How did Cleopatra Die?

Cleopatra, the most famous pharaoh of Egypt and mistress of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, died by suicide after her army was defeated by Octavian, the eventual first emperor of Rome. Cleopatra VII, pharaoh of Egypt, was born in 69 B.C.

The Egyptian queen succeeded her father, Ptolemy XII, who died in 51 B.C. Around the same time, her brother has crowned King Ptolemy XIII. The pair reigned Egypt as husband and wife. 

Cleopatra and Ptolemy were descendants of the Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C.

Even though Cleopatra had no Egyptian ancestors, she was the only one in her royal family who spoke the language. 

She was also declared the daughter of Ra, the Egyptian sun deity, to increase her power over the Egyptian people. Cleopatra soon lost out with her brother, and domestic conflict broke out in 48 B.C.

At the time, Rome, the largest empire in the Western world, was also troubled by civil conflict.

The Roman conflict spilled into Egypt just as Cleopatra planned to battle her brother with a massive Arab force. 

Pompey the Great traveled to Egypt seeking refuge after being beaten by Julius Caesar in Greece, only to be assassinated by Ptolemy XIII’s assassins.

Soon after, Caesar marched to Alexandria and tried to restore order, discovering his adversary dead.

Rome had increased its grip over the wealthy Egyptian monarchy during the past century, and Cleopatra intended to progress her political goals by gaining Caesar’s favor.

She purportedly proceeded to the royal palace in Alexandria.

Why is Cleopatra so well-known?

What makes Cleopatra famous? Cleopatra was the queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BCE and actively affected politics in Rome during a significant period, notably through her liaisons with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

She was the first to embody the template of the romantic femme fatale, as no other lady in antiquity had.

How did Cleopatra look?

Cleopatra is shown on Roman coins with a wide nose, narrow lips, hollow eyes, a sloping brow, and a pointed chin.

Coins bearing Mark Antony’s likeness have similar characteristics. However, archeologists have only discovered Mark Antony’s coins identical to Cleopatra’s.

Cleopatra married her brother for what reason?

She was the result of incestuous relations. Members of the Ptolemaic succession, like many other royal houses, frequently wedded within the family to protect the exclusivity of their lineage. 

More than a dozen of Cleopatra’s forebears married cousins or siblings, and her parents were most likely brothers and sisters.

Did Cleopatra marry her brother?

Two of Cleopatra’s brothers were married to her. Cleopatra married Ptolemy XIV, her younger brother, after Ptolemy XIII died after being defeated by her Roman-Egyptian army. 

She was 22, and he was 12 years old. Cleopatra lived privately with Caesar throughout their marriage and acted as his mistress.

The Meeting of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar 

Cleopatra and Caesar, a painting by Jean Léon Gérôme
Cleopatra and Caesar, a painting by Jean Léon Gérôme

There, she was presented to Caesar wrapped in a rug provided as a gift. Cleopatra enchanted the great Roman leader, and he promised to intercede on her side in the Egyptian civil war.

Simultaneously, Ptolemy XIII was assassinated in 47 B.C. following a setback over Caesar’s army, and Cleopatra was proclaimed co-ruler with another brother, Ptolemy XIV.

Julius and Cleopatra were passionate over several weeks before Caesar left for Asia Minor. 

After deriding an insurrection, he proclaimed, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, saw, and conquered). ”

Cleopatra gave birth to a son in June 47 B.C., whom she asserted was Caesar’s and named Caesarion, which means “little Caesar.”

Cleopatra and Caesarion accompanied Caesar on his triumphal arrival in Rome. Cleopatra resided discreetly in a home owned by Caesar outside the capitol while forging peace with Rome. 

She traveled to Egypt after Caesar’s assassination in March 44 B.C. Ptolemy XIV died shortly after, most probably poisoned by Cleopatra. The queen then made her son Ptolemy XV Caesar co-ruler with her.

With the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome went back into civil war, which was briefly settled in 43 B.C. with the establishment of the second triumvirate.

This new organization included Octavian, Caesar’s great-nephew and designated heir, Mark Antony, a formidable general, and Lepidus, a Roman politician. 

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Antony assumed control of the Roman Empire’s eastern provinces, and he called Cleopatra to Tarsus in Asia Minor to confront claims that she had supported his adversaries. 

Cleopatra and Mark Antony 

Cleopatra and Mark Antony on a silver tetradrachm struck at the Antioch mint in 36 BC
Cleopatra and Mark Antony on a silver tetradrachm struck at the Antioch mint in 36 BC

Cleopatra attempted to seduce Antony, as she did Caesar before him, and landed in Tarsus in 41 B.C. Cleopatra arrived on a beautiful river barge dressed as Venus, the Roman goddess of love, always one for theatrics. 

Antony returned to Alexandria with her once her efforts were successful, where they enjoyed the winter in luxury and decadence.

Antony arrived back in Rome in 40 B.C. and married Octavian’s sister Octavia in an attempt to reconcile his damaged relationship. 

The triumvirate, on the other hand, continued to decline this circumstance. Antony split from Octavia in 37 B.C. and headed east, planning for Cleopatra to join him in Syria.

During their time apart, Cleopatra had given birth to his twins, a boy and a daughter. 

According to Octavian’s ideologues, the couple was then married, which broke Roman rule prohibiting Romans from getting married to outsiders.

Antony’s disastrous military expedition against Parthia in 36 B.C. further harmed his reputation, but he was more effective against Armenia in 34 B.C.

He led a celebratory parade through Alexandria’s streets to commemorate the conquest.

During the celebration, he and Cleopatra perched on golden thrones. Caesarion and their children were also bestowed with intimidating royal titles.

Many Romans, influenced by Octavian, saw the event as an indication that Antony wanted to transfer the Roman Empire to foreign hands.

In 31 B.C., after several years of friction and propaganda warfare, Octavian entered the conflict on Cleopatra, and hence Antony. Octavian’s adversaries rushed to Antony’s side. 

However, Octavian’s skilled commanding officers scored early victories against his armies. Their fleets collided at Actium in Greece on September 2, 31 B.C. 

After brutal combat, Cleopatra withdrew from the battle and set a route for Egypt with 60 of her warships. Antony then tore through the opposing line and pursued her. 

Finally, Octavian accepted the surrender of the discouraged fleet that survived. Antony’s ground troops succumbed one week later.

Octavian and the Final Moments of Cleopatra’s Life

The Death of Cleopatra, by Jean Baptiste Regnault
The Death of Cleopatra, by Jean Baptiste Regnault

Despite having suffered a crushing defeat, Octavian took nearly a year to return to Alexandria and vanquish Antony once more.

Following the battle, Cleopatra sought refuge in the mausoleum she had commissioned for herself. 

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When Antony learned that Cleopatra had died, he stabbed himself with his sword. Another envoy arrived just before he died, claiming that Cleopatra was still alive.

Antony was then taken to Cleopatra’s hideaway, where he died after pleading with her to negotiate peace with Octavian. 

When the triumphant Roman arrived, she tried to entice him, but he was unimpressed. Cleopatra then committed suicide on August 12, 30 B.C., rather than succumb to Octavian’s dominance.

She probably committed the act with the help of an asp, a deadly Egyptian serpent. 

The snake, including a famous Egyptian iconographic symbol, was also symbolic of divine authority.

Octavian then murdered her son Caesarion, incorporated Egypt into the Roman Empire, and paid off his troops with Cleopatra’s fortune. 

Octavian became Augustus, the first and possibly most prosperous Roman emperor, in 27 B.C. He ruled a peaceful, affluent, and flourishing Roman Empire until his demise at 75 in 14 A.D.

Conclusion 

Cleopatra’s death emerges to have unfolded as remarkably as her life.

After their united forces were annihilated in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., the Egyptian queen, and her ardent lover, the Roman commander Mark Antony, escaped to an unknown future in Alexandria. 

Months later, with Octavian’s Roman legion approaching the city’s gates, a distraught Antony died by his sword.

Faced with the danger of forfeiting her kingdom, Cleopatra committed suicide by permitting a deadly snake to bite her and her two consorts on August 10, 30 B.C. 

As with most of her history, verifiable historical documentation relating to Cleopatra’s death is scant.

Those who wrote the most detailed descriptions of her life, most prominently the Roman historian Plutarch, lived decades after she died. 

Artists, playwrights, and filmmakers subsequently drew on these elements to give an almost mythological picture of Cleopatra, characterized primarily by her seductive talents and her associations with two Roman emperors, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. 

Such fanciful stories of her life and tragic death helped to shape the widespread perception of Cleopatra as the stunning, tragic heroine in one of history’s greatest renowned romantic tragedies. 

Behind that façade, however, was a reigning queen who, despite her appearance, was a strong leader—and one of the most prominent members of a Greek royalty that ruled Egypt for more than three centuries.

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