, Julius Caesar called on him to join him in 54 BC to fight in Gaul. Though he excelled in battle, his appetite for luxury, drink and carnal excesses estranged him from Caesar as well as other officers.
Mark Antony fiercely supported Caesar and his populist politics in the Senate along with long-time friend, Curio, using his oratory skills to good effect. Rejected and hounded by the Senate, he and Curio, disguised as servants, fled to Gaul in 49 BC to join Caesar. The incensed Caesar marched to Rome and was able to take it without a fight.
Caesar appointed Antony the administrator of Rome while he left to fight Pompey in Spain. Unfortunately, even though Antony was a brilliant military commander, he had neither the skill nor the interest required of an able administrator.
Even though Antony was administratively incompetent, he managed to keep the supply lines to Caesar open for sending reinforcements. In 48 BC, Antony left Rome in the care of Lepidus and went to Greece to join Caesar, where he helped him to defeat Pompey the Great at the Battle of Pharsalus by commanding the left wing of Caesar’s cavalry.
While Caesar chased Pompey to Egypt, Antony returned to Rome, however, he was so ineffective an administrator that Caesar replaced him with Lepidus upon returning from Egypt in 46 BC. Nevertheless, Antony inveigled himself back into Caesar’s favor within a couple of years and even became a consul, the highest administrative position in the Roman government.
After Caesar was brutally assassinated in 44 BC, Antony seized the lead in trying to turn public opinion against the conspirators and took charge of Rome once more. The appearance of Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian), Caesar’s 19-year-old heir, was unexpected and the two became instant adversaries, disagreeing mainly on the spending of funds.
Outsmarted both intellectually and politically by Octavian, Antony fled with his forces to Gaul, where he was defeated in battle by Octavian’s army. After the joint forces of Octavian and Antony vanquished Brutus and Cassius in the two battles of Philippi, in a peace offering, Octavian included Antony and Lepidus in ‘The Second Triumvirate’, as it is known today, to together rule the Roman Empire; Octavian ruled the west, Lepidus, Africa, and Antony governed the east, while Italy was ruled jointly.
Arriving at Tarsus in 41 BC, Antony summoned Cleopatra VII, then the queen of Egypt, to appear before him and pay a handsome penalty for sedition against Rome. However, Cleopatra very cunningly manipulated her arrival in such a way that Antony was smitten by her.
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Even though Antony was at that time married to Fulvia, he had an affair with Cleopatra and treated her as his wife long before he actually married her. After the death of Fulvia, while trying to overthrow Octavian, Antony, in a bid to hold together their fast-deteriorating relationship agreed to marry Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Even as the two married in October 40 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to Antony’s twin children, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene.
The passing of the years saw further worsening of the relationship between Antony and Octavian; Antony continued his involvement with Cleopatra while remaining legally married to Octavia.
In 37 BC, Antony sent back Octavia to Rome and even when she returned a couple of years later to meet Antony in Athens with supplies, troops, and money, Antony rebuffed her and had her sent back to Rome again.
Leaving Athens, Antony successfully defeated the Armenian forces and annexed Armenia to Rome. However, instead of proceeding to Rome to celebrate his triumph, he went to Alexandria to appear in a grand parade with Cleopatra by his side.
In 32 BC, he divorced Octavia and officially ceded regions to Cleopatra and their children. Simultaneously, he proclaimed Caesarion, Cleopatra’s older child by Julius Caesar as Caesar’s legitimate heir, publicly daring Octavian’s right to rule.
Responding to the challenge, Octavian, using a mix of fact and fiction, strategically persuaded the Senate to declare war on Cleopatra instead of Antony; in 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra’s forces were defeated in Battle of Actium by Octavian’s army led by General Agrippa. Over the ensuing year, Antony would fight a number of smaller, but none the less futile, battles with the forces of Octavian.
In 30 BC, believing in a rumor that Cleopatra was dead, Antony stabbed himself and died in Cleopatra’s arms. A heart-broken Cleopatra poisoned herself and committed suicide.
Personal Life & Legacy
Born into an aristocratic family, Mark Antony lost his father at an early age and thus grew up with little parental supervision. He fell into bad company and adopted a profligate lifestyle that resulted in him accumulating an enormous debt.
Blessed with enormous skills in military strategy and oratory, he never lost his affinity for an easy life, drink, and women that often brought him disgrace.
During his lifetime, he married five times; his first wife was Fadia, followed by Antonia, Fulvia, Octavia, and Cleopatra. His love affair with Cleopatra was the cause of his ultimate downfall.
With Fadia, he had several children, with Antonia, one daughter, with Fulvia, two sons, with Octavia two daughters, and with Cleopatra, two sons, and a daughter.
He was related to as many as three Roman emperors: Caligula, Claudius and Nero through his daughters with Octavia and to the Mauretanian royal family through his daughter by Cleopatra.