In 41 B.C. Antony began an affair with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, who had been Caesar’s lover in the last years of his life. The queen gave birth to twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, but Antony was forced to return to Rome to deal with the aftermath of his wife and brother-in-law’s failed rebellion against Octavian. The Senate pushed for conciliation between the triumvirs, pressing the recently widowed Antony to marry Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor in 40 B.C.
In 37 B.C. the Triumvirate was renewed. Antony returned to Cleopatra and fathered a son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. The lovers grew more public in their relationship, participating in deification ceremonies where they took the roles of the Greco-Egyptian gods Dionysus-Osiris and Venus-Isis. More provocatively, they paraded their three children and Caesarion (Cleopatra’s son by Julius Ceasar) in costumes as legitimate royal heirs, flaunting Roman law’s refusal to acknowledge marriage with outsiders. Politically, Antony grew more and more entwined with the Egyptian kingdom, having turned to Cleopatra for help following his failed expedition against the Parthians in 36 B.C.
Meanwhile Octavian grew in strength, eliminating Lepidus from the triumvirate on a pretext of rebellion. In 32 B.C. Antony divorced Octavia. In retaliation, Octavian declared war, not on Antony but on Cleopatra. The fighting occurred in western Greece, where Antony had superior numbers but fell time and again to the brilliant naval attacks of Octavian’s general Agrippa. After their combined forces were defeated at Actium, Antony and Cleopatra’s remaining ships made a desperate flight back to Egypt, pursued by Agrippa and Octavian.
As Octavian entered Alexandria, both Antony and Cleopatra resolved to commit suicide. Antony, thinking his lover already dead, stabbed himself with a sword but was then brought to die in Cleopatra’s arms. Cleopatra was captured but managed to kill herself via a poisonous snakebite. After Antony’s death his honors were all revoked, his statues removed. Cicero, Antony’s great rival in the senate, decreed that no one in the dead general’s family would ever bear the name Mark Antony again. Octavian was now emperor in all but name. Three years later he was granted a new honorific, Augustus, and ruled Rome for the next four decades.