It’s Hardcore History.
So, like most of you, I have my historical pet peeves.
And one of them is when sort of the lightweight media program here or there, I’ll be listening
and they will confuse the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic.
They mean the Roman Republic, but they say the Roman Empire, right?
So it’s the fall of the Roman Empire or whatever.
So, you know, that gets under my skin in a way that is totally out of proportion to the
seriousness of the crime, but, you know, like I said, we all have our little things.
But as many of you know, and we did an exhaustive long series on this, there was a Republican
period and then an empire.
And what’s so fascinating in the history books is that hinge point during the transition
when it becomes an empire out of a republic.
And this is traditional, right?
I mean, it’s Caesar.
I mean, you know, everybody understands this is a very interesting spot here.
And our entire long series, Death Rose of the Republic, was supposed to be a not very
long show about this fabulously interesting person from the ancient world, Cleopatra.
And as is, you know, I have problems, but one of those problems is the need to try to
go back earlier in the story to set up, you know, the way things are by the time you get
to the story.
And I can’t ever find a logical beginning point because every time I get to something
earlier that has a history of its own, right?
That explains how that.
So, you know, we ended up covering centuries, I believe, and barely got to Cleopatra, ended
the story kind of at the hinge point area that is so fascinating.
The author I want to talk to today, the historian Barry Strauss, he’s a Cornell University professor.
He is an expert on this period.
And he just finished a book, and it’s a very military history book for people who like
naval warfare from this period, which is, if you ever want to have your mind blown about
what our ancestors were able to do in terms of achievements and, well, I mean, in these
naval battles, there’s like 600 ships, right?
Wooden ships, big ships, and the mind has a hard time grasping that, right?
But this is, so the book is fascinating.
You want to know about naval warfare, you want to know about one of the most famous
naval encounters in all human history.
Well, he’s just finished a book on the Battle of Actium, 31 BCE, right?
And the people who fought it out after Julius Caesar is assassinated have their climactic
encounter and the reason that the Cleopatra story plays into this is she’s on one side
of this affair, right, with Mark Antony.
This is just like Shakespeare, right?
These are these famous figures we’ve come to know.
And on the other side is Octavian, the guy who will become Augustus Caesar, really the
transition figure from the Republican era to the empire.
And this battle sort of determines how that hinge point is going to go.
Obviously, if Octavian wins, which he did, it goes the way it went.
If the other side wins, Mark Antony and Cleopatra together, united, if that wins, nobody knows
how it goes.
Right, maybe you go back to a republic, which I guess seems pretty doubtful after my talk
with Professor Strauss, or maybe the empire goes in a different direction with a focus
more in the East, as Professor Strauss is going to say in the interview we’re going
to conduct right now.
Barry Strauss with his brand new book, The War That Made the Roman Empire, Antony, Cleopatra
and Octavian at Actium.
With me, Professor Barry Strauss to talk about his brand new book on the Battle of
Actium, The War That Made the Roman Empire.
And I just want to tell you, Professor Strauss, that I tried to do a show on Cleopatra once
upon a time, and I started trying to figure out where a program like that should start.
And I kept moving the timeline farther and farther back, because first you go to Julius
Caesar, and then how do you explain Julius Caesar without explaining, you know, this
And then, I mean, it eventually goes all the way back to the end of the Punic Wars and
barely even touches upon Cleopatra when we get to 20 some hours.
So how does one tell a story like this without going back almost to when the Republic starts
Yeah, no, it’s a tough question.
I had some trouble myself when I first started writing the book.
I wanted to start it in the spring of 32 B.C. with the gathering of the Roman fleet or Antony
and Cleopatra’s fleet at Ephesus.
And my editor wisely said, no, you’ve got to start the story with the assassination
of Julius Caesar.
That’s where it has to begin, because you can’t really explain what it’s all about without
And I realized his wisdom and that he was right.
So that is where I start the story.
But as you know, Cleopatra has a whole life and career well before that, and even before
she meets Caesar.
So there’s something artificial no matter where you start it.
Well, in her dynasty, you know, the Ptolemaic dynasty is itself, as you point out, three
centuries of history dating back to, you know, the ultimate royalty in ancient Western heritage,
the Alexandrian folk.
So let’s set this up maybe by talking about Cleopatra herself a little bit, because she’s
an unusual person in the ancient world.
You know, as we all know, powerful women did not get the sort of historical press that
And so there’s precious few of them.
And when they are in the sources, you kind of get this bias like you get with Alexander’s
mother, where she’s somewhat nefarious and tricky and, you know, conniving.
Talk a little bit about this background that the Ptolemaic dynasty is and that that imparts
into Cleopatra’s sense of who she is and what she represents.
Well, great question.
Cleopatra as a Ptolemy has a built-in sense of grandeur.
The founder of the dynasty was one of Alexander’s friends and one of his generals.
And he is the guy who takes over Egypt and turns it into a kingdom.
And he hijacks Alexander’s funeral train and brings his mummified corpse to Alexandria.
You know, tradition says that Alexander is the one who founded and laid out the city
But there’s reason to doubt that and reason to suspect that it’s actually Ptolemy who
But he takes the aura of the great Alexander.
He wants to borrow it to say that this is Alexander’s city and he’s following the footsteps
of the founder.
And in either case, he creates what becomes in its day, and for many, many centuries,
the greatest city in the Mediterranean world.
It is the great cultural center.
And I think we underestimate even today the importance and influence of Alexandria.
For a Roman who visited it in Caesar’s day, I think it would have been overwhelming in
It really is like going from the farm and seeing Paris.
Rome was the great military and naval power, but it was not an impressive urban center.
It didn’t have the monuments yet.
Alexandria had the monuments and Alexandria had the culture and the science.
It really was a glittering capital.
And Cleopatra was raised in the glory of this dynasty.
They had ruled an empire in the Eastern Mediterranean for centuries, and it had its ups and downs.
But at its height, it had been a great naval power and a great land power, stretching to
Greece, to Asia Minor, as far west as Syracuse, which was an ally of the Ptolemies, and certainly
around the Levant in Egypt and Libya, and down to the Red Sea, where the Egyptians had
trade with India.
So it was a great center with a tremendous heritage.
The hijacking of Alexander the Great’s body is one of my favorite stories, and maybe the
best example of that phrase, that possession is nine-tenths of the law, right?
And I love the visits to Alexander’s mummified corpse.
And there’s one in your story, and then there’s, was it Caligula or Nero that also went and
maybe supposedly stole the armor later?
I love that story, but I also love the fact that you can tell that this is a conquest
dynasty, the Ptolemies, because they’re there for three centuries or something, and their
last ruler, Cleopatra, is the only one to speak Egyptian in the whole group.
Yeah, I know, it really is.
It is kind of amazing.
Some people think it’s more evidence for what might be possible, that her mother and maybe
her grandmother were Egyptian, or at least partly Egyptian.
You said Persian, maybe, too.
Yes, there is definitely some Persian in there, because the Ptolemies intermarried.
But yeah, I mean, they really kept themselves apart from the Egyptians.
They used Egyptians increasingly as the dynasty, in the later years of the dynasty, they used
And they kept themselves quite aloof from Egyptians.
And some ancient texts refer to Alexandria as Alexandria at Egypt, Alexandria by Egypt,
we might say, rather than Alexandria in Egypt.
It saw itself as separate from Egypt.
And yeah, they are conquerors, and Cleopatra is, as far as we know, the only one who could
And it’s money, right?
I mean, the Ptolemies and Egypt represent, in this period, when one talks about the balance
sheet and what each side has as its strong point, the Ptolemies and Egypt have money,
They have money, yes.
This is the wealthiest place in the Mediterranean.
They are sitting on a lot of money.
And the Romans know it.
The Romans could have conquered Egypt before this, but probably the reason they don’t is
that the various men in the Roman elite are all too jealous of each other and too suspicious
of each other.
They don’t want anyone to have control of this place.
So let’s talk about those people then.
So this is where, if you are trying to argue against the great man theory of history, right,
the ancient or even Churchillian way of looking at these things, it’s so hard when you get
to this era because the individual personalities seem to be defying any rules about trends
and forces or Marxist economic theory.
I mean, you know, you say Octavian, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Antony.
How do you get?
How does one integrate that with the fact that there are obviously massive trends and
forces being exerted during this time period?
And yet these individuals, even in modern histories that are trained to maybe not put
individuals out there so front and center, it’s hard to avoid in this case, isn’t it?
Well, it’s one of the reasons I find the period so attractive because I’m an old fashioned
I mean, of course, I think trends are important.
And one of the overriding trends of this era was figuring out how to bring the elites and
the conquered of the Roman Empire into the tent of the Roman Empire.
That’s what the old Roman nobility had so much trouble doing.
That being said, there’s all the difference in the world between someone like Antony,
who’s very talented, and someone like Octavian, who’s just a supernova when it comes to what
it takes to be a strategist and to to win a war.
Personality really does make a difference.
OK, well, let’s talk about that then, because one often wonders how some of these people
come to the fore.
And often one thinks of self-made people or pseudo self-made people.
And maybe a guy like Julius Caesar falls into that category.
But his adopted son, Octavian, or his adopted nephew, I mean, his successor here, who is
handpicked, is not a person that had to go through that period of the self-made pull
yourself up from the bottom, although Caesar wasn’t from the bottom either.
But you know what I’m saying?
In other words, somebody looked at this kid and kid he was at the time, and maybe it was
Julius himself and said, you’re destined for great things.
You have these specific qualities.
I’m going to make you my heir.
So it seems like this is this is almost like, in my weird way of thinking, Julius Caesar’s
last will and testament that allows his kind of his disruptive force.
Maybe he would have thought about it as as something more positive than that, but but
allowing it to live on.
How does this Octavian guy make his way to the historical stage?
Yeah, it’s a great question.
I think there are three people in particular who who are important.
First of all, there’s his mother.
The Romans really thought the mother-son relationship was tremendously important.
When Octavian’s four years old, his father dies, probably of a stroke or a heart attack.
And so he and his older sisters no longer have a father.
And it’s his mother, Atia, she remarries.
She marries a prominent Roman politician named, golly, I’m blanking on his name, excuse me.
But she marries a prominent Roman politician.
And she looks after her son, her young son.
She hands him over at a certain point to her mother, Julia.
And Julia is a pure Roman member of the nobility.
And she happens to be the sister of Julius Caesar.
And we can be sure that Julia is whispering in her brother’s ear, I got this grandson.
You got to see this kid.
He is so talented.
And Caesar, when he comes to Rome, which isn’t all that often, but from time to time, he
does see young Gaius Octavius.
And he does get a sense of just how talented, how precocious he is.
And Caesar gives him certain offices.
He holds minor offices, even as a teenager.
And he plays a role in Caesar’s triumphs as well.
He’s one of these people who Caesar is clearly marking out for an important role.
Caesar doesn’t have a legitimate son of his own.
And his daughter, who he was hoping would bring him grandchildren, she dies in childbirth.
So he doesn’t have that either.
So he looks to members of his extended family.
Then in the last battle of the Roman Civil War, so the campaign in Spain in 45 BC in
the Battle of Munda, Octavius goes to Spain.
He doesn’t arrive in time for the battle, but he arrives shortly afterwards.
And he spends about six months traveling around Spain with his great uncle, Julius Caesar,
the two of them together.
Octavius is sitting at the foot of the master and learning from him.
And Caesar is getting really impressed with this kid and realizing, you know, the guy
really has, the guy really has something.
So I think that helps Octavius a lot to be recognized.
Now we all know that trying to draw lessons or conclusions about modern times from times
in the past is a silly endeavor.
Yet there are things, there’s precious few examples from the ancient world of when you
look at governments like republics and try to figure out what the heck went wrong in
that situation, then try to figure out if you have any of the same potential downsides
in your own situation.
If you look at something like the Roman Republic and as the founders of the United States used
as one of the examples of things we might take lessons from, what was going wrong by
Caesar’s time, Julius Caesar’s time that led to the conditions where you have, I mean,
as I look at it, I almost see everybody seems to be fighting on the side of Rome and the
Senate and the Republic traditions and all that side, but nobody actually really seems
to be fighting on the side of Rome and the Senate and the Republic.
I mean, this is a culture that so hated the idea of the return of the ancient kings that
that became almost a terrible word.
But when you look at it in this time period, maybe Julius Caesar, certainly Octavian, certainly
Mark Antony, you’re seeing a bunch of people who, as you point out, are looking in one
shape or another to create a monarchy out of the Republic, the most hated thing that
the Republic ever, I mean, there’s almost a visceral knee-jerk reaction to the idea
of a king coming to the fore.
And yet somehow the Senate rolls over and by the end of Octavian’s reign, we’ve come
to a time where the Roman Republic, at least in terms of the way it really functions, as
opposed to the way it maybe presents itself, you know, to the rest of the world or to its
own people, I mean, is gone.
And as you correctly point out, we transition from an era that really represents the ancient
world into something that is starting almost the timeline of the modern world from the
What happens to an anti-monarchal society like Rome that gets it to a place where they
have their own version of the equivalent of a king?
A long question.
I apologize for that.
No, not at all.
A century of revolution, a century of violence and upheaval and war and, you know, tearing
each other to pieces to get to the point where the Romans say, anything is better than this.
Anything is better than this.
And they get, luckily for them, they get a politician who’s incredibly shrewd and knows
how to package things.
I mean, Caesar offends people by his arrogance, by the way he-
You mean Julius, right?
Julius Caesar offends people by his arrogance and he makes people beg his pardon.
Even though he grants his pardon, it hurts them, these nobles, to have to ask another
Roman noble for pardon.
Then he takes the term of dictator perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity, just as to the Romans,
them’s fighting words.
He also experiments with wearing the boots, the red boots of a king.
And he sits on a, I think it is a gold and ivory folding chair, which is reminiscent
of a king.
And he ostentatiously turns down a crown when it’s offered to him by his lieutenant, Mark
Antony, who’s pretty close to him, so people suspect it’s a put-up job.
Octavian is much smarter than that.
He says, actually, the term dictator had been abolished by Antony of all people after Caesar’s
Octavian says, I’m no dictator, I’m no king, I’m just the first citizen.
And I govern by having the power of tribunes and I have the power of a consul.
But the republic has been restored, or the Latin can also mean the republic has been
renovated, so it’s nicely ambiguous.
And I’m just going to take an honorary title.
I want you to call me the reverend, which is more or less, yeah, that’s what Augustus
means more or less, the reverend, the revered one.
It’s a quasi-religious title.
The Romans said that their city had been founded by an august augury, Augusto Augurio.
So it seems traditionalist, sort of.
And it allows some people to say, well, nothing much has really changed.
And yet everything has changed.
So then you get the obvious knee-jerk response of a group of people that are concerned about
their own position in society, right?
All these senators, all these Roman knights, these Roman nobles.
And the natural reaction is an assassination.
So the Ides of March happen, 44 BC, you see the assassination of Julius Caesar.
And then all hell breaks loose in a different way than the earlier hell that had broken
So describe a little bit, because this is the setup to this major battle that your book
So explain the second version of all hell breaking loose after Julius Caesar is killed.
So the second version of all hell breaking loose is the assassins think that they’re
going to be able to get away with it and in some sense restore the republic, by which
they meant an oligarchy of what they saw as the few best and most patriotic and intelligent
men in Rome.
But they fail, I think, in large part because they don’t understand that you need to pay
the soldiers and give them a raise if you expect to get away with something like this.
They’re forced out of Rome and then they regroup.
And Antony, who is one of the two consuls, one of the two leading magistrates in Rome
at the time, thinks he’s going to inherit the mantle of Julius Caesar.
But the problem is that Caesar has left this will in which to many people’s surprise, he
names his 18-year-old great nephew Octavius as his heir and he offers him posthumous adoption.
By the way, there’s no such thing as posthumous adoption in Rome.
It exists because Julius Caesar says, because I say so.
And then Octavian, who happened to be abroad at the time because Caesar was planning a
great new military expedition against Parthia, the Persian Empire, Octavian was a part of
He works his way back to Italy and works his way back to Rome.
And he shows that Caesar’s faith in him was very well placed because he gets himself introduced
to Caesar’s faction, to the leading men in it, and persuades them that he is an alternative
And then he has his agents negotiate with Antony’s troops.
Once again, Antony makes the mistake of stiffing the soldiers, of not offering them enough
Octavian offers them a big raise.
And he, in effect, he steals some of Antony’s legions from him and creates a private army
and then turns around and says, you know what?
I’m on the side of the assassins.
I’m on the side of the Republic.
And I want to help you fight Antony and drive Antony out of Italy, which he proceeds to
It’s a long and juicy story, and I won’t bore you with all the details, but he drives Antony
out of Italy.
Antony crosses the Alps, goes to Gaul, regroups, makes new allies, builds a new army of his
And then Octavian says, on second thought, I’m friends with Antony.
He turns around and double crosses the Senate.
And Antony and Octavius and a third general of Caesar’s, Marcus Lepidus, they form a conspiracy
outside of the city of Bologna in November of 43 BC.
And they create what’s called the Second Triumvirate.
The three of them are going to govern Rome.
They march on Rome.
And this time, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Caesar pardoned most of his enemies in the First Civil War.
They do not pardon them.
They put their names up in prescriptions like Sulla.
Many of them flee.
These are public execution lists, right?
Yes, these are public execution lists, public execution lists.
So many of the names on the list flee.
Their property gets confiscated because Antony and Octavian and Lepidus need money.
They need money because the surviving assassins, led by Brutus and Cassius, are in the east.
And they’re in the process of squeezing the east until the pipsqueak, raising taxes everywhere,
because they figured out you have to pay the soldiers and create a great army if you want
to save the republic.
So the most famous victim of these prescriptions is Cicero, who does not escape.
And Cicero is assassinated, executed, killed on the order of his great enemy, Marc Antony.
And Octavian later says, well, I tried to stop it.
But if he did, he didn’t try.
Supposedly had a needle put through his tongue.
A needle put through his tongue and his hands were cut off and tied up, posted to the roster
So let me interrupt you for a second so that people understand how weird this all is, though.
Imagine the U.S. Civil War and imagine that the North and South generals controlled the
armies instead of the state.
And imagine that they could get defections from the other side.
So if General Lee was able to get some of Ulysses S. Grant’s units to come over to his
side if he just promised them a better deal or something, I mean, that’s part of it.
And then this goes back.
And this is why I had such a hard time figuring out where to start that story on Cleopatra.
But at some point, you know, Rome goes from the state and the Senate controlling the armies
and their loyalty to individual generals doing so, you know, from the from the Marius reforms
and all that.
So now you’re in a period where, you know, these these troops are beholden to Mark Antony
or to Octavian and not necessarily to the state.
And if somebody offers them a better deal or doesn’t pay them or follow through on the
deal they thought they had, you’re in danger of having mass defections.
It’s like having an army that you can’t trust yourself as a commander.
That’s absolutely right.
That’s absolutely right.
The whole nature of the Roman military changes and it changes because of just the enormous
dislocations and changes that Rome underwent in the process of winning an empire, conquering
an empire, using the manpower of Italy to conquer the empire.
Enormous new wealth poured into Italy and it wasn’t distributed equitably.
It ended up in a few hands and they used this power unfairly to hurt some of the ordinary
people of of Rome.
You know, I think like many societies, the Republic was faced with the challenge of what
to do about change because things do change.
And in the case of Rome, they changed in an enormous, dramatic, explosive way.
And the Romans didn’t really know what to do with it.
They didn’t handle it very well.
Oh, one is one is tempted to ask who would, you know, when you when you look at, you
know, a society and a governmental system designed for a small, you know, city, state
or regional power that has to deal with after the third Punic War, this this massive
world juggernaut and all the money coming in and all the the accruing of individual.
I mean, I think of Marcus Licinius Crassus and the amount of money he’s bringing.
I mean, that kind of money warps systems.
And then when you have the private army and the armies can be built up through that
money, it just seems like a recipe for disaster.
But let’s talk about how the heck a descendant of one of Alexander’s generals, 300
years later, a queen running Egypt ends up into this story.
Yeah, well, you know, the Ptolemies were already part of this story.
The Romans had essentially made it clear that they were going to call the ultimate
shots shots in Egypt already in the middle of the second century B.C.
By the time of Cleopatra, her father, Ptolemy, a late Ptolemy, the flute player, as he
was called, for reasons that that’s when, you know, the empire is in decline.
I’m just going to say, yeah, that’s when, you know, it’s in decline.
Not not kind of the name you want to have.
Nobody called Alexander the Great the flute player to his face, not to his face.
Yeah. Well, this guy, you know, to save his kingdom, he had to borrow a huge amount of
money from Rome. And then he had to basically mortgage his kingdom to to to pay it
back. So he was in hock to the Romans.
And Egypt was essentially belonged to Rome already.
It was only semi independent.
And Cleopatra was raised knowing that Egypt could do nothing without paying attention
to its relationship with Rome.
OK, and so she comes to the fore, she’s got a brother that she’s that she’s forced to
rule. How would you describe the relationship?
The Ptolemies had a brother sister thing that went back maybe to maybe even before that
time, maybe ancient Egypt.
Explain the brother sister deal here.
And then how the heck does Julius Caesar get his hands in this situation?
Well, the Ptolemies, like like Egyptians, many people in Egypt before that engaged in
brother sister marriage, you know, you know, it’s going to lead to a decline right there
over time, maybe that could it could.
But they didn’t only engage in brother sister marriage.
I mean, that was one of the things they did.
But the siblings sibling rivalry was a big part of the story.
And Cleopatra and her siblings did not get along.
They had murderous relationships with each other.
She was at war with her older brother and she she possibly poisoned her younger brother
and probably ordered the murder of her sister.
So it’s it’s not a pretty picture.
And then the famous story, true or not, I keep wondering what would have happened had
Shakespeare not not talked about these things, had they not become such great stories for
for entertainment value.
But the story about her being unrolled in a bedroll or a rolled up carpet for for you
know who. Tell me a little about that.
Well, in order to you know, Cleopatra had been pushed off her throne by her brother and
she wanted to get it back.
Caesar had come to Egypt hoping to catch up with Pompey, who he defeated.
And he had defeated in a great battle in Greece.
Earlier that year, but when Pompey landed in Egypt, he was assassinated on the order
of one of the king’s ministers.
So he was dead by the time Caesar got there.
Caesar wanted to arrange things in Egypt to his liking because Egypt had been friendly
with Pompey beforehand.
But Caesar didn’t have many troops with him and he was effectively a prisoner.
He had to fight his way out of Alexandria and he does so successfully eventually.
But while he’s there, Cleopatra sussing up the situation, realizes I can make a deal
with this guy. We each need something and we each need to fight my brother.
And so she sneaks into the palace.
Her brother would never let her get into the palace.
She’s camouflaged in some way.
And we get the story from Plutarch that she was rolled.
She was carried by a servant, rolled up in a bedroll or a rug, and then unrolled in
front of Julius Caesar.
There’s an entrance for you.
Yeah, that she knew how to make an entrance.
And if it wasn’t love at first sight, it didn’t take long between the two of them were
lovers. And she was young at the time, right?
Yes, she was young.
He was decades older.
Well, he’s 55 or something by then, probably.
Yeah. And she’s she’s in her 20s.
OK, so there you go.
And now we have.
So this is interesting.
You have one of the examples and I think you make the case multiple times in your book.
You have one of the examples of a truly august, clever politician slash world leader who
because of the way media’s portrayed her ever since becomes more of a femme fatale sort
of figure. Can we describe the difference between the romantic image of this person
versus the reality of one of the one of the few justifiably powerful women controlling
things in the Western ancient world?
Yeah, well, I mean, part of it, frankly, is Shakespeare.
I mean, Shakespeare’s play is called Antony and Cleopatra, and the focus of the play is
the love affair between the two of them and the relationship between the two of them and
the interplay of love and Paul Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and
Elizabeth Taylor. Yes, the legend that was better than the movie, but certainly added
to the aura around Cleopatra.
But even without them, just the play itself and the various actresses who’ve played
Cleopatra, the real Cleopatra, we don’t really know what she looked like.
But as you know, the coins give her a hook nose and make her look kind of masculine,
not very no one’s idea of feminine beauty.
The the bust that may be Cleopatra, and there’s only one that scholars agree probably
really was Cleopatra.
They make her much better looking.
And we don’t know if the coins are the real Cleopatra or the image that she wanted to
put out. So she was effectively ruling alone.
She wanted people to think she was as tough as a man and might have wanted to look,
excuse me, might have wanted to look like a man.
But I think if we want to think who Cleopatra really was, we ought to think of Catherine
the Great or Elizabeth the first of England.
Yeah, it’s interesting.
Yeah. Indira Gandhi, someone like that.
That’s Golda Meir.
That’s Cleopatra, in effect, or Maggie Thatcher.
I like that if you look at what she’s doing here from a gambling standpoint, right,
taking take I mean, here you have the Ptolemaic Empire.
If things just go the way they’re going in terms of the the momentum and the impetus
when she’s, you know, first meeting Julius Caesar, it doesn’t look good.
So she takes a roll of the dice here and tries to get the best outcome for her
country. And the best outcome is aligning with one side of the Roman Civil War here
and hoping she turns out victorious.
If Mark Antony wins this thing instead of Octavian, how does that change?
In other words, if if she rolls the dice here and wins, what does that look like?
Well, it’s incredible.
I mean, how different things would have been if Antony had won.
Then the Roman Empire would, in effect, have had two capitals, Rome and Alexandria.
The empire would inevitably have turned eastward instead of what we did with Augustus,
which is an attempt to conquer Germany that fails and then his successors who succeed
in conquering Britain.
I think Antony would have gone back to his attempt to conquer at least part of the
Parthian Empire, probably too much to imagine him conquering all of it.
I think Rome would have turned eastward.
You know, the Roman Empire, even as it was, was really a Greco-Roman empire with
increasingly as much Greek culture as there was Roman culture.
I’d like to say that the two best sellers of the Roman Empire today are the New
Testament and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and they’re both written in Greek,
not in Latin.
Well, if Alexandria had remained as a cultural and political capital, then the culture
that would have developed in the Roman Empire would have even been more eastern, more
Greek, more looking towards the east than what develops in Rome.
And that would have had a big impact on Western culture as well.
Would have extended the Alexandrian generals’ empires even longer, too.
And I mean, when you think about what’s going to come in the 500s and the 600s, and
you wonder, had Alexandria been this major world locus of power at the time?
I mean, does that impact Islam’s rise or the power of the Sassanids?
Because it’s going to be the Sassanids and the Byzantines for so long.
I mean, the change in the balance of power over the next several centuries would have
It really would have.
It would have been absolutely fascinating.
I think you would have seen something more like the Byzantine Empire earlier, and it
might have even taken an even bigger bite of the apple than it actually does.
But I’m totally fascinated by the power of Greek culture, you know, in general, but
especially in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East.
And I think we would have seen even more of it than than we do.
OK, let’s talk about the specific battle that your book discusses, because naval
battles in the ancient world don’t, naval battles particularly anywhere, but in the
ancient world don’t often get their due.
And this is more of a of a land sea combined operation here where the sea power
ended up being the outmaneuvering force.
But because I’m fascinated and always have been with the fact that the ancients are
able to pull off the things they’re able to pull off without computers, you know,
without without I mean, all of the stuff we would require today, Xerxes trying to put
together a massive invasion of Greece, you know, without without word documents, I
mean, whatever, whatever it might be.
So so I’m thinking about the naval capacity here, and it boggles the mind when you try
to think of the creation of these 400 and 500 ship fleets, including these massive,
massive, you know, you call them the you know, they’re not the triremes, they’re not
the quincri, they’re the ten row.
Right. What’s the word for that?
So describe the because to me, nothing says that our ancients were so clever and so
amazing than the raising and operating of these massive fleets.
Yeah, I mean, it is amazing that they they build these ships, that they have the
technology to build them and then the technology to row with them and to fight
battles with navigate to now that navigation is really fascinating.
It’s been great work done on the question of how did the ancients navigate?
And there’s a whole art of navigation for pre-modern societies.
It’s mostly not written down, but get lots of hints of it from ancient sources.
And you can learn a lot talking to fishermen in the Mediterranean even today.
But they they could do a lot.
They really could do a lot.
Well, and you point out the difference between the way we would do things now,
which you might plot a course over the waves as the crow flies, whereas back then
that wasn’t generally if you especially if you had any options, the way it was done
was that they sort of did a point to point thing with land bases.
And the part that blows my mind and I’m sorry if I focus on on insignificant
things sometimes, but when you talk about them going to the isthmus of Corinth and
having to I assume it’s carrying maybe you can describe this to me, the ships
across the isthmus so that they don’t have to go around the dangerous storm
filled, you know, Peloponnesian area.
I mean, how do they even do that?
Is that like moving houses?
I mean, what do you know?
They have a rollway.
I mean, they can put them on rollers.
But that being said, the sad truth is the answer is slavery, slave labor.
I mean, the ancient world is this horrendous exploitation of human labor as slaves.
And a lot of what the Greeks and Romans do, at least on the purely mechanical
level, has to do with the exploitation of slave labor.
So that is really part of it.
I should have thought of that myself.
Having a slave show, it should have occurred to me.
Okay, so then let’s get to then the battle itself.
So we have a situation where these two generals, Octavian, and Octavian’s going
to have generals working with him and a fantastic Admiral Agrippa that you talk
about quite a bit, and he’s dealing with Mark Antony, who has plenty of military
Both of them have a lot of troops.
Both of them have big fleets.
But the one thing about your book that sort of, I guess, caught me by surprise.
And then I did some more information and found out it was something I probably
should have known better anyway, which is how sort of one-sided this thing became
as it progressed onward.
It seemed a lot less equal after a while than I had assumed it was.
It looks to me like Mark Antony was kind of outmaneuvered.
And by the time, you know, there’s that old military adage that if you do the
strategy right, the tactics don’t matter that much.
And I feel like that’s what happened in this case.
Does that make sense?
It makes total sense.
Yeah, you know, I I’m a big fan of Sun Tzu and his art of war.
And this strikes me almost as if Octavian had read Sun Tzu, which I know he hadn’t.
But just setting things up strategically so that the enemy has very few options and
the enemy chances of winning.
I mean, Antony would have had to play to an inside straight and then some in order
to win this battle.
And it shouldn’t have been the case.
He starts out with more ships and better ships and more money and lots of political
support. And yet he loses.
And that’s a tribute to to Octavian and Agrippa and their strategic acumen.
And of course, their operational ability as well.
OK, so both sides at one time, nobody’s got the guts or the willingness or it’s just
politically untenable to say, yes, I’m fighting for the monarchy.
And if I win, you know, you’re going to have a king.
So both sides, neither side actually can can say that if Mark Antony wins this thing,
do we still have a Roman empire?
I mean, or are any of these people actually thinking about reestablishing anything like
a functioning republic?
I don’t think so.
I mean, I think Antony is a full blooded Roman noble.
He’s a noble on his mother’s mother’s side.
The other members of his family come from wealthy but upper middle class types, not
from the Roman nobility.
It may be because of that, that he is much he doesn’t much care about the old Roman way
of government. He has much less respect for it than Antony does.
Much more willing to come up with something new.
If Antony had won, I think he would have given the Senate more.
He would have given them more respect.
He would have deferred to them more.
I don’t even know if Antony would have lived in Italy because Antony cares about the East.
I think he would have gone back to the East.
So perhaps in a way there would have been more of a republic in Italy.
But I think a lot of the power in the brains would have drained eastward.
I’m fascinated by the people who are born in history with almost no chance of reaching
adulthood because they’re so dangerous.
So you think of like Alexander the Great’s potential children.
Right. These are people whose chance.
I mean, they remind me of like the the little turtles that are born on the sand and then
have to make it to the ocean with all the predators in between them.
In this case, Julius Caesar, who slept with everybody and you would think would have
children all over the place, seemingly doesn’t until allegedly there’s a child with
Cleopatra, you know, right before he dies, Caesarean.
And this kid looks to me like one of those turtles with this giant stretch of sand
between them and the ocean, like he’s born to die and he’s never going to make it.
Did Caesarean ever have a chance or was this kid never going to make?
I mean, if Mark Antony wins, does this kid somehow still die?
No. If Mark Antony wins, I think Caesarean becomes the he becomes the pharaoh of
Egypt. I think in some ways he’s Antony’s ticket to legitimacy because the name of
Caesar is still magical to to many people around the Roman world.
And one of the reasons why Octavian is so threatened by Antony and Cleopatra is that
he knows that they have the real Caesar.
I really do think Caesarean was Caesar’s Caesar’s son, though I can’t prove it.
You said he walked like him, you know, those kinds of that had his sort of gait.
He had his gait and, you know, I think if there was any and Caesar, remember, Caesar
allows Cleopatra to name the kid Caesar.
Yes, he doesn’t recognize him officially, but the guys in Egypt and Caesars in Rome,
there’s some reason to think it’s not crazy that Caesar allows a stat.
We know that Caesar puts up a statue of Cleopatra outside of his forum in the forum of
Caesar outside the temple of Venus, the founder of the Julian dynasty.
And there’s some reason to think that she’s holding the kid in her arms, holding
Caesarean in her arms.
There’s also a painting from Pompeii that has plausibly been described as Cleopatra
holding Caesarean as in the statue.
He comes awfully close to saying this is my son.
And. Allies of of Octavian go to great lengths to say, no, no, no way, no, no way.
Couldn’t be true. You know, I think they did protest too much.
I think it was Caesar’s son.
And I think that that Octavian is very threatened by this, that that suddenly his
claim, you know, he doesn’t call himself Octavian.
We call him Octavian, but he called himself Caesar.
He said, I’m Caesar, as as ludicrous as that might have seemed to some.
That’s not fair. It’s not ludicrous, but questionable as it might have seemed to some.
And there there are here are these people in Egypt saying, no, no, we’ve got the real
Caesar. You’re just an imposter.
This is tremendously dangerous to Octavian.
OK, pulling on a little Sherlock Holmes here and ask for some speculation on your part.
But Caesar, Julius Caesar, is a guy that knows the game better than anyone.
Right. The backstabbing interior Roman political.
So so so he’s he’s he has no illusions at all.
Yet this is a guy who in his supposed last will and testament makes Octavian his heir,
knowing full well that he probably has a child, though, in Egypt with with Cleopatra,
also understanding full well that this will set up a situation where either his heir is
probably going to die or his kid is probably going to die, probably at the hands of one
and other. How does this even make sense when you’re looking at this?
I mean, it argues, I would suggest, for something being wrong, maybe for like the
original will that Octavian cites not being right.
Or I mean, something seems amiss here in the Sherlock, the dog that didn’t bark type
situation. What do you make of this?
What a great question.
Thank you for that great question.
So I would say possibly Caesar just made a mistake or possibly Caesar did the best that
he could under the situation.
And, you know, he thought if Octavian is as talented as I think he is, he’ll figure it
out. But, yeah, he did figure it out.
He did figure it out.
But it does raise the question, well, how is his how is his birth son going to survive?
He’s prescribing his son in advance.
Kind of. But what’s he going to do?
What should he say?
He wants look, he does care about Rome and he cares about his family.
He wants Romans to not like to adopt people outside of their family.
Romans were cool about adoption, but it generally had to be within the family.
It didn’t have to be within the nuclear family, but someone who is a relatively close
relative, that’s what they liked to do.
So there are only three guys who would fit the bill.
And the other two are kind of also rants.
They are not they’ve nowhere near Octavian’s talent.
Caesar’s not a healthy man.
He had epilepsy.
Right. Either epilepsy or a series of mini strokes.
The the the medical Sherlock Holmes who’ve looked at it disagree.
It’s not entirely clear.
But, yeah, he had problems.
It had occurred to him, I’m sure, that he might not last that much longer.
But also think about this.
You know, where’s Cleopatra when Caesar’s assassinated?
She’s in Rome.
Oh, she’s there.
We don’t think about it because it’s not in Shakespeare,
but it’s in all the ancient sources.
She’s there. And so where is she living?
She’s living in Caesar’s palace.
Actually, he calls it Caesar’s villa.
It’s across the Tiber.
She can’t live in Rome because foreign monarchs are not allowed to enter
the sacred space of the city of Rome.
But she’s living across the Tiber.
And there’s good evidence that she was pregnant at the time.
So she and Julia Caesar are still having their affair.
Even though Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, is in Rome.
Apparently, she she miscarries.
But she’s going to have another child by her.
And just just to be fun, it should have been a boy also.
And then we could have had all kinds of weirdness breakout.
So we could have all kinds of weirdness.
OK, so we can’t stop this conversation, though,
without getting into the military stuff a little bit,
because ancient naval warfare has never made complete sense to me.
Because, you know, when one thinks of the I mean, let’s imagine a 400
ship fleet in trying to operate without,
you know, communications in the sort of sense that we would think or I mean, how
this this goes back to the Xerxes not having word document type stuff.
But I mean, I can’t I try to imagine how something like this
even is coordinated in a leadership kind of sense.
I mean, and how I mean, we understand Rams because Rams
have always been in my mind as part of the end.
But the thing that I can’t make sense of is all of the the missile
weapons involved, right?
Talk to us a little bit about how ancient naval warfare might have functioned.
Well, you know, it depends who, where and when there are there are fleets
that are elegant and they fight elegantly and with maneuverability.
So the Athenian fleet in the classical period, the example of that par excellence.
And there are other navies that don’t have this good seamanship.
They go for a heft.
And the Roman navies are generally the latter sort.
The Romans like to basically use their ships
as floating manpower platforms, and they would send in the Marines
from ship to ship, but they would do ramming as well.
The Egyptian navy is a Greek navy, and they’re much better at ramming.
And Antony and Cleopatra ships have reinforced prowess,
which means that they can do if they do head on ramming,
they have an advantage.
So if they can ram into the enemy’s fleet at first,
they can do very serious damage.
For Octavian and Agrippa’s fleet, they can do some ramming,
but for them, missile weapons and boarding are,
I think, are going to be more likely tactics.
But they’ve had a lot of experience, so they can do some ramming as well
by this point.
To your earlier question of how when you have 400 ships,
how do you coordinate this?
It has to be done in segments.
You know, you’re not going to be it’s very difficult to have the entire battle
line working in coordination.
As you say, the communications ability was quite primitive.
And yet they did communicate with flags,
with trumpet blasts, with shields and swords that had,
you know, they use flashing shield and swords for signals.
And they had small ships that went from ship to ship to send signals.
So they weren’t totally in the dark in one of these battles.
But yeah, it’s really difficult and really loud.
And there’s going to have to be a lot.
There’s going to be a lot of chaos in a naval battle.
So help me understand this better,
because one of the things that fascinates me about the pre-modern era
are these questions about whether or not early.
So if I said to you to set up the question, if I said to you,
how would an army from the Franco-Prussian War
in the in the 1870s fare against a Second World War army?
It’s a ludicrous question for obvious reasons.
But it’s not so ludicrous when you go to the pre-modern era, right?
I mean, could Alexander’s army have defeated a Viking force?
So my question is, is how was this going in naval warfare?
If we had a battle, if you could bring back the Athenian fleet
from Salamis or something from that era to fight a Roman fleet
in the era of Augustus Caesar, is that something that is a thing
or is that going to be an outrageously one sided thing?
And if so, why?
Well, it depends. It’s a great question.
And it depends where the battle is fought.
The Athenians went at Salamis, remember, because they set up the battle.
Again, Sun Tzu setting up the battle in the perfect place for them
geographically in the narrow Salamis Straits.
With the island there and everything. Yes.
Yes. With the Persians who have outnumbered them and have faster ships
can’t use that advantage.
So if the I think if it’s a battle is going to be fought on open water,
that the Romans are going to have an advantage against the Athenians,
particularly if they have in general, their ships had reinforced
prows compared to what they were like in the age of the triremes.
So they will have that advantage.
They’re better at ramming.
And they have missile technology that the Athenians don’t.
They have they have much bigger ships.
Their ships are clunkier.
But as long as they can get in there and ram, I think they are
they’re likely to win.
But that being said, so, you know, earlier when Agrippa and Octavian
were fighting Sextus Pompey in the decade before Actium,
they had to build a navy from scratch.
They didn’t really have a navy.
Rome would have these great navies, which is what used against Carthage.
And then it would let naval technology go down.
And then you get someone like Pompey and he and his family
specialized in building new navies.
Pompey’s ships, fleets were very maneuverable.
And at first, Octavian and Agrippa’s fleets weren’t maneuverable.
They had to reinvent the navy.
They had to come up with new technology.
They had a kind of harpoon that they used to attach themselves to the enemy ship.
And they got enemy admirals to defect to their fleet to give away
the enemy’s secrets and also to help them improve their maneuverability.
But remember, the other thing to remember about Octavian and Agrippa is,
as you said earlier, they win these naval battles partly on land.
They always attack the enemy’s land bases and the enemy’s logistics
so that the enemy is left with a fleet that can can’t fight very well
because they can’t feed the men very well.
And Anthony actually has to burn some of his ships,
a lot of his ships before before the Battle of Actium.
So it’s this this really great strategic vision and the ability to to cut off
the enemy before the enemy can actually fight.
That contributes so much to their success.
All right. Let’s talk about getting back to our Shakespeare
romantic parts of the story or romantic is a weird word
when you’re talking about suicide.
But but Cleopatra’s famous death
by the bite of the asp, supposedly, or whatnot.
First of all, why did she have to die?
Why was this a setup situation where this was perceived as the necessary step?
And then let’s talk about what we know about the reality or lack
thereof of the actual event itself.
Sure. So I think that Cleopatra was a problem for Octavian
as long as she was around.
First of all, he declared war on Cleopatra.
He didn’t declare a war on Antony.
And generally you not you often march the enemy general in the triumph.
And then you had him kill the Caesar did with Ferus and Gatorix.
The problem with that is that Octavian knew that Cleopatra would win
the sympathy of the Roman public as a mother, as a woman
that already had this problem with her sister, that the Romans did not want
to have have killed, killed earlier.
So he feared that she would live.
And as long as she lived, she is dangerous.
This is one dangerous person.
I mean, she’s brilliant.
She’s cunning. She’s charming. She’s seductive.
She’s not great for Antony to have around.
Then there’s the problem of her son.
What’s he going to do?
You know, Antony can’t allow Tolomei Caesar, Caesarean to live.
You mean Octavian can’t allow that?
Excuse me. Octavian can’t allow Tolomei Caesar to to live.
So what’s he going to do?
Kill him and then say to Cleopatra, no hard feelings.
You know, just just come to Rome.
No, she’s she is a major, major problem.
She also was Caesar’s lover.
And that’s not great for him, you know, because he wants to be Caesar.
Nobody else can have a piece of Caesar.
So there are all sorts of reasons why he wants her off the stage.
And he most definitely wants her oldest son off the stage.
And explain what happens to him.
So so Cleopatra understands that he’s not long for this world.
Once Octavian enters Alexandria, she sends him south
with a trusted aide, his his tutor.
And they are on their way to India.
They’re going to go to the Red Sea coast, take ship and go to India.
And earlier, Cleopatra and Antony had hoped that they could go to India as well.
But their enemies burned their fleets.
And there are and there we should say there are successor Greek states in in parts of
I think it’s what’s now Pakistan.
But there are there are places to go with with a cultural affinity
for for Cleopatra’s background, kind of.
Excellent point. Excellent point.
That is true. Yes, yes, yes.
But unfortunately, his tutor betrays Caesarean.
He wants to be on the side of the winners.
So he either kills Caesarean or brings him back to Alexandria and says, you know,
Gaius Julius Caesar, Octavian is your brother.
He wants to welcome you.
You’re both the sons of Julius Caesar.
And then he is executed.
He’s executed in Alexandria.
That’s again, it’s interesting to think of the of the murderous.
I mean, there’s there’s a there’s a godfather sort of feel to some of this, where it’s
it’s it’s the heir and and kin of Julius Caesar that snuffs out the true heir of.
I mean, the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the empire is so
there’s a Sopranos kind of a vibe to the whole thing.
Oh, it’s definitely so.
So what? And we’ll leave it with this.
But we’ll actually leave it with me asking you if I left anything out.
But I would love to find out what you think the average well-educated, well-informed
person should know about these events 2000 years later.
Well, that is a great question.
I think they should know, first of all, that battles and wars really do matter.
If this had gone the other way, we would be speaking the language today.
We might well be speaking a language today with a Greek base rather than a Latin base
to the extent that Western culture is a Christian culture, be more like Orthodox Christianity
than Western Christian.
That’s fascinating. Yes.
Yeah, I think that’s that’s that’s the case.
And I think that Western civilization would look eastward in many ways.
It would be more like Islamic civilization than the civilization that develops in in
Europe later. And the Roman heritage would have been much even more.
It was a Greco-Roman heritage, but it would have been even more of a Greco-Roman
heritage. So that’s one thing.
Another thing is that, as you said, strategy is the most important thing in a war.
And you can have the best weapons and the most money and you still lose because that’s
exactly what happened to Antony and Cleopatra.
And of course, there are some more recent examples as well.
So this, I think, is a permanent lesson.
And then something you said earlier, just the fascinating importance of character and
personality. And, you know, Antony said when Octavian was first starting, he said, oh,
that guy, he’s nothing but a name.
He has nothing but Caesar.
The name is Caesar. But that wasn’t true.
The guy was just immensely talented.
He was just a genius when it came to the art of politics and strategy.
And that’s the ultimate reason why he succeeds.
What haven’t I asked you about that’s worth talking about in this?
Your book had so many different, wonderful little avenues, and I just touched upon some
of them. Maybe you can give me an idea of the question that I didn’t ask you.
Did you want to know about the Asp?
Sure. I always want to know about the Asp.
It’s foremost in my mind most of the time.
You did mention it before.
Are we talking cobra here or is this something else?
Multiple cobras, baby cobras.
What are we talking about?
I think we’re talking baby cobras.
First of all, there are some scholars who say this is all made up.
Octavian had her assassinated and he makes up this fairy story about the.
That could be true.
Yeah, maybe I just I find that really hard to believe because all the ancient sources
buy it. And there are people there at the time in Cleopatra’s court who write memoirs.
And I don’t believe they’re so scared of Antony, of Octavian, that they aren’t going to say,
oh, by the way, she didn’t commit suicide.
I actually think that she and Octavian made a deal that if she committed suicide, he would
let her three children by Antony live and he kept his side of the bargain.
So that’s kind of my guess.
So I see it as a scene in The Godfather when Tommy Hagen tells Frankie Fantangeli, you
know, to commit suicide in the bath like the old Roman emperors.
And don’t worry about your family.
They’ll be fine.
It’s a General Rommel situation.
Yeah, that’s kind of how I see it with Cleopatra.
I was very skeptical of the asp because the ancient sources say we don’t know if it was
an if it was an asp, a snake.
It’s just a generic word for a snake or if it was poison.
And I consulted a colleague of mine, a herpetologist, and he said there’s no problem.
It could have been it could have been a baby cobra.
It could easily have been a baby cobra that would have done the job just fine.
So I came away a believer thinking sometimes weird things happen in history.
And this is just one of those weird things.
And you pointed out the connection between the cobra and the ancient, even by then,
pharaonic Egypt connection to the snake and her being the last in this line and the
first one to speak Egypt, Egyptian.
I mean, there’s a whole there’s a there’s so much symbolism that that makes me
question the the the history, historicity of it.
But, you know, and maybe we’ll leave it at this because I don’t want to open up a whole
other can of worms. But I love the fact and you just alluded to it, how much an ancient
person or a person, you know, in in a hundred A.D.
would have had in a library sense in terms of research materials from primary sources
that have been gone for two thousand years to find out.
I mean, like you said, Octavian’s got memoirs.
A lot of the people involved in this thing wrote stories.
I mean, if they find a buried library someday from the ancient world where we can
translate the documents, those are the kind of things weirdos like yours truly dream
about. Professor Strauss, this is wonderful.
The book is wonderful. And thank you for illuminating a bunch of this stuff that’s hard
to imagine without some guidance.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for the conversation.
My thanks to Professor Barry Strauss for coming on the program today and talking about
this absolutely critical naval battle at this hinge point between two important periods in
human history, the transition from the Roman Republic to what we’ll call later the Roman
Empire. His new book is called The War That Made the Roman Empire, Antony Cleopatra and
Octavian at Actium.
He is an expert in ancient naval warfare, by the way.
And if that is something you like, he’s got a great book on the Battle of Salamis and the
Greek and Persian Wars.
Also, he wrote one on the death of Julius Caesar called The Death of Caesar.
So he’s got several books you may want to check out.
This one on Actium is a wonderful reminder for me as I read it.
It’s a deep dive on this stuff about what it signifies for these ancient societies.
I mean, to be able to put 600 giant wooden ships on the waves, coordinate their activities,
feed their crews.
I mean, the number of things involved to me without any of our modern tools just reminds
me that our ancestors were very clever and these societies were more sophisticated and
capable than we commonly think they were.
I also and we’ve talked about this before, there’s nobody who’s seen anything like what
the Battle of Actium looked like.
I feel the same way about land battles in the ancient world.
And I’ve talked about how I would love to have, although it would probably give me PTSD
later, a hot air balloon hovering over one of these ancient land battles to see what
it looked like, because nobody knows.
And the ancient writers left out key points because, well, if people 500 years from now
were reading about one of our wars, we’re not going to explain common things like what
a gun is and how a bullet fires and what that looks like and how, you know, we assume that
you’re aware of certain realities, but eventually they won’t be.
And so no one knows really what ancient warfare looked like on land or at sea.
All I can say is this.
If you study naval history, you’ll notice that there are lots of naval battles that
have lots of ships in history.
So the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Second World War, a naval battle famously with
hundreds and hundreds of ships, right?
Just like the Battle of Actium.
The difference, though, is at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, these ships are spread out over
hundreds and hundreds of miles of ocean, a huge area.
They’re not all congregated in a small space, but at Actium they are and at Salamis
they are. I mean, what do 600 ships on the waves at the same time in one place that can
all see each other?
I mean, what does that look like?
And when they start hurling bolts and stones at each other from a distance and then
javelins and arrows as they get closer and the Marines start boarding hull to hull, I
just visually I can’t picture it.
That’s why I need a time machine and my hot air balloon, right?
I’m going to spend all my money on a hot air balloon, as I’ve said, to hover over an
ancient land battle so that I can get an idea of what it really looks like, right?
The physics of ancient warfare, as I always call it.
Well, there’s a physics of ancient naval warfare, too.
And I have just as much of a hard time imagining what the heck that’s like.
Thanks to Barry Strauss for helping clear some of that up in the war that made the
Roman Empire. Now, the semi-legendary pseudo-mythical producer of this program is
once again on my case about not pushing merchandise hard enough to you folks.
I’m just not much of a self-promoter.
He says, is it too much trouble to just say we have hats and T-shirts available?
And it’s not. So we do.
And if you want those, they’re available from DanCarlin.com.
Also, as you probably know, we also have, in addition to the free shows that are always
available, after a couple of years, we cycle those things into the paid archives and we
charge what we hope you think is a fair price for those programs.
I, of course, would want to redo every one of those programs, but I am told by listeners
that they appreciate watching the evolution of this show, which was going at the time
hand in hand with the evolution of the podcasting medium.
Standards were different in 2006, for example, but there’s something interesting about
watch, just like watching old television shows, I guess.
It’s interesting to see, you know, how they did things back in the old days compared to
how we do things now.
Hey, was certainly shorter and sweeter back then, wasn’t it?
In any case, if you’re interested in that, that’s available from the website, too.
We live in interesting times, as always, everyone.
Please stay safe.
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