The battle of Actium is one of the most famous clashes in Roman history, although admittedly most people are only aware of it as the background to the romance between Anthony and Cleopatra. In fact the battle was one of the most important of the Ancient world, and marked the final end of the civil wars that had destroyed the Roman Republic. Octavian's victory at Actium decided the course that the Roman world would take, and gave birth to the Empire.
This book starts with an unusually long introduction, taking up one third of the entire book, and covering the entire course of the rivalry between Antony and Octavian from the Pact of Brundisium of 40 BC, which brought a temporary end to the Roman civil wars, to the outbreak of open war between the former Triumvirs. This is followed by a chapter on the commanders themselves, before Sheppard moves on to a good overview of Ancient naval warfare, tracing the evolution of the warship from the simple trireme, through the massive showpieces of Hellenistic warfare to the more balanced ships of this period.
The chapter on Actium itself takes up one quarter of the book, with fifteen pages of text and two double-spread full colour maps. Antony and Octavian's strategies are explained clearly, as is the course of the battle. Sheppard then follows events to their tragic end in Egypt, and beyond to look at Octavian's transformation into Augustus.
As is almost always the case with Osprey the text is supported by a series of good clear maps and some good double-page illustrations, with useful historical keys on the next page. Contemporary illustrations are harder to come by, but Sheppard filled this gap well with a good selection of pictures of ancient coins, a valuable propaganda tool at that time.
This is a good account of this crucial period in Roman history, made so in my opinion by the decision to give a full historical background to the battle, rather than starting with the outbreak of open war 33 BC.
The Approach to Actium
The Battle of Actium
Author: Si Sheppard