Your RDA of Irony

The Regicide Regatta

September 2, 31 B.C.:  Why You’ve Never Heard of the Egyptian Navy

Octavian (or at least his tougher friend Agrippa) won the naval battle of Actium, triumphing over a drunk and a trollop. (Marc Antony and Cleopatra would have had a better chance in a barroom brawl.)

Mr. and Mrs. Antony had prepared for this showdown with that annoying Caesar boy by constructing a fleet of massive battleships. Just the name quinquereme suggests that they were twice the size of your standard trireme. The bows were stoutly built to withstand ramming and further protected with brass plating; you’d think that these naval fortresses might still be afloat. Of course, fortresses are not terribly mobile, and neither was the Antonys’ fleet. The ships were too massive, and the fleet’s oarsmen could barely move the deadnoughts. Yes, the quinqueremes would have crushed anything directly in their path, but Octavian’s fleet was not that obliging. The young Caesar’s ships kept moving and shooting, riddling the paralyzed behemoths until they literally were dead in the water.

Not feeling particularly suicidal that day, Cleopatra fled the battle and sailed home to Egypt. Seeing her flight, Antony abandoned his flagship and hitched a ride on Cleopatra’s galley. The rest of his fleet did not have that option, and either incinerated or surrendered. Watching the debacle from the Greek shore was Antony’s army. Without the support of the navy or the presence of their commander, Antony’s 19 legions soon surrendered to Octavian.

Marc Antony once had possessed such respect and charisma that, after losing a battle, he persuaded the victorious army to defect to him. Now, for the decadent sot, the opposite was true. He commanded neither respect nor even a viable army. His forces in Egypt either deserted or defected. Puny, reptilian Octavian had won. In any case, you have seen the movie. The drunk with the beautiful speaking voice stabbed himself, and the beauty with the annoying speaking voice snaked herself.

And that brings us to the first episode of “I, Claudius.”

p.s.  Also on this day:

Leave a Reply