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Augustus and the Roman Empire

Octavian is victorious over Marc Antony and Cleopatra and becomes Augustus, first emperor of the Roman Empire.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] We finished the last video in the year 40 B.C.E., where the year began with the Parthian invasion of Syria in the eastern provinces of the Roman Republic, and it really is an empire, the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire. But Marc Antony, who was in control of the east of the empire, he wasn't able to deal with it immediately because he goes to Brundisium in order to take his wife's side on a civil war between her and Octavian. Now, his wife dies and he makes good with Octavian, in fact, so good with Octavian, he marries OCtavian's sister, Octavia, and they decide, alright, let's continue to be friends here and they divide the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic, whatever you wanna call it, between them, where Marc Antony keeps control of the east, you now have Octavian with control over the west and they gave Lepidus, who's always a bit of the third wheel here, they gave him some of the southern provinces right over there. Now it seems like all is good, but as we've already talked about, the tension between Antony and Octavian is there, it was there from the beginning and in this video, we're going to see that it gets a lot, a lot worse. So Marc Antony goes back to the east, where he starts planning his invasion of Parthia, not only does he wanna take back the territory that they took in 40 B.C.E., but he actually wants to avenge them for Crassus' death in 53 B.C.E. Julius Caesar had been planning an invasion of Persia, and you have to remember, after Alexander the Great, all of these western rulers, especially the Romans, they all had their sights on Persia, they said, "Hey, maybe I can be just like Alexander the Great "and take over the Persians." So Marc Antony is planning his invasion of Persia but he doesn't get the troops that he wants from Octavian and so that starts to build the tensions even further but he goes to his lover, Cleopatra, who is the richest woman in the world, the pharaoh of Egypt, and says, "Hey can you give me some Egyptian troops?" And so he plans an invasion of Parthian Persia with a combined Roman and Egyptian troops. Now unfortunately, that is a failed invasion. As they try to make their way in, they get pretty far, but they weren't able to protect their supply lines carefully and so the Parthians are able to attack them, attack their supply lines and while they do, the king of Armenia just kinda doesn't really do anything about it and so Marc Antony is forced to retreat and so you can imagine, he's not too happy about this. The Parthians in 40 B.C.E. were able to take all of this territory, in 36 B.C.E., so now we are right over here, in 36 B.C.E., we have a failed revenge invasion of the Parthians, he's betrayed by the Armenian king. Now the other thing that's happening is that Lepidus is now out of the triumvirate. He tries to do a little bit of a land grab after him and Octavian go after another governor in Sicily, but when they're successful, when Lepidus tries to take control of Sicily, Octavian says, "No no no no, "not only can you not do that, "but you're now out of the triumvirate." So 36 B.C.E. is a situation where Octavian continues to try to consolidate his power in the west, Lepidus is now out, and Marc Antony faces another, I guess you could say embarrassment against the Parthians. So then we get to 33 B.C.E. So let's see, this is 33 B.C.E. right over here on this map and finally, he's able to muster up enough of a force to take not revenge on the Parthians, but to take some of the territory, but in particular, to take revenge on the Armenian king. And so Marc Antony, it's his first win after awhile, tries to make a lot of this, and so when he goes, he goes back to Alexandria, where of course his lover Cleopatra reigns, and there, he has this big celebration to say, "Hey look, I went and was able "to take out the king of Armenia." Now this celebration, it rubs the Romans in a wrong way on a whole bunch of dimensions. One, they never really like Cleopatra, they view her as a foreign queen, they didn't like her when she was Julius Caesar's lover, they definitely don't like her when she's Marc Antony's lover, and they're kind of peeved that he decides to go Alexandria and do this ceremonial victory party that typically only happened in Rome, it looks like this guy doesn't really even view himself as Roman anymore. He likes to go back to Alexandria. And the real salt that he rubbed, especially in Octavian's wounds, was a speech he gave which will later be known as the Donations of Alexandria. So what he starts doing is putting his children, especially the children that he has with Cleopatra, as the rulers of a lot of the eastern provinces. But the worst thing that he does, is in that speech, in the Donations of Alexandria, this is in 33 B.C.E., right over here, he declares that Cleopatra's son that was apparently the son of Julius Caesar, Caesarion, that he is the rightful heir to Julius Caesar. Now, Octavian does not like this, he says, "Hey, I'm the adopted son, I'm the rightful heir, "I don't like this Caesarion guy." And so for the next few years, in 33 and 32 B.C.E., so we're in this period on that timeline, we're in this period on this timeline, tensions start to get a lot, lot, lot worse between Octavian and Marc Antony, they are publicly accusing each other of not even being legitimate people with legitimate authority, they are really starting to question each other, they're really starting to go at each other. And it all culminates in 31 B.C.E., it all culminates in 31 B.C.E., so this is where we are right over here, with the naval battle at Actium. And for the most part, and Marc Antony and Cleopatra are both there, and they're on their heels, they're surrounded by the forces of Octavian, and the best that they can hope for is just an escape and Antony and Cleopatra are able to escape and it's very clear from that battle that they really only cared about saving their own hides and their own wealth, and they left the most of their navy, they returned with only 60 boats to Alexandria but they leave most of their navy to kind of have to deal with the forces of Octavian. So they were already on their heels, they have this escape in 31 B.C.E., many historians will call the Battle of Actium, and this is a depiction of the naval battle at Actium right over here, as the end, after this, there was no chance, really, for Cleopatra and Marc Antony in any way, to rival Octavian, that Octavian was now the real sole power in what is evolving from a Roman Republic to a Roman Empire. But Antony and Cleopatra, maybe they didn't realize it as much, they go back to Alexandria and continue to plot, seeing how they can get back at Octavian. So Octavian doesn't want much of this, so he decides to go attack them in Alexandria in 30 B.C.E. And Antony tries to make a last stand against Octavian but his soldiers really aren't in the mood to fight so he goes back to the palace, he looks for Cleopatra, Cleopatra gets one of her servants to tell Marc Antony, 'cause she has no mood to see him, because who knows, he's raving mad, he might wanna kill her or kill him, who knows what he might wanna do, Cleopatra had her servant tell Marc Antony that Cleopatra was dead and so Marc Antony, he's already down, his soldiers have deserted him, there's no way for him to take on Octavian, he's essentially lost, and now Cleopatra, his lover, is apparently dead. He stabs himself repeatedly in the stomach. Now, Cleopatra finds out about this and then she has Marc Antony brought to him, he doesn't die immediately, stabbing yourself in the stomach is a way of having a very slow and painful death. And he dies essentially in her arms. And then Cleopatra is taken, then, by the forces of Octavian, but then she too decides that she wants to commit suicide or at least that's what most accounts say and the most common account is that she gets a snake smuggled into her rooms, a poisonous snake that she taunts and gets to bite her, which allows her to die, so both Cleopatra and Marc Antony die in 30 B.C.E., and Octavian now, really the main power, he kills Caesarion, who was Cleopatra's son with Julius Caesar, as the only possible rival, and so here we are on 30 B.C.E., Octavian is victorious and then he goes back to Rome and continues to consolidate his power. Until we get to 27 B.C.E., which is often marked as the beginning of the Roman Empire, when Octavian was given the name Augustus, which means illustrious one, and from then on, he will continue to reign with more and more and more power that he continues to consolidate for many, many, many, many more decades.