|Cleopatra's own beauty was not in itself so remarkable; it was the impact of her spirit that was irresistible. The attraction of her person, joined with the charm of her conversation and characteristic intelligence of all that she said and did, was bewitching. It was a delight merely to hear the sound of her voice. As if this were an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another.|
(Plutarch, Antony 27.2)
In The Beginning
Who was this woman, Cleopatra, who has captivated our imagination and interest across the ages? Cleopatra VII of the house of Ptolemy has appeared through the ages to contain all the elements of a woman of dreams. She captivated not one, but two Caesars and made another, one who many claim was the greatest of the three, tremble.
In June 323 BCE, when Alexander the Great died suddenly in Babylon after a short life, his Macedonian generals scrambled for the remains of his empire. The general Ptolemy, a tough and proven soldier, knew that he desired two things, the body of Alexander and the land of Egypt.
It was at the Egyptian oasis of Siwah that the oracle of Amon had saluted Alexander as the son of their god, so it was then only natural that these two items of desire went together. Thus began in Egypt the second and more remarkable career of Alexander, one that turned him from a successful conqueror into a blazing star of immortality and mythology, a cult hero and a god.
Ptolemy wanted Egypt, the richest of all of Alexander's conquests, and he knew that the possession of Alexander's corpse would give him the venerated body of a new god and a talisman of extraordinary power in the ancient land. After discussions in Babylon, Ptolemy became the Satrap of Egypt and while Perdiccas, the foremost of Alexander's generals was busy elsewhere, Ptolemy waylaid the funeral procession and took the hero's corpse to Memphis. Here the body stayed until a fitting tomb - the Sema - was prepared in Alexandria, Alexander's own city.
In the span of a hundred years or so of successful rule, the first three Ptolemies had bound their family into a close-knit dynasty and had bound that dynasty into the fabric and being of Egypt. The house of Ptolemy adopted the Egyptian practice of intermarriage within the family as well as other long standing traditions of Egyptian life and practice. The male rulers were called Ptolemy, and sometimes, as an aside, Alexander. Their co rulers, powerful Queens of the dynasty, were called Arisinoe, Berenice or Cleopatra.
The Ptolemies give the appearance of having adapted excellently to the traditions and practices of Egypt. From the lofty view of the court at Alexandria, the Ptolemaic kings had preserved the integrity, stability and prosperity of the country. But down on the ground, there the Egyptian fellahin rubbed against the Greek official, townsman or settler, the limited evidence seems to show that there was little meeting of the minds and very little common interests. To the native Egyptians, the Greeks were the masters who imposed upon their lives.
So, we have a picture of Ptolemaic Egypt that shows an imposing, substantial edifice built on the foundations of some three thousand years of Egyptian history. A closer look reveals a lack of cohesion in the structure though. For the Greeks, the grandeur of the conception was still attractive, but for the Egyptians, a sullen dissatisfaction became widespread as the decadence weakened the king and the court and the over centralized complicated bureaucracy became polluted by incompetence.
The city in which Cleopatra was born was, at the time, the largest of the ancient world. This proud metropolis was a far cry from the little seacoast village where Alexander had chosen to found a Mediterranean port to which he gave his name. Alexandria had the great fortune to sit at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. Ptolemy I made it the capital rather than the ancient city of Thebes which was in the hands of the Egyptian high priests. At the time of Cleopatra, Alexandria was at the height of its magnificence, with palaces, marble monuments, amphitheaters, and temples, chief of which were temples to Poseidon and Dionysus, patron gods of the Ptolemies and the Serapeion, or temple of Serapis, a god introduced into Egypt by the Ptolemies as a fusion of Greek Zeus and Aeculapius and Egyptian Apis and Osiris.
In 80 BCE, Sulla, then dictator of the Roman Republic, intervened diplomatically to force the then queen of Egypt, Cleopatra-Berenice, to marry her nephew, Ptolemy XI. It was a lukewarm arrangement at best and ended some months later with the assassination of the Pharoah.....after he'd ordered his wife killed. The throne in Alexander was next occupied by a natural son of Ptolemy X. This new pharoah, Ptolemy XII, was Cleopatra's father. He took on the prestigious epithets of Neos Dionysus ('new Dionysus'), Philopater ('he who loves his father') and Philometer ('he who loves his mother'). But the people soon nicknamed him Auletes, 'the Flute-Player'.
When Caesar first arrived in Egypt in 48 BCE, he was pursuing Pompey, who had fled there after his defeat at Pharsalus. At that time, it is doubtful that Caesar knew little, if anything, about Cleopatra. But he had known her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes. Auletes owed his throne to Rome, specifically Caesar and Pompey, through whose good graces he ruled. During Caesar's consulship in 59 BCE, the king had guaranteed his shaky hold on Egypt by paying an outrageous price of 6,000 talents (in today's funds, it would be tens of millions of dollars) to confirm him as 'friend and ally' of Rome. As rich as Egypt was, the immediate payment forced Auletes to borrow the funds from a Roman financier. He had not paid back the loan when he died in 51 BCE.
Auletes' gamble bore little fruit. The Egyptians resented the additional taxes imposed on them to pay the debt and viewed Auletes as a Roman lackey. Other members of the family were favored over him and eventually this led to Auletes being run out of Egypt and two of his daughters then fought over his throne. It's possible that Cleopatra, his third daughter, fled to Italy with him.
It was not economically or politically advantageous for Caesar to have Auletes cut off from his resources in Egypt so in 55 BCE, a Roman invasion of Egypt placed Auletes squarely back on the Egyptian throne. One of those involved was a young cavalry commander by the name of Marc Antony.
Auletes was probably as capable as anyone could be in his situation. In Egypt, much of the criticism he suffered resulted from resentment over his close ties with Rome. However it would have been not only impractical but also dangerous for him to pursue an independent policy and a pro Roman course was the only one possible to preserve any aspect of an Egyptian autonomy. His handling of the internal and external policies that he could control show him to be a rather substantial and decisive figure. He even executed one of his own daughters for plotting against him. Certainly the clever and intelligent Cleopatra inherited more than the prominent family hook nose from him.
In the end, the New Dionysus died in the early summer of 51 BCE within four years of his restoration at the age of about fifty five. The contempt that he received from the people of Alexandria was so constant that he had to see out his reign under the protection of Roman troops who'd accompanied Auletes back to Egypt and originally were under the command of Aulus Gabinius, the proconsul of Syria. Gabinius was recalled to Rome to stand trial for the charge of financial irregularity and for defrauding the Roman people. A new danger to Alexandria arose from the Roman legionaries, mainly from Gaul and Germany, who were abandoned in Egypt by Gabinius during this time.
Auletes made his will and sent it to be lodged with the Vestal Virgins of Rome. He left his kingdom, under Roman supervision, to his children Ptolemy XIII, aged ten and his daughter Cleopatra, aged eighteen. The young Ptolemy and his half sister and wife Cleopatra shared the throne of Egypt since a female could not rule by herself.
Cleopatra VII bore the name of Alexander's sister and had it in her bones to be a queen in Ptolemiac tradition. They were strong, fearless, intelligent and without mercy. From her first regnal year, when she was just eighteen, the coins of her reign carried her portrait only, contrary to Ptolemaic custom. It was almost as though her co ruler and little brother didn't exist. Her coins were clearly stamped Kleopatras Basilisses with no other acknowledgement.
Within a few months of her accession, the sacred bull of Buchis died at the temple of Hermonthis, a few miles from Thebes in Upper Egypt. This white bull, with its coat that seemed to catch and sparkle in the light, contained the terrestrial spirit of the great god Amon-Ra, and the inauguration of a new bull was a deep moment in the religious life of Egypt. The event took place in March 51 BCE and the inscription at the Bucheum recorded that 'the Queen, the Lady of the Two Lands, the Father-Loving Goddess, rowed the bull in the barge of Amon to Hermonthis'. Never before, in the meticulous religious records of Egypt, had it been noted that a Ptolemy performed this reverent act in person. It was a very astute political statement by the young queen, announcing her identification with the spirit and life of an older Egypt. By doing this, she sent notice that she was not just a Macedonian Greek from Alexandria who farmed an alien land for her own benefit from the distant Mediterranean shore. She was an Egyptian whose heart beat in time with the pharaonic tradition, a queen of all her people.
Cleopatra needed whatever help she could get from the body of Egypt, for the scheming at the head, in Alexandria was as busy as usual. The 10 year old king, Ptolemy XII, had been provided with a council of guardians made up of the dioiketes Pothinus, a eunuch in charge of finance and administration, the tropheus Theodotus, the king's tutor, and the army commander Achillas. Ptolemaic law, regarding co rulers, had always given kings precedence over queens. If the guardians wished to advance their own ambitions through the manipulation of a child king, they had a keen interest in limiting and controlling this determined queen.
So her position in the Brucheion palace was full of danger, nor was there any safety in the city beyond. To the habitual wildness of the Alexandrian mob, there was now an added peril from the men of Gabinius. A few years later Julius Caesar found these Gabinians a cause of violent disorder.
The men of Gabinius [Caesar wrote in the Civil War] had grown use to the lax life in Alexandria. Ceasing to think of themselves as Romans and forgetting Roman discipline, they had married and begot children by local wives. And many brigands, pirates, condemned criminals and exiles had joined them. If any were arrested by his master, his comrades would unite to rescue him. A threat to one was a threat to all. So insolent did they become, they demanded the execution of royal favorites, plundered the property of the rich, and besieged the palace for more pay. They dared to try to raise up or pull down kings, as was the ancient Alexandrian tradition.
The Gabinians were a rabble to be feared, but Cleopatra was bold enough to try to limit their influence. When a new Roman proconsul in Syria, Marcus Bibulus, ordered the Gabinians to return to his command for the war against Parthia, the rebel troops killed the envoys, who were Bibulus' two sons. Cleopatra had the murderers arrested immediately and sent to Bibulus in chains. She wished to keep Roman friendship at almost any cost, but it was a brave act for one whose position was so insecure to antagonize these riotous brawlers.
In 50 BCE, the seasonal flood of the Nile had been too low for a good harvest. Drought followed and with it famine. Villages were abandoned and temples grew anxious for their safety. Cleopatra was forced to divert resources from the countryside to feed Alexandria. The decree that ordered this transfer of grain, written in peremptory terms with severe penalties, was jointly signed with her brother king. No doubt she needed to invoke the fullest authority of the Ptolemaic crown and needed to rely on the support of the king. The decree, however was dated 'in the first year which is also the third year' of the reign. The third year for Cleopatra, but only the first for Ptolemy XIII. Once acknowledged, the king and his council grew in opposition to her sole authority.
In Alexandria, the strains of joint rule, made worse by the impending Roman civil war, had destroyed the already fragile harmony within the royal family. Alexandrians had always detested signs of subservience to Rome; the Gabinians resisted the break up of their community. Pothinus and the council acting (as Caesar wrote) through the king's 'friends and relatives', fastened the blame on Cleopatra as the senior of the co-rulers and the dominating figure in government. By the end of 49 BCE, the sentiment of the people of Alexandria had turned against her and she was driven from the capital. Decrees began to be issued in the name of Ptolemy XIII alone.
To drive a Ptolemaic queen from Alexandria was one matter. An angry mob could do that. But to prevent her from plotting a return was much harder. We read of Cleopatra in Upper Egypt, in the Thebaid, raising an army where the old Pharaonic traditions were still strong. Cleopatra well understood her subjects in these lands, as she had shown at the inauguration of the bull of Buchis. Within a year she was ready to move against her brother, and Achillas of the king's council was forced to lead an army to confront her at the north eastern border near Pelusium.
It was at this moment that the shadow of Rome once again fell across Egypt. In the summer of 48 BCE Caesar had defeated Pompey in Pharsalus in Thessaly. After this shattering blow, Pompey decided to run for Egypt, the land that had helped him before and where most of the wealth lay. He was, after all, the self appointed guardian of the 13 year old king, who would be likely to deny aid to the great Pompey.
Young Ptolemy's advisors feared that Pompey, if allowed to live, might try to make Egypt his base of operations. If he did, the country would be ravaged in the ensuing struggle with Caesar. Ptolemy already had his hands full with Cleopatra, whose army was encamped near his at Pelusium. His position was by no means secure. It was hoped that killing Pompey would eliminate a threat, place Ptolemy in good stead with Caesar, and end Caesar's immediate business in Egypt. He would then depart, leaving the Egyptians to themselves. Consequently, Pompey was murdered as he was being transported to shore (while his wife and friends watched helplessly from his ship) at Pelusium. Achillas was the Egyptian who orchestrated the deed, but it was made more repugnant by the fact that Septimus, a former officer of Pompey, was the man who stabbed him.
Pompey had been the all conquering general, but now he was merely a fallen hero and a cause for further trouble. In all dealings with Rome, the Ptolemies had always tried to back the winner. Failed men were no longer worth honor or fear. As the king's tutor Theodotus said, "Dead men don't bite."
However Caesar had other ideas for Egypt. When Cleopatra's father had been unable to repay his loan, Caesar had assumed responsibility for the debt. He now informed the Egyptian government that he planned to collect what was due.
Caesar also made it clear that, as Roman consul, he meant to see that the will of his 'old friend' Ptolemy Auletes was carried out to the letter. This mean he was going to adjudicate the disagreement between Cleopatra and her brother and they should mend their quarrel and reconcile. In his official capacity; he summoned Ptolemy, still with his army, to Alexandria. He must have also summoned Cleopatra, who was probably with her troops. Apparently, he did not provide her with an escort since Plutarch describes the following device by which she safely arrived at Caesar's feet.
Cleopatra, taking only one of her friends with her (Apollodorus the Scilian), embarked in a small boat and landed at the palace when it was already getting dark. Since there seemed to be no other way of getting in unobserved, she stretched herself out full length inside a roll of bedding, and Apollodorus, after tying it up, carried it indoors to Caesar. This little trick of Cleopatra's, which showed her provocative impudence, is said to have been the first thing about her which captivated Caesar, and, as he grew to know her better, he was overcome by her charm and arranged that she and her brother be reconciled and should share the throne of Egypt together.
Caesar and Cleopatra
What sort of woman did he see when the surprising bundle was unrolled and the 21 year old queen of Egypt tumbled out before him? She was a queen arising out of a famous past, a fabulous history that combined something of the glory of Alexander with the triumphant longevity of Egypt's story. Latin was not included in Plutarch's list of Cleopatra's languages. But it is unlikely that a girl talented enough to learn Ethiopian or Arabic and astute enough to judge the threat to Egypt from Rome, would neglect the tongue of the masters of the Mediterranean world. Whatever language they used, the emotional attachment between the two was undeniable, although Caesar was married and continued to have other mistresses.
Caesar may have been pleased by the enforced reconciliation he had effected between the two monarchs. But his presence in Egypt and his favoritism toward Cleopatra ultimately produced a war with her brother that literally came to the palace door in Alexandria. The sulky king ran lamenting into the street and tore the diadem from his head to stir up the natural resentment of the Alexandrians against Rome. In this he was helped by his advisors Pothinus and Achillas who felt their influence was receding as Cleopatra's advanced. The Egyptian army, still gathered near Pelusium was turned about and led by Achillas back to Alexandria to put the Romans under siege.
Since Cleopatra and young Ptolemy were still with Caesar in the palace, he could give the uprising the color of a rebellion against the lawful monarchs. But soon, Arsinoe, the younger sister of Cleopatra, escaped with the help of a eunuch named Ganymedes. She placed herself at the head of the resistance and raised the standard of legitimate rule against the puppet monarchs under Roman control. This advantage though was quickly lost when Arsinoe and Achillas began to quarrel. When Pothinus was caught sending messages from within the palace to the Alexandrians, Caesar had him executed.
In the street fighting that was taking place, a fire broke out, perhaps started by the Roman troops to destroy the grain warehouses on the docks. In this fire, a large store of papyri and bookrolls - Livy claims 40,000 volumes - was burnt. It was later rumored and then believed that the famous Library itself had been set on fire by Caesar's carelessness. The spreading of such a story certainly helped blacken Caesar's reputation in Alexandria.
Arsinoe and Achillas continued to quarrel until she finally gained the upper hand and had the army commander arrested and executed, placing the eunuch Ganymedes in charge. He stopped the flow of fresh water from Lake Marcotis into the city and filled the canals and water ways with salt water instead. Lack of water was a serious blow, but Caesar set his men to dig into the harbor beach. With his knowledge of science and topography he had confidence that fresh water would be found there. By morning, they'd reached an adequate spring to hold out.
Severely undermanned, Caesar held out through the winter months until a relief force arrived in early spring. In the early months of 47 BCE the siege continued with no particular advantage on either side. Then a Roman admiral who had brought in the 37th Legion mounted a swift raid on the island and the lighthouse of Pharos and gained control.
The final battle took place near the end of March 47 BCE. By this time, much of the Egyptian fleet had been burned in the Great Harbor (a book depository on the docks also caught fire, prompting the erroneous story that the Great Library of Alexandria had been destroyed), Ptolemy's chief advisors had been killed or fled, and Cleopatra discovered that she was pregnant.
Her defeated brother (now fifteen) drowned in the Nile while trying to escape. Egyptian monarchs were considered divine; to drown in the Nile was a blessed death. To make sure that no stories would arise concerning Ptolemy's resurrection, Caesar had the river dredged until the body was found.
With Egypt secure, Caesar resisted pressures from Rome to annex it as a Roman province. He undoubtedly felt that his personal ambitions were better served by keeping Cleopatra on the throne and by having ready access to Egypt's wealth. Egypt also provided an ideal refuge should he ever need one.
During his remaining time in Egypt, Caesar installed Cleopatra on the throne, married her to her twelve year old brother to conform with Ptolemaic tradition and, in her company, cruised the Nile in style. Cleopatra took him sailing far up the Nile on the Egyptian royal barge, a vessel nearly 100 meters long of unexampled luxury, with audience chambers and private drawing rooms, viewing platforms and canopied sun decks. They would have gone as far south as the Ethopian border had Caesar's army not refused to follow them. The soldiers were desperate for home and Caesar went with them.
When he left at the beginning of summer, Egypt was nominally in the hands of Cleopatra and Ptolemy. But three legions under the freedman Rufinus remained in Egypt with orders to keep a careful watch, 'to support the monarchs', said the Alexandrine War, 'who had neither the affection of their own people, because they had been loyal to Caesar, nor the authority of long usage, because they had ruled jointly for only a few days.' Then the writer added ominously that 'if the rulers of Egypt remained loyal, they would have our protection, but if ungrateful, then these same soldiers would punish them.' And if this warning wasn't sufficient for the Egyptian people, Caesar also took Cleopatra's disgraced sister, Arsinoe, back to Rome with him to walk in chains in his triumph.
Cleopatra's baby was born on June 23 47 BC. The little boy was declared to be the son of a Roman general and named Caesar, though he was always known by the diminutive Caesarion. It was a very provocative act for her to openly proclaim her son in Roman hating Alexandria. But Cleopatra's strength and yet another mark of her intelligent reading of Egyptian history lay in her appeal to the great mass of people beyond the Greek speaking capital of Alexandria.
So the event that enraged Alexandria was celebrated near Thebes. An inscription at Hermonthis welcomed the baby as the child of Amon-Ra created through the human agency of Julius Caesar. The day of birth was declared a feast of Isis, and a coin struck in Cyprus which had just been ceded back to Egypt by Caesar. The coin showed Cleopatra as Isis-Aphrodite suckling Caesarion as the infant god Horus-Eros.
Caesar returned to Rome by the end of July 46 BC after defeating Pharnaces of Pontus and the last of Pompey's followers in North Africa. He held no less than four triumphs to celebrate his conquests in Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and North Africa. Here was a heaven sent opportunity for political show and Caesar made the most of it, particularly the triumph over the colossus of the ancient world, Egypt.
At one moment, the soldiers and underlings of Rome are bawling out ribald songs of the general's amors, of fumblings in oriental courts with a queen of exotic splendor. Then suddenly that queen herself was in Rome, with her brother husband and all her strange retinue. Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIV had come to tie even closer the bond with Rome and to solicit official confirmation of amicitia from the Senate and the people. Caesar was now so completely in control of the Roman state that the recognition was easily granted.
Though they were no longer constant lovers, there was a strong political and human affiliation between Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar never denied the paternity of the baby who bore his name. Rather he paid Cleopatra as great an honor that was within his power. In the new Forum Julium, contracted by Caesar at huge expense, beside the cult-statue of Venus Genetrix, the goddess celebrated as Mother and Founder of the Julian clan, he placed a gilded statue of Cleopatra.
Some time late in 46 BC, Cleopatra and her court settled into a large villa on Caesar's estate just across the Tiber. Her notoriety, both as Egypt's queen and as the mother of Caesar's son, as well as her strong sense of politics, pulled sober senators again and again to her door. Even Cicero, who could hardly suppress a shudder for the queen, could not keep away. Yet when Cicero came to a final judgment, he could not approve of Cleopatra:
I hate the queen [he wrote in a letter to a friend]. When she lived in the gardens across the Tiber, I cannot speak of her arrogance without pain. I will have nothing to do with these people. They give me no credit for spirit nor even for a capacity of resentment.
Under her influence, leaning on the tradition of scholarship, culture and invention that she brought from Alexandria, Caesar began several plans for improvement and reform. In imitation of the Alexandrian Library, Terentius Varro began the task of bringing together a collection of all Greek and Roman literature. In Alexandria, Caesar had seen the Egyptian-Greek skill in hydraulic engineering, and he now proposed a scheme for a canal that would drain the malarial swamp of the Pontine marshes and link the Tiber to Terracina.
Even more important was the work on the reform of the calendar undertaken on Caesar's orders by the mathematician Sosigenes from the Museum in Alexandria. The lunar year used in Rome had grown seriously out of step with the astronomical year and required a large correction. A new solar year, based on calculations that Sosigenes had drawn from Ptolemaic astronomy, was successfully introduced on January 1, 45 BC. This reform was called the Julian calendar in honor of Caesar. With more justice, it might have been called after Cleopatra and her Alexandrian scientist.
In February 44 BC, at the feast of Lupercalia, Caesar sat in the Capitol on a golden throne and received from Antony the title and diadem of a king. The crowd watched in silence and only broke into a thunder of applause when he took off the diadem and handed it back. There were some things that a true Roman, even a partisan of Caesar, could not stomach, and one of these was a blatant, open assumption of a king's name.
Caesar was set to leave for Parthia on March 17, 44 BC. This war would avenge the defeat and death of Crassus and the loss of the Roman eagles nine years before. Cleopatra also made preparation to leave. Egypt needed her and she needed Egypt.
On the Ides of March, March 15, 44 BC, the swords of the conspirators brought Caesar's dream to an abrupt end.
Choosing sides and breathing space
Caesar's death made guesswork out of what had once been certainty. Should the Egyptian queen run or should she stay? Cleopatra had never lacked nerve and she decided to wait. The reading of Caesar's will gave her no comfort. He gave his gardens on the Tiber to the people of Rome as well as 300 sestercii for each. But more importantly to Cleopatra, there was no mention of their son, instead he made his great nephew Octavius the adopted successor and spiritual heir.
However, in the eyes of Rome, Caesar was not married to Cleopatra and any child born by her would not have been legitimate, even if Caesar had claimed paternity - and Marc Antony informed the Senate on one occasion that he did - he could not make Caesarion his heir. Consequently, it should not have been expected to find the boy's name in the will.
In the chaos of the time, when the consul Antony played on the Senate and the conspirators with such skill, the name of Cleopatra flickered through the pages of Cicero's correspondence. Cicero had been implicated by his sympathies and his meddling and he was desperate for information and to catch the drift of events. A month after the murder he wrote, "I see nothing to object in the flight of the queen.", yet in the second week in May we find she was still in Rome. Eventually, the Roman contest began anew and Cleopatra for the moment had no place in it. The sensible road for her lead back to Egypt. She had been preparing for it before Caesar's death and now she went.
These remarks by Cicero (written in 44 BC) most likely reflect what most Romans thought of their royal guest and her attendants:
I dislike Her Majesty........The arrogance of the Queen herself when she was living on the estate across Tiber makes my blood boil to recall. So I want nothing to do with them. They must think I have no spirit, or rather that I hardly have a spleen.
(Letters to Atticus 15.15.2)
In trying to protect herself and the Egyptian monarchy by going to Rome, Cleopatra had been neglecting Egypt itself. When she returned, she found there as a great deal of work to be done. For two consecutive years, the Nile flood had fallen below the measures known as 'the cubits of death' and hardship and famine followed as they always did after these disasters.
Disease followed famine. With the impartial curiosity of Alexandrian science, Dioscurides Phacas, known as Freckles, tracked the spread of the pestilence. He noted the distended black blotches and the suppurations from lymphatic glands and in doing so described for the first time the symptoms and the course of the bubonic plague.
To address the troubles of the kingdom required a most delicate balance. To some degree, the rights and duties of the regions in such a large diverse land were irreconcilable. But agriculture was of the first importance, and Cleopatra was forced to make some very difficult decisions. In the emergency, she made a distribution from the royal granaries. The large Jewish community in the Delta quarter of Alexandria was excluded from the distribution. Even though the community had been established for generations, the law placed Jews as foreigners and outside the largesse of the state. Though she could hardly have hesitated between her own people and the Jewish population, her decision won her an enduring Jewish enmity. Much more difficult for her were the judgments that had to be made between the groups of her own subjects, as a decree from Heracleopolis, dated April 41 BC, showed. In the face of shortages local administrators in the countryside were placing extra burdens and dues on Alexandrians who did agricultural work outside the city. The queen declared herself to be 'exceedingly indignant' and ordered that no excessive demands should be made on these workers.
'Nor shall their goods be destrained for such contributions, nor shall any new tax be required of them, but when they have once paid the essential dues, in kind or in money, for corn-land or for vine-land, which have regularly in the past been assigned to the royal treasury, they shall not be molested for anything further, on any pretext whatsoever.'
Slowly, some of the neglect was put to right and production began to increase. Cleopatra, ever the adept propagandist, placed on the reverse of her coins the double cornucopia and the fillet of the royal diadem formerly used by her predecessor Arsinoe II, the queen remembered as the Lady of Abundance.
The other business that Cleopatra gave immediate attention to was the enduring preoccupation of her reign: to secure her own position and the future of her dynasty. Very soon after her return to Egypt, her brother-husband Ptolemy XIV was heard of no more. The unfriendly Jewish historian Josephus, stated that the young king had been poisoned. Muder within the family was a hazard of Ptolemaic rule. When the chance came a few years later, Cleopatra demanded the execution of her sister Arsinoe. With Ptolemy XIV gone, Caesarion was raised to be her fellow monarch.
To Egyptians, the marriage within the crown of a mother and her infant son was a formal trifle, easily swallowed. More difficult was the illegitimacy of the child, though he was clearly within the Ptolemaic line through the mother. The offence that caught in the throat of the Alexandrians especially was the father of the child....a Roman. But for Cleopatra, the decision, though very provocative, was very logical. She felt the best counter she had to any further Roman designs on Egypt was Caesar's child and gambled that the elevation of a half Roman to be co ruler of Egypt already brought the kingdom within the orbit of Roman Imperium. With Ptolemy Caesar - Caesarion - Rome would need no greater presence in Egypt. Cleopatra had always understood that she needed Romans to save her country from Rome.
For a bright moment, it looked as if Cleopatra might have succeeded in her plans to secure both her own present and her son's future. Conditions in Egypt were slowly improving. The queen was building a new fleet and restocking the royal granaries. The Roman legions left behind by Caesar had subdued the hostile Alexandrians into a surly obedience.
In the days after the murder, Antony averted worse disaster with the skill of his diplomacy. He set himself as the standard bearer if Caesar's following but the forces pulled to strongly for him to control for very long. He formed an uneasy alliance with Octavian whom he referred to as "the boy who owed everything to a name". But the name that Octavian had assumed was the great name of the dead man and this was the most powerful rallying cry of all.
In the summer of 44 BC the leaders of the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, abandoned Italy for Asia Minor where they hoped to raise men and money for the inevitable contest. Much of the East had already joined Brutus and Cassius, and Cassius was now demanding assistance from Egypt. From the safety of Egypt, Cleopatra had watched these events with cautious concern and her instinct warned her to not get involved in the internal struggles of the Roman state. She was naturally of Caesar's party so it's very doubtful that she would have sent the ships to help the men who'd assassinated Caesar.
If Cleopatra was not ready to support Cassius, she was also in doubt about Octavian. She knew Antony as Caesar's friend and admirer and her sympathies lay with his faction. When Cassius had asked Cleopatra for aid, she had fended him off with a plea of poverty, owing to disease and famine in the kingdom. But she did put to sea with her own fleet, commanding it herself, to help the triumvirs. A gale which tore the fleet apart forced her to turn back. She was getting together another fleet in the autumn of 42 BC when news came that Brutus and Cassius had been defeated and killed at Philippi. With them, the Republican cause in Rome also died.
At the beginning of 41 BC, Antony arrived in Ephesus to take on the role of the East assigned to him by the triumvirs and was given the task of establishing order after the war and to raise additional funds. As he began to set up his administration, Antony summoned all governors, princes and client kings to his court to account for their actions and to be told of his plans. He wrote letters to Cleopatra summoning her to attend on him. He wanted her to explain for Egypt's rather limp support for the triumvirs in the recent war. She considered her small foray with the fleet had shown more than enough enthusiasm, and otherwise meant to keep her usual policy of polite non cooperation, saying perhaps and meaning no, while she tried to read the new pattern of the pieces in Rome. Antony persisted. He sent Quintus Dellius to her with some persuasive arguments and no doubt a hint of a threat. After a delay which suited a goddess queen of the most distinguished lineage of the Mediterranean world (during which she glimpsed a way to handle this importunate Roman), the queen set out to meet Antony at Tarsus in Asia Minor.
Antony and Cleopatra
Although, Antony was married to Fulvia, his third wife, Antony's future was to become one with Cleopatra and Egypt. The scene of Cleopatra's arrival at Tarsus, made famous by Shakespeare, is best given in the words of Plutarch. The description of her arrival is exaggerated but most likely stems from an eyewitness account:
She sailed up the River Cydnus in a barge with a poop of gold and with purple sails, her rowers stroking the water with oars of silver that kept time to the music of flutes and pipes and lutes. As for Cleopatra herself, she reclined under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as that Aphrodite we see in paintings while on either side stood pretty little Cupids who cooled her with their fans. In her crew were the most beautiful of her women clothed as Nereids and Graces, some at the helm, some tending the tackle and the ropes of the barge, out of which came a wondrous sweet smell of perfumes that wafted over the river banks. A multitude of people raced to the riverside to view her progress and the city emptied to see hr. As the crowds fled away, Antony sat enthroned in the marketplace to await the queen. At last, he was left sitting alone, while the word spread on all sides that Aphrodite had come to play with Dionysus for the happiness of Asia.
For the details of this passionate adventure between two very strong personalities, Plutarch is our only guide. True, he wrote long after the events but he relied on memoirs and personal accounts handed down in his family form Alexandria and on writings of the time which, unfortunately for us, have not survived. He was most importantly, sufficiently Greek to keep in mind always the humanity of his characters and the tragedy of their affair which ultimately led to their fall. In this sense, he gives us romance. A more Roman historian would have taken a harder view and incorporated more of the moralistic propaganda.
They became lovers and reached a political understanding almost immediately as well: Cleopatra secured Arsinoe's death and that of the pseudo-Ptolemy XIII who was nothing more than a deluded young man from Aradus. Thus rid of her rivals, she returned to Egypt.
Antony arrived in Egypt in 41 BC planning to spend the winter in Alexandria. He remained a year, passing his time between gymnasium and lecture hall, and in visits to monuments and sanctuaries. His status however, was that of a private citizen, though he exchanged the Roman toga for Greek dress, the chlamys. Cleopatra never left his side during his stay here. She accompanied him to contests of swordsmanship, went hunting with him, played dice with him, offered him banquets on jewel studded plates. It was during this time that they and a group of companions formed a kind of fellowship, an intellectual and social elite, devoted to what they called the 'inimitable life' - amimetobios - pursuing an endless joy, freedom, and intoxication with living.
But the queen never lost sight of the main point, never ceased to remind Antony that she saw more in him than an entertaining companion. Plutarch tells us she had a salted herring hooked onto Antony's line as he fished Lake Mareotis and, laughing at the stunned angler, said, "Leave......the fishing rod, general, to us poor sovereigns of Pharos and Canopus; your game is cities, provinces and kingdoms."
Antony left Cleopatra at the end of winter in 40 BC. Parthian armies were occupying southern Asia Minor, Syria, and Judaea and increasingly becoming a threat to Rome. Herod was forced to take refuge in Rome. Six months after Antony left, the queen gave birth to twins: Cleopatra Selene ("Moon") and Alexander Helios ("Son").
Antony first steered a course for Athens, where his wife, Fulvia, had taken refuge after she and Antony's brother Lucius revolted against Octavian, were defeated and driven into exile. The encounter between Antony and Fulvia was stormy and in a fury, Antony sailed to Brundisium. He never saw Fulvia again as she died a few months later. After thorny preliminaries, Antony achieved an agreement with Octavian and Lepidus in October 40 BC. The east was his, the West Octavian's and Lepidus would get Africa.
Cleopatra had reason to be pleased with this division of the Roman world though her lover not only remained in Rome, he remarried there. To seal their agreement, Octavian had given Antony his sister Octavia in marriage and their first child, a girl, was born in the summer of 39 BC. Antony confirmed his alliance with his new brother in law by inaugurating the new cult of the Divine Julius with himself as flamen. Finally Rome appeared to be at peace for the same year, the Triumvirs reached an accord with their last great opponent, Pompey's son Sextus, who was occupying Sicily.
But Rome also reinforced its position at the Egyptian border; a few months earlier, the Senate had named Herod - Cleopatra's enemy but Antony's longtime ally - king of Judea, Edom, and Samaria - the queen of Egypt had reason to be concerned.
In the fall of 39 BC, Antony and Octavian sailed to Athens, where they remained until the spring of 37. There Antony lived the life he loved; he was the patron of the gymnastic games; as the New Dionysus, he was joined in a mystical ceremony with the goddess of the city, Athena Polias, in the winter of 39.
Meanwhile, his army had won two battles against the Parthians; his leadership in the East was beginning quite auspiciously, but his relations with Octavian were once more becoming tense. War between them was narrowly averted once again, this time thanks to Octavia's intervention. In the summer of 37 BC, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus met in Tarentum, in southern Italy, and renewed the Triumvirate for five more years.
That fall, Antony abruptly left Italy and Octavia who was pregnant with their second child and went east to the Syrian city of Antioch. Cleopatra and the twins, met Antony there. Was it love drawing them together or did he need to renew his alliance with the queen in light of the massive expedition he was planning against the Parthians? It was here in Antioch that it is likely the couple actually did marry according to the Egyptian rite, which unlike Roman law, permitted polygamy.
Egypt's queen now decreed that the years of her reign be renumbered from that moment. Plutarch tells us:
..........the presents he showered on her were no trifles. To the lands she already possessed he added Phoenicia, Coele Syria, the isle of Cyprus and a great part of Cilicia. He also gave her that portion of Judea which produces balsam and the Nabataean coast of Arabia down to the Red Sea.
Antony and Cleopatra, Part II
Cleopatra's preoccupation had always been the strength of her kingdom and the security of her borders, especially that of Pelusium which was the weak point of Egypt. The policy to guard the vulnerable point by taking firm footholds in Palestine and Syria and along the Arabian coast had been set out and successfully implemented long ago by her great predecessor Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In wanting the lands given to her by Antony, Cleopatra was drawing on the wisdom of her royal house.
In the spring of 36 BC, Antony, well supplied with Cleopatra's money and troops, moved to engage the Parthians. The queen, pregnant again, accompanied him as far as the Euphrates River. She then returned to Egypt, passing through Damascus and her new territories in Egypt. It is said that Herod attempted to assassinate her during this trip.
The child she bore Antony was clearly identified with his Egyptian heritage. Antony's last child was named Ptolemy Philadelphus, making him a true member of her dynasty.
In the meantime, Antony suffered defeat upon defeat in Parthia. He was forced into a dangerous retreat in the heart of an icy winter, his army decimated by dysentery, hunger and the onslaught of Parthian archers. In all, Antony lost 20,000 infantry and 40,000 cavalry. The march ended in Syria where the conquered general awaited aid from Cleopatra. Though his soldiers were in rags, their misfortune had no way diminished their affection for him. Plutarch reported:
"The obedience and affectionate respect they bore their general and the unanimous feeling amongst small and great alike, officers and common soldiers [was such that they preferred] his good opinion of them to their very lives and being. For this devotion.....there were many reasons, as the nobility of his family, his eloquence, his frank and open manners, his liberal and magnificent manners, his familiarity in talking with everybody, and, at this time, particularly, his kindness in visiting and pitying the sick, joining in all their pains, and furnishing them with all things necessary, so that the sick and wounded were even more eager to serve than those who were whole and strong."
Cleopatra arrived with provisions, clothing and money, and took the survivors back to Alexandria
During the winter of 35 BC, Cleopatra engaged in intense diplomatic activity with neighboring states. She began by forging an alliance with the king of Armenia, sealed by the betrothal of her son Alexander Helios to the king's daughter. In Judaea Herod's mother in law, Alexandra, had begun an insurrection against him. When it failed Cleopatra offered her asylum. Finally she negotiated a treaty with the king of Media against Parthia; war there was once again a distinct possibility. Despite the Armenian king's refusal to aid them, Cleopatra and Antony went on a brief campaign and reconquered the lost parts of Syria.
But there was trouble brewing on the horizon and Cleopatra was apprehensive. Octavian took Sicily from Pompey's son, Sextus and Africa from Lepidus. As sole master of the entire region, he posed a very powerful and very serious danger to Antony. Even most disturbing, Octavia, sent by her brother, had just set sail with provisions and ships to reinforce her husband's army. She never got to deliver them. At Athens she received a peremptory message from Antony ordering her to send on the ships but to return to Rome herself which, as a dutiful wife, she did. She returned to the house in Rome to look after her own daughters but also his sons by Fulvia. The break with Octavian was now complete.
The disastrous Parthian campaign was in some measure erased by a swift expedition against Artavasdes, king of Armenia, who had betrayed Antony more than once. In the spring of 34 BC, Antony, now settled in Syria, reached a new agreement with Herod, despite Cleopatra's hostility. He then occupied Armenia, imprisoned Artavasdes, took his treasury and declared the country a Roman province. When he returned to Syria, he formed an alliance with the Median king.
In the fall of 34 BC, the Egyptian capital was treated to a sumptuous ceremony in honor of Antony's victory. An immense procession crossed the city to the square in front of the Serapeion. Cleopatra, dressed as Isis, sat on a golden throne. Before her was the chariot in which Antony stood, dressed as Dionysus, preceded by the king of Armenia and his family, wearing chains of silver in recognition of their rank; the trophies and spoils of war came behind. The reference to Cleopatra and Antony as heirs of divine blood was clear.
A few days later, the Alexandrians attended an extension of the ceremonial triumph. Antony and Cleopatra sat on high thrones of gold on a silver dais. On thrones lower down were seated King Ptolemy, called Caesarian who was now 13 and the couple's three children, the twins now 7 and the youngest, Ptolemy now 2.
Antony gave a speech, reportedly in Greek, distributing the territories that were recent Egyptian acquisitions and those he had conquered. The pharoanic couple - Cleopatra, titled Queen of Queens, and Caesarion, King of Kings - received Egypt, Coele Syria, and Cyprus. Alexander's share was Armenia and Media...and Parthia, yet to be conquered. Cleopatra Selene received Libya and Cyrenaica; Ptolemy Philadelphus, northern Syria, Phoenicia, and Ciclicia. All this, for the moment, was Cleopatra's to administer as Regent. It was a return of the great Egypt of the Ptolemies, with one very important difference. Cleopatra's realm was under Roman domination.
Antony and Cleopatra, Part III
In Rome, Octavian was having a field day exploiting negative interpretations of the ceremony for propaganda purposes. Gossip circulated that Caesarion was not Caesar's son, that Antony engaged in orgies with Cleopatra and that Cleopatra was plotting to become Empress of Rome. Later writers, fueled by the propaganda that Octavian encouraged against her would make the jump from criticism to abuse. Lucan claimed that Pothinus the eunuch had said that men's lives were at risk if they did not sleep with her. Propertius called her "lecherous Canopus' harlot queen" who wore her servants out with sex and conducted a "filthy union" with Antony.
She became so debauched [Sextus Aurelius added] that she frequently offered herself as a common wh*r*; but she was so beautiful that many men bought a night with her at the price of her own death.
The contemporary records from her reign, particularly from Alexandria where many hated her and found good reason to vilify and libel her, mention nothing of this sexual depravity. In a life of 39 years she had 4 children by 2 men. All the evidence shows that, far from being a wanton woman, she was constant to the two Romans in her life. The truth was that Rome had now begun to fear Cleopatra and the accusation of depravity was only a convenient stick with which to beat her.
Antony had wanted to avoid armed conflict with Octavian, preferring to remain within the laws and to have the Senate officially recognzine his authority in the East. To this end, he sent his acta, or reports of his activities, to Rome at the end of the year 33 BC. Two of his supporters, Sosius and Ahenobarbus, the consuls for 32 BC, gave a passionate reading of the acta in the Senate in February of that year. Octavian, who had prudently surrounded himself with a group of friends and soldiers armed with daggers, responded with violence. A few days later, during another session, he denounced the "Donations of Alexandria". At that, the Antonian faction, faced with the increasing antagonism of the Romans, chose to leave Italy to join their leader in Ephesus. The rupture was now complete.
Cleopatra had been living with Antony in Ephesus, where they had gathered a vast army and fleet. Cleopatra had finally opened her treasury to Antony and provided him with a sum of 20,000 talents, roughly the whole Egyptian income for one year as well as 150 supply ships. Antony now had the resources to gather his army.
In April, Antony and Cleopatra left Ephesus, now a strong military base, for the Aegean island of Samos. In May they were in Athens where they were welcomed with statues of them as gods placed on the Acropolis. In early summer Cleopatra achieved a great personal victory: Antony repudiated his wife who was then obliged to leave her home.
Antony had followed the custom and lodged his will with the Vestal Virgins where it was supposed to be sacrosanct. But Octavian, with reckless sacrilege, seized the will and read to the Senate those passages likely to offend the Romans. Particularly obnoxious to the senators was the clause that Antony's body, even if he died in Rome, was to be taken back to Cleopatra in Rome and it contained provisions that recognized Caesarion as Caesar's son and made heirs of Antony's children by Cleopatra. Even those senators who considered Octavian's reading of the will to be most improper were outraged at these requests.
Whether this controversial material was actually in Antony's will cannot be known. It is doubtful that it was because Antony knew he could not legally make Cleopatra's children his heirs; he also knew that, given the situation in Rome, the document was not safe and it's contents could be revealed. Whatever the truth is about the document, the fact remained that the Roman people were furious now at Antony for his preference for Egypt. Antony was stripped all his authority and Octavian made a declaration of war against Cleopatra. In front of the temple of Bellona, on the Campus Martius, dressed in the manner of the ancient Romans, he threw a wooden javelin, symbolically meant for the foreign enemy.
War was declared in October 32 BC against Cleopatra and Dio Cassius claimed that "whenever she used an oath, her strongest phrase was by her purpose to dispense justice on the Capitol." She was now the enemy indeed who sought to enter even the very heart of sacred Rome.
Octavian sailed eastward to confront Cleopatra and Antony currently in Patras on the west coast of Greece. He led an army of 70,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. His fleet of 400 ships was commanded by Agrippa. The army he faced, financed by Cleopatra and commanded by Antony, was far greater. It consisted of 75,000 legionnaires, 25,000 auxiliary troops and 12,000 cavalry; of the 500 warships, two hundred were Egyptian and three hundred cargo ships accompanied them. Aboard her flagship, Antonia, Cleopatra commanded her personal squadron of 60 warships.
The two armies met on the west coast of Epirus, farther north in Greece. Octavian and Antony set up their camps on the promontory of Actium, remaining there face to face throughout the winter. The first skirmishes took place at sea the following spring with Agrippa capturing all the neighboring islands. Antony's army, now surrounded, was inadequately provisioned. His troops were thinning; the kings of Thrace and Paphlagonia rallied to Octavian. Worse, Dellius, one of his commanders went over to Octavian, taking Antony's battle plan with him.
Cleopatra and Antony's only chance now was to try to run the Roman blockade with a skeleton fleet. Antony ordered the heavy cargo ships and the smaller, slower warships burned. The war chest was transferred to the queen's ship. All was ready for escape by sea while the army on land was entrusted to Canidus.
On September 2, 31 BC, after four days of storms, a sea breeze rose about noon. All three squadrons of the fleet left their anchorage for the open sea, forming tight ranks in order to breach the barricade of Octavian's ships. Agrippa feinted and fell back. Gellius Publicola, Antony's co commander of the right wing, launched his ships in pursuit and Antony's front was broken.
With a sudden about face, Agrippa attacked Antony's fleet, dispursing it. Cleopatra's squadron, which was bringing up the rear, took advantage of the opportunity to slip through a gap and make for the open sea. Antony leapt into a ship and followed, ordering his fleet to do the same and approximately 100 ships escaped past Octavian.
According to Octavian, his victory at Actium was crushing and comprehensive, decreed by the gods and nature itself. "True to her nature as a woman and an Egyptian, [she] turned to flight," says Dio Cassius. Antony, blinded by passion, "abandoned all that were fighting and spending their lives for him....to follow her that had so well begun his ruin."
Dio Cassius records that the war was presented to the Romans as a just war and not a civil war as Antony was no longer Roman, as Octavian loudly maintained before the battle:
"Therefore let no one count him a Roman, but rather an Egyptian, nor call him Antony, but rather Serapion; let no one think he was every consul or Imperator, but only gymnasiarch."
Antony joined Cleopatra aboard her ship. They were free and their treasury was safe. They may have been half beaten but they had eluded Octavian's trap.
Company of Death
Cleopatra and Antony had a setback at Cape Taenarum at the southern tip of Greece. The land forces they had left at the promontory of Actium had surrendered to Octavian for a price of an amnesty; the ships they had abandoned had almost all been burned. Aware of his weak position, Antony dismissed the handful of friends still faithful to him. He sailed to Libya to meet the 4 legions he had stationed in Cyrenaica while Cleopatra went on to Egypt to await him. When Antony learned that these legions too had defected, his friends were hard pressed to keep him from suicide.
Back in Alexandria, Antony's depression deepened. He had a small cell built for him on the jetty by the port and lived their as a hermit. He called it his Timoneion referring to the legendary misanthropic hermit, Timon of Athens. It took all Cleopatra's energy to bring him back to life. She organized feast upon feast, coming of age parties for Antyllus, Antony and Fulvia's son and for Caesarion and finally a party for her husband's 53 birthday. Finally Antony rejoined his friends, no longer practitioners of the "inimitable life" but now calling themselves a "company of death". They had agreed to die together but meant to pass their last hours in mutual pleasure.
Cleopatra knew that Octavian would not stay in Italy where he had returned but would soon seek to settle, once and for all, the conflict with Egypt, Antony and herself. She conceived a flight eastward and had the ships saved at Actium portaged to the Red Sea but the Arabs at Petra were allies of Octavian. They seized her ships and burned them. There was now nothing left to do but wait for Octavian.
In early 30 BC, Octavian reached Egypt's eastern border with an army. Roman legions under the command of Cornelius Gallus were stationed on the western border. The country was caught in a vise. Cleopatra and Antony attempted to negotiate, sending an envoy to Octavian. Cleopatra wished to protect her children and ensure the continuance of the Ptolemaic line. Antony was prepared to renounce all his authority and return to private life in Egypt or Greece. "He offered to take his own life, if in that way Cleopatra might be saved." Dio Cassus says. Octavian did not answer Antony but instead responded to the queen who had sent him her scepter and diadem as token of her allegiance, demanding she abdicate immediately and have Antony executed. She refused.
According to Plutarch, by now "Cleopatra was busied in making a collection of all varieties of poisonous drugs." and, like her predecessors, prepared her tomb, a high square tower, lit by two windows. There she piled up her treasure of gold and jewels, her furniture, her perfumes and a great deal of wood to send it all up in flames should the Romans try to take it.
In the spring of 30 BC, Octavian's legions seized Pelusium, in early summer, they were at the gates of Alexandria. Antony led a successful sortie with his cavalry, but the battle wasn't decisive. On July 31, Antony's army attacked Octavian. It was a greatly diminished army - only the infantry going into battle. His cavalry and navy had already surrendered. Around midnight, men said there was a noise of music in Alexandria as well as the ghostly wailing of choirs and a hubbub of people as if revellers were leaving the city. The sound went along the main street of the city to the eastern Canopic gate nearest the Roman camp and then stopped. To the augurs, the meaning of the omen was clear. The god Dionysus, whom Antony had striven to follow and imitate all his life, was abandoning him. This was defeat indeed. The Roman legions remained at the gates of Alexandria and Antony withdrew into the city.
Cleopatra entrenched herself in her mausoleum and it was then that Antony heard a report that from his generals that Cleopatra had died. The story is that he then seized his sword, handed it to his slave Eros and begged him to pierce his breast, but the young man used it on himself. Inspired by such courage, Antony then used the sword on himself just as Diomedes, Cleopatra's secretary, burst in to announce that the queen still lived.
The dying Antony had himself carried to the mausoleum to see her. Cleopatra had barricaded her in to protect herself from Octavian's soldiers. With the help of two servants she hauled her lover's body bleeding body up through the window with ropes.
"When she had got him up, she laid him on the bed, tearing all her clothes, which she spread upon herself, and disfiguring her own face with the blood from his wounds, she called him her lord, her husband, her emperor, and seemed to have pretty nearly forgotten her own evils."
Thus Plutarch describes the famous scene, Antony urged Cleopatra to try anything to save her life, so far as might be honorably done," and then died in her arms.
Octavian feared that Cleopatra would kill herself and he wanted her alive and humbled to walk through Rome in chains in his triumphal procession. He commanded Proculeius to do anything to take her prisoner but Cleopatra would only negotiate through her closed door. She sought only one thing; that her children should live and rule in Egypt. Gallus, another messenger, distracted the queen while Proculeius entered hte tomb by a window, surprised Cleopatra and wrenched her dagger from her hand.
On August 1, BC, Octavian's army over ran the city. He had the city searched for Antyllus, Antony's son and for Caesarion. Antyllus was betrayed by his tutor and his though was cut in the temple where he sought asylum.....the temple that Cleopatra had dedicated to Caesar's manes. Caesarion was no where to be found, his mother had arranged for him to escape to India.
Octavian authorized Cleopatra to perform Antony's funeral rites and she fulfilled this last task. She was determined to die rather than suffer the humiliation of Octavian's triumph. Unarmed and under constant surveillance, she stopped eating. The wounds she had inflicted on herself at Antony's deathbed were infected and she was failing. Octavian threatened that if she continued, he would cause her children to die 'shamefully'. She allowed herself to be treated and began to eat.
Octavian finally came to see her. Dio Cassius accused the queen, in his history of Rome, of trying to seduce Octavian. The reality was that the queen, pale and feverish, was in no condition to seduce anyone. She did offer Octavian jewels, gifts for his wife and sister and appealed to his pity. He believed she wanted