1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Actium

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134221911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — ActiumMaximilian Otto Bismarck Caspari

ACTIUM (mod. Punta), the ancient name of a promontory in the north of Acarnania (Greece) at the mouth of the Sinus Ambracius (Gulf of Arta) opposite Nicopolis, built by Augustus on the north side of the strait. On the promontory was an ancient temple of Apollo Actius, which was enlarged by Augustus, who also, in memory of the battle, instituted or renewed the quinquennial games called Actia or Ludi Actiaci. Actiaca Aera was a computation of time from the battle of Actium. There was on the promontory a small town, or rather village, also called Actium.

History.—Actium belonged originally to the Corinthian colonists of Anactorium, who probably founded the worship of Apollo Actius and the Actia games; in the 3rd century it fell to the Acarnanians, who subsequently held their synods there. Actium is chiefly famous as the site of Octavian’s decisive victory over Mark Antony (2nd of September 31 B.C.). This battle ended a long series of ineffectual operations. The final conflict was provoked by Antony, who is said to have been persuaded by Cleopatra to retire to Egypt and give battle to mask his retreat; but lack of provisions and the growing demoralization of his army would sufficiently account for his decision. The fleets met outside the gulf, each over 200 strong (the totals given by ancient authorities are very conflicting). Antony’s heavy battleships endeavoured to close and crush the enemy with their artillery; Octavian’s light and mobile craft made skilful use of skirmishing tactics. During the engagement Cleopatra suddenly withdrew her squadron and Antony slipped away behind her. His flight escaped notice, and the conflict remained undecided, until Antony’s fleet was set on fire and thus annihilated.

Authorities—Dio Cassius, 50.12-51.3; Plutarch, Antonius, 62-68; Velleius Paterculus, ii. 84-85. C. Merivale, History of the Romans under the Empire, iii. pp. 313-325 (London, 1851); V. Gardthausen, Augustus und seine Zeit, i. pp. 369-386, ii. pp. 189-201 (Leipzig, 1891); G. Ferrero in the Revue de Paris, Mar. 15, 1906, pp. 225-243; J. Kromayer, in Hermes, xxxiv. (1899), pp. 1-54.  (M. O. B. C.)