In 41 BCE, as she arrived in Tarsus, Cicilia, Cleopatra was dressed as Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. She was wearing a beautiful white flowing dress, on a gigantic boat decorated with purple sails, lots of flowers, and sprayed with exotic perfumes. There were young men fanning her with large leaves while flutes, harps, and fifes played. The queen’s maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces. Captured by her beauty immediately, Roman leader Marc Antony fell in love with the ruler of Egypt. Marc Antony had planned a special banquet for his guest; however, being the strategic queen that she was, Cleopatra had already set up one of her own. With no shock to Antony and his men, the banquet had expensive carpets on the floors and the walls were decorated with precious gems. When Antony and his soldiers arrived, they were gifted with the valuable gifts Cleopatra had prepared to give them while in Alexandria. Once the meeting was done, Cleopatra knew without a doubt that she had the Roman soldier where she wanted him, which was wrapped around her finger.1
Marc Antony had a head full of curls and broad shoulders, and he was handsome. He was a part of the Second Triumvirate in 43 BCE, which included Octavian and Lepidus; these three men formed a political alliance after Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.2 In order to successfully invade the Parthian Empire, Antony knew he was going to need military assistance, and he sought that assistance from Egypt. Soon after their meeting in Tarsus, the two leaders left for Alexandria as inseparable companions. Alexandria eventually became Marc Antony’s military headquarters, causing him to spend most of his time in Egypt. The two were officially married in 32 BCE. The queen of Egypt and the Roman soldier spent most of their time hunting, throwing enormous feasts, and drinking. Cleopatra loved the way Marc Antony was a kind, gentle, and playful lover, yet such a fierce, serious leader in the eyes of the Romans.3 Living a fun life, partying and drinking, the two celebrated their newly found love. The two rulers created a drinking society named “Society of the Inimitable Livers,” where members entertained each other daily with lavish and luxurious drinks and activities. Unfortunately, the good times only lasted for about a year.
While Cleopatra and Marc Antony were happily living in Alexandria, back in Rome, Octavian, with whom Marc Antony shared the leadership of Rome, felt deeply betrayed by Antony. Romans were not allowed to marry foreigners; therefore Antony had broken the law. Octavian grew extremely upset and asked Marc Antony to return home to prove his loyalty to his homeland. In order to prove himself to Octavian and citizens of the empire, Marc Antony had to marry Octavia, Octavian’s sister.4 In 32 BCE, while back in Rome, the now newly-married Marc Antony received news that Cleopatra had given birth to twin babies named Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. Although still a husband to Cleopatra, Octavia and Antony’s relationship prevented him from seeing his true love and their children together, which infuriated Cleopatra. Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Cleopatra was full of anger that her husband had another wife. The messenger calmed her down by informing her that Octavia was unimpressive, and nothing compared to Cleopatra.
Three and a half years later, in 37 BCE, Marc Antony and Cleopatra reunited in the capital of Syria, Antioch, where Antony finally got to meet his twin children. Still married to Octavia, Antony and Cleopatra picked up right where they left off.5 The Roman leader gifted land to his true love. Cleopatra now ruled almost the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, which today is eastern Libya, parts of Lebanon, Syria to southern Turkey, and small parts of Judea.6 For the next two years, Antony and Cleopatra traveled all over the Mediterranean. While the couple was having fun and falling more in love with each other, it seemed as if Antony’s military began to fall apart. In the eyes of his fellow Roman leaders Octavian and Lepidus, the blame for Rome’s loss of military power fell on Cleopatra. They felt as if Cleopatra distracted Antony and caused him to make decisions that only benefited him and his relationship rather than his army.
A couple years later, in 34 BCE, as tensions were rising between Egypt and Rome, Antony’s army fought a campaign against Armenia that began and ended the same year. The successful Roman soldier returned to his love affair in Alexandria, with the Armenian Roman family was brought back in chains, symbolizing defeat over them. Clearly to provoke Octavian, Cleopatra and Marc Anthony planned The Donations of Alexandria, where Antony distributed parts of their newly gained land to his twins Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.7 It was now extremely clear that their family was the dynasty of the East. It seemed as if Cleopatra had finally gained what she wanted out of her marriage, but for obvious reasons, this enraged Octavian.8 The Donations of Alexandria resulted in the disbandment of the Second Triumvirate. Soon after, Marc Antony divorced Octavian’s sister, Octavia, a year later. Considering the feeling of betrayal on Octavian’s end, there was no type of friendship or relationship between Octavian and Marc Antony. Octavian declared war on his newly found enemy, Cleopatra, in 32 BCE.
Although Cleopatra and Antony’s military was extremely strong, especially together as one, they were nothing compared to the Roman legions of Octavian. Even with all of Cleopatra’s wealth and riches, she knew her husband had no chance. Scared to be taken by Octavian and be paraded as a prisoner, Cleopatra had a plan. While Antony was off in battle against Octavian’s army in the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra built herself a new temple for protection from Roman soldiers. She called her mausoleum Temple to Isis. The queen used this temple to hide not only herself but also gems, artwork, gold, royal robes, and necessities for her. Cleopatra felt as if she needed to hide herself and all of Egypt’s treasures before the kingdom fell.9 It is there where Cleopatra realized that if she were to fake her death, she might avoid the humiliation of being paraded in Rome as a spectacle, and Marc Antony would kill himself due to heartbreak, and her seventeen-year-old son Caesarion could possibly be King. For this plan to work, Cleopatra had to send two important messages. The first message was to Caesarion ordering him to flee to Berenice, a seaport on the Red Sea; and the second was a message to Marc Antony stating that she had committed suicide.
The moment that Antony heard about his wife’s suicide, he stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword with no hesitation. Seconds later, a second messenger arrived and informed the wounded soldier that his wife was in fact still alive. Immediately, Marc Antony had himself carried to the Temple of Isis where his wife waited for him. It was then when the wounded soldier pled with his wife to make things right between her and Octavian. As Marc Antony was in his last moments of life, Cleopatra did what she did best and tried seducing her rival into making peace, but it did not work.10 It seemed as if Cleopatra’s world began to fall apart. To add to that, unfortunately, on his way to Berenice, Caesarion was lured into Alexandria by Octavian where he was murdered. All hope was lost for the queen, leading her to eat poison that she somehow snuck past Octavian’s guards. It is not known what kind of poison Cleopatra used to kill herself. Some think it was an asp, while others believe it was an Egyptian serpent of a different sort; but it is still unclear to this day. Charmion and Iras, Cleopatra’s two attendants, were also found dead near the two lovers, meaning it may have been something air borne.11 Octavian was fuming with anger when he was told about Antony’s and Cleopatra’s death, but also happy; he had finally defeated the strongest empire in the East.
With the Egyptian queen dead, the kingdom became part of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios were brought to Rome to be raised by Octavia.12 Before getting rid of all evidence left behind of Marc Antony and Cleopatra’s reign, Octavian fulfilled Cleopatra’s last wishes. Marc Antony and the queen were buried side by side in an unknown location near Alexandria, Egypt. Cleopatra got what she wanted out of her relationship with Marc Antony; however, not for long.