The Actium Spin
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I am hiring myself out to the Antonians that fought for control of the Roman world. I am putting forward a hypothesis that Cleopatra and Antony could have won the war if they had just listened to me (what ego, right?). Yes, it was a military engagement, no question, but it was also a communications war. In the military ‘perception is reality’ and this conflict was no different.
* Before you read this paper put away your 21st century mores. The premise of this paper is to suggest ways that Marc Antony could have swayed Roman Public Opinion to his cause. Fair play is not of this century, the Rules of War have one word – simple and direct: WIN. Put away your religion that guides your life – we are talking about a PAGAN WORLD.
This paper explore steps that Antony could have used to turn public opinion in his favor.
The title of the paper is called: The Actium Spin.
Yes, I know. I am working with the benefit of hindsight
Let’s start with the context of the situation.
‘Context’ is a noun meaning: The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
CONTEXT: Rome was on the rise. There was a change going on. There was a shift from Hellenic power, brought into place by the remnants of Alexander the Great, and challenged by the rise of an ‘unknown’ city-state called Rome. The power of Cleopatra was left over from the establishment of a Macedonian General Ptolemy Soter and his family’s 300 year reign over Egypt. Egypt had gown weak; Rome had grown strong and was eating up kingdoms as it moved out across the known world. Rome became stronger as it became flushed with money and slaves, and Egypt was attractive for it had a commodity that was equal to the power of oil in the modern world: FOOD! Rome could not govern itself. The Republic is shaky, and the strong (in the form of generals with ‘personal’ armies), fought for control of the state. Rome suffers a civil war. At this point of time there are two contenders to control the world: Marc Antony (friend of Caesar) and Octavian (adopted son of Caesar and later to be known as Augustus). Marc Antony is in Egypt and Octavian is in Rome.
O.K. We have the context. So, let’s get started. After being transported back I have lived in two places in the ancient world, Rome and Alexandria. I have gained a position on Antony’s staff. The following is my letter.
Recommendations to his imperial highness Marc Antony, ancestor of Hercules:
From Rob Cain, Strategoi.
- Establish a permanent presence in Rome.
The center of the world is Rome. You know that. I know that. That is what most people believe, at least the important people. You need allies, not just the eastern satraps and kings, but allies in the senate. At current count there are approximately 300 senators on your side, but this is not enough and you are putting them in an impossible situation. They are currently defending a ghost. Because you are not there to defend yourself, and your allies cannot get from you the support that they need to continue to defend you. What kind of support? When a debate takes place on the Senate floor, we need YOU THERE to walk over to the ‘boy with just a name’ (I refer to Octavian) and pop him one in the nose. Even if just you stood up in the Senate at any insult or lie, it would send a clear message that you will not tolerate the slander that takes place. Every party in Rome an Antony supporter is laughed down and shoved and ridiculed. The party circuit in Rome is just as important as the Senate, it is just as important what the wheat vendor says to the butcher on festival day. You need people at these ‘get-togethers’ to drink and give their opinions.
Establish a permanent presence in Rome. Yes, yes, I know. You cannot be without your true love. I give you that. However, six months out of the year at your Roman villa will be enough to quell the feasting that is taking place on your ghost. You are being served for dinner every night. You need to be here to look them in the eye. You are feared, but you are only feared when they see that massive neck of yours. Octavian hates you. More importantly, he fears you. However to fear a man in Egypt is different than to fear a man in Rome.
- Raise Caesarian in Rome.
Bring your adopted son to Rome. Put him in a toga. Show him off at gymnasium. Make him lift a few weights and take a swing at a gladiator or two. Slap him on the shoulder, and introduce him around. Once the senators see that he has Caesar’s eyes, they will realize who or what he is. Show who the REAL son of Caesar is. It is certainly not a ‘sickly’ boy that looks faint at the sight of battle (especially when Agrippa isn’t around), but a boy raised by Julius Caesar’s ‘Master of Horse’ and Step-father. Get some of those pretty senatorial daughters take him out for a night or two. Get the boy drunk. Let him puke and chase a few ‘dancers’ about the hall. Show Rome that you intend to raise him as a true Roman. What’s more in conversation, especially with Cicero, say something like: “I had to get him away from his mother’s influence.” Cicero will LOVE that.
- CONTROL THE OMENS.
Omens are what convince those that are still on the fence. As rational men, we have to control the omens so they don’t get out of hand. There are omens here in Rome and about the ‘mare nostrum’ all the time. I would not be a good advisor if I didn’t tell you the truth.
In the city of Alba, a statue of you was seen sweating. The slaves wiped it over and over but the water streamed down its forehead.
The people said, “See, Antony knows that Octavian is coming for him.”
In Athens, a statue of Dionysus fell from its pedestal crashing below. You have been hailed as the new Dionysus. Don’t deny it! That name has been heard over here, even in Rome. The statue fell on a new theater, and some piss-offed actors stood over the rubble shouting: “The fall of Antony!” Some Antonian’s pounded them with fruit, but the damage was done. The statue was so large that it had to remain right where it was even during a performance of a play by Plautus. A character in the play was some lad, a lovesick school boy that could not get the attentions of the local prostitute. I can’t keep this from you. The fallen statue seemed to convince the audience that the lover boy was you. I don’t have to tell you what the audience thought the identity of the prostitute to be.
Give the word and I’ll have black crows sitting on top of Octavian’s roof within the week.
Give the word and I’ll pay some out of work actor to paint himself white and walk about outside Octavian’s villa as Caesar’s ghost. We can have him cry and wail as if disappointed with his adopted son.
“Woe is me! Woe to Rome. I have adopted a boy with vinegar blood! Woe to those who take up his cause.” Said with enough conviction, and with enough gusto the story will be up and down the hills of Rome before daylight. The gossip mill of Rome works at blinding speed.
I can even have that broken statue of Dionysus in Rome in just a few months. With the right rope and tackle we can drop it into Octavian’s atrium. Can you see the look on his face? Imagine the horror as it takes out his family fountain and your face stares at him as slaves rush about to dry him off. It will be the talk of Rome!
Of course, of course we need an augur present. I can buy a few. Why should the Octavians have all the luck? Omens are never effective unless an argur can put his copper penny into the pot. “The power of Antony has destroyed the house of Octavian. The Hercules has returned to Rome,” he can wail.
Remember omens are never incorrect, especially with the passage of time. People only forget the ones that turn out wrong.
- LEAFLETS, GOSSIP, AND GRAFFITI.
LEAFLETS: This is the easy part. Why are we allowing Octavian have the last word? The people of Rome are looking for direction. “Silence is acceptance.” If Octavian says you are a drunkard, then you are a drunkard if you do not respond. I recommend the following leaflets to be distributed as soon as possible: 1) ON MY DRUNKENESS 2) WHY I AM ROMAN 3) WHY ROMAN WOMEN ARE BETTER THAN ALEXANDRIAN WOMEN (The plebians will love you for that last one). If you don’t want to write on these subjects I have at least three out of work satirists looking for jobs right now.
GOSSIP: I suggest we start the following rumors in Rome. 1) You were seen in Tarentum. 2) You are coming to Rome in six months. 3) You are coming to Rome right now and you are pissed.
GRAFFITTI: We need a Graffiti campaign. As you know many plebians do not read. Cartoon Graffiti is our best bet in reaching this demographic. I suggest the following cartoon images to be scribbled at the racetrack, arenas and public toilets.
1) Octavian in a dress with Agrippa protecting him against a giant penis.
2) Octavian running from a drawing of you dressed as Hercules.
3) Octavian as a catamite (Of course with his dour nature this might make him more popular).
- CHANGE YOUR WILL.
I’ve seen it. Everyone has seen it. The Vestal Virgins laugh about it. Are you serious? Do you really want to be buried in Alexandria? NO! Change the will. Tell them you want to be burned, and your ashes spread across the subura. The poor will love that. Tell them to open your house to the public, like Caesar. Turn your fortune into coin and give each man a share. YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE IT LATER!
Octavian is going to get his hands on it. If he reads it in the Senate, you will never recover. The Vestals are just women. If Octavian steps through the front door and reaches for the will they will shrink back in horror, but DO NOTHING. Send me the new will and I will register it at the temple. Let’s have it read in the Forum before you die. Let’s have the people of Rome see how much you love them? Remember how the mob turned on Brutus when Caesar’s will was read?
- Hire Publius Vergilius Maro.
Virgil is a talented poet living a few doors down from me. You got to get him on board. I know he tends to produce works rather slowly, but that is why we should get him started now. The Patrician, Knight, and Plebian classes love to see their ‘heroes’ in print and sung on a poet’s lips. I suggest the following title: The Atoniad.
- Bribe the Plebian Class
The patricians hate the plebians. The plebians hate the patricians. All the plebians want is money, entertainment, and diversion. Their life is hard. Octavian throws them a pittance and they take it. What choice do they have? He is there and you are not. If Octavian decides to invade Egypt, the plebians will flock to his standards. They will dream of booty, and mounds of Alexandrian loot. The world knows how rich the city is and will be. Before the plebian comes to Alexandria to take your fortune, bring the fortune to Rome.
First, establish a strong presence in Rome. Become the patron of the plebian on the street. Put money in their pockets by the way of gifts distributed at gladiatorial games that you sponsor.
Purchase businesses within the walls of Rome.
Bring Alexandrian entertainment to the theaters.
Fund a lottery for the plebian where upon winning he is granted a piece of land in the Egyptian basin. Well, if the Greeks can live in Egypt why not Romans?
During the next Saturnalia hold the largest public dinner ever recorded in the history of Rome. Make sure that every cup of wine has printed at the bottom of the cup: In Antony’s nomen.
Go back to Rome and raise three legions. This is very important. Offer greater pay than the Octavian Legions. Camp the Antonian Legions outside the gates of Rome. March these legions up and down the gates of Rome, to let Octavian know that you are too close for comfort.
Find Roman husbands Alexandrian wives.
- DECLARE RIGHT NOW THAT YOU ARE A REPUBLICAN.
I know it’s not true. However, Octavian pretends to be one. Keeping close to the Ptolemy throne makes others wonder about your intentions. Octavian has ambitions, but he would never claim to think himself a god – at least not yet. You are being hailed as the new Dionysus. You claim ancestry from Hercules. Octavian paints you as Egyptian. It is confusing. Get yourself in a toga and walk up and down a few of the streets here in Rome, and get any damn Ptolemaic face-paint off your face. Shake a few hands. Cicero has advised other for years on how to get elected. I KNOW YOU HATE CICERO! The best advice sometimes comes from unexpected places.
- QUIT THE GREEK.
How Roman are you? Decide. You love all things Greek? Rome raised you. Rome made you great. Roman soldiers died for you. Drink Greek wine at home. Only serve Roman wine at your feasts. Keep your windows closed when you parade around in Greek dress.
- CEASE PLANS ON THE DONATIONS OF ALEXANRIA.
This is a major public relations disaster. Cease work on it immediately. My men in Alexandria tell me that you intend to give away portions of the world to your children publicly. Don’t you understand the Octavian will use this against you? I am not saying that you should not do it, but do it privately. Instead any lands not conquered you should publicly give TO ROME, and if you decide later for one of your children to rule in the name of Rome…so much the better. Who talked you into this?
- DEFENCE IN DEPTH
If Octavian comes to meet you – apply defence in depth. You have the allies, mountains, and deserts to whittle him down. Put your men on boats you might as well hand him a Cannae. Hit him and draw back. Defend forest, river and mountain pass. Burn the crops and draw back.
- Instead SEND YOUR ARMY TO ROME.
If Octavian comes to meet you send half your legions to Rome. Do not meet Octavian’s forces. There is a strong possibility due to shared service under Julius Caesar they may refuse to fight each other. So, bypass them. Send runners to tell him where you are going. He shall waver. He shall see that you are not afraid of him, and certainly not the people of Rome. He shall ignore Alexandria and scamper back to Rome. He shall envision Hannibal and the ravages that took place years before. He may divide his forces and send a quarter-contingent to Alexandria. Cleopatra can defend the city, hide in India, or take to the desert like she did in the civil war with her brother. Octavian will be afraid that you intend to woo the people of Rome. Stay three days in front of him. Every city that you come to that keeps its gates closed – place a wreath on the door and publicly give thanks. Then leave! Do not burn a single vineyard or village. Recruit the countryside into your auxiliary. You are not Hannibal. You are Roman. Send runners to Rome and have them declare to the Senate that you want a triumph for defeating Egypt. Of course, you have not. But you have brought Egypt under Roman influence. Tell them you bring them riches to fill their coffers. In your message tell them you will stay in Rome for the rest of your life (even if it is not true). Tell your men that you have no intention of killing your countrymen.
10. COME HOME AND SHUT FULVIA UP.
The problem is that you love two women. That would not be so bad, if one of them was the quiet sort. However, Fulvia is about as ‘queenish’ as your Cleopatra. She has raised legions with her brother and has started a war with Octavian. Do you realize the public affairs disaster this woman has caused you? I have news for you, Fulvia and her accomplice Lucius are holed up in the city of Perusia. How can you control the world if you cannot control your own wife? Did you have anything to do with this? Take a legion or two and batter down the gates of Perusia. Octavian is using this against you. You have to get rid of her. You have to stop her. Every Octavian Soldier that dies in this battle is another Roman family that will despise you. Tell Fulvia to meet you in Athens. When you are together…silence her forever.
I am hearing rumors. Octavian is planning to offer his sister to you in marriage. She is a nice quiet girl. Would you consider this? However, if you do this, the augurs are telling me that it would be to your advantage if Octavia meets with a small accident two or three months later. I’m sure Cleopatra would approve.
11. KILL AGRIPPA.
Octavian is nothing without Agrippa. Why has this man been allowed to live? There is nothing as irritating as a talented ‘lap-dog.’
12. Take charge of your own household (Be a man).
You have to choose. Are you descended from Hercules or not? If you are–keep Cleopatra quiet. I KNOW, I KNOW, YOU LOVE HER. Well, what better way to show your love then to give her an intact and united Rome. If you are the new Dionysus than remember this – the TITANS ripped him apart.