Cleopatra was a daughter of Egypt – part of the Macedonian-Greek-Ptolemaic Dynasty that had ruled since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. Queen of Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus, she was re-nowned for her passionate nature, beauty, intellect and determination to advance the interests of the Ptolemaic legacsy.
Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were masters of Rome – powerful, ruthless military generals who had expanded the sphere of Roman influence, seizing power for themselves and seeking to add the vast Egyptian Empire to Rome’s ever-expanding list of conquests.
The relationships between Cleopatra VII, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were love affairs, and pow-er struggles, that would change the course of Egyptian and Roman history, forever.

Cleopatra: Early Life and Ascension to Throne

Since no contemporary accounts exist of Cleopatra’s life, it is difficult to piece together her biography with much certainty. Much of what is known about her life comes from the work of Greco-Roman scholars, particularly Plutarch.
Born in 70 or 69 BC, Cleopatra was a daughter of Ptolemy XII (Auletes). Her mother was believed to be Cleopatra V Tryphaena, the king’s wife (and possibly his half-sister). In 51 BC, upon the appar-ently natural death of Auletes, the Egyptian throne passed to 18-year-old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII.
Soon after the siblings’ ascension to the throne, Ptolemy’s advisers acted against Cleopatra, who was forced to flee Egypt for Syria in 49 BC. She raised an army of mercenaries and returned the following year to face her brother’s forces in a civil war at Pelusium, on Egypt’s eastern border. Meanwhile, after allowing the Roman general Pompey to be murdered, Ptolemy XIII welcomed the arrival of Pompey’s rival, Julius Caesar, to Alexandria. In order to help her cause, Cleopatra sought Caesar’s support, reportedly smuggling herself into the royal palace to plead her case with him.

Caesar and Cleopatra

For his part, Caesar needed to fund his own return to power in Rome, and needed Egypt to repay the debts incurred by Auletes. After four months of war between Caesar’s outnumbered forces and those of Ptolemy XIII, Roman reinforcements arrived; Ptolemy was forced to flee Alexandria, and was be-lieved to have drowned in the Nile River. Entering Alexandria as an unpopular conqueror, Caesar re-stored the throne to the equally unpopular Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy XIV (then 13 years old). Caesar remained in Egypt with Cleopatra for a time, and around 47 BC she gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar. He was believed to be Caesar’s child, and was known by the Egyptian people as Caesarion, or Little Caesar.
Sometime in 46-45 BC, Cleopatra travelled with Ptolemy XIV and Caesarion to Rome to visit Caesar, who had returned earlier. After Caesar was murdered in March 44 BC, Cleopatra went back to Egypt; Ptolemy XIV was killed soon after (possibly by Cleopatra’s agents) and the three-year-old Caesarion was named co-regent with his mother, as Ptolemy XV.

Cleopatra’s Seduction of Mark Antony

With her infant son as co-regent, Cleopatra’s hold on power in Egypt was more secure than it had ev-er been. Still, unreliable flooding of the Nile resulted in failing crops, leading to inflation and hunger. Meanwhile, a conflict was raging in Rome between a second triumvirate of Caesar’s allies (Mark An-tony, Octavian and Lepidus) and his assassins, Brutus and Cassius. Both sides asked for Egyptian support, and after some stalling Cleopatra sent four Roman legions stationed in Egypt by Caesar to support the triumvirate. In 42 BC, after defeating the forces of Brutus and Cassius in the battles of Philippi, Mark Antony and Octavian divided power in Rome.
Mark Antony soon summoned Cleopatra to the Cicilian City of Tarsus (south of modern Turkey) to explain the role she had played in the complicated aftermath of Caesar’s assassination. According to the story recorded by Plutarch (and later dramatised famously by William Shakespeare), Cleopatra sailed to Tarsus in an elaborate ship, dressed in the robes of Isis. Antony, who associated himself with the Greek deity Dionysus, was seduced by her charms.
He agreed to protect Egypt and Cleopatra’s crown, pledging support for the removal of her younger sister and rival Arsinoe, then in exile. Cleopatra returned to Egypt, followed shortly thereafter by An-tony, who left behind his third wife, Fulvia, and their children in Rome. He spent the winter of 41-40 BC in Alexandria, during which he and Cleopatra famously formed a drinking society called “The Inimitable Livers.” In 40 BC, after Antony’s return to Rome, Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Alexander Helios (sun) and Cleopatra Selene (moon).

Cleopatra: Power Struggle

After Fulvia took ill and died, Antony was forced to prove his loyalty to Octavian by making a diplo-matic marriage with Octavian’s half-sister Octavia. Egypt grew more prosperous under Cleopatra’s rule, and in 37 BC Antony again met with Cleopatra to obtain funds for his long-delayed military campaign against the kingdom of Parthia. In exchange, he agreed to return much of Egypt’s eastern empire, including Cyprus, Crete, Cyrenaica (Libya), Jericho and large portions of Syria and Lebanon. They again became lovers, and Cleopatra gave birth to another son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, in 36 BC.
After a humiliating defeat in Parthia, Antony publicly rejected his wife Octavia’s efforts to rejoin him and instead returned to Egypt and Cleopatra. In a public celebration in 34 BC known as the “Dona-tions of Alexandria,” Antony declared Caesarion as Caesar’s son and rightful heir (as opposed to his adopted son, Octavian) and awarded land to each of his children with Cleopatra. This began a war of propaganda between him and the furious Octavian, who claimed that Antony was entirely under Cle-opatra’s control and would abandon Rome and found a new capital in Egypt. In late 32 BC, the Ro-man Senate stripped Antony of all his titles, and Octavian declared war on Cleopatra.

Cleopatra: Defeat and Death

On September 2, 31 BC, Octavian’s forces soundly defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium (off the western coast of Greece). Cleopatra’s ships deserted the battle and fled to Egypt, and Antony soon managed to break away and follow her with a few ships. With Alexandria under attack from Octavian’s forces, Antony heard a rumour that Cleopatra had committed suicide. He fell on his sword, and died just as news arrived that the rumour had been false.
On August 12, 30 BC, after burying Antony and meeting with the victorious Octavian, Cleopatra closed herself in her chamber with two of her female servants. The means of her death is uncertain, but Plutarch and other writers advanced the theory that she used a poisonous snake known as the asp, a symbol of divine royalty, to commit suicide at age 39. According to her wishes, Cleopatra’s body was buried with Antony’s, leaving Octavian (later Emperor Augustus I) to celebrate his conquest of Egypt and his consolidation of power in Rome.

Mark Antony

The Roman politician and general Mark Antony (83–30 BC), or Marcus Antonius, was an ally of Jul-ius Caesar and the main rival of his successor Octavian (later Augustus).
With those two men he was integral to Rome’s transition from republic to empire. His romantic and political alliance with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra was his ultimate undoing.

Mark Antony: Early Life and Alliance with Julius Caesar

Marcus Antonius was born in Rome in 83 BC, the son of an ineffective praetor (military commander) and grandson of a noted consul and orator, both of whom shared his given name. After a largely mis-spent youth, he was sent east as a cavalry officer, where he won important victories in Palestine and Egypt. In 54 BC he went to Gaul to join his mother’s cousin Julius Caesar as a staff officer. In 49 BC he was elected a tribune and served as a staunch defender of Caesar against his rivals in the Senate.
During Caesar’s first yearlong dictatorship, Antony was his second-in-command. By 48 BC he was in Greece, supporting Caesar’s left wing at the Battle of Pharsalus. A year later, Antony’s violent ex-pulsion from the Senate by anti-Caesar factions gave Caesar’s legion a rallying point as they crossed the Rubicon River, igniting the Republican Civil War. When Caesar assumed his fifth and final con-sulship in 44 BC, Antony was his co-consul.
As the Ides of March approached, Antony heard rumours of a plot against Caesar but was unable to warn him in time. Antony fled Rome dressed as a slave but soon returned to protect his friend’s lega-cy from the senators who had conspired against him. He took charge of Caesar’s will and papers and gave a stirring eulogy for the fallen leader.

Mark Antony and Octavian

In his will Caesar had bequeathed his wealth and title to his posthumously adopted son Octavian. An-tony was reluctant to hand his old friend’s legacy to a 17-year-old, and quickly became a rival to the future emperor. In 43 BC their armies first clashed. Antony was driven back at Mutina and Forum Gallorum, but had proved a formidable enough leader that Octavian preferred to ally with him.
Along with their lesser rival Lepidus, Octavian and Antony formed the Second Triumvirate, splitting Rome’s provinces between them: Octavian would rule the West, Antony the East and Lepidus Africa. Within a year, Antony defeated Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Antonius in the Battle of Phillipi, elim-inating the two remaining leaders of the Republican cause in a battle that established his reputation as a general.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra

In 41 BC, Antony began an affair with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, who had been Caesar’s lover in the last years of his life. The queen gave birth to twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, but Antony was forced to return to Rome to deal with the aftermath of his wife and brother-in-law’s failed rebellion against Octavian. The Senate pushed for conciliation between the triumvirs, pressing the re-cently widowed Antony to marry Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor in 40 BC.
In 37 BC, the Triumvirate was renewed. Antony returned to Cleopatra and fathered a son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. The lovers grew more public in their relationship, participating in deification ceremonies where they took the roles of the Greco-Egyptian gods Dionysus-Osiris and Venus-Isis. More pro-vocatively, they paraded their three children and Caesarion (Cleopatra’s son by Julius Caesar) in cos-tumes as legitimate royal heirs, flaunting Roman law’s refusal to acknowledge marriage with outsid-ers.
In 32 BC Antony divorced Octavia. In retaliation, Octavian declared war, not on Antony but on Cleo-patra. The fighting occurred in western Greece, where Antony had superior numbers but fell time and again to the brilliant naval attacks of Octavian’s general Agrippa. After their combined forces were defeated in the Battle of Actium, Antony and Cleopatra’s remaining ships made a desperate flight back to Egypt, pursued by Agrippa and Octavian.
As Octavian entered Alexandria, both Antony and Cleopatra resolved to commit suicide. Antony, thinking his lover already dead, stabbed himself with a sword but was then brought to die in Cleopat-ra’s arms. Mark Antony died on August 1, 30 BC. Cleopatra was captured but managed to kill herself via a poisonous snakebite. After Antony’s death his honours were all revoked, his statues removed. Cicero, Antony’s great rival in the senate, decreed that no one in the dead general’s family would ever bear the name Mark Antony again. Octavian was now emperor in all but name. Three years later he was granted a new honorific, Augustus, and ruled Rome for the next four decades.

Mark Antony’s Legacy

Although Mark Antony died fighting Octavian’s efforts to become Rome’s sole dynastic monarch, three of the first five Roman emperors—Caligula, Claudius and Nero—were Antony’s direct descen-dants.

Film poster of Cleopatra: Twentieth Century Fox

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