Towards desicive battle – night 1.9.31 BC
Night passed on slowly on both sides because everybody was nervous and thinking forthcoming – were the decisions made by commanders surely correct? Officers were doing last preparations for battle. Weapons – javelins, arrows, bows – were loaded into war-galleys so that there would be enough killing tools for long lasting battle. On both sides officers inspected war-machines – scorpions, ballistas, catapults – whether their location was right and could they shoot arrows and stones efficiently. So sleepless night went on slowly when unrest men counted seconds. Moon travelled lonely through dark skies towards west. Early in the morning especially on Antonys side also men – legionaries and auxiliers – were loaded on ship decks to wait start of the big fight – battle of the century! This was the case because Antony and Octavian had prepared for this fight more than ten years! On Antony’s side men wondered why masts were left to stand on decks of some ships. Most of those war-galleys with masts were Cleopatra’s but also some war-galleys that Athony was leading, were left to stand with masts. Everybody wondered why? The masts were only preventing ship to fight and they made also ship more difficult to control for rowers. And maybe the worst thing was that they could catch easily fire and were preventing also catabults and scorpions to shoot enemy ships efficiently. So why were the masts left? There had to be some trickery on that everybody thought! But Antony and Cleopatra had earlier agreed about that matter. Only few most important commanders – legates – knew about their decisions. Only few could figure what could happen in the afternoon, when fast winds were starting to blow over the bay from inland!
Already some days the weather had been very bad. It had been raining and winds have been blowing too hard. But next morning – the augurs told – it would be a beautiful day! Suitable day for some 300 000 men to fight for honor, glory and power. It would be a perfect day for brave men of Rome to fight who would rule the Latin world – Antony or Octavian! and it would also be a perfect day for Roman men to die! Because Antony had already decided to fight tomorrow, he had started to burn all ships that he could not take with him next day. He did not want Octavian to get anything for free – in case he would lose the fight. Therefore heavy and thick smoke was raising into dark skies from Antony’s camp from early evening to all night. It was not difficult to draw conclusions for Octavian spies – Antony would attack tomorrow, they knew! Day before Antony had decided to fight with his fleet and left infantry and cavalry stay on shore. All the rest he could not pack into his ships, were left aside to watch the game of century – like spectacles in athletes games. Antony had decided that he would divide his fleet in four part. The right wing would be led by Publicola, left wing by Sosius and center by Insteius and Octavius. Cleopatra would be left behind with his fleet as a fourth line. Antony placed himself just to the hinge point of his right wing and center. Antony had invented in his mind a clever idea – or so he thought.
So the night went on and men waited impatiently the battle to start. Several months there had been small fights and they have been moving from one place to another – it was now time to have a final victory! The decisive one! And when morning came Canidius – the cavalry commander of Antony – was standing in sorrow on the high rock at the shore. He had a veteran army – experienced and magnificent with big numbers. But still Cleopatra had succeeded to push him aside and now battle was going to be solved on the sea. And Antony knew nothing about fighting at the sea! And Canidius could only wait – despite his all skills and experience. Cleopatra’s eyes and lips were too much for Antony and had been too long, Canidius thought.
Waiting for the battle to start
So the morning of September second came and everything was ready for big play. All the pieces were in gameboard. Also in that morning Marcus Claudius Porsenna was standing on the deck of his war-galley – quinquireeme. He had been watching the bay already early in the morning. When he looked the sky he saw that this would be one of the mighty Gods blessed mornings. Sun was shining brightly and sky was glowing in deep blue – how beautiful morning this was in the city of Rome he thought. But his face was without a sign – it was like cut in the stone, because he felt that this day gods would drink blood – blood of Roman soldiers. And he stood without a smile as serious as he could be and just looked the mouth of the bay. When would Antony attack from the bay into open sea! His own quinquireeme was floating a little bit with small waves and he waited….like hundreds of other ships of Octavian. All were waiting when will it start!
Marcus felt lousy this morning! It was not fear but something else. It was like he would have known that today something was happening differently. Another way than it had happened tens of times. He was already in his fifties and he had seen all the great wars. Gallic wars and civil wars with Caesar. Then at the time of second triumphfirate he took part to second civil war with Antony and Octavian – then together against Brutus and Cassius. He had hoped that he would not have seen this day, but he was wise and knew better. Already for long he had known that this day would come – once. But still he had hoped that he would not have seem this day here! This was not his war but war of two greedy and rich patrician’s – not his war! But he knew that soon he would have to kill other Romans – again. And he hated that thought. But he had sworn to Octavian to help him again – this time the last time. And as he was a very serious in his mind, he was as honest! He would keep his promise and take what was to come. So he waited again in this morning to be able to fulfill his oath to Octavian. And then it came again that odd feeling! It was like his sixth sense would have warned him from something. And then he discovered it! Now really something was happening totally different way! Because this time he had not heard in his ears the silent voices of his past friends! Since Philippi he had have that strange choir of silent voices to giving him courage before battles. Those spirits had been whispering to his ears in their silent way the words of comfort and countenance. And he knew that those voices were his past friends and comrades. Once alive as he today but now already dead after so many battles. Because Marcus was a real veteran – there were not many anymore like him – he had lost so many comrades to Orchus – The God of death! And Marcus sighed slowly – where were his friends now? Why they were not giving him strength to last the becoming ordeal! And he thought silently in his mind.
“Maybe they just suffered too much in past civil wars and they will stay quiet today.”
”Maybe they just don’t want to see this day anymore – brother to kill brother!”
”Maybe this is just so wrong!” his voice answered down deep inside.
Even his best friend Rufio – already past long time ago – was no more whispering to him! Nor dead Petreius. Nor dead Appius. Neither dead Lucius! And nobody from so many other dead! This all made him feel very comfortless! If his dead friends do not whisper him courage this day – like earlier days – surely it meant something! Will he also be dead after this battle? He shook his head and said to himself in his mind.
”This is my ordeal! I can not escape. I must take my destiny here and fulfill it!”
“And I need to do this also for Aurelia!”
”Alone or not but I will fight today against my old friend Anthony” he thought.
All his life he had loved Aurelia but she had never responded to his feelings even though they had been friends for so long time. That celtic woman with long blond hair had excited his hopes and been his destiny. Even though he had saved that beautiful natural woman several times in the turmoil of Gallic wars, she just did not love him. But with time he had accepted his fate and he started to think that he and his kind were born to change Rome to something else. He and his commrades had been the huge power that had made city-state of Rome to an huge empire! But he was here today because he knew that by helping Octavian to win this battle, he could secure also Aurelia’s future – that was the only reason for him to be here! And he let his thoughts to fly long away…
Sun went on and soon it was high in the sky and it was already starting to be high noon. Still Octavian fleet floated alone in front of the bay waiting silently – will it be today? But nothing happened – not until high noon was past.
Suddenly many trumpets were heard and Marcus was sharpening his view. What is happening! And then – one by one Antony’s fleet started to come out from the bay of Actium in front of the sea shore. Thousands of hand pairs were moving oars and rowed war-galleys forward. When Octavian’s men saw the ships they also blew trumpets and those ships that were still in harbor in isles of Leycas and Korkyra took their men aboard and started to row to their places in front of the bay. Marcus saw that one by one Antony’s ships organized to left and right wing and center. And then last came fleet of Cleopatra from bay to build the fourth line behind others and they remained waiting. It was now clear – battle will took place, Marcus knew! Same time as Antony’s ships took their places one by one very near the shore, Agrippa organized his fleet in the same way. In Octavian side Agrippa was the commander of whole fleet and hold the left wing, Arruntius was in the center with veteran Marcus Claudius Porsenna and right wing was led by Lurius and Octavian. After an hour there were two lines floating on the sea in front of each other’s – just waiting the battle to start. But nothing happened! It was silent as those two lines just waited the other one to do something. So the fleets stared each others from some 200 meters distance, when waves were floating ships peacefully. It was silent! First half an hour went by and then a whole hour – but still everybody waited. Reason for that was evident. Antony had only some 230 galleys but Octavian over 400 – but smaller. Antony was wise and he wanted to keep his fleet near shore that Agrippa – who was the commander of Octavian fleet – could not get around his flanks. In open sea Octavian’s smaller but more numerous ships would get around Antony’s flanks and attack on his back. And of course Agrippa had same thought. He hoped that Antony would attack carelessly as was his nature. But high noon got past and still all ships waited silently and stared each others. But something else was already happening. Little by little wind was awakening and started to blow from inland to open sea. That was the moment what Antony had waited. Antony was also standing on the deck of huge war-galley – deceres – and felt a cautious wind blowing over his hair. First it was difficult to say the difference but then it finally was easy to feel – wind was getting stronger and stronger! Then it happened. Antony gave a sign and his messenger blew trumpet and with the sign a special flag was raised up to mast – it was an order to attack! And suddenly all his war galleys – right, center and left put the oars in water and started to row forward. First slowly but then every pull harder and harder.
And so the battle of century finally started! Antony aimed his own ship on the hinge point of Octavian’s fleets left wing and center. He wanted to tear a big hole to this point on Agrippa’s line. So the might deceres – high, big and strong war-galley was moving faster and faster towards the enemy. Drums were beating faster rhythm, when the drummer gave signs for rowers how rapid they needed to pull oars. Antony was getting ready to achieve the ramming speed – as tens of his vessels were doing. At the same time many of Antony’s ships started to shoot burning fireballs and burning arrows of scorpions to destroy enemy ships. Antony’s tactic was to set soon fire as many ships of Octavian fleet as possible. But Octavian fleet was replying to fire and soon air was full of fireballs of catapults and thick arrows of scorpions. And the outcome was devastating! Very soon some of the ships received several hits and started to burn in high flames – and sink! Burning men were screaming and jumping over ship boards to be saved at least from flames. Soon burning war-galleys were drifting here and there and causing both panic and disorder among still fighting ships. But fight continued when Antony’s war-galleys were getting nearer to Octavian ships – soon the sound of breaking blanks would fill the air when battering rams would hit wooden ship flanks! Agrippa has advised his fleet first to draw back little bit and let Antony’s huge new fighting galleys push inside Octavian lines. Then when Antony’s ships were further in deep waters they should circle them and hit hard! Like pack of wolfs against bear! Agrippa new that his smaller war-galleys were faster and easier to move by rowers and he had nearly twice more ships!
Even though ships of Octavian fleet tried to avoid hits of battering rams, all were not lucky enough! Still Antony’s ships suceeded to hit some wooden ship flanks in Octavian side causing terrible destruction. The long and thick iron poles were like bee stingers when they hit flanks of wooden ships. Those ships that received strong hits of battering ram were shaken and their men flew over board and sea water started to flow into ships through broken blanks. Frightened rowers – those who still were alive – tried to get up on deck simultaneously to save themselves and devastating panic took hold from the whole ship. Men were just trying to escape from sinking ship, which made them easy target for enemy’s slingers and bowmen to shoot escaping men to dead. And after ramming had taken place and ship was sunken, helpless and frightened men were just floating around in the sea among the burning rubbish. At least those who did not die at once or sink in the bottom of the sea. Now in the midst of battle swearing and screaming of dying soldiers was heard from every where.
So the battle took it shape fast when among the burning galleys Antony’s new big ships were pushing deep inside Octavian fleet which was retreating. Maybe somebody already thought that Octavian fleet was full of weaklings. But how wrong they were! Because during the sea battles in Naulochus against Sextus, Agrippa had created a fleet with skillful leaders and rowers. Therefore his men were able to manage difficult maneuvers. And soon Antony realized that. After first being the hunter, his ships founded themselves later to be hunted. Four to six quinquireemes were everywhere circling Antony’s war-galleys and they had to fight against enemy coming from several direction at same time! Even though Antony’s big and slower ships were still able to sink smaller ships of Octavian by throwing stones and burning tar-balls from up to downwards, they also started to suffer. Battering rams of Agrippa’s ships were hitting them over and over again from different sides causing Antony’s sluggish ships crucial damages – some of them were doomed to sink! And soon also corvus-bridges were laid down from different direction onto Antony’s ship decks so that Agrippa’s men could attack from both sides at same time and seize their prey. Therefore Antony’s ships found themselves soon to be in terrible close combat on the decks, when Agrippa’s men charged them to fight from life to death
In the midst of battle
Marcus Claudius Porsenna had carefully gazed Antony’s flagship – deceres – which Antony personally was leading. It was not difficult to see amongst other ships, because it was so huge and magnificent. He had promised Octavian personally to prevent Antony’s attack. So he followed the orders of Agrippa and let Antony first to proceed amongst their line and retreated themselves. After some minutes he gave a sign with a flag and five other war-galleys joined him to attack against Antony’s flagship. They were trying to annihilate Antony by hammering his boat by combined hits from both sides. Marcus was roaring order to drummer to hit more rapidly to get his ship in the ramming speed. So his quinquireeme was speeding up to get high enough force to destroy Antony’s deceres right flank. Marcus glimpsed his ships rear, because he had already received one hit from fireball of enemy’s catapult. This time he was lucky and hit was not serious and his men could put out the fire. So only some smoke and black blanks were left from fire and his ships was soon getting ready ready to ramming speed. All the six ships were getting ready on ramming speed and after some seconds they hit heavily to Antony’s ships flanks and couple of the hits were very serious. Blanks were broken loudly and iron poles were penetrated far into Antonys ship at waterfront – so now water started to flow rapidly inside the ship. Antony’s deceres was doomed and he was himself shouting curses for Octavian! His face started to turn red from blood pressure when he saw his men falling down on ship deck – some were badly hurt. Antony’s rowers could not even get rid of quinquireemes of Marcus because iron poles were attached firmly to Antony’s ship. Now they all were connected to one big mess of ships with broken oars. Antony roared commands and soon after ramming fire-balls and stones started to rain over smaller and lower Octavian quinquireemes from higher deceres. Antony wanted to sink those small fleeces and kill their men because he was ´so furious! He saw his ships to be doomed but especially he was taken by outrage of the attack. How did these weaklings dare to attack a Roman consul – because he was still a consul! At least in his mind. Soon two of quinquereemes got severe hits and started to burn and sank. Agrippa’s men were jumping from their ship decks to see where most of them were hunted down By Antony’s bowmen. Battle was getting ruthless. Just huge and loud choir of voices floating in the sea were asking help and praying their gods to save them – but with no luck. Rapidly after ramming Marcus also shout orders to his men and all Octavian ships let their corvus to hit Antony’s ship deck. But Antony had a big surprise. He had let his ship’s deck to be covered by metal at sides, so the hook of corvus did not get any grip but fell down. But Marcus asked his men to try and try again and then Antony saw Marcus! Now he got even more furious! Because Marcus Claudius Porsenna had been his comrade in Gaulic wars and Caesars army. And now he was attacking to him in the army of that young worm Octavian!
”Traitor!” Antony roared and pointed Marcus with his sword.
”I will kill you traitor” he continued to scream!
Marcus noticed Antony’s reaction and was not surprised. He held also himself as a traitor but traitor with good reason. He attacked now to his old friend to save his closest friends in Rome! Tullius and Aurelia! Even though no sign was seen in Marcus face he was feeling bad. Because this war was not his own but he had to help Octavian to win – because of his loved ones. But he admitted himself that he was a traitor – he had always felt in his younger times that Antony was his friend. But when Marcus saw that two of his quinquireemes were starting to sink, he roared again to his remaining ships to try again to conquer Antony’s ship by making fast charge onto it’s deck. But at same time Antony let his corvus fell down on the deck of quinquireemes and Antony’s legionaries started to run onto the ship deck of Marcus. Now started a furious close combat and blood was running from open wounds on ship deck! Men were throwing spears, shooting arrows and hitting opponents by their gladiolus-swords. It was pure and evil killing of hated enemy! But who would finally win? Marcus knew that Antony’s vast ships hold much more men than his own ships – was the outcome for him to be too mortal? But he had to stop Antony!
Heros meet at last in the battle of Actium
War-Tribune Marcus Claudius Porsenna shouted commands for his men when Antony’s legionaries and mariners rushed out from their huge war galley and hit the deck of quinquireeme. It was like a tsunami had hit the ship of Marcus when hundreds of warriors rolled over the quinquireeme. Now the decisive battle had really started and only the winners would find their way out of here. Air was filled with stabbing swords, cloud of arrows and hits of spears. Soon blood started to run on the deck when Roman warriors were tearing each other’s apart, thus causing severe wounds and ripped guts to their opponents. Before the battle Marcus had felt very bad and felt some fear, because he knew that omens were indeed gloomy for him – that has been told to him by Roman Augurs earlier. But now after action had started the crazy fighting spirit had filled Marcus again and he shouted and roared to his men to continue fighting back. Once again he was full of anger and hatred for taking part to so many battles earlier – and so in vain. Therefore now again the old war horse lifted its head inside him and once again he became a cold blooded and savage murderer – as he had been in Alesia, Pharsalos, Munda and Philippoi. He killed all men opposing him without hesitation with just pure reflects – as he had learned during so many years. So he threw spears against attackers and hit the enemies with his big Spatha-sword without any fear. He just wanted to take with him as many enemies as possible – and he had promised for Octavian to stop his friend Marc Antony! And that promise he would keep! With same time – when fighting against Antony’s men in his deck – he shouted and signed for two other Octavian quinquireemes to continue their attack to destroy and sink Antony’s big flag ship – deceres. And from fast glimpse he saw that they were succeeding to secure stopping of Antony, because deceres seemed already to burn with high flames from rear and it started to incline. And also Marcus saw that same time when Antony stormed his ship the men of other two quinquireemes were attacking on the deck of deceres by help of corvus brow. So all in all several ships were now stucked together and fighting against each others like a bunch of wild wolves from prey.
Also Agrippa was looking at the right wing what was happening on center. He saw that his center lines had attacked daringly and brutally against Antony and succeeded to draw him to consuming and bloody fight. Agrippa saw that flames were rising high from ships around Antony’s flagship. He saw also that close combat had already started and men were fighting brutally who is going to be the winner of the day. It was not difficult for Agrippa to guess what was happening. He knew well Marcus Claudius Porsenna from past and knew that this old loyal veteran would always keep his promise. And he had given an oath for Octavian to slay his old friend Antony to save Rome – and his friends in Rome. And Agrippa knew well that now this all experienced veteran was fulfilling his oath by charging Antony’s big deceres with all his smaller quinquireemes. And he knew that right now Roman blod was flowing as river when Roman legionaries fought against each others. And he said in his mind…
“Marcus … you old stubborn man. Why did you not withdraw more and give him more space? Did you had to attack so soon!”
“Try to get from there alive…” Agrippa prayed in his mind the Roman god of war – Mars the Avenger.
Antonius strikes back
So Antony was yelling more of his men to attack on the deck of Marcus ship and finally they succeeded to push Marcus Claudius Porsenna with his remaining men towards the rear of the ship. Now also Antony jumped on the deck of quinquireeme and headed towards Marcus on the rear. He roared to Marcus with face full of hate.
“You traitor…soon you end up on the bottom of the sea!”
“And then I will kill all you friends in Rome like I once did for Cicero!”
“I will nail their heads on Senate’s door’s – you worm!”
“Come on old friend… I am waiting you!” Marcus answered to Antony’s threads.
“Do you want to take it man to man!” he continued.
So both men were watching some seconds each others with eyes full of hate and wanted to solve this quarrel at once. Then Antony yelled his men and promised 1000 sesterces from the head of Marcus and thus his men attacked at once even more furiously. Now things were going on very badly for Marcus cause. Even though Antony’s flagship was burning as a funeral pyre, Marcus had only few men left – time was running out for him. And he was already severely wounded. He carried several arrows in his body and blood was running out from more than five open wounds of swords. He begin to feel so tired and he knew he could not survive long time bleeding so badly. Again he had to admit that still Antony was a worthy opponent! He had attacked with five quinquireemes but at least three of his ships were already doomed. But if he could only kill Antony…
But blood was running from his wounds and he had only fifteen men left – and most of them were wounded as badly as he was. But Marcus knew that the other two quinquireemes would destroy Antony’s men – in the end. Shouting and waving his sword Marcus killed two marines looking like Egyptians soldiers. Same time he glimpsed to right and saw that two smaller quinquireemes with mast up came to help Antony and rowed beside deceres. Was Antony still going to win?
But only ten seconds later three quinquireemes of Octavian fleet hit those ships by their ramming bumbers. And one of the Antony’s quinquireemes started at once to sink. The other one seemed to be left intact and Antony started to wonder should he escape now. But the collision had been so strong that it caused a chain reaction because all ships were near to each others. By ramming the Antony’s quinquireeme who just arrived, the Octavian quinquireemes also pushed Antony’s war galley and that in turn hit the ship of Marcus. And so strong collision shook all ships and Marcus with some of his men slipped on bloody deck and fell overboard. When falling down Marcus body hit the row of oars and he could hear his ribs breaking. And he was shouting from pain when he fell inside cold sea water. Suddenly this cold shower made him feel little more sober and he succeeded to grasp on wooded piece before sinking down with his heavy war armour. So he pulled himself with his last strengths on the wooden piece – torn apart from war galley – and sighed heavily. He opened his eyes and saw dark smoke over the bay and tens of ships burning with high flames. He saw also hundreds of men floating on the surface of the sea and shouting their pain or praying help from their gods. And he knew that already thousands of men were laying on the sea bottom dead as stones. And he though – what was worth of this pain?
Sacrifice of Marcus
But then he glimpsed the Antony’s deceres beside him and saw that it was burning with one big flame – it could not be saved. And he understood that his quinquireemes finally won the battle at this point. And now men of survived Octavian quinquireemes were slaying dead Antony’s last men from his flagship and only one of Antony’s quinquireeme succeeded to escape away with good luck. Marcus sighed and closed his eyes laying as dead corpse on the wooden piece which floated on waves.
When Antony’s quinquireeme was rowing rapidly further it had mast erected and Marcus wondered why? But then Marcus thought with his last strengths.
“It does not concern me anymore…”
“I have fulfilled my oath to Octavian and stopped Antony.”
And he remembered his stepfather – the man that had raised him from small boy to a young men – and his lessons.
“All free men of Rome are only living for glory of Rome!” he used to say.
“Responsibility, honor and bravery – all for Rome!” his stepfather had demanded.
“But now last time for me” Marcus sighed heavily when feeling his the pains of his broken body.
“Have we now finally secured the greatness of Rome?” Marcus wondered after lived through so many battles.
He wanted still to remind himself why he had to die here at bay of Actium. In the battle that he had not wanted and in the battle that did not belong to him. The fact was that Octavian had extorted him to this campaign – he could not refuse to go. He needed to save his friends! But still he felt now calm. Because he already knew that Antony had lost the fight and his friends would be safe in Rome. By dying here on the waves of Actium he had bought freedom and life to his most dearest friends – for Tullius and Aurelia. With his sacrifice they would live on and flourish in this life. And now for last time he dug from his memory the image of Aurelia. Her long blond hair, her hazel brown eyes and smile he never could have forgotten. But she was Celt and he was Roman – and she had never let him forget that. But being a warrior so long, he did not feel anymore bad – this was his destiny and he had waited it for so long. So many friends and enemies were already waiting him in the halls of Orcus – God of death! So he let himself to fall into unconsciousness and little by little the green sea water was turning red below him, because blood was running from his open wounds away – and taking his life quietly.
At the shore Antony’s second in command – Canidius – was watching the thick of the fight helplessly and swearing his thin luck. He felt so angry, when he saw how Octavian over numbered war galleys took Antony’s ship one by one – as a pack of dogs when chasing bear. And he saw how Antony’s ship started to burn as a torch – but he was on the shores of the bay and he could not do anything. Then he asked in his mind from himself.
”Where is Antony?”
”Where is my General?”
”And where will I go now if he loses for Octavian?”
When battle in the center was going on desperately and also the wings – right and left – were already into deep fight, the fourth line of Antony stayed still silently in their places in front of the mouth of bay – and waited. They seemed just to wait, what was going to happen. Cleopatra and her fleet – with all masts erected – were still waiting like the right moment to take part to the fight. Was it tactic? Would they just hit Octavian fleet at the time when it would be the best time for their cause? elizabeth_taylor_cleopatbfWhen they were watching the fight in the center, Cleopatra was getting nervous, because she saw that fighting had gone to close combat. She saw that several ships were stacked as a one cluster and many of them were burning with high flames. She knew that blood was flowing like a river and hundreds of men were dying – and she knew that somewhere there was also Antony! Octavian fleet wanted to sink and destroy Antony for certain. Now captain of her bodyguard showed Antony’s flagship – deceres – which was burning in high flames.
”He may have not survived!” captain told to Cleopatra.
Cleopatra was standing straight on her magnificent but fast ship and was thinking some time. She had golden earrings and bracelet with jewels and she was wearing a luxurious armor, which made her look like she were a famous commander. Her big black hair was waving little bit in the wind, which was now blowing strongly. Then she sighed.
”Would you say that wind is fast enough?” and looked his Captain.
”Yes it is” Captain said with face of stone.
”Then – give a sign” she said.
And then the Captain waved his hand and signifier blew horn. Like with one body all the ships of fourth line let their oars fell down into water and started to row. Little by little they were gaining speed and heading against the center.
Same time at right wing Agrippa had noticed what was happening. He saw that Cleopatra’s war galleys started to row forward and were gaining speed. Agrippa wondered could his center – Arruntius and Porsenna – take the attack of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s fourth line. But as he estimated the situation he saw something that made him nervous. Because he – Agrippa – had tried so hard to attack Publicola’s flank he had stretched his line too far towards the shore and now he saw that an opening had broken up to his line. There was an empty place between his center and right wing. Both he and Arruntius have not noticed that earlier and thus they had not done anything to prevent it! And now Agrippa got really scared because something totally unexpected happened – something that even him could not have foreseen. By everybody’s astonishment the war galleys of Cleopatra lifted their sails up and started to increase their speed when wind were pushing their sails to convex. And rapidly they gained high speed and the one thing that Agrippa had scared happened. Cleopatra’s fleet was heading just towards the opening between his center and right wing. Agrippa roared commands and his galleys started to shoot fireballs trying to catch Cleopatra’s fleet but hardly hit any of them. And for a moment Agrippa felt disappointment because he thought, that he had already lost the battle – even though it started so well! And he waited tensed what will happen when Cleopatra’s war galleys sail over his lines. Would Cleopatra turn with his ships and attack the rear of Arruntius? If so they would surely lose the fight! This was a typical and famous naval maneuver and it held name of Diekplouses maneuver. And Agrippa calculated seconds in his mind when he watched Cleopatra’s ships sailing past his line one by one. And he prayed Jupiter to forgive his carelessness and save the day for him. But seconds flew by and still Cleopatra’s ships were heading towards the empty blue sea and gaining more speed. Finally Agrippa sighed for relive because he understood that Cleopatra was fleeing from battle scene – and leaving rest of the army surviving how they could. A one moment Antony and Cleopatra had hold the keys of victory in their hands – and in the next moment they had given it away. Probably Cleopatra did not understood at all naval warfare, Agrippa was thinking. Now it was certain that Octavian fleet was going to win…
And next moment Agrippa noticed that something had changed in battlefield. Earlier ships of Antony were fighting heavily against Octavian fleet. But now all ships with the mast were trying to flee away and those who could, lifted their sails, to escape with help of wind. Yes – all ships were now fighting for themselves and no more for Antony and Cleopatra. And next moment Agrippa thought – maybe Antony had all the time just wanted to create an opening for Cleopatra to help her to escape. But now when the result was clear Agrippa commanded his ships to attack more heavily against the enemy – he wanted to get it finished as soon as possible. And so fighting continued still several hours because Antony’s legates Publicola, Octavius, Insteius and Sosius had swore for Antony to continue to secure their commanders flee.
Cleopatra’s galleys were soon sailing at open sea far away from Actium. In one of the smaller quinquireeme was sitting a desperate and lonely man. It was Antony. He sat alone and did not want to speak to anybody. He now regretted what he had just done some half an hour ago. But what had actually happened half an hour ago? After defeating Marcus Claudius Porsenna and his crew, he had sawn his deceres burning totally in flames and four other Octavian quinquireemes had attacked against him. He remembered that he had though that he had to flee soon or otherwise he and his crew would soon be perished because attack of so many enemies. And he remembered thinking then – should he fight till the end and rally his men around him or should he flee. Then he remembered seeing Cleopatra sailing away through the fighting lines and suddenly he felt that he had to run after Cleopatra. He could not forget the eyes of Cleopatra! So he had signed one of his smaller ships to come closer and when it had weaved near quinquireeme – the one he had just taken – he jumped on its deck. And he had left his men behind him to die there! This was because suddenly he had remembered the black eyes of Cleopatra and her tastefully red lips. And then he had remembered all those endless nights in Cleopatra’s bed in Alexandria with nice odor of her rose kind of perfume. And thus he had not could resist his feelings but he had suddenly decided to hurry after Cleopatra. He thought then, he could buy a new army with the vast treasury of Cleopatra. And thus he had commanded the captain of the ship.
”Sails up! We are heading to open sea!”
And the captain of the ship had done his best and finally they succeeded to find their way to more open space between fighting ships and they sailed by the wind to open sea after Cleopatra. But now Antony sat silently mourning what he had just done. He knew that he had just done something that could never be forgiven. Not for a Roman warlord – and not for Antony! He had run off and left his men to die without their commander. It was a sin that no Roman commander could bear. The only way to shake that shame away, was to push his own sword into his stomach. And Antony sat silently on the deck near rear and escaped to his memories.
The winner takes it all
Finally in the late afternoon battle was done. All Antony’s war galleys were sunk, burning or surrendered to Agrippa. Thousands of men lay dead as cold stones on the bottom of the bay. And many more thousands were severely injured and would not live long – or would lose their legs or arms. But over the pain also smiles were seen. It was a great win – Octavian thought – when he looked the sea over the bay on his flag ship. Now when the battle was done he was ready to take the honor of the great win. After all they had just won the great war lord Antony – a famous Roman consul! Of course as always, it was Agrippa who had done the battle plan and leaded it from start to end. But he and Octavian were friends and he would let him take the honor. Still Agrippa was really puzzled. What became to Antony? Why did he not defend his honor and possession for last breath! After all in the stake was the whole Eastern Rome! Was he really in love with Cleopatra? And so much? Had he lost his guts? Why so brutal man was now so weak – the hero of Phillippoi! But he could not find any reason for Antony’s behavior.
Then he heard a voice.
”Sir – it’s him. It’s Marcus.”
And the Centurion was pointing out a dead man, who was carried by some legionaries. They set down on ground the dead corpse and Agrippa walked beside the dead. He took a long look to his pale face and saw that it was true. It was the corpse of Marcus Claudius Porsenna! And he looked the dead man all over and saw that he was full of wounds and hits of broken arrows. And he saw that he lay little bit in strange position, because some of his bones were broken. And Agrippa – a common man also himself – felt sorry for Marcus. And he said in his mind.
”So many wars behind you and now you had to die in the last civil war.”
Because Agrippa knew that this was the last one. Octavian would now be the sole leader of Roman world and there were no more brave men to fight from power. Now the last of them were dead. Agrippa took a long look over Marcus Porsenna and wondered whether Marcus actually had wanted to die – may be he was too tired for eternal wars. And he looked the corpse again and saw how pale it looked and said in loud his thoughts merely to himself…
”If only you had waited little more – and not attacked too soon. Even though so bravely!”
“You secured our win by destroying Antony’s will – as you promised!”
Then he looked his safety guard.
”Take him and carry to my headquarters. We will honor him in the evening” he said to his legionaries.
“Then we will let him burn on a big funeral pyre – like his master Gaius Julius Caesar once in Rome!”
”He is the last veteran from Gallic wars and last from victory of Alesia – we shall honor him properly!”
And the men nodded gravely looking their heads and took Marcus to his last journey.
Now Canidius had fled with his army little bit inlands and was telling the situation for his army. When he told legionaries that they need to march across the Greece to Asia Minor to meet later on Antony, soldiers were astonished.
”What!” they shouted.
”Where is Antony – had he fled away!”
They wondered loudly whether their commander – Antony – had forsaken them!
”Who could any Roman commander do so?” they mourned.
”And especially Antony!” they complained.
But finally they realized that it was true and Antony had deserted them and fled away with Cleopatra. This made legionaries angry and they did not follow the commands of Canidius. Instead they send envoys to Octavian and told that they would accept him as their leader, if only their units will be allowed to remain – and not be disbanded. And Octavian accepted the terms and Canidius fled in the night alone and started his journey to Asia Minor – but just to lose his head later on…
Later on in the evening many Roman legionaries and mariners were standing on long lines near Agrippa’s headquartes. All were watching severely funeral pyres that were raising between the lines of soldiers. Some of the most honored and bravest Roman officers were laying on big piles of timber trunks. Their dead corpses reminded everybody that every victory had it price and life was not for ever. Agrippa hold short speech and let the alive ones stand for some time silently to honor dead. These men on the top of funeral pyres had effected most for the victory of Octavian course and given their life for Rome. Now they were departing from this life and world. After some minutes Octavian glimpsed Agrippa and he gave the sign to centurion who belonged to his bodyguard. Centurion stepped stately beside every funeral pyre – ten in all – and let them took fire one by one from his flaming torch. Then he walked back in his position behind Agrippa’s back. Soon the autumn breeze came from bay of Actium and let fire grasp to every timber trunk and fire grew higher and higher. Finally it lightened every standing face inside one hundred meters. When all funerals pyres were already burning with high flames Octavian shout.
“Look these men my friends!”
“They were Roman men – the best of us!”
“They gave their life for Rome so it can grow and flourish!”
“Let them enter now into halls of Jupiter and Mars!”
“Let gods take them now in their embrace!”
And Agrippa stand still and wondered in his mind. Thinking deep.
“Here burns my friend Marcus Claudius Porsenna.”
“Here burns also all his wishes and his hopes in this life.”
“Is life still for vain – but just pain… or is there happiness in the end?”
“And did Marcus found his happiness in this life – or not?”
“Probably not. But he was the bravest and honest of us. Man of principle!”
“Because of that, Gods may finally take care of him – if any of us!”
They all stood silently a long time and heard the sizzling and cracking sounds of burning timber. For last time they all respected these brave but dead men. After watching spectacle tens of minutes Agrippa gave sign and soldiers marched one by one into their camp. Only guards were left to take care that no-one disturbed the peace of burning pyres.
Life had to go forward.
When the news broke later on public that Antony had deserted his troops, all North African legions raised a mutiny and claimed Octavian to their sole leader. And after some months also Alexandrian fleet and cavalry – and finally whole infantry deserted Antony. In the end Antony had just Cleopatra alone. After Antony was cheated to believe that she had taken her life, he jumped also onto his sword.
So in the end he earned back at least some part of his former glory and honor – in the last minutes of his life! And only after some days Octavian marched into Alexandria and took the city. And its treasuries! When Cleopatra understood that Octavian was different kind of man than Antony and Caesar – he could not be seduced – she took her life. And Octavian took care that also all children of Cleopatra – one from Caesar and three from Antony – disappeared from the world.
And so was victory celebrated once again in Rome by triumph – and with the treasury of Egypt. And all Rome was honoring the living and dead Roman heroes! And same time a new Rome had born – an Empire of Rome with emperors!