Mark Antony (83 – 30 BC)
Few figures from the ancient world had such a reputation for heavy drinking as the mad, bad and (for his allies and enemies alike) dangerous to know Mark Antony. Before his appointment to Egypt, Antony had been one of the three triumvirs in Rome responsible for issuing prescriptions: lists of political enemies who were to be executed and beheaded for a price. According to Seneca the Younger, Antony would have the heads and hands of his enemies brought to him at feasts and banquets were intoxicated with wine, he would take pleasure in identifying who they once belonged to.
Antony’s cruelty during the proscriptions in Rome was enough earns him a spot in Seneca the Younger’s philosophical exposition “On Drunkenness” as an example of a man driven insane by drink. But from what we know of his affair in Egypt with the Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra, he was no better away from the capital. Mark Antony reputedly enjoyed riding around in a chariot dressed as the god Bacchus, wearing and ivy crown and carrying a golden goblet overflowing with wine.
There was a strangely positive side to Antony’s excessive drinking, however. His biographer, Plutarch, tells us that in Rome Antony broke convention by drinking in public from a soldier’s drinking vessel. But while this may have earned him criticism from his political rivals, it also earned him the respect of his soldiers who valued their general’s common touch and ability to handle his liquor.
Plutarch also gives us a valuable glimpse into what made Antony so dependent on drink. Combat anxiety was one factor, and given the number of battles Antony fought throughout his life, it’s quite easy to see how this could have led to dependency. It seems Antony was also well aware of the anesthetizing effects of alcohol. Not only did he use wine to self-medicate when away, sick on campaign, but he also took comfort from it when Cleopatra put off her visits to him.
It wasn’t just others who were quick to point out Antony’s weakness for wine. We’re told that he even published a book on the subject of his own drunkenness (unfortunately it doesn’t survive, though you imagine it wouldn’t have been particularly coherent anyway). Apparently, he wrote this book shortly before the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, a critical naval battle that saw Antony and Cleopatra lose to Octavian (Augustus), leading to both of their suicides and the re-establishment of a monarchy in Rome. Antony’s final moments are particularly revealing in illustrating his drink dependency: bleeding to death from a self-inflicted stab wound, he asked only for more wine.