Octavian’s Trolling and Propaganda Against Mark Antony
In 1493, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press dramatically amplified the gathering and dissemination of news. However, this innovation came with a dark side as it later delivered the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. The Great Moon Hoax was the first-large scale news hoax in which the New York Sun published a series of articles about the discovery of life on the moon. The articles were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, one of the best-known astronomers of that time, and were published complete with illustrations of humanoid bat-creatures and bearded blue unicorns. But this was not the first time that disinformation and propaganda featured in human communication. It played a major role during the first century Roman BC in the battle of words between Octavian and Mark Antony.
Treachery In The Triumvirate
Apart from using biographers and their narratives to discredit the reputation of the Roman general Mark Antony, his nemesis Octavian, the adopted heir of Julius Caesar, also waged a propaganda war in the form of brief, sharp slogans written on coins to portray Antony as a womanizer and a drunk. Through his use of propaganda, Octavian also implied that Mark Antony had been corrupted by his affair with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and had become Cleopatra’s puppet. This early deployment of a disinformation campaign allowed Octavian to impact the republican system once and for all and to such an extent that it led to him becoming Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and emerged victorious over Pompey following a turbulent period of generals vying for power, he teased his citizens with the appearance of stability. However, this joy was short-lived as it ended with Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. A year later, on 27 November 43 BC, Octavian, General Mark Antony and the Pontifex Maximus Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, formed a political alliance (the Second Triumvirate) to declare war on Caesar’s assassins and restore order in Rome. Formally called tresviri rei publicae constituendae (the Triumvirate for Organizing the Republic), the alliance was meant to last for two five-year terms. However, unlike the earlier alliance between Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus (the First Triumvirate) which was a private arrangement among three men, the Second Triumvirate was an official, legally established institution, which vested the three men who formed it with dictatorial powers.
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Top Image: Castro Battle of Actium by Lorenzo Castro (1672) (Public Domain)