Famous Rulers in History Cleopatra Part 6

About the famous Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, history of her reign and life, war with Rome, sailing to Alexandria.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Some sources say that Cleopatra talked Antony into fighting at sea rather than on land; if so, she was right, for it was their only chance to win. Otherwise, Octavian would have had access to the East and would have controlled the seas. But their navy was defeated. Only Cleopatra's ships, which had been in the rear, were saved, and they sailed back to Alexandria; Antony's troops went over to Octavian. As they sailed, Antony sat on the prow, head in hands, in a despondency that was to last for months.

Not so Cleopatra. Undaunted, she sailed into Alexandria with a garlanded ship to the tune of triumphal songs and immediately started considering her next move, which in the end turned out to be a plan for a trip over the Red Sea with her army to elephant country, where she would head a new kingdom on the Indian Ocean. It was an audacious plan, and to accomplish it, she needed ships, so she arranged to drag those she had across a narrow strip of land from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Suez, and she began building others. Meanwhile, she gained the help of the King of Media by sending him the head of one of his enemies, the King of Armenia. The whole plan--and with it, all her hopes--went up in flames when her ships were burned by the Arab Malchos, instigated by the Roman governor of Syria, who had defected to Octavian.

She and Antony resuscitated their old club, changing its name to "the Society of Those Who Die Together," a prophetic title, for they were both soon dead. Antony, after a valiant last stand against Octavian's army, heard through a false report that Cleopatra had committed suicide; he fell on his sword. Only wounded, he was taken to the mausoleum where Cleopatra and her serving maids, Charmian and Iras, were barricaded. The women supposedly hauled him up the wall, bloodying it in the process, and into the room, where he died in Cleopatra's arms. She was taken prisoner (Octavian wanted her alive to march in chains in a Roman triumph to celebrate his victory) by stratagem: one Roman soldier kept her occupied with conversation at the door to the mausoleum while two others climbed in a rear window. Warned, Cleopatra spun around, grabbing a knife from her girdle, but a soldier pinioned her arms before she could use it. However, she got her wish--death by suicide--through trickery. An asp--the hooded cobra, emblem of the pharaohs--was smuggled into the mausoleum in a basket of luscious figs, and she died by its bite. Roman soldiers found her dead on a couch, dressed in the robes of Isis. Her exit was as spectacular as her entrances had been.

Cesarion, who had been sent away to Syria, was tricked by his tutor into returning to Alexandria, where he was murdered by Octavian's men. The other children were sent to Octavia, who brought them up. It was the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty and of any thought of a Greco-Roman empire.

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