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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mark Antony: A Life, 3 Mar. 2014
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mark Antony: A Life (Paperback)
I’ve read a few other books by Patricia Southern, and her scholarly yet accessible approach to the writing of classical history is always welcome.

In the introductory chapter, there is a brief look at the ancient writers who wrote about Mark Antony – Cicero, Plutarch,Suetonius, Appian – and how these writers and their sources possibly reinforced the stereotpyical view of Antony – in more modern times that personified by Shakespeare in ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. The second chapter offers an overview of the political scene of the late Republic – its institutions and officers. And then we move to the life of Antony himself.

Mark Antony’s life is vital to an understanding of the transition between Republic and Empire, if only because he became such an implacable enemy of Octavian, and because of his relationship with ‘the enemy’ Cleopatra. It was this relationship with a foreign power that allowed Octavian to pursue Mark Antony to the death, when a civil war would have been regarded with some horror by the Roman elite. Antony’s early relationship with Caesar and his rather unexpected political backbone and fight that he showed after Caesar’s death ensured early power struggles with Octavian did not all go Octavian’s way. In fact, when you read of Octavian’s early life it seems that he was blessed with an awful lot of luck. The third wheel in the Second Triumvirate, Lepidus was soon left behind by the main two antagonists. After the defeat of Antony’s forces at Actium in 31 BC, Antony’s fate may have seemed sealed.

This is a really good look at Mark Antony; his life and death, but also his place in the late Republic and in the transition to the early Empire. His role was pivotal, as a legatee of the late Republic and Caesar’s ambitions, and as an opponent of the way Octavian wanted to shape his own world. Octavian’s success may have seemed at times like the luck of the Gods, but Antony put up a good fight all along the way. He was a man of his times; coarse, brutal, yet learned and clearly militarily and politically astute to a point. Patricia Southern’s view of Mark Antony is well worth reading, as are all her books. The only complaint I have is that in the paperback edition of this book which I read it had remarkably tiny printing, which seems to be entirely unnecessary in this day and age.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sympathetic and roguish warlord, 26 Nov. 2013
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mark Antony: A Life (Paperback)
In this rather superb "biography" of Mark Antony, Patricia Southern manages to present in slightly more than 250 pages a fascinating reconstruction of the warlord, his personality, his achievements, his conflicts against the assassins of Caesar, and his ultimate failure, defeat and death against Octavius. The last few decades of the Roman Republic are presented in an engaging, easy to read and, at times, witty way, with the author displaying quite a bit of dry humour which makes the book all the more entertaining to read.

I hesitated for a long time before buying this book, believing I knew the story already (think of "Antony and Cleopatra" and so on). I was largely wrong, on both counts. The main events are, of course, rather well-known, but Patricia Southern's talent lies in making the characters come alive and putting the events into context. The author clearly likes Mark Antony, but given the portrait that she draws of him, there does seem to have been a lot to like. Even if biased, the portrait is a convincing one (at least it convinced me!). As she mentions herself, above all, he was human, with his (many) flaws, his (just as numerous) qualities, and his considerable talents.

One of the numerous qualities of this book is to show to what extent Mark Antony's opponent and final nemesis was successful in his efforts to tarnish and largely destroy his reputation, both at the time and nowadays.

This is where and how the devious, cunning, shrewd, unscrupulous, ambitious and very ruthless Octavius managed to outdo, dominate and destroy Mark Antony, despite not being a talented soldier like he was. One of the most interesting aspects of this book, however, was to show that Mark Antony was no mean politician himself. As all Roman senators seeking to rise to prominence, he knew the rules of the game, or rather he knew they were none. He could also be - and was - utterly ruthless and cruel, just as Octavius, with the best example being the proscriptions in which Cicero was murdered, as were many other opponents of Mark Antony and Octavius, or the time when each of them sacrificed (meaning executed) one of their lieutenants to "appease" the other party.

All through the book, however, and as Patricia Southern rolls out the events that took place since Mark Antony's birth (around 83 BC, although there is some uncertainty), we see what she portrays as a sympathetic rogue emerging as a young and dashing cavalry officer before becoming Caesar's loyal and trusted right-hand man right up to his murder. It is after Caesar's murder that the rivalry and temporary alliances with Octavius begin, as the later starts building up his power base and credentials as Caesar's largely self-appointed and self-advertised heir, and as his avenger. This is where the biography becomes fascinating and there are several layers to it.

As hinted at before, a second layer is to disentangle what could have been the truth and the real motivations of the protagonists from the propaganda and rewriting of history that Octavius indulged in and encouraged after his victory, once he was the last man standing. As the author acknowledges, in many cases, her proposals are no more than that because we will never know for certain what happened or what the various parties really thought or intended. However, and whether true or not, her reconstructions are at least plausible, and in most cases they entirely make sense and also seem very credible.

There is perhaps a couple of instances where I was not entirely convinced, with one being the author's statement, which I had already read before, about Marc Antony being essentially a brilliant second in command. This might be yet another underestimation of Mark Antony, and possibly one of the only ones that Patricia Southern did not identify. This is because Mark Antony was clearly no one's second in command when he vanquished the "Liberators" Brutus and Cassius almost single-handed, with Octavius being of little help, to put it very mildly. An excellent point demonstrated several times through the book is that Mark Antony was at his best during a crisis, as the man of action that he essentially was. In the absence of such crises, he could be lulled into complacency, and only become aware of the threat looming over him at the eleveenth hour.

With regards to his Parthian Campaign, the author could perhaps have insisted a bit more on some interesting features that show Mark Antony as being well above the average warlord. One was his feint before chosing to go north and attack from Armenia. This allowed him to steal a march on the Parthians, to some extent. In fact, Roman invasions from Armenia would become a bit of a "classic" over the next century, if only because it meant advancing across broken ground for longer and therefore not offering the Parthians the opportunity to deploy their horse archers on the plain and harass the Roman army at will when on the march. This, and the fact that he had with him more light infantry and cavalry than Crassus had taken, shows that he had "larnt the lessons" and did not underestimate the Parthians.

The campaign did of course end in failure, and Octavius very much capitalised on this, doing all he could to prevent Mark Antony from launching a second campaign which would allow him to rebuild his credibility over the next three years. There are however two points which are particularly interesting, and which the author could also have emphasised a bit more.

One is that the main reason for the failure of this campaign was the Parthian attack of Mark Antony's siege and supply train and its destruction, along with the two full legions that were escorting it. While some historians have blamed Mark Antony for marching ahead and exposing his siege and supply train in a reckless way, the real mistake seems to have been to trust the Armenian King. He betrayed Mark Antony and withdrew with his troops (and his cavalry in particular) once the Parthian attacked the supply train, leaving the legions as sitting ducks that were cut to pieces since they were totally exposed to the Parthian horse archers and lancers and were largely unable to retaliate in kind. The mistake here seems to have been a political one, with Mark Antony being once again being too trusting, perhaps naïve, perhaps also over-confident and clearly not anticipating that the Armenian King could change sides. The campaign would clearly have been a very different one had his siege and supply train not been destroyed.

The second point is that during the retreat Mark Antony managed to keep his army together and extricate most of it (probably as much as two-thirds), although his troops were hungry, short of water and harassed by the Parthians. While this still meant appalling losses that Mark Antony could ill afford and nothing to show for them, this in itself was no mean feat, especially when compared to the fate of Crassus who lost perhaps three quarters of his force, along with his own life. Contrary to Crassus also, Mark Antony even seems to have won a number of engagements and repulsed a number of Parthian assaults along the way, showing that he had clearly thought about some way of countering the harassments.

Then there is what has been portrayed as the great romance between Mark Antony and Cleôpatra. As the author shows (and other historian have also shown in their respective works), Mark Antony did not simply "lose it", fall madly in love and do the Egyptian Queen's every whim. If anything, it was as much a political partnership in which the Roman Triumvir was initially, and at least until the failure of his Parthian campaign, the dominant partner with Cleôpatra being no more than the most powerful among his allied monarchs, as it was a (very probably genuine) love affair. The balance shifted in favor of the Egyptian queen afterward this campaign and as the final showdown against Octavius approached, because Mark Antony had to increasingly rely of the resources that only Egypt could provide. Mark Antony's dilemma was that, by doing so, he feed Octavius' propaganda to such an extent that his own officers started to abandon him and rally that of his opponent even before the battle of Actium.

This brings up another very interesting feature. Throughout the book, and although the main subjects are clearly Mark Antony, his character and his actions, there is lurking somewhere in the background the actions and character of the scheming Octavius. Implicit comparisons come to mind almost all the time, with the author concluding that Mark Antony, while ruthless and ambitious, was probably not ruthless or ambitious enough. In particular, he let pass quite a few occasions when he could (and probably should) have crushed his opponent before he became too strong and Mark Antony became too weak to win.

What the book also shows is that an unsympathetic Octavius, this patient master politician and spin master, won over a more dashing and apparently more powerful Mark Antony. The later seems to have been prone to a mixture of arrogance, over confidence and perhaps even naivety at times. In particular, he seems to have believed that he could defeat Octavius in battle anytime he wanted. The later, of course, had no intention to oblige when he could destroy his ennemy in a much safer way through subversion. This is what he did and the result was Actium, which Octavius, soon to become Augustus Caesar, presented as a major victory against the forces of a renegade Roman general "bewitched" by an over-ambitious foreign Queen. In reality, it seems to have been a bit of a "damp squid", to use the author's expression.

An excellent biography which is worth five stars for me. This is because it manages rather superbly to bring the sympathetic and roguish warlord who loved wine, women and song (to paraphrase the author) to life, in spite of his much malinged reputation and, ultimately, in spite of his arch-ennemy Octavius and all of his efforts to blacken the loser.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mark Anthony: A Life, 24 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Mark Antony: A Life (Paperback)
I'm enjoying this book very much. Paricia Southern has the ability to give relevant information and to make it interesting at the same time. Not all historians can write in this way. I'm thinking of a biography of Tyndal I bought 4 years' ago. The style was so turgid I never ventured beyond the first 5 pages.This book however reads almost like a story and I don't want to put it down .

That isn't to say it's sensationalist, it's not. There's no need to dramatise anything as the facts are dramatic enough in themselves.Like most people I believed Mark Anthony to be a playboy of the Ancient World and only given to wine, women and song. He wasn't. After his death Octavian had his memory damned so nothing ever good was written about him. Patricia Southern puts the record straight. She shows what a complex and interesting character Anthony was: courageous, loyal, a great leader of men and 'a force to be reckoned with as an orator';

A minor point: the print in my Amberley paperback edition is rather small and grey.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fair, balanced and satisfying, 15 Oct. 2010
By 
Daniel Park "danielpark99" (West Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mark Antony: A Life (Hardcover)
This is a balanced representation of the life of one of Rome's greatest generals, showing that - contrary to propoganda and popular belief - he was a shrewd politician, pragmatic diplomat and masterly orator. The narration is fair and unbiased. Even though a lack of definitive knowledge, due to the later destruction and damnation of his name, sometimes leads to uncertainties,the author employs conjecture creditably sparingly. This would have been a challenging project to undertake, but ultimately this biography proves as satisfying to read as it probably was to write.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marc Antony a life, 1 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: Mark Antony: A Life (Hardcover)
A fantastic read.. Iv only one complaint..I could not put it down. Anyone got a mind wipe, so I can read it again. Although I will in a few years....buy it..!
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Mark Antony: A Life
Mark Antony: A Life by Patricia Southern (Paperback - 5 Oct. 2012)
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