Maritime Art

The Battle of Actium, 2 September 31 BC, (1672)

By L.A.Castro

This painting from the last quarter of the seventeenth century is a depiction of the naval Battle of Actium, fought on 2 September 31 BC, between the naval forces of Octavian and those of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. It was decisive victory for Octavian, and his victory gave him control of the entire Roman world. The woman on the ornate barge, gesturing in despair, may represent Cleopatra.

Castro was a Flemish seascape painter of Portuguese extraction and master of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1664-65. He made this painting while he was living in England, so historians believe it was probably for an English patron. An account of the battle given in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, was translated into English in the late 17th century and may have been the inspiration for this commission.

The image is a fascinating mixture of the ancient world and seventeenth century Europe. The Roman ‘galleys’ more closely resemble Dutch fluyts and the woman who may be Cleopatra is wearing seventeenth century European dress.

The Society has published a number of articles on Roman maritime history which can be browsed here

Of particular note is this recent article from 2016 on Caesar’s crossing of the Adriatic during the Roman Civil War of 49 BC…

and this, from 1929, on the discovery of the extraordinary Roman vessels in Lake Nemi.

Maritime Art Archive

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