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A story from Actium

Heros meet in 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 kept his promise. And he had giving 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 again when Roman legionaries fight again 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 away there alive …” Agrippa prayed in his mind the Roman god of war – Mars the Avenger.

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.
“You traitor…soon you end on the bottom of the sea!”
“And then I will kill all you friends in Rome like once did for Cicero!”
“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 each others with eyes full of hate and wanted to solve this quarrel at once. Antony promised his men 1000 sesterces from the head of Marcus and thus his men attacked even more furiously.

Now things were getting 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 for more than five open wounds from swords. He started 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 they were wounded as badly as he was. But Marcus knew that the other two quinquireemes would destroy Antony’s men. Shouting and waving his sword Marcus killed two Egyptian looking marines in front of him and saw with glimpse to right, that two smaller quinquireemes with mast up came to help Antony and rowed beside deceres. 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 to sink at once. 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 the ship and Marcus with some of his men slipped on bloody deck and fell overboard. When falling down Marcus 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?

But then he glimpsed the deceres beside him and saw it burning with one big flame – it could not be saved. And he saw 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. When it was rowing rapidly further It had mast erected and Marcus wondered why? But then Marcus thought with his last strengths.
“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!”
“Responsibility, honor and bravery – all for Rome! And now last time for me” he sighed silently.
“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 was dying here at bay of Actium. In the battle that he had not wanted and in the battle that did not belong to him – because Octavian had extorted him to this campaign.

But still he felt now calm. Because he knew already 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 face 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?”

Decisive command

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? When 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…

Final solution
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. 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 of 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 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. And he looked the corpse again and saw how pale it looked and said.
“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!”
“Take him and carry to my headquarters. We will honor him in the evening. 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 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…

Aftermath
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 and after he was cheated to believe that she had taken her life, he jumped 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!

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