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A´CTIUM (Ἄκτιον: Eth. Ἄκτιος, Eth. Actius: Adj. Ἀκτιακός, Actiacus, also Ἄκτιος, Actius), a promontory in Acarnania at the entrance of the Ambraciot Gulf (Gulf of Arta) off which Augustus gained his celebrated victory over Antony and Cleopatra, on September 2nd, B.C. 31. There was a temple of Apollo on this promontory, which Thutydides mentions (1.29) as situated in the territory of Anactorium. This temple was of great antiquity, and Apollo derived from it the surname of Actius and Actiacus. There was also an ancient festival named Actia, celebrated here in honour of the god. Augustus after his victory enlarged the temple, and revived the ancient festival, which was henceforth celebrated once in four years (πενταετηρίς, ludi quinquennales), with musical and gymnastic contests, and horse races. (D. C. 51.1; Suet. Aug. 18.) We learn from a Greek inscription found on the site of Actium, and which is probably prior to the time of Augustus, that the chief priest of the temple was called Ἱεραπόλος, and that his name was employed in official documents, like that of the first Archon at Athens, to mark the date. (Böckh, Corpus Inscript. No. 1793.) Strabo says (p. 325) that the temple was situated on an eminence, and that below was a plain with a grove of trees, and a dock-yard; and in another passage (p. 451) he describes the harbour as situated outside of the gulf. On the opposite coast of Epirus, Augustus founded the city of Nicopolis in honour of his victory. [NICOPOLIS] Actium was properly not a town, though it is sometimes described as such; but after the foundation of Nicopolis, a few buildings sprang up around the temple, and it served as a kind of suburb to Nicopolis.

The site of Actium has been a subject of dispute. The accompanying plan of the entrance of the Ambraciot gulf, taken from the map published by Lieut. Wolfe (Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. iii.) will give the reader a clear idea of the locality.


The entrance of the Ambraciot gulf lies between the low point off Acarnania, on which stands Fort La Punta (5), and the promontory of Epirus, on which stands the modern town of Prevesa (1), near the site of the ancient Nicopolis. The narrowest part of this entrance is only 700 yards, but the average distance between the two shores is half a mile. After passing through this strait, the coast turns abruptly round a small point to the SE., forming a bay about 4 miles in width, called the Bay of Prevesa (P). A second entrance is then formed to the larger basin of the gulf by the two high capes of La Scara (2) in Epeirus, and of Madonna (4) in Acarnania, the width of this second entrance being about one mile and a half. Now some modern writers, among others D'Anville, suppose Actium to have been situated on Cape Madonna, and Anactorium, which Strabo (p. 451) describes as 40 stadia from Actium, on La Punta. Two reasons have led them to adopt this conclusion: first, because the ruins on C. Madonna are sometimes called Azio (6), which name is apparently a corruption of the ancient Actium; and, secondly, because the temple of Apollo is said by Strabo to have stood on a height, which description answers to the rocky eminence on C. Madonna, and not to the low peninsula of La Punta. But these reasons are not conclusive, and there can be no doubt that the site of Actium corresponds to La Punta. For it should be observed, first, that the name Azio is unknown to the Greeks, and appears to have been introduced by the Venetians, who conjectured that the ruins on C. Madonna were those of Actium, and therefore invented the word; and, secondly, that though Strabo places the temple of Apollo on a height, he does not say that this height was on the sea, but on the contrary, that it was at some little distance from the sea. In other respects Strabo's evidence is decisive in favour of the identification of Actium with La Punta. He says that Actium is one point which forms the entrance of the bay; and it is clear that he considered the entrance of the bay to be between Prevesa and La Punta, because he makes the breadth of the strait “a little more than four stadia,” or half a mile, which is true when applied to the first narrow entrance, but not to the second. That the strait between Prevesa and La Punta was regarded as the entrance of the Ambraciot gulf, is clear, not only from the distance assigned to it by Strabo, but from the statements of [p. 1.24]Polybius (4.63), who makes it 5 stadia, of Scylax (v. Κασσωπιί), who makes it 4 stadia, and of Pliny (4.1) who makes it 500 paces. Anactorium is described by Strabo as “situated within the bay,” while Actium makes “the mouth of the bay.” (Strab. pp. 325, 451.) Anactorium, therefore, must be placed on the promontory of C. Madonna. [For its exact site, see ANACTORIUM] The testimony of Strabo is confirmed by that of Dio Cassius. The latter writer says (50.12) that “Actium is a temple of Apollo, and is situated before the mouth of the strait of the Ambraciot gulf, over against the harbours of Nicopolis.” Cicero tells us (ad Fam. 16.6, 9) that in coasting from Patrae to Corcyra he touched at Actium, which he could hardly have done, if it were so far out of his way as the inner strait between C. La Scara and C. Madonna. Thus we come to the conclusion that the promontory of Actium was the modern La Punta (3), and that the temple of Apollo was situated a little to the S., outside the strait, probably near the Fort La Punta (5).

A few remarks are necessary respecting the site of the battle, which has conferred its chief celebrity upon Actium. The fleet of Antony was stationed in the Bay of Prevesa (P). His troops had built towers on each side of the mouth of the strait, and they occupied the channel itself with their ships. Their camp was near the temple of Apollo, on a level spacious ground. Augustus was encamped on the opposite coast of Epirus, on the spot where Nicopolis afterwards stood; his fleet appears to have been stationed in the Bay of Gomaros, now the harbour of Mitika, to the N. of Nicopolis, in the Ionian sea. Antony was absent from his army at Patrae; but as soon as he heard of the arrival of Augustus, he proceeded to Actium, and after a short time crossed over the strait to Prevesa, and pitched his camp near that of Augustus. But having experienced some misfortunes, he subsequently re-crossed the strait and joined the main body of his army at Actium. By the advice of Cleopatra he now determined to return to Egypt. He accordingly sailed out of the strait, but was compelled by the manoeuvres of Augustus to fight. After the battle had lasted some hours Cleopatra, who was followed by Antony, sailed through the middle of the contending fleets, and took to flight. They succeeded in making their escape, but most of their ships were destroyed. The battle was, therefore, fought outside of the strait, between La Punta and Prevesa (῎εξω τῶν στενῶν, D. C. 1. 31), and not in the Bay of Prevesa, as is stated by some writers. (D. C. 1. 12, seq.; Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iv. p. 28, seq.; Wolfe, l.c.

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.63
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.1
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