Ptolemy Auletes dies his will give kingdom to daughter, Cleopatra VII & her younger brother Ptolemy XIII

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69 BC


Ptolemy Auletes dies - his will give kingdom to daughter, Cleopatra VII & her younger brother Ptolemy XIII

48 BC

Cleopatra is dethroned by Theodatas and Achillas. Murder of Popmey. Reinstatment of Cleopatra by Caesar of the Alexandrine War

47 BC

Caesarion (Ptolemy Caesar) born

46 BC

Cleopatra goes to Rome

44 BC

Assassination of Caesar & Cleopatra returns to Egypt

43 BC

Formation of Triumvirate (Antony, Octavian and Lepidus)

41 BC

Antony meets Cleopatra in Tarsus and follows her to Egypt

40 BC

Triumvirate partition the Mediterranean (O= Western provinces, A = Eastern and L = Africa)

36 BC

Elimination of Lepidus = Octavian now controls Africa

34 BC

Antony makes the Donations of Alexandria to Cleopatra’s children

32 BC

Antony divorces Octavia, The western provinces become allies to Octavian & declare war on Cleopatra

31 BC

Battle of Actium (Octavian wins). Antony and Cleopatra seek refuge at Alexandria

30 BC

Octavian Alexandria win making Egypt a roman province, Suicide of Antony and Cleopatra (August 12)

Cleopatra VII born in Alexandria

1. Historical Context
a. Geography, topography and resources of Ptolemaic Egypt and its neighbours
Ptolemaic Empire

  • After the death of Alexander the Great, his empire was thrown into disarray (323 BC) due to lack of heirs

  • Divided intro three kingdoms ruled by members of the Macedonian aristocracy:

    • Macedonia

    • Seleucid Empire of Asia Minor and the Levant

    • Ptolemaic Egypt

  • These empires fought bitterly over land and prestige

    • Intermarried between to form alliance -> although they shifted constantly

    • Egypt emerged as the most prosperous

  • The Ptolemaic kingdom extended from:

    • Syria to the East

    • Cyrene to the West

    • Nubia to the South


  • Found by Alexander in 331 BC

  • Highly prosperous port city with access to the Mediterranean Sea

  • Encouraged science, art and trade

  • Largest city in the ancient world at the time of Cleopatra

    • Marble monuments, palaces, theatres, amphitheatres, temples

    • Library and Museum of Alexandria, largest in the ancient world

    • The Lighthouse of Alexandria and causeway

  • Crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa

    • Huge range of products: ivory, spices, foodstuff, arts etc.

  • Three primary ethnic groups

    • The Greek community

      • Lived in the centre of the city

      • Privileged minority

    • The Jewish community

    • The Egyptians

  • Grid street layout similar to Greek cities

  • Strabo: “the greatest emporium in the inhabited world”

Native Egyptians

  • Lived in country towns and villages along the Nile

  • Primarily farmers

  • Builders, traders and craftworkers


  • Largest producer of grain in the Mediterranean world

  • Rick in vegetable oils and exporter of papyrus and linen

  • Alexandria’s location promoted exportation

    • Cotton, corn, barley, flax and rice

    • Limestone, gypsum, alabaster, copper, iron, granite and tin


  • Annual flooding and transportation of silt

  • Flowing water through Alexandria

b. Egypt’s relationships with Rome and with neighbouring Eastern powers


  • Rome at this time was rapidly expanding through Europe and into Africa and the East

    • Establishing client-kingdoms and provinces

  • Egypt represented a valued prize for Rome

    • A gateway into Africa and Asia

    • Almost guaranteed prosperous grain supply

    • Still strong military strength

    • Rich in resources – gold and other minerals

  • By the time of Cleopatra, Egypt was in steep decline in terms of its power and Rome had already outpaced Alexandria as a leading cosmopolitan

Ptolemy VI Philometer

  • First to seek Roman support after his younger brother challenged him for the throne

Ptolemy X Alexander

  • Began borrowing large sums from Rome – Egypt began amassing a large debt

  • Left all of Egypt to Rome in his will as repayment, although the it never occurred

    • Shows Egypt’s dependence on Rome and Rome restraint from full annexation


  • Egypt was allowed to keep its independence since there was the risk that a Roman governor of Egypt would be able to amass enough wealth and power to challenge Rome itself

c. Overview of Ptolemaic Egypt’s political and social structure

Greek Dominance

  • Since Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic empire, all of Egypt political and economic activates were dominated by Greeks

  • Greeks made up one fifth of the total population

  • Land use strictly run and supervised by Greek officials

    • Help monopoly over all produce, businesses and workshop

    • Land cultivated by native Egyptians

  • Introduced system of coins – replaced Deben

  • Controlled the banks and treasuries


  • Greek agricultural techniques and equipment bought by military colonists resulted in an improved agricultural output by the country

  • Wheat and barley were the main crops, with large amounts of exportation

2. Background and rise to prominence
a. Family background and feuds
Ptolemy I

  • Started the Ptolemaic bloodline

  • Strengthened his control of Egypt using both military and religious strategies

  • Sought to synchronise Greek and Egyptian religion

    • Formation of Ruler Cult

Ptolemy II

  • Married sister, Arsinoe II and associated her with the kingship and also became a god - Initiated custom of Brother-Sister marriage

Ptolemy XII Auletes – Cleopatra’s Father

  • Heavily disliked by Alexandrians and Egyptians due to heavy tax collection and sending huge sums of money to Rome for their support

  • Revolts by farmers, economic problems, corruption and the deterioration of the nation’s finances

  • Rome’s military presence increased and Egypt’s dependence on Rome increased

  • Rome ceased Cyprus to pay debt - 58BC Alexandrians rioted and kicked Auletes out of Egypt

    • Fled to Rome and Berenice IV became queen

Berenice IV – Cleopatra’s Older Sister

  • Alexandrian’s place Berenice IV (Auletes eldest daughter) on the throne

  • The Roman governor of Syria, Gabinius used his army to restore Auletes in exchange for 10,000 talents

    • Used army to reinstate Auletes and execute Berenice

  • Gabinius leaves Egypt, leaving behind a military guard

Cleopatra’s Early Reign

  • 51 BC Auletes dies from sickness Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII take the throne

  • The first two years of her reign were tense, even though no one directly challenged her she still had powerful enemies

  • Pothinius – Ptolemy XIII chief advisor

    • Disliked how Cleopatra did not consult him in important decision making

    • Ptolemy was demanding his share of power

    • She would display her power by minting coins with her profile without Ptolemy shown

  • In the first two years of her reign, the Nile failed to flood.

    • Caused crop failures and famines

b. Education

Early Education

  • Raised in royal women’s apartments and followed a centuries old system of education that prepared them to rule alongside their husbands

  • Female curriculum was the same as the males

  • Sought to nurture Greek culture

    • Studied classical Greek literature

  • Cleopatra educated in the art of rhetoric, science, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and medicine

    • She was a gifted drawer and could play the lyre


  • Cleopatra was particularly talented in foreign languages

  • One of few in the royal family who could speak numerous languages – allowed for international negotiations

  • Plutarch: listed the languages spoken, saying she could “pass from one language to another

    • Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrew, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians and many others”

c. Marriage practice of the Ptolemies

Brother-sister Marriage: An Egyptian Tradition

  • The practice of brother-sister marriage had long been a tradition in Egyptian culture and royal family

  • This practice was adopted by the Ptolemies at the start of their empire

  • Allowed for no major diluting of the Greek blood line

  • Most siblings were not directly related (half or step siblings)

  • Ptolemy XIII was 12 at the time of his marriage to Cleopatra

    • Evidence that the marriage was never consummated

  • Scullard: did not have an equal alliance, as shown by archaeological evidence. Cleopatra constantly ignored her co-regent’s presence by excluding his name from any official decree regardless of the Ptolemaic insistence that the male presence be first among co-rulers.

d. Role and image of royal Ptolemaic women

Status of women

  • Even though it was tradition in Greek that women had less freedom than women, the mixing with Egyptian cult allowed women to exercise more independence

  • Poetry and plays portray women’s status and activities in daily life

  • Figures display women dancing, reading and talking

  • Women could become priestesses or even honorific magistrates, philosophers, artists and poets

  • Could become rich and undertake projects in their own name

Royal Women

  • Women in the royal household were just as active as men, they were allowed to ascend to the throne and co-rule with their husbands

  • Cleopatra wore a tall headdress of gold plumes (a symbol of Amun) with a sun disk, a pair of horns (symbols of Hathor and Isis) and a gold cobra (symbol of Wadjet)

  • Cleopatra used religion to support her claims to the throne

    • Constantly aligned herself with Isis – the mother goddess of Egypt

    • She payed homage to Egyptian gods and placed funds in Egyptian temples

Rome’ Perceptions of Cleopatra

  • Personified many of the qualities Roman society found inappropriate for women

  • Seen as presumptuous, promiscuous and lavish in her way of life

    • Roman’s preferred a much simpler lifestyle than the courts of Egypt

Past Cleopatra’s

  • Cleopatra I: Co-ruled with husband during his life

  • Cleopatra II: Strong support from Jewish and Egyptian population, the army and native Alexandrians

    • Ruled on her own for a period

  • Cleopatra III: power struggles with her sons

    • Promoted herself as Isis, Cybele and Aphrodite

e. Significance of the ruler cult in the East

Rulers Cult

  • Founded by Ptolemy I who adopted the style and divinity of ancient pharaohs

    • Sought to synchronise Greek and Egyptian religion

    • Consolidated his reign – worshipped as god


  • Viewed as a living goddess – worshipped by Egyptian and Greek priests

  • Shortly after she became queen, she travelled down the Nile with one of the sacred bulls of the Buchis temple

    • Believed to be Amun in animal form

    • Showed Cleopatra’s respect for Egyptian gods

  • She needed the support of the priests as they belonged to the rich, powerful families

    • Cleopatra gave generous gifts to prominent temples

  • Kleiner suggests that Cleopatra was conscious of the imagery of various events and occasions:

    • Trip down the Nile with Caesar in 47BC as a great opportunity to publicise their alliance and combined authority

    • Birth of Caesarion, she immediately reinforced her association with Isis and Caesar’s family association with Venus by producing coins

    • Birth temples or ‘mammisi’ reinforced link between Caesarion and Horus

3. Career
a. Civil war in Rome and Pompey’s murder
Civil War

  • In 49 BC Julius Caesar and his once close friend Pompey became rivals for supreme power of Rome

  • Caesar lead army into Italy – illegal act of aggression that starts civil war

    • Becomes enemy of the state

    • Refuses to give his army back to the state

    • Senate allows Pompey to oppose Caesar

  • Put pressure of Eastern kingdoms as Roman leaders demanded money and troops in return for their future support in order to fuel the war effort

    • Pompey asked for the Ptolemies aid, who sent 60 ships and 500 troops

Egypt’s Instability

  • Caesar wins a decisively at the Battle of Pharsalus over Pompey

    • Pompey flees to Egypt where he hopes for support

  • Pompey is murdered by Ptolemy XIII men on arrival

    • Advised by Pothinius who believed it would make Ptolemy favourable to Caesar

  • Caesar reportedly wept, lamented and denounced the murders when he saw the head of Pompey

  • Plutarch:It was tragic that the fate of Pompey the Great be decided by three men (Achillas, Theodotus and Pothinus)”

  • Chauveau: suggests that Caesar’s distress over Pompey’s murder was feigned

    • Saved Caesar criticism for the necessary execution

b. Co-regency with Ptolemy XIII and Alexandrian civil war


  • Auletes’ death: Ptolemy XIII was only ten, thus co-rule with Cleopatra who was 18

  • Ptolemy XIII was only pharaoh by name, for the first three years of their rule Cleopatra was nearly completely dominant

    • Gave edicts, orders and instructions, aided by courtiers

  • The country at this time was fought with difficulties

    • Corruption in Egyptian bureaucracy

    • Indigenous people unsettles and unsatisfied

    • Famines and bandits pillaging the countryside and rebellions

  • Tension also existed within the royal family

    • Cleopatra’s younger sister Arsinoe desired the throne

    • Ptolemy XIII’s advisors (Pothinus, Achillas and Theodotus) wished to dethrone Cleopatra

  • Cleopatra devalued the current by a third in order to increase the exports necessary to kick state the Egyptian economy

  • She was determined to avoid a war with Rome which would have been disastrous for Egypt


  • In 48 BC Cleopatra is forced to flee Alexandria after discovering plot to kill her (organised by Pothinus and Ptolemy)

    • Seek refuge among the Arab tribes east of Egypt’s border

  • Cleopatra was able to raise an army of mercenaries and led them against Ptolemy’s troops at Mount Cassius, although Pompey’s unexpected arrival occurred before the confrontation

Meeting Caesar

  • Cleopatra takes advantage of Caesar’s arrival in Alexandria to meet him and gain his support in the sister-brother feud

  • Caesar becomes entranced by Cleopatra’s famous carpet entrance and goes on to support her goal to become to sole ruler of Egypt. – Recorded by Plutarch

  • Caesar tried to resolve the conflict by re-reading Auletes will, saying that the two were to live together and co-rule, as followed by Egyptian customs

Alexandrian Civil War

  • Cleopatra, Caesar and Ptolemy lived together in Alexandria for a time, Cleopatra on the throne while Ptolemy had little authoritative power

    • Ptolemy (along with Arsinoe and Pothinus) continue to oppose Cleopatra

  • Pothinus begins to plot against Caesar, although is discovered and executed

  • At the same time, Arsinoe escapes Alexandria to join forces with General Achillas and the Egyptian army who are planning to march against Caesar

  • Cleopatra immediately sided with Caesar, while Ptolemy XIII used conspirators and elaborate lies to turn the Alexandrians against Cleopatra

  • 48 BC Achillas marches 20,000 Egyptian infantry and 2000 cavalry against Caesar

    • The palace was under siege by the Egyptian army

    • Ptolemy joins the army and a full civil war begins

  • 72 Egyptian warships and 50 Roman ships were anchored in the harbour

    • Caesar ordered for them all to be set on fire

    • The fire spread to the quays, burning many buildings and granaries and damaging the Library

  • The battle continued in the streets of Alexandria for many weeks

  • Reinforcement arrived from Rome and were able to force the Egyptians towards the Nile, where many drowned

  • Ptolemy XIII is one such drowned

  • Arsinoe is sent into exile at the Temple of Artemus

  • With Ptolemy dead and the Civil War won, Cleopatra marries Ptolemy XIV to reconfirm her power

  • Southern explain that Cleopatra was now free from rivals and protected by the most powerful individual in the world

c. Relationship with Julius Caesar


  • Caesar was famous all through his life for his love affairs which allowed Cleopatra the opportunity to form an intimate alliance

  • After the death of Pompey he was the most powerful individual in Rome, which made him a strongly desired ally with Cleopatra

  • Gives Cleopatra a chance at a wider role in the world outside of Egypt

Meeting Caesar

  • When Caesar arrives in Alexandria, he orders both Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII to disband their armies and meet him for peaceful negotiation

  • Cleopatra knew that if she was to openly travel into the city, Ptolemy’s henchmen would assassinate her

    • Travel in by rug, charms Caesar and become lovers that night

  • Plutarch: Caesar was first captivated by Cleopatra’s bold wit and was afterwards so overcome by the charm of her society

  • Southern: Rather than succumbing to her scheming and being deceived by the ‘evil temptress’, Caesar probably reviewed the available royal talent and decided that she was the “most sensible, knowledgeable, conscientious, independent and resourceful of the four”. In a word, the most fit to rule.

Post-Civil War

  • After the civil war, Caesar had control over Alexandria which he bestowed again to Cleopatra

    • Caesar could have kept the kingdom of Egypt to himself, although bestowed all of it back to Cleopatra and even gave away Roman territory in the process

  • Cleopatra was secure for the first time

    • Enemies were dead or defeated and had promised protection from Caesar

  • The two enjoyed a two-month cruise on the Nile

    • This gave Cleopatra a chance to show off the strength of her alliance with Caesar to the Egyptian people

  • Becomes pregnant with Caesarion at this time and gave birth to him in 47 BC

  • The poet Lucan paints an image of the decadences of life in Alexandria and the extravagance of their tastes

Travel to Rome

  • After the cruise Caesar returns to Rome, leaving three legions in Alexandria to protect Cleopatra

  • A year later, he invites Cleopatra to Rome, who arrives in 46 BC with Caesarion and Ptolemy XIV

    • She claims she is negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Rome but she also wanted to ensure Caesar’s protection

    • Brought Ptolemy as she didn’t want him or his advisors to cease power when she was gone

  • Caesar had accepted a lifelong dictatorship in 44 BC, sat on a golden throne in the Senate and was rumoured to wish to be king of Rome and overthrow the Senate

  • She was declared a friend and ally of the Roman people and Egypt was protected from annexation

  • Caesar erects a statue of Cleopatra in the temple of Venus Genetrix

    • Integration of Cleopatra into Roman tradition

    • Southern: an elevation beyond what any woman could hope to attain

Marriage Possibility

  • Apparently Caesar wished to pass a law to make it legal to marry Cleopatra

  • Cleopatra would have strongly wished to marry Caesar

    • She was the mother of his only living heir

    • It would tie Rome and Egypt together and secure her power and protection

    • Would likely make Caesarion future king of both empires

Disapproval of Cleopatra

  • The Roman elites strongly disliked Cleopatra:

    • She represented a shift towards a monarchy of Rome, which threatened the republican aristocracy

    • The threat of foreign Oriental ways tainting ‘Roman society’

  • Cicero: “I hate the Queen. The Queen’s insolence too when she was living in Caesar’s house in the gardens beyond the Tiber, I cannot recall without indignation.”

  • It was thought that it was Cleopatra who encouraged Caesar to use force to become a dictator

Ides of March 44BC

  • Caesar is murdered in the Senate building by a crowd of conspirators who had become fearful of his growing power

    • Cleopatra, aware of her danger fled back to Egypt

  • Before or immediately after their return to Egypt, Ptolemy XIV dies

    • Possibly poisoned at Cleopatra’s command

    • Makes Caesarion her co-regent

  • Rome returns to a bloody civil war

  • 42 BC: formation of the Second Triumvirate between Octavian (Caesar’s great nephew and adopted heir), Antony and Lepidus

  • Antony takes control of Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Egypt

Return to Alexandria

  • Cleopatra was once more in danger as her protector was dead and many hostile nations way Egypt as a rich prize and hoped to conquer it

  • Fearful that Caesar’s enemies would attempt to murder her and Caesarion

  • She tries to win the support of the Alexandrian nobles

    • Offering rich rewards

    • Threw money and gifts into the crowd

  • Many viewed her as a traitor for her relationship with Caesar had her two years spend in Rome

    • Angry that Cleopatra did not assist the famine victims

d. Relationship with Mark Antony:

The Second Triumvirate – 42BC

  • Antony: long and decorated military career, trusted consul of Caesar, admired for loyalty and honest, control of East

    • Suetonius:the gentlest and kindest of soldiers

    • Travels to the East to consolidate support

  • Octavian: young, little military experience, adopted heir of Caesar (rejects Caesarion)

Meeting between Antony and Cleopatra – 41BC

  • Antony summons Cleopatra to his military camp in Tarsus to question her about whether she had assisted his enemies, primarily Cassius

    • This was largely a pretext to meet Cleopatra and gain her military and financial support for the growing power struggle between himself and Octavian

  • Antony also had wished to invade Parthia, thus emanating the conquests of Alexander the Great. This military achievement would make him the obvious power among the triumvirate

  • Plutcarch gives detail on the meeting

  • Even though Antony invites Cleopatra multiple times, she ignored these invitations and comes on her own accord “as if in mockery of them

  • She sailed a barge up the river that with “money, gifts and ornaments of value, such as so wealthy a kingdom might afford”

    • She herself was dressed in the image of Venus, attended to by Cupids and Sea Nymphs

    • Venus was come to feast with Bacchus [Antony]”

  • Antony invites Cleopatra to dine with him, although refuses and makes Antony come to her.

  • Cleopatra answers to allegation of supporting Cassius

    • She explains she sent four of her Roman legions to aid in the battle against Cassius and would have sent ships if the weather permitted

  • An alliance was formed

    • He needed Egypt’s resources to aid his ambitions of conquest in Parthia

    • He represented Roman protection her. Antony sent an assassin to kill Arisone IV (her last rival to the throne)

Winter in Alexandria

  • Plutarch suggests the Antony was seduced to Cleopatra and “carried away be her to Alexandria, there to keep holiday”

  • There he forgot his responsibility and was wasting the time and money when he was meant to be invading Parthia and consolidating his support in Rome

    • Octavian has an opportunity to build a strong support group in Rome and consolidate his resources

    • They engaging in luxuries, behaving “like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyments most costly”

    • Romans found Antony’s adoption of Alexandrian customs disturbing.

    • Cleopatra never left Antony’s side for the rest of the year

  • Amimetobis – ‘Inimitable life’

    • A group of intellectual and social elite, devoted to pursuing an endless joy, freedom and intoxication of life

  • Grant: The official coinage link Antony and Cleopatra, not only as God’s, but as human leaders in the partnership of Romans and Greeks

  • By winter of the next year, Antony left Egypt due to growing tensions elsewhere in the empire

    • Parthian armies had occupied southern Asia Minor, Syria and Judea, becoming an increasing threat to Rome

    • He was loosing support in Rome due to Octavian

  • Six months after Antony had left, Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios

  • It was four years until she saw Antony again, through which time he had married Octavia

    • This was a political marriage arranged by Octavian in order to tie Antony to their family and discourage further relationships is Cleopatra

    • Suetonius:marriage was an alliance between families. Octavian arranged a marriage between his sister Octavia”

Antony Leaves

  • Antony and Octavian spend 39BC – 37 BC in Athens. During this time, tensions between the two men increased though war was narrowly averted through Octavia’s pacifying interventions

  • Antony, Octavian and Lepidus meet in Tarentum in 37BC and renew the triumvirate for 5 more years

    • Octavian gives Antony two of his legions to assist in the Parthian wars, Antony repays him with 100 armed galleys

    • Octavian goes to fight Sextus, Pompey’s son in Sicily

    • Antony sets sail for Asia

Antony Returns

  • Antony leaves Italy and sails to the Syrian city of Antioch

    • Uncertain whether this was due to plan for an expedition against Parthia or to be reunited with Cleopatra and renew their alliance

  • In 36 BC Antony and Cleopatra are married in Antioch under Egyptian laws

  • Cleopatra doesn’t lose sight if her political ambitions and asks Antony to give her the territories of Coele-Syria and Judea

    • Antony denies although still gives her Chalcis, the Syrian coast, Cyrus and a number of other scattered areas

  • Later that year, with the financial and military backing of Cleopatra, Antony moves to engage the Parthians

  • Cleopatra returns to Alexandria and mints coins to commemorate her enlarged empire. They depict Cleopatra and Antony as Dionysus and Aphrodite, or Osiris and Isis

    • Cleopatra gives birth to Ptolemy Philadelphus

  • Antony suffers a heavy defeat in Parthia – 36 BC

    • Forced to retreat in the midst of an icy winter

    • Many of his army killed by dysentery, hunger, cold and Parthian archers

    • He lost 20,000 infantry and 40,000 cavalry

  • Antony’s infatuation with Cleopatra have been said to have been one of the causes for defeat

    • Began too late in the season (close to winter) because he didn’t want to leave her

    • Conducted a rushed and haphazard assault because he wished to quickly return to her

  • Cleopatra arrived with provision, clothing and money, taking the survivors back to Alexandria

Cleopatra and Diplomacy

  • During 35 BC, Cleopatra engaging in many diplomatic dealings with surrounding states

    • Alliance with Armenian king, sealed by the betrothal of her son Alexander Helios with the king’s daughter

    • Allows asylum for Alexandra, Herod’s mother in law

    • Treaty with King of Media that allows Cleopatra and Antony to reclaim lost parts of Syria and would supply Egypt with Cavalry troops

Antony and Octavia

  • Octavia wished to visit Antony, for she had remained loyal to him even though he was bigamous

  • Cleopatra refused to allow them to meet

    • Plutarch describes the dramatic behaviour she performed to get her way

  • Antony cancels the meets and Octavia returns to Rome

  • The Roman people were disgusted by this treatment of Octavia and angry about Antony and Cleopatra’s claims to divinity

  • This outrage in Rome was heightened by the donations of Alexandria and acknowledging Casearion as Caesars true son and heir

  • With this anger against Antony, Octavian was able to easily convince the Senate to declare war on Egypt and Antony

Eastern acquisitions and the ‘donations’ of Alexandria


  • Antony had planned to set a new empire in North Africa and the Middle East to challenge Rome

    • Cleopatra supported him as this would greatly increase her power and influence of Egypt

    • She wished to reclaim Syria, Lebanon, Phoenicia and parts of Asia Minor

  • Antony installed local kings loyal to him, thus expanding his and Cleopatra’s sphere of influence – wished to create stable political climate

  • Romans were critical of the favour Antony showed to Cleopatra

    • By giving her territory, he was taking land away from Roman governors

  • These expansions meant Cleopatra was better equip to assist Antony’s military ambitions

    • Had greater access to timbre needed to supply a powerful navy

  • Defeat in Parthia (36BC)

    • Cost Antony and Cleopatra vast sums of money, significant portion of their army and also some of his pride

    • Cleopatra paid the troops as there was no plunder/ booty

    • Major set-back in ambitions for Eastern control

    • Depleted his war-fund and sapping his self-reliance, made him for dependent on Cleopatra’s financial assistance” - Cary


  • After the conquest of Armenia (34BC), Antony did not hold a triumph in Rome, instead commemorated his victory in Alexandria

  • The ceremony:

    • Procession of Armenian king in gold chains

    • Public banquets

    • Antony wore a crown of ivy, a gold robe, boots that characterised him as a god, carried an staff and rode a sacred chariot

    • Procession culminated with a presentation of Antony’s spoils of war to Cleopatra

    • Both sat on golden thrones as titles and territories were granted to Cleopatra and their children

  • Coins feature Antony as “Armenian conqueror” and Cleopatra “Queen of Kings”

  • These proclamations were sent to the Senate for confirmation, although were denied

    • Many of the regions were Roman territories and although he controlled them, they were not his to give away

Honours, Titles and Announcements


- Antony proclaimed her Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya and central Syria.

Caesarian (13 years old)

- He was still Cleopatra’s co-ruler; was officially proclaimed the son of Caesar and was given the title of King of Kings.

Alexander Helios (Aged 6)

- He was declared king of Armenia and overlord of Media and the Parthian territory extending as far as India.

- He received an honour guard of Armenian soldiers.

- Would marry the King of Media’s daughter and gain the throne there as well

Cleopatra Selene (Aged 6)

- She received parts of Cyrenaica and parts of Crete.

Ptolemy Philadelphis (aged 2)

- He received Phoenicia, Syria and Cilicia.

- He received an honour guard of Macedonian soldiers.

e. Conflict with Octavian: The Battle of Actium

Lead up

  • During 32BC Octavian became is intense Roman propaganda campaign to provoke war against Antony and Cleopatra

    • Lucan:Cleopatra…the lascivious fury who was to become the bane of Rome”

    • Plutrach:Antonius, like Hercules in the picture where Omphale is seen removing his club… was over and over again disarmed by Cleopatra and beguiled away

    • Dio: “Let no one count him a Roman, but rather an Egyptian”

  • Rumours:

    • The Caesarion was not Caesar’s son

    • Antony engaged in orgies with Cleopatra

    • He was under the spell of a sorceress

  • In 32BC, Antony and Cleopatra were living in their strong military base in Ephesus (Turkey)

    • Cleopatra appeared publicly as a queen, dispensed justice, escorted by Roman soldiers, presided over meetings and reviewed troops

  • Antony wished to avoid conflict and remain in senatorial law, although after a report of the ‘donations’, Antony’s divorce Octavia and his will to be “buried in Alexandria by [Cleopatra’s] side” (Dio); Octavian, the Senate and the Roman people all reacted violently

    • Due to this, many of those who still on Antony’s side went back to Octavian

    • Antony was stripped of his authority and Octavian made a spectacle of his declaration of war against Cleopatra and Antony

The Battle

Antony and Cleopatra



    • Libya

    • Cilicia

    • Arabia

General: Canidius

    • Gaul

    • Africa

    • Sicily

    • Sardina

General: Marcus Agrippa


20,000 infantry as well as additional auxiliary troops

16,000 infantry








290 Roman ships (mostly large battle ships with 30-50 Transports)

60 Egyptian Warships

400 warships (mostly small liburnian vessels)

  • Octavian’s forces arrive in Greece, patrolling the coast, fighting Antony’s soldiers, capturing his forts and sinking his ships

  • He was able to trap the bulk of Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet in the gulf of Ambracian

    • Food and water supplies where blocked

    • The area as marshy and damp and during the summer many became ill with malaria

  • Octavian aimed to lure Antony out of the Ambracian gulf to surround and overpower him with a much larger fleet

  • By September, the situation had become desperate and they had two options

  1. Attack by land – Antony’s land forces were superior, more experience and Antony was more of an experienced general

  2. Break through their navy – Antony and Cleopatra’s navy was smaller, although their ships were larger and they had a chance to break through their blockade with speed

  • The first plan would seem more logical although they decide on the second plan, likely due to suggestions made by Cleopatra

  • Agrippa was able to quickly outflank and surround Antony’s larger and slower ships, although in doing so he created a gap that allowed Cleopatra to escape (and her 60 ships) and followed by Antony (with about 20 ships)

  • Why Cleopatra escapes (three myths spread by victors – Grant)

  1. Cleopatra had “betrayed” Antony, her escape was not organised, and “she wished to save herself” at the first sign of defeat

  2. Antony deserted his troops because he was “hopelessly infatuated”

    1. Propertius:how infamous a love was she/ Who bade him turn his ships and flee”

  3. The battle was complete exaggerated by Octavian’s propaganda which wished to display it is the climactic defeat of Antony and Cleopatra and thus the consolidation of the empire

    1. Virgil:the whole ocean boiled…high mountains crashed against high mountain”

  • There is also the modern interpretation that this escape was prearranged

  • The rest of Antony’s forces where quick to surrender or be destroyed

  • Wallace-Hardill:

    • It was a battle for Roman values

    • Antony was (almost) an innocent victim”

  • Goedecke says Cleopatra can be held accountable for the war since the idea of civil war was hated by Romans


  • After the battle, Antony and Cleopatra return to Alexandria where Antony lives alone for a time while Cleopatra prepared for an invasion of Rome

    • Octavian did not have enough gold to pay his armies so he could not invade immediately

    • Many of Cleopatra’s ships were burned by supports of Octavian, making escape was impossible - Flamarion

  • Octavian continues with his propaganda campaign

    • Octavian presented as the saviour of Rome in the face of barbarism and corruption

  • In 30BC Octavian reaches Alexandria and Antony marches his army out of the city (for higher ground) although he watches as his fleet and cavalry desert him in favour of Octavian

    • Myth that Dionysus had left the city that night

    • Plutarch:The god [Dionysus] whom Antony had always made it his study to copy and imitate, had now forsaken him”

  • Antony’s forces are quickly defeated and he commits suicide shortly after

f. Portrayals of Cleopatra as a ruler: Greek and Egyptian

Cleopatra’s Dress

  • She would have presented herself in different ways for different occasions/ audiences

    • Everyday dress would have been Hellenic Greek

      • Coins display her in Greek fashion with a diadem

    • On special occasions she presented herself in Egyptian fashion

      • Isis – a form of political propaganda and forms a connection with native Egyptians

      • Plutarch: “She was addressed as the New Isis”

      • A relief at the temple of Dendra shows her in Egyptian style


  • Poems (Theocritus, Callimachus) depict the extravagances of court life, religion in Egypt and the influence of earlier queens

  • Plutarch

    • Bias due to his stoic philosophy and thus tends to paint Cleopatra as an extravagant seductress

    • Also a Roman citizen

  • Appian

    • Tends to blame Antony’s ruin on Cleopatra

  • Coins

    • On coins found in Greece, she appears with Antony as son and heir. Early coins show a young feminine queen while later ones show a less flattering and authoritative queen.


  • Temple of Dendra

    • Reliefs show Isis, loving of Caesarion and highly maternal (breast feeding)

g. Manner and Impact of her Death


  • Cleopatra seemed determined not be to taken by the Romans and paraded through Rome as her sister had done

  • Build a tomb and started to experiment different poisons on criminals to see of they were painless or not

    • Plutarch:She found the bite of an asp induced a quiet sleep without pain”

  • Cleopatra attempted to reason with Octavian, although he feared that as long as she and her children where live, they were a threat to Rome

  • Antony’s infantry was quickly defeated by Octavian in his final stand in Alexandria

  • Antony rushed back to the city, shouting the Cleopatra betrayed him

    • Cleopatra locks herself in her mausoleum (along with her riches) and has servants tell Antony she killed – she fears Antony will harm her

    • Antony, as Plutarch recounts believes it and cries “No, Antonius, why delay longer? Fate has snatched away you only reason for living”

  • Antony stabs himself and passes out although does not die

    • Wakes up and is told that Cleopatra is still alive and wants to see him

    • Scared to let herself out due to the dangers of Octavian’s army, Cleopatra was Antony brought through a window by ropes

    • Plutarch: “she called him her lord, her husband, her emperor”

  • Octavian wanted to take Cleopatra alive – for a triumph in Rome and for her treasures

    • Octavian’s men enter the tombs and disarm her

  • Octavian takes control of the city and gives a lengthy speech explaining his mercy for the Alexandrians and admiration for the city

  • Cleopatra is allowed to bury Antony

    • She is kept under close guard for fear of suicide

  • When Octavian visits her, she flings herself to his feet and pleads for her life and her children’s safety

    • Dio accuses Cleopatra of attempted to seduce Octavian

    • Plutarch accounts differently, stating that her grief had left her in no condition to seduce though she had offered other gifts

  • Cleopatra visits Antony’s tomb one final time

    • She is bathed, adorned in cosmetic and dressed in royal robes by her servants

    • A servant was allowed to enter with a basket of figs (found to be unsuspicious)

      • Dio:No one knew for sure how she died”

      • Two pricks found on her arm suggested asp bite

    • She sends a letter to Octavian wishing to be buried with Antony

      • This wish is granted

    • Bradford:While Octavian was now in complete control of Rome, in a way she had defeated him, as she had not allowed him to parade her in Rome”

  • Octavian ordered the destruction of the image of Antony although allowed many of Cleopatra’s to stay intact (due to bribes from Alexandrians)


  • End of the Ptolemaic dynasty

  • Made it easy for Rome to complete its conquest of Egypt

  • Roman soldiers defaced ancient Egyptian monuments and destroyed official documents

  • Alexandria continued to be a great centre of learning and trade but elsewhere, Egypt’s power and prosperity began to decline

  • Because Caesarion was Julius Caesar's son and might pose a threat to Octavian's power, Octavian had the boy strangled by his tutor.

  • Cleopatra's other children were sent to Rome to be raised by Octavia.

    • Cleopatra Selene married King Juba II of Mauretania and had two children, Ptolemy and Drusilla.

    • No one knows what happened to Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus

  • Octavian awarded arches, crowns, honours, titles, powers and a triple triumph on his return to Rome

  • Egypt did not become a normal province, it became a private possession of future Roman emperors and was administered by special appointees

    • Egypt was administered by the equestrian order

    • The emperor was able to choose offices

  • Introduced new Roman tax

  • The countries wealth allowed Octavian to satisfy his veterans and build a loyal clientele

  • Was the new primary source of grain for the empire

  • Scullard:the century of civil wars that had started with the murder of Tiberius Gracchus was ended. The Republic and liberty had gone; men turned gratefully to their new saviour

  • Her suicide was considered noble by Romans

    • Horace and Virgil: reveals how she undergoes a transformation from a monster, to a sympathetic figure, to a noble ruler

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