Cleopatra VII is iconic — arguably the most famous and powerful woman in history! Yet there is so much misinformation about her in Hollywood and general pop culture. I am here to sort out fact from fiction, to explain why such negative propaganda against her exists, and personal experience as to why this public figure is so important to me.
“Cleopatra the Great” by Dr. Joann Fletcher is a nonfiction piece that tells the true story of Cleopatra and all her glory. With the help of this book, I have identified one-hundred facts to summarize the life and legacy of the legendary queen, incarnation of Goddess Isis.
Propaganda Against Cleopatra
There are many factors to consider when it comes to the image of Cleopatra and why she is portrayed in a biased light. During her time, Roman culture and social rules were completely opposite from the Egyptian. While Egypt was progressive, diverse, and granted women more rights (in some ways, traditional gender roles were reversed), Roman women were treated as property with essentially no rights. Although Roman influence is prevalent in the modern world, especially western society — everything from the calendar to the names of the planets — the U.S.A. is much more similar to Cleopatra’s time in Egypt when it comes to our open-minded, gender-equal ways of thinking.
So, when Cleopatra wore clothing that revealed her arms or neck, the Romans said she dressed like a prostitute. When Cleopatra enjoyed a glass of wine, the Romans claimed she was a drunk. And when Cleopatra had an equal romantic partnership with another political leader, the Romans saw her as ‘manipulative’ and claimed she must have ‘put a spell’ on her lover, disregarding true romantic feelings as merely a political strategy.
Another factor you must be aware of, is Octavian‘s (later known as Augustus Caesar, not to be confused with Julius Caesar) anti-Cleopatra propaganda. Octavian was Cleopatra’s greatest enemy who fought for control of Egypt. Octavian lived for several decades after her and used this time to tarnish her character. Octavian is known for rewriting history with falsities that make himself look better, making countless claims in his biographies that have been proven to be historically inaccurate. His fragile ego caused him to spread blatant lies to his people about Cleopatra’s truth.
Cleopatra as My Spirit Guide
I have always been aware of Cleopatra through pop culture. At eleven years-old, in the sixth grade (the age Cleopatra first sailed with her father and stepped into her royal power.) I opened my textbook to see her name. The entire class had to do a project on ancient Egypt, each of us picking a specific topic to investigate. With all the girls in our class fighting over who would do “beauty and cosmetics,” my teacher decided to pull names out of a hat. Everyone screamed and shouted with anxiety about what topic they wanted as I sat there quietly and prepared to be called last. To my surprise, out of thirty or so students, I was the first name to be called. Everyone turned and stared at me as my face turned red. I debated choosing a different topic, feeling bad about the honor of having first pick. But I decided to go ahead and choose “beauty and cosmetics” although I knew it would spark jealousy. I was a shy and nimble middle schooler, but this felt like my time to shine, and I deserved it! To this day, I still do not think it was a coincidence that my name was picked first.
Our sixth grade class had a poster of Cleopatra hanging on the wall. I distinctly recall turning to my right and observing this picture, staring into the eyes of Cleopatra, and feeling inspired. I felt like she was there, watching me, speaking to me, encouraging me to stand out more and follow my passion without hesitance. She gave me a sense of confidence I so badly needed as a quiet young girl who always seemed to get stepped on by people louder and bigger than me. I recognized our shared ambition and determination. I felt a deep connection. I can succeed in life, just like her!
I did not think too much about Cleopatra or Egypt until I was seventeen, the twelfth grade, when our English teacher had us read Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” I asked in my head, where is Cleopatra? Although the play goes on to focus on the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, I felt extremely bothered by the lack of my honored Egyptian queen who seemed to have come to me as a spirit guide at the very vulnerable age of eleven. My classmates were shocked to know that the two were even involved, and her involvement with arguably the most famous and powerful man in history was reduced to nothing but a “mistress.”
And then came freshmen year of college, at eighteen years old (the same age Cleopatra became queen, and historians began to record her life), when I had a supernatural experience regarding Cleopatra. I was in a “haunted dorm” and my two friends and I made our own Ouija board to mess around with. (This was also very close to December 2012, known as a very ‘mystical time’ according to the Ancients) In shock, the microfidge would flicker on and off when we hovered over certain letters. We asked all kinds of questions, including, “was I famous in a past life?” My friend thought perhaps it would spell out Marilyn Monroe for me, instead it spelt out the last name I was ever expecting — Cleopatra!
Now of course there could be some logical explanation or coincidence to this. I’m not claiming anything. Plenty of girls will say, ‘I was Cleopatra in a past life!‘ But I will say that I have found countless parallels between Cleopatra’s personality and mine, even oddly enough, many similar life events. Regardless, I cannot deny the fact that I have always felt a spiritual connection to her, whatever that means!
Cleopatra in the media
From here on, I did a lot of research about Cleopatra, realizing how much mystery surrounds her. I watched every movie and TV show I could find about her — and they dissatisfied me. The classic Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra‘ is a magnificent movie, but fails to acknowledge Cleopatra’s spirituality while emphasizing the materialistic aspect of her life (although it’s true that she went all out with her epic appearances!) ‘Rome,’ an HBO series, is entertaining and impressive, but paints Cleopatra in a viciously ruthless light — claiming her child was illigitimate, that her romance with Caesar was fake, and that she was a careless drug addict. The Netflix documentary gets a few things right, but leaves out many vital facts regarding Cleopatra’s legacy.
Despite the negative propoganda surrounding Cleopatra, one thing about her that persists though pop culture and makes her so remarkable is her ambition, determination, cleverness, intelligence, and capability. And that’s why we find her so fascinating, and why Hollywood continues to make films about her. Cleopatra is everywhere, not just posing as characters on the screen, but even in subtle ways — how ‘The Wizard of Oz‘ shows Dorothy consulting a crystal ball reader who says how Cleopatra was also a psychic, or an episode of ‘Gilmore Girls‘ when Lorelei mentions to Luke at a medieval themed wedding that Cleopatra and Caesar used to also wear Laurel crowns. When girls wear dark eyeliner that extends past their brows, they call it ‘the Cleopatra look’. And you will find random Cleopatra appearances in many, many different forms of media. But her influence goes beyond Hollywood and makeup trends, it’s her inner traits that keep her so prevalent over two thousand years later.
(Related: Caesar & Cleopatra film review.)
Mainstream media may not always get the facts right, they may even twist things around completely, but I am here to set the record straight! After searching through countless resources, I found “Cleopatra the Great” by Dr. Joann Fletcher to be one of the most reliable sources. Without further ado, I present to you one-hundred facts about Cleopatra! Follow them along as the re-telling of her life story…
1. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 300 B.C., the start of the Ptolemy family dynasty.
2. Cleopatra’s father died in March 51 B.C., when she was seventeen years old. It happened during a partial solar eclipse. In his will, the power was passed down to her and her younger half-brother, but she wanted to rule alone.
3. Cleopatra’s older half-sister had attempted to take the crown until her father had her executed while he was still alive.
4. Cleopatra was the only one in her family to learn how to speak Egyptian, as well as study the history of Egyptian culture. This gained her a lot of respect among the native Egyptians as leader.
5. She was the first monarch in several centuries to take part in ancient Egyptian rituals. This was inspired by Alexander the Great, who did the same during his time a few centuries back.
6. During her time, the Greeks did not understand Egyptian custom and social rules. While Greek women were only allowed to leave their homes as last resort, fully covered — Egyptian women went out to the market and employed in trade, while the men stayed at home to do the weaving.
7. “Cleopatra” was a very common name at the time. There were at least thirty-three famous Cleopatras from ancient times. The Greek version begins with a “K.”
8. The identity of Cleopatra’s mother remains blurry. It is estimated she was 32 parts Greek, 27 parts Macedonian, and 5 parts Persian.
9. Morbid obesity and mental instability ran in her family, although she had neither.
10. Cleopatra was highly educated, known as “the most illustrious and wise among women” and “the last of the wise ones of Greece.”
11. She wrote many books on medicine, charms, cosmetics, and many other medicinal texts.
12. Cleopatra was especially interested in fetal toxicology. She closely studied the effects of various poisons and wrote about her findings.
13. She was titled “Theosebia” meaning “scribe of the god” and it is said that all her written works were inspired by Thoth, Egyptian god of writing.
14. A public ceremony was held in Alexandria on 31 May 52 BC where all four siblings were presented as “Philadelphos” meaning “sibling-loving.” However only sixteen-year old Cleopatra was given the titled “Thea Philopator,” meaning “Father-Loving Goddess.” It is said that she was her father’s favorite child. At the ceremony, she officially became co-ruler of Egypt with him.
15. Immediately following her father’s passing, she attempted to keep his death hidden by continuing to issue official documents with his and her names as co-rulers. This was a tactic used to keep ten-year old brother Ptolemy powerless, as well as prevent Rome from intervening.
16. Cleopatra was titled “Female Horus, the Great One, Mistress of Perfection, Brilliant in Counsel, Lady of the Two Lands, Cleopatra, the Goddess who Loves her Father, the Image of her Father,” hailing her, “Upper Egyptian King of the land of the white crown, Lower Egyptian King of the land of the red crown.”
17. Her favored headgear presented to her Egyptian subjects was the ancient crown of the earth god Geb, with Amun’s ram’s horns and cow horns, sun disc, and two tall feathers of Isis-Hathor. This reinforced her title as “daughter of Geb,” as Isis is believed to be the daughter of Geb. This crown was used by previous leaders Arsinoe II, Nefertiti, and Hatshepsut.
18. Cleopatra’s hair was maintained by stylist Eiras. She wore a “melon hairdo” that was once made popular by leaders from two centuries prior until it fell out of fashion, until she brought it back. It’s most likely her hair was blonde or red.
19. Cleopatra called herself the “New Isis” and dressed herself as goddess Isis.
20. Cleopatra reenacted the legend of King Snofru — Egypt’s greatest pyramid builder who was worshipped centuries after his death and said to be the incarnation of the sun god — by rowing the sacred bull along the 9 km stretch of the Nile from Thebes to Hermonthis.
21. At the start of Cleopatra’s reign following her father’s death, she was forced to raise taxes, as she did not inherit any money from him. Also, there was a lack of resources, and low Nile floods lead to bad harvests. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, she was still able to recoup about 12,500 talents per year, proving her to be economically crafty.
22. In summer of 49 BC, Ptolemy XIII was declared sole monarch. Although the Egyptians still recognized her as their leader, she meant absolutely nothing to the Romans in terms of power. By 48 BC, her ability to speak Hebrew and Aramaic came in handy as she took residency in Arabia and Palestine.
23. On 9 August, it was reported to Cleopatra that Julius Caesar of Rome had defeated Pompeius — Ptolemy’s ally. Caesar was given the title “descended from Ares [Roman Mars] and Aphrodite [Venus.]” In return, she sent him a detailed report informing him that she was determined to take back her throne by force of arms.
24. When Caesar came to Ptolemy to collect 6000 talents that were owed of him, Ptolemy attempted to gain his favor by having Pompeius assassinated, beheaded, and presented to him. Expecting praise and respect, instead Caesar wept and was distraught by the death of his former friend. And then, he awaited 22-year old Cleopatra’s return to Egypt where she would plead her life to him.
25. Cleopatra had to disguise herself rolled up in oriental rugs in order to return to Egypt and meet Caesar unnoticed.
26. It is quoted that “contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching” and blessed with “a most delicious voice.”
27. The following morning after her return to Egypt, Ptolemy walked in on Cleopatra relaxing in bed with Caesar. His reaction was to run around the palace screaming that he had been betrayed.
28. Caesar declared that Cleopatra and Ptolemy would be co-rulers.
29. Many evenings Caesar and Cleopatra feasted together until dawn. Caesar had little interest in food and alcohol, but greatly enjoyed philosophical debates.
30. The earliest Arabic source quotes, Caesar “fell in love with her, married her and had a son with her.” Although their marriage was not recognized by Roman law due to his previous marriage to Calpurnia, it was recognized in Egypt.
31. Following victory in the Alexandrian war, Cleopatra and Caesar sailed the Nile together. Many historians claim that the trip most likely lasted several months. The lavish cruise consisted of many dining rooms and living spaces. They visited many sacred temples. Their last stop was the temple of Ra (sun god.)
32. The priesthood recognized Cleopatra as the New Isis, the most powerful deity incarnate, destined to create a new golden age.
33. Romans criticized Caesar for spending time with Cleopatra following the Alexandrian war, rather than immediately returning home.
34. Younger half-sister Arsinoe IV declared herself monarch in Cleopatra’s place and Caesar took her back to Rome as prisoner.
35. Cleopatra created a monument to honor Caesar called “Kaisaros Epibaterios” or “Embarking Caesar.”
36. Caesar restored Cyprus to Cleopatra, allowing her to lift taxes that were once forced to be much heavier in the beginning of her reign.
37. While Cleopatra was giving birth to their child, the ancient tradition of throwing a cavalry spear used to kill in battle was thrown over the palace. This is called the “hasta caelibaris” or “celibate spear” that is thought to bring good luck.
38. Cleopatra’s labor was likely assisted by a midwife and painkillers such as henbane, poppies, and cannabis. Still, she faced an excruciating and complicated birth both psychologically and physically.
39. Per tradition, she stayed secluded in bed with her infant for one week in order to remain protected from supernatural forces. Incense were burned — frankincense, myrrh, and pistacia.
40. Their son was nicknamed Caesarion which means “son of Caesar” or “Little Caesar.”
41. Coins were issued featuring an image of Cleopatra as Aphrodite nursing her son.
42. In the spring of 46 BC, with her one-year old son Caesarion and thirteen year-old co-ruler brother, Cleopatra sailed a 420-foot long ship to Rome. (During this time, the average ship was 120 feet.) Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIV were formally received by Caesar and awarded the official title ‘reges socii et amici populi Romani’ meaning ‘friend and ally of the Roman people.’
43. Cleopatra bathed in donkey’s milk, believed to smooth skin and reduce wrinkles. The lactic acid provided an ‘ancient form of chemical peel, the cosmetic procedure used to straighten wrinkles or even out pigmentation.’ She also came up with recipes for hair-loss such as using a paste of realgar blended with oak gum after cleaning head with natron.
44. Cleopatra owned the world’s largest library. Her and Caesar had mutual passion for scholarship. The year Caesar returned from Egypt (47 BC), he appointed a head librarian in Rome and ordered them to collect copies of all the Greek and Latin works in existence.
45. Cleopatra’s astronomers presented Caesar with the Egyptian (sun) calendar to replace the defective Roman (moon) calendar. The Egyptian 365-day calendar replaced Rome’s 355-day calendar that involved adding an extra month every other year which had completely thrown off the seasons. The new calendar was altered to provide an extra day every four years, known as “leap year.” The months were renamed, including “Mensis Julius” or “July” in honor of Caesar’s birthday. This became known as the “Julian Calendar,” the same calendar we use to this day.
46. The adaptation of this new calendar involved adding two extra months between November and December — thus 46 BC became the longest year on record — 445 days total!
47. Cleopatra became pregnant in 45 BC with Caesar’s second child, as he was in the works of changing Roman law to allow multiple marriages so that their marriage could be officially recognized. He changed his will so that instead of granting his assets to Calpurnia’s son or her future sons, they would go to grand-nephew Octavian — the closest thing he had to a male family member recognized by Roman law — but in hopes of changing the system, they would ideally be granted to Caesarian and Cleopatra’s other future sons to come.
48. Cleopatra was the only female Ptolemy to issue coins with her image (some representing her as Venus-Aphrodite), Caesar following her lead by making himself the first Roman ever to appear on coins — titled ‘Parens Patriae’ or ‘Father of the Fatherland.’
49. Cassius plotted to assassinate Caesar, joined by about sixty others — only nine of who were former allies of Pompeius — the rest held personal grudges against him. The conspiracy was so large that it gained public knowledge and yet Caesar enforced his immortality by having his Spanish bodyguard dismissed in February 44 BC. Caesar said, “It is more important for Rome than for myself that I should survive. I have long been sated with power and glory; but should anything happen to me, Rome will enjoy no peace. A new civil war will break out under far worse conditions than the last,” and he was right.
50. Following the death of Caesar, (out of twenty-three stabs, only one was fatal) Cleopatra’s stress and mourning caused her to suffer from a miscarriage. Mass hysteria had the Romans seeking violent revenge, some trying to burn down the homes of Brutus, Cassius, and the other assassins. The assassins, forced to flee, were shocked by the public’s reaction of despair — expecting praise from them. Caesar’s image was transformed into Osiris according to Egyptian belief.
51. Cleopatra’s miscarriage was heavily censored by Octavian, who used his power to rewrite history for the benefit of himself. There is evidence in a letter written by Cicero, referring to Caesar’s non-Roman children in plural, indicating more than one child with Cleopatra. Following the assassination on March 15, Cleopatra left Rome by April 15 and returned to Egypt.
52. Ptolemy XV Caesar, Theos Philopator Philometor, ‘the God who loves his Father and Mother’ became the Living Horus, his mother The Living Isis, and his father Caesar Osiris.
53. Cleopatra claimed, “I have acted as a man although I was a woman in order to make Osiris’ name survive on earth,” and Greek islands Isis’ devotees claimed “she has made the power of women equal to that of men.”
54. Egypt was struck with famine and plague. The floods of 42 and 42 BC fell short, disease became rampant, and Cleopatra’s medical advisor embarked on pioneering research into bubonic plague. During this time Cleopatra worked on an esoteric level to placate the wrath of the lioness deity Sekhmet, “Lady of Plague,” including the playing of her sistrum rattles to appease the great plague bringer herself in the presence of Heka, the personification of magic.
55. Caesar’s prediction about a new civil war came true, as Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Octavian battled against one another. Antonius guarded Caesar’s assets and refused to give them to Octavian. Antonius was thirty-nine years older with features resembling Hercules, while Octavian was scrawny and fell physically ill at the thought of battling in combat. Octavian’s lack of military prowess was made up for by his brilliant political mind. Octavian used his family connection with Caesar to win over the Roman people.
56. During a festival held in Caesar’s honor, a comet was seen an hour before sunset and for seven days following. This was identified as Caesar’s soul elevated into the heavens and coincided with Egypt’s ancient beliefs regarding the souls of dead pharaohs rising from their pyramids to become ‘Imperishable Stars.’
57. Cicero viciously attacked Antonius’s character (‘a disgusting, intolerable sensualist, as well as a vicious, unsavory crook’) and joined forces with Octavian, winning over the senate. Eventually Senate declared Antonius public enemy number one in April 43 BC. Caesar’s murderers Cassius and Brutus were now given power over Macedonia, Syria, and the entire Mediterranean.
58. Cleopatra fought against Cassius, leading her army out of Alexandria. But Cassius had received intelligence of her plan and sent sixty warships with archers to lie in wait for her around the Peloponnese, wrecking her fleet. Struggling to get back to Alexandria, she immediately began working on sixty new vessels.
59. As Brutus sent Cassius his cavalry to assist, Cassius’s poor eyesight mistook the approaching troops for those of Antonius and he hastily committed suicide. Brutus lead his own forces again on November 16 but was defeated by Antonius and therefore had a friend help him commit suicide.
60. Antonius won the war against Octavian (who later on would rewrite history claiming that he was actually the victor in his biography.) Antonius was then given title as ‘Imperator,’ general. Antonius was married to Fulvia, ‘a woman of restless spirit and very bold’ who is said to be female only in body.
61. Cleopatra’s bravery at sea was acknowledged with a marble head found in Rome resembling her famous melon hairdo with a triangular crown.
62. Antonius needed Cleopatra’s assistance in his plans for the East, so he sent her an invitation to meet in Cilicia (modern Turkey), exploiting her desire to keep her throne.
63. Cleopatra and Antonius went on to form a romantic relationship and created a social club known as “The Inimitable Livers” which consisted of daily evenings full of entertainment in honor of Dionysos (god of wine), flute players, dancers and acrobat performances, and drinking games.
64. She would ‘go rambling with him to disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant-woman, for Antony also went in servant’s disguise, and from these expeditions he often came home very scurvily answered, and sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed who he was.’
65. Their wine was said to have been laced with opium poppy (morphine), and narcotic-inducing lotus flowers. Cleopatra suggested her guests ‘should drink their chaplets’ which were traditionally made from lotus flowers.
66. Cleopatra made a bet that she could personally consume 10 million sesterces at a single sitting. She did this by dropping a pearl into her amethyst-studded drinking cup, let it dissolve, and then drank it down. This trick was pulled off by her deep knowledge of chemistry, acting out the formula: CaCO3 + 2CH3COOH > Ca(CH3COO)2 + H2O + CO2
67. Cleopatra gave birth to twins (boy and girl) in October 40 BC. (Supposedly Antonius’s) This is even rarer than same-sex twins, and it is said that ‘live twin births will have been fewer and survival through infancy of one or both lower still.’ According to Egyptian myth, mixed-sex twins were compared to creator deities Shu and Tefnut, parents of twins Geb (land) and Nut (sky.) Because of their rarity and low survival rate, mixed-sex twins were given a special status. Cleopatra’s twins were named ‘Alexander’ (after Alexander the Great) and ‘Cleopatra’ (his sister also named Cleopatra), alternatively they were also known as ‘Helios’ (sun) and ‘Selene’ (moon.)
68. Cleopatra turned to royal astrologists to predict the future of herself and her children, as well as matters regarding Rome. Antonius was predicted to have a glorious future, however he was warned that he would always be overshadowed by Octavian, and should stay as far away from him as possible.
69. Antonius, who was married to Fulvia until her death in February 40 BC, then married Octavia (Octavian’s sister) in order to publicly demonstrate peace between him and Octavian. Octavia gave birth to their daughter in the fall of 39 BC, and her and Antonius issued coins featuring their joint profiles, honoring themselves as ‘Beneficent Gods.’
70. Octavian, twice defeated against Sextus in 37 BC, was forced to ask Antonius for help and once again the two joined forces. Octavia was also involved, persuading Antonius to loan Octavian 130 ships. Octavia then became pregnant with Antonius’s second child, also raising two other sons from Antonius’s previous marriage to Fulvia, AS WELL as her two sons from her own previous marriage. (Got it?!)
71. At this point, it had been four years since Antonius had seen Cleopatra or her twins. And now, desperate for the support and wealth of Cleopatra, Antonius needed her. But since they had last seen each other, he had married Octavia and bore two of her sons!
72. Antonius and Cleopatra had first met back when she was a teenager, 55 BC, in the city of Antioch. And now, they had arranged to meet once again in the same location. Antonius, who had five previous children (one from his first marriage, two from his second with Fulvia, and two with current wife Octavia), also publicly acknowledged Cleopatra’s twins as his own — this gave him a powerful dynastic link to Alexander the Great.
73. After reuniting, the two became officially married by Egyptian law — Cleopatra age thirty-one and Antonius age forty-six — in the winter of 37 BC. Antonius now received status as Royal consort. Although by Roman law, he was technically married to Octavia — just as Caesar married Cleopatra by Egyptian law yet remained married to Calpurnia by Roman law.
74. New coins were issued of thirty-one-year old Cleopatra, who’s image looked much younger now than she had been portrayed during her teens and twenties. Antonius was depicted on the reverse. Cleopatra’s image was now ‘Romanized’ and said ‘made to look Roman, almost like Antony in drag.’
75. From Antonius, Cleopatra was now given the Mediterranean coast (from Cilicia through Syria and Phoenicia,) large parts of Judaea, Lebanon, and the Arab state of Ituraea, as well as estates on Crete and the regained Cyrene — land Egypt had once owned some three-thousand years ago, rich with natural resources. This gain made her extremely wealthy.
76. Cleopatra gave birth to her fourth child in September 36 BC at thirty-three-years old. He was named Ptolemy Philadelphus. Also at this time, eldest child Caesarian became her co-ruler at age eleven.
77. Octavian gained victory of Sextus Pompeius just as Antonius had lost more than a quarter of his force as a result of bad weather and treachery. Once again, Antonius needed Cleopatra’s money. She agreed to meet with him even though she had just given birth and it was the middle of winter when rough seas normally closed the Mediterranean to traffic.
78. A tax break document was written in February 33 BC, and at the end is Cleopatra’s own handwriting of a Greek phrase that can be best translated as ‘let it be done’ — the closest tangible link to her yet found.
79. Cleopatra was present at Antonius’s planning meetings (just as she was at Caesar’s) but newly arrived allies objectified against her and complained that women should stay home, how Cleopatra would bring bad luck, and that she must return to Egypt. Of course this did not stop her. She had many supporters, including Canidius Crassus, commander of the land forces, who claimed that her presence was needed to sustain the morale of their Egyptian troops, and stated how ‘she was no way inferior in prudence to any one of the kings that were serving with him; she had long governed a great kingdom by herself alone, and long-lived with [Antonius] and gained experience in public affairs.’
80. The Anthenians set up Cleopatra’s statue as Isis alongside a companion figure of Antonius as Osiris.
81. Antonius initiated divorce with Octavia and ordered to have her removed from his house.
82. Octavian declared Cleopatra (now thirty-seven) enemy of the Roman state in the fall of 32 BC. He called Cleopatra ‘chia pestilence of a woman’ and declared the Egyptians as nothing but a ‘rabble’ who ‘worship reptiles and beasts as gods, they embalm their bodies to make them appear immortal, they are most forward in effrontery, but most backward in courage. Worst of all, they are not ruled by a man, but are the slaves of a woman.’
83. And so came a long and complicated battle of Octavian verses Antonius and Cleopatra. In the end, Cleopatra sent her remaining fleet of sixty ships. However the ships were destroyed by the Arabians of Petra lead by ruler Malchus, who had a history of dispute with the Ptolemies.
84. In spring of 30 BC, age thirty-nine, Cleopatra decided to use her treasury to bargain with Octavian. She told him she was willing to step down from her throne as long as her children could remain in power. In turn, Octavian kept the money given to him while telling her ‘there was no reasonable favor which she might not expect, if she put Antonius to death or expelled him from Egypt.”
85. Antonius who had been in a self-imposed exile, returned to Cleopatra to lavishly celebrate his fifty-second birthday. ‘The Inimitable Livers’ now declared themselves as ‘Synapothanoumenoi’ — ‘Those who will die together” or “The Suicide Club.’ This was a symbolic severance from traitors Plancus, Titius, and Dellius. Their new group was made up of hardcore supporters, including Canidius Crassus, who wore poisoned flowers and vowed to die with the couple when the time came.
86. Cleopatra focused on toxicology research to study poisonous drugs and figure out which was least painful — finding that with less pain came a slower death. So instead of poison, she turned to venomous animals. She found the bite of an asp to be most satisfying, bringing on a heavy drowsiness and lethargy with a gentle sweat on the face without any convulsions or groaning, putting one to sleep without pain. She kept snakes and other reptiles on hand like a royal zoo.
87. Cleopatra set for her dead body to be buried ‘joining the temple of Isis’ which could refer to many different locations (the city had many temples of Isis,) but most likely the one on the Lochias promontory beside the sea. Although it had been tradition for Macedonian Ptolemies to be cremated, most likely Cleopatra, a devoted follower of the ancient Egyptian tradition, insisted on a proper mummification burial. (Also, revival of Egyptian mummification had been brought back into ‘fashion’ in 180 BC.) The burial includes mummy wearing expensive jewelry and having one’s arms crossed at the chest, in a coffin made of gold or clear/iris glass.
88. Octavian, realizing now that Cleopatra was preparing for death, travelled south through Syria, continuing to stress that he had good intentions for her and would hear her out — just as long as she would have Antonius killed.
89. Caesarion, now sixteen-years old, parted ways with his mother and sailed to India for safety from Octavian, hoping to reunite once again in the near future.
90. Now separated, Antonius was forced to surrender against Octavian. Assuming he had been killed, Cleopatra told her servants to report to any enquiry that she too was dead. And so, Antonius returned to the palace and was told Cleopatra had gone to her tomb. It is said that Antonius mused aloud, ‘Why delay any longer? Fate has snatched away the only thing for which I still wanted to live. I’m not so troubled, Cleopatra, that you have gone, for I shall soon be with you. But it distresses me that so great a general should be found to be less courageous than a woman.’ Antonius stripped his armor and handed his sword to hs servant Eros, who instead turned the weapon on himself and fell dead at Antonius’ feet. Antonius then declared, ‘well done, Eros, well done, you’ve shown your master how to do what you hadn’t the heart to do yourself,’ before drawing the blade into his stomach.
91. Unable to fully kill himself, Antonius cried out in pain, begging someone to finish him off. The servants in turn scattered in fear, as one of them informed Cleopatra that he was still alive, who then demanded that he be brought to her. However, the tomb entrance was sealed, so she let down rope winches from the high window with the help of her two women so they could haul up Antonius — ‘it was no easy task for the women; and Cleopatra, with all her force, clinging to the rope, and straining with her head to the ground, with difficulty pulled him up, while those below encourages her with their cries, and joined in all her efforts and anxiety.’ Bleeding heavily, his body was still managed to be brought into the tomb. Eyewitnesses claimed that ‘nothing was ever more sad than this spectacle.’
92. It is quoted, ‘beating her breast with her hands, lacerating 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 all her own evils, she was so intent upon his misfortunes.’ In attempt to calm her down, Antonius ordered wine from the funerary stocks, advised her to put her trust in Gaius Proculeius (one of Octavian’s staff but an honorable man), and said that he had lived a happy and honorable life.
93. Hearing the news and worried she would kill herself, Octavian sent for Proculeius to get her back alive. Unable to enter, Cleopatra said she would come out if Octavian allowed Caesarian to rule. As her servants warned her of the men’s arrival, Cleopatra pulled out her dagger to stab herself but was forcibly seized by Proculeius who removed the weapon, and then ‘shook her dress to see if there were any poisons hid in it.’
94. Cleopatra now held captive, was reported to be in extreme grief and sorrow, had ‘inflamed and ulcerated her breast with beating them’ and ‘fell into a high fever’ between 3 and 8 August, refusing all food and drink, wishing to die and asking Olympus to help her do so. In turn, Octavian threatened her children and insisted she must stay alive. For, he wanted to keep his reputation and parade her around as prisoner. Despite self-inflicted gouges, it was said ‘her appearance in mourning wonderfully enhanced her beauty.’
95. On 10 August, Cleopatra was granted permission to return to her palace in request to pay respect to Antonius. Some sources claim ‘an asp was brought in amongst those figs and covered with leaves’ and that when Cleopatra saw it she simple said, ‘so here it is.’ Accuracy about the ‘asp’ has been widely debated, most likely not a viper (causing a violently intense reaction) but an Egyptian cobra which acts rapidly on the nerves and little damage to outward appearance. However, with a cobra spitting all its venom on first bite, it seems illogical that one single snake could’ve killed three people (Cleopatra’s suicide was followed by her two servants.) And it seems unlikely that not just one, but three, snakes could have been secretly snuck into the palace. Most likely the venom or poison was incorporated into some type of lotion hidden in the needles worn in her hair.
96. Octavian’s men opened the door to find Cleopatra ‘lying upon a bed of gold, set out in royal ornaments’ with one of her women dying at her feet and the other dying at her head. ‘Was this well done of your lady, Charmion?’ one man asked, in which she replied with her final dying breath, ‘extremely well done, and as befitting the descendant of so many kings.’
97. Octavian tried every medicinal and magical method to revive Cleopatra, but failed. They say ‘he was so anxious to save Cleopatra as an ornament of his triumph.’ He claimed in his biography to have only saved for himself ‘a single agate cup’ — and yet somehow after this he was rich enough to purchase his own island, suggesting he most certainly kept her jewelry. Octavian gave Cleopatra a proper burial next to Antonius — which was only done in order to make himself Cleopatra’s legitimate heir, giving him the right to have her children executed three weeks later. On 31 August 30 BC, Egypt was officially annexed by Rome.
98. Octavian followed through on Cleopatra’s plans to order the pair of granite obelisks she had selected from Heliopolis to be set up at either side of the huge entrance way, each stood on the back of four giant bronze crabs whose claws. Eventually these were taken to London and New York and are still known today as “Cleopatra’s Needles.”
99. Octavian became ‘Augustus Caesar’ in 27 BC and renamed the month of ‘Sextilis’ as ‘August.’ Instead of choosing his own birthday month (September) after himself like Julius Caesar did, he decided to choose the month he ‘brought down Cleopatra.’ He used this time to rewrite history, burning books that contradicted his reputation, including many works written by Julius Caesar. Claudius began recording recent events in Rome beginning with the murder of Julius Caesar, but was told he would have to leave out any mention of Cleopatra or else his works would never be published.
100. Cleopatra Selene is believed to be the only surviving child of Cleopatra VII, who did all she could to keep her mother’s lineage alive. She was sent to live with Octavia alongside her other children (including sons with Antonius) and later on inheriting Cyrene and marrying the intellectual King Juba II, having a son named Ptolemy somewhere between 13 and 9 BC. Cleopatra Selene died around age thirty-five, possibly due to childbirth, during a lunar eclipse. Ptolemy became king following his father’s death in AD 23, later executed by Caligula — who was ironically a devotee of Isis.
And the rest is history…