What drove her to take her own life?
Manner of Death: Asp!
Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemy dynasty, and the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
Well known today in popular culture, Cleopatra had a childhood most people would definitely not envy! So much inbreeding in the Egyptian royalty had led to a lot of instability. It is said that Cleopatra’s father was bat-shit crazy and killed his wife and most of his kids. During a visit to Rome (accompanied by Cleopatra) her sister Berenice seized the throne. Her father was having none of that, and fought her upon his return, having her executed. This made Cleopatra, now aged 14, joint regent and deputy of her father – but apparently still virtually powerless.
When Cleopatra’s father died in 51BC, Cleopatra, now 18, became joint Monarch with her 10 year old brother. She was also forced to marry him, according to Egyptian tradition. She saw her brother/husband as a child, so decided to drop the Ptolemy name from official documents, and have currency stamped with her face alone. This went against the Ptolemaic tradition of female rulers, who were meant to be subordinate to the male co-rulers. Her brother had plenty of support in the Egyptian people, and he eventually rebelled against her independence, forcing her to flee Egypt in exile.
Eager to work with Caesar’s anger, Cleopatra smuggled herself in to his quarters, rolled up in a carpet. Caesar was almost immediately enchanted by Cleopatra. He decided to back her in her fight for the Egyptian throne – and a love affair ensued – even though Cleopatra was only 21 years old at this point in time, with Caesar being 52.
Nine months after they met, Cleopatra gave birth to her first son, naming him Caesarion. By all reports, Caesar remained in love with Cleopatra for his life time – even going so far as having a huge, golden statue of her erected at the Forum Julium. He did not really respect her though, refusing to name their son together as his heir. He clearly did not see her as an equal. Alas, Caesar was betrayed by his nearest and dearest, and was assassinated, stabbed to death at the Senate.
Death of Cleopatra
A year after they met, Cleopatra gave birth to twins, naming them Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Mark named as the father. He returned to Rome for four years before coming back to Alexandria, not being able to get Cleopatra out of his mind. Once back in Alexandria, he decided to make it his home. He defied Roman tradition, forgot his wife in Rome, and married Cleopatra in accordance to Egyptian rite. Once married, he and Cleopatra had one more child, a son, calling him Ptolemy Philadelphos.
In a very ‘Romeo and Juliet’-esq manner, Mark Antony, who was about to lose his power to Caesar’s heir, Octavian, suicided by stabbing himself with a sword. He was under the mistaken belief that Cleopatra had already taken her own life. He did not die straight away, and when his men told him that no, Cleopatra was still alive, he was taken to her hiding place, and he died in her arms.
Although Cleopatra did poison herself, the fact is that no-one really knows how. One story relates that there were two slight pricks on her arm, not her breast, and that poison might have been hidden in a hollow comb. Another tells that the marks may have been caused by a poisonous pin used to fasten her hair. And finally, that they may have been from the bite of an Asp, which must have been hidden in a basket of flowers (or figs) or a water jar. No snake was ever found, not that this really means too much.
Another theory was that by her enemies saying she died of snake bite, it gave her death a deliberate sexual connotation, basically saying that she was a seductress and got her just rewards.
Cleopatra was only 38 years old when she died.
Fate of the Children
The three children of Cleopatra and Mark Antony were spared and taken back to Rome where they were taken care of by Mark Antony's Roman wife, Octavia Minor – that’s quite an accomplishment for a spurned wife! As they were considered ‘illegitimate’ in the eyes of the Romans, they were not a threat politically, so apparently they lived out their lives in relative peace. Their ancestors are probably still alive today.
Put together by Ashley Hall 2013