Before dawn on 2nd September, 31 BC, Octavian walked down from his hilltop camp towards the sea along the dusty paths among the wild maquis. Scratchy holly and thorns along the way. He came across a peasant accompanied by a donkey, and they spoke. “ My name is Lucky,” said the man to Octavian, “ and my ass is called Victory”. This encounter was widely reported later, as the good omen that preceded the complete defeat of Mark Anthony in the sea battle later that day in the bay below.
If you believe that, says Parrot, you will believe all the fake news of 2017. But the result was clear in the ending of the civil war amongst the Romans – for Cleopatra fled the battle when a favourable wind blew up. Mark Anthony followed, and hundreds of their ships were taken or burned at the shore. Later those two met their death by their own hand in Egypt. ( the falling on the sword in his case, and the poison of the asp snake in hers ).
Octavian, later in 27bc known as Augustus, had a problem, with no use for the tens of thousands of Roman soldiers. He founded the city of Nicopolis right there, which is a victory settlement. That was partly a settlement for ex military men. On the hill where his camp had been there was then constructed one of the largest victory memorials of the age. Along the front were mounted 37 of the huge bronze rams from the defeated ships. A typical length was over 2m. Above them was an altar 22m long where sacrifices could be held on the anniversary of the battle that changed the tide of classical history. The front of the altar was covered in bronze figures, including a depiction of Lucky and Victory. Rome became Imperial, ruled by an emperor, instead of the status previously being a republic.
As I climbed up the dusty track to the monument after cycling 5 miles out of Preveza a black cat crossed my path going from left to right. ( sinistra per dextra ). The signs gave mixed information, and a map near the theatre ruins was faded to have become illegible. A good omen was that cat for me that day, because climbing up past a pine grove I had encountered two padlocked entrances to the remains of the monument. Then I spotted some loose mesh to one side and got right in, standing on the stones where Octavian himself must have been, looking out to the bay of Actium. Today there are just a few stones and bases. It is known about the bronze rams because of the sockets in the front row of stones. Pretty impressive archaeology .
The city is over a mile long, and features the remains of large Roman houses, an amphitheatre and a circus with the tiers of seating now grassy banks. City walls dominate the skyline, and helped this place to survive until the invasions by goths from the north. Surviving from later Christian periods are fine mosaics ( some covered for protection) with tremendously eatable looking fish. Which is a sore point as I had not caught any yet.
Sarah did the museum with a statue of Minerva, and column bases. There is research amongst the ancient records about the immense cost of these things. A single column might cost 2 million euros in today’s money, even using slave labour. This monument must have cost hundreds of millions. No wonder all the bronze has long since gone, for only a few ships rams have ever been found.
We liked Preveza – and noticed the Venetian church tower with the angled 18th century stone sundial. I want to make one of those and mount it on a project. Stone carving is not that hard, except that you cannot make a mistake even once. I made a couple of date stones recently which are built into projects.
We left after a few days after the chandler gave us our dinghy handles for holding up the seat. We quickly got our instruments working with a special visit from Simon back at Cleopatra. He found the rusty earth wire that had fallen free. We put the outboard engine on the dinghy to test it and after all that carburettor cleaning … it started fine but the gears were solid. “Might not be worth mending “, said Simon. It was a four year old Tohatsu.
Perhaps we did not use the outboard at all last year. Anyway off we set for Meganisi and the finger bays, one of our favourite anchorages last year.