Mark Antony And The Legend Of Hippias’ Wild Wedding In Occupied Rome During Julius Caesar’s Civil War

In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and ignited a war between his armed followers against the opposing forces of the Roman senate. As Caesar made the first move, he had preemptively made sure to position himself at a quick striking distance from the capital city of Rome. The oft-mentioned Rubicon was a small stream that, in Caesar’s day, marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. Therefore, when he embarked on his famous crossing of the Rubicon, Julius Caesar was able to speedily send his forces charging against the city of Rome and occupy it at the beginning of the civil war. At that time, Caesar could not personally stay in Rome, for the war was still ongoing and he had battles to fight in Spain and Greece. Before he left, Julius Caesar appointed trusted lieutenants, such as Mark Antony, to keep an eye on Rome while the dictator campaigned elsewhere. Antony was one of Caesar’s best field officers, so he was sometimes called back to the front lines, such as at the decisive Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE, where Mark Antony played a prominent role. Yet, after the battle, it was back to overseeing Rome for Antony. He, however, was likely not the best choice needed for the nuanced task of keeping things calm in Rome. Mark Antony was a notorious partier and he gave off the impression that he did not take his administrative role there seriously, which annoyed other Romans (the occupied and allied alike) who were of more prim-and-proper stock. An example of Mark Antony’s conduct that perfectly epitomized his lackluster reputation as Rome’s caretaker was his involvement at a wedding of a certain actor named Hippias.

Hippias, despite the ongoing civil war, was living large in occupied Rome. Mark Antony allegedly brought many actors like Hippias into his inner circle during his stay in the Roman capital, and he used his war-wrought wealth to live the luxurious high-life with the prominent entertainers. Yet, Mark Antony was not the only host of the parties, and when Hippias happened to get married during the course of the Roman Civil War, the wedding celebration thrown for the occasion must have been epic. Mark Antony, of course, was invited to the feast, and he partied with the other guests long into the night. In fact, as the story goes, the party lasted throughout the dark hours and seamlessly continued into the morning. Although it must have been great fun, the length of the party posed a problem—the quite drunk and hungover Mark Antony realized he had to go see to his administrative duties in the Roman Forum. To his credit, he did go to work, for he managed to sway and stumble his way to the forum in a timely fashion. Yet, just as Mark Antony hurled himself into the public meeting place, he realized that his night of partying had caught up with him. The unsightly scene that reportedly unfolded was recorded by the Greek-Roman scholar, Plutarch (c. 50-120), who wrote, “it is said that he was a guest at the wedding of the actor Hippias, where he drank all night long, and then the next morning, when the people of Rome summoned him to the forum, he presented himself while he was still suffering from overindulgence and vomited into the cloak one of his friends held out for him” (Parallel Lives, Life of Antony, chapter 9).

After the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, Antony’s reputation for antics such as these would come back to haunt his chances for supremacy in the Roman Empire. Serious Roman statesmen and more reserved Roman officers, disillusioned with Mark Antony’s behavior, flocked to the faction of Julius Caesar’s youthful great-nephew and adopted son, Octavian, who was a much more diplomatic and calculating character. In the end, Mark Antony was soundly defeated by his rival in 30 BCE, leaving the Roman Empire in the hands of Octavian (known as Augustus after 27 BCE).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Scene from the Wedding of Messalina and Gaius Sillius, by Nicolaes Knupfer (c. 1645 – 1650), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).


  • Roman Lives by Plutarch, translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Oxford World Classics), 1999, 2008.
  • Plutarch’s Lives edited by Charles W. Eliot in the Harvard Classics series. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909, 1937.
  • War Commentaries by Gaius Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius, translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 2014.
  • The Roman History by Cassius Dio, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987.

Leave a Reply