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Antony and Cleopatra

Quick Facts

Him: Mark Antony, General in the Roman Legion

Her: Cleopatra VII Philopater, the pharaoh of Egypt

Setting: The Mediterranean, 41-30 BC

 

Background

In the wake of the Roman Civil War that followed Julius Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony and Cleopatra became entwined in a passionate romance that eventually resulted in marriage and two sons.  When an alliance between Octavian, Caesar’s heir, and Antony broke down, the following battle ended with separate suicides by Antony and Cleopatra, as well as the Roman annexation of Egypt, ending pharaonic dynasties for good.

 

Story

After the death of Julius Caesar in 43 BC, three men took charge of Rome as rulers – Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony.  Two years later, Antony reached out to the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, to test her allegiance to the new government.  The torrid affair that followed would end up changing the course of history.

 

Quickly charmed by Cleopatra’s beauty and intelligence, Antony spent the winter at her side in Alexandria, ensuring some of her political enemies were eliminated along the way.  She would give birth to twin sons, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II the following December, after Antony had returned to Rome.

 

A few years later, while on his way to conquer Parthia, Antony stopped in Alexandria again – and would call it home for the rest of his life, despite the presumed protest of his Roman wife, Octavia Minor (his co-ruler Octavian’s sister).  He and Cleopatra were soon married according to Egyptian tradition and would have another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, in 36 BC.

 

After nearly a decade of discord, Octavian and Antony ended their uneasy alliance in 33 BC.  The Roman Senate, wary of Cleopatra’s ambitions after seeing her seduce a string of the Empire’s most powerful men, agreed to allow Octavian to wage war on Egypt.  Three years later, after defeat at sea and a full-scale desertion by his armies as his enemy invaded, Antony committed suicide.

 

Unable to bear the thought of being without her beloved king – or perhaps less than impressed by the idea of subjection to complete Roman rule – Cleopatra is said to have pressed an Egyptian cobra to her chest, so that its venom might pass into her heart and kill her as quickly as possible.

 

Reputation

History has taken a fairly cynical view on the pairing of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.  For her part, most view her as a beguiling temptress bent on expanding her own authority over the region.  In a similar manner, he comes off as a foolish man tempted and controlled by her sensuality.

 

The reality was likely somewhere in between.  Both of them, despite popular belief, were driven by a desire to maintain their high status – he as a member of the Second Triumvirate ruling Rome and she as, eventually, the last pharaoh of Egypt.  Their relationship, regardless of its romantic interplay, was one of mutual benefit politically: had Octavian’s armies and navy been turned away, it is very possible the Western world would have developed according to Egyptian tradition instead of Roman. 

 

In the end, though, most remember them as a pair unwilling to live without each other.  For some, however, their romance is regarded as a cautionary tale for couples drunk with power attempting to conquer the world together instead of ruling with a measured, just han



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