Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, third and eldest surviving daughter of King Ptolemy Auletes, born in Alexandria in 69, died there, August 30, 30 B. C. In 51 her father died, and left her by his will the joint heir of the throne with her brother Ptolemv, who was also, according to a not uncommon practice of the Egyptian royal families, to become nominally her husband. Cleopatra was at this time only 17 years of age; but her remarkable precocity, her great talents, and the unbridled ambition of which she already gave unmistakable indications, soon showed the intriguing courtiers who surrounded her and the still younger Ptolemy that so long as she shared the throne they could not hope for that uncontrolled power which they had expected to enjoy on account of the youth and inexperience of the two rulers. Desirous therefore of ridding themselves of the young queen, they succeeded without difficulty in turning her brother against her; and taking advantage of one of the popular riots then frequent in Alexandria, they excited the people by accusing her of scheming for undivided power, and expelled her from the city in the year 49. Pothinus, Ptolemy's guardian, and Achillas, the commander of the army, were the leaders in this movement. Cleopatra at once began preparations for regaining her rights.
Rome, where she might have sought aid, as the senate had confirmed her father's will, was in too disturbed a state to answer any appeal, and she attempted none; but collecting her adherents and such forces as she could procure on the Arabian boundary of Egypt, she began to advance upon the country, and prepared for an engagement with the army of Achillas sent against her. In the mean time important events were happening elsewhere. The war between Caesar and Pompey had been ended by the overwhelming defeat of the latter at Pharsalia (Aug. 9, 48); and the conquered general fled to Egypt, where he hoped to find a friendly reception, more especially as his party had proclaimed themselves in favor of Ptolemy in his strife against his sister. The treacherous assassination of the Roman leader near Pelusium showed how fatally mistaken was his plan of flight; but the Egyptians failed to gain by his murder the expected end, that of keeping the conqueror away from their country. Pompey had been dead but a few days when the ships of Caesar appeared in the harbor of Alexandria, early in the month of October. In want of money, and perhaps disposed to interfere in Egyptian affairs, he landed in the city and took up his residence there for the winter months, in spite of the opposition of the people.
Several writers even represent him as having been before this attracted by the report of Cleopatra's beauty, which was certainly already famous, and as having prior to his coming received secret agents bringing appeals from her, so that he was even now prejudiced in her favor and ready to embrace her cause; but this is by no means certain. His first act was an impartial one. When he had established himself in the royal palace, suppressing the violent resistance of the Alexandrians, and had the young king entirely in his power, he commanded both the combatants for the throne to lay down their arms and submit the question of their rights to him. Achillas, encamped with his army at Pelusium, refused to obey the order, in spite of the fact that the young Ptolemy was held a virtual prisoner in the city. But Cleopatra at once obeyed, and disbanded her army. She now determined to seek Cresar in person, and resolved upon the daring venture which forms a celebrated episode in her career. With a single trusted attendant, a Sicilian named Apollodorus, she made her way at twilight, in a little boat, from a larger vessel out at sea, into the harbor of Alexandria, and succeeded in reaching unobserved the steps leading from the royal palace to the water.
Wrapped in a roll of heavy carpet tied with cords, she was now carried by Apollodorus into Caesar's presence. The carpet was unrolled, and the queen, whose beauty at this period of her life must, according to the old historians, have been most brilliant and perfect, appeared for the first time before the astonished Roman. By the added influence of her personal fascination and this daring coup tie theatre, Cleopatra's end was gained at once, and from this moment until Caesar's death her power over him does not appear to have decreased. He now interfered actively, in her interest, in Egyptian affairs, and at first brought about a kind of reconciliation between her and her brother; but this was not lasting, and a complication of intrigues ensued, by which first one and then another of Cleopatra's family endeavored to gain possession of the throne and to drive Cassar and the queen from the country. A war followed in which Caesar, cut off in a foreign port, and with only the troops he had brought with him, was very hard pressed; but he conquered. Ptolemy, who had escaped from the palace to join the Egyptian army, fell in a battle on the Nile near Memphis; and Cleopatra was again made queen, her only surviving brother, a child of six years, being nominally associated with her.
The country was now quiet, and the remaining months of Cesar's life in Egypt were given up to revelry and luxury, which Cleopatra prepared for him with all the resources of her riches and ingenuity; but he was soon compelled to abandon this course of brilliant festivals and the idleness of Alexandria for the East, where Pharnaces, the king of Bosporus, was in dangerous revolt. He left Egypt in 47, and a few months after his departure Cleopatra bore him a son. Even before his going he had agreed that Cleopatra should go to Pome on his return, and he had no sooner reached that city after conquering Pharnaces than he prepared to carry out the plan. In 46, with her little son Cassation, she set sail from Alexandria, and made her entry into Rome with great splendor; ostensibly coming to ask alliance from the senate, but recognized by every one as the acknowledged mistress of Caesar, who installed her in a palace near the Tiber. Here she held her court like a rightful queen of Rome, flattered by the chief men of the time for the sake of the dictator's favor, but hated by them and by the people, who saw in Ca?sar's open relations with a foreign woman a disgrace which Romans felt with special keenness.
For a time she seemed to have reached the summit of her ambition, for the dictator treated her with every favor and seemed about to make her his companion in power; when suddenly his assassination (44) destroyed all her hopes and plans at a blow. A short time after the murder she returned to her own capital. During the civil war which followed she preserved a neutral attitude, having much to dread, whichever side conquered. One of her generals, Serapion, assisted Cassius, contrary to her wish, and was afterward punished for his action. Another of her leaders was also induced to join Cassius; but in the main her neutrality was well preserved until the battle of Philippi (42), the event which placed the triumvirate in power, and made Mark Antony the ruler over the East. Cleopatra now saw the necessity for action, and, relying upon the same power of personal fascination that had won Caesar, she prepared to meet the conqueror. After spending a little time in Athens, Antony had begun a journey into Asia, and had finally established a brilliant court at Tarsus, where the various eastern potentates were already thronging to do him homage. Cleopatra alone did not appear; such a delay as should stimulate Antony's impatience to see her was a part of her plan.
For the successful triumvir was not now to meet her, as Caesar had done under similar circumstances, for the first time. Antony had seen and admired her in Rome, and she appears to have known that among all the rulers of his eastern dominions, the famous queen was the one for whose coming he was most anxious. Instead of summoning her peremptorily, he sent an ambassador to tell her that she had nothing to fear from him, and to beg that she would visit him at Tarsus; and he followed this message by several letters of the same purport before Cleopatra believed that she had sufficiently aroused his impatience, and at last obeyed (41 B. C). As he sat enthroned in the market place of the town, it was announced that the Egyptian queen was approaching up the Cydnus, in that splendid progress pictured in sufficiently glowing prose by Plutarch, but made famous for all time by the description of Shakespeare. When Antony sent messengers to ask that she would come to him, she replied that she had hoped to see him first her guest; and the triumvir visited her as soon as she had landed.
The beautiful queen's conquest was immediate and complete; with this meeting began that unbridled life of the two lovers that has formed ever since a favorite theme with historians, romancers, and poets; and "from this moment," says Appian, " the before untiring energy of Antony began to grow dull; only that happened which Cleopatra desired, without long inquiry as to what was right and sacred." When Cleopatra returned to Egypt, it was with the promise of another meeting; and Antony, as soon as he could make the most necessary disposition of his troops and his affairs, followed her to Alexandria. The winter of 41-40 passed in revelry of every kind, and only the complications which arose in Rome, and which soon grew too formidable to be neglected, called him from her in the spring. While at the seat of the war against the Parthians, in Asia, he received the news that his party, headed by his wife Fulvia, to whose ambition and desire to distract his thoughts from Cleopatra the outbreak of the conflict in Italy was chiefly due, had been defeated at Perusia. He hastened to Athens on his way westward, and there meeting Fulvia, who had fled thither, he arranged his plans, and sailed for Italy. But the decisive contest was this time averted.
Fulvia, left behind in Sicyon, and neglected and thrust aside by her husband, died, overwhelmed in grief and anger. A reconciliation between Octavius and Antony was arranged at Brun-dusium, and the sister of the former, Octavia, became Antony's wife. Cleopatra had now to endure three years of separation from the man whom she thought she had successfully attached to her for life; and we have descriptions from several writers of her rage and jealousy on hearing of his new marriage. But her hold upon him was stronger than she knew. For two winters Antony lived in comparative quiet with Octavia in Athens; the summers were full of activity among the constant complications, quarrels, and reconciliations of the triumvirate's politics; but in the year 37 the necessity of preparing for another campaign against the Parthians called him again into the East. No sooner was he separated from Octavia than the old love for Cleopatra returned in its full force. Immediately after he had landed on the Syrian coast, he sent a trusted messenger to her, and she hastened to meet him at Laodicea. The old life began again, and, as though to atone for his neglect, he heaped favors upon her, adding province after province to her kingdom, in spite of the complaints of the Romans. Completely reconciled, she returned to Alexandria, while Antony pressed on into Asia, upon his disastrous Parthian expedition.
On his return Cleopatra met him on the coast with aid and provisions for his army; and now again he accompanied her to Egypt, and remained there through the next winter, planning a new campaign for the spring. This was more successful, and through it he conquered Armenia. But the decisive struggle with Octavius was not to be longer delayed, and Antony now seemed determined to hurry it on. Returning to Alexandria (34), he celebrated an arrogant triumph, at which Cleopatra was declared a supreme ruler, or "queen of kings;" her son by Caesar was proclaimed legitimate, a direct attack on Octavius's pretensions to power; and Antony's own sons by Cleopatra were made the possessors of rich Roman provinces. Shortly after this he divorced Octavia, though he did not formally publish the fact till later. He seemed deliberately to attempt to insult the Roman people; yet they looked upon Cleopatra as the author of all that he did, and concentrated their anger upon her. The conflict between Antony and Octavius broke out early in 32, but it only became general when the Roman senate, a little later, declared war, not against Antony, who had passed the previous year with Cleopatra in the old revelries at Ephesus, Samos, and Athens, but against the Egyptian queen herself, who remained'by him, aiding his preparations, and urging him to hasten the decisive conflict.
The winter of 32-31 passed without event, but in the spring Octavius began with energy those movements which led to the massing of his troops at Actium, and to the decisive battle of the war. Cleopatra seems to have induced Antony, against his better judgment and that of his generals, to take the fatal step of forcing, by an imprudent movement, the engagement at Actium (Sept. 2, 31); but whether she was guilty of positive treachery when, in the midst of the battle, she gave the signal for retreat and set sail for the Egyptian coast, or whether she acted from momentary cowardice, is disputed. Escaping through an opening in the enemy's line of galleys, she made her way to sea, and Antony, abandoning the battle and deserting his troops, sailed after her with all speed to Egypt. All chance of successful resistance to Octavius was now lost; the winter passed away in preparations for defence, in the old life of excesses, and in attempts made by Antony to preserve the allegiance of his troops and generals, many of whom went over to the enemy. Cleopatra seems to have retained her energy, while Antony gave himself up to despair.
Many stories of this time are told by ancient authors, in which it is difficult to separate the truth and fiction - of a society, "the companions in death," in which the two revellers gathered their old associates; of Cleopatra's experiments to find the easiest way to die; of Antony's moody withdrawal from all companionship for a time, until he suddenly plunged into greater excesses than ever. In the spring Octavius appeared before the city. The last struggles Antony was able to make were soon over, and both he and Cleopatra seemed about to fall into the hands of the conqueror. As Antony and his troops fled into the city from their last attempt at resistance, the queen gave up all for lost; and hastening to an immense mausoleum she had had constructed some time before, she locked herself in it, accompanied only by two of her women, Iras and Charmian. Antony, returning to the palace, received either at her wish or by accident the report that she had ended her life. Determined not to be separated from her, he attempted to kill himself, but only inflicted a mortal wound.
As he lay dying, he heard that Cleopatra lived; he had himself carried to the mausoleum, and there, when the queen and her two women had with great difficulty raised him to the only way of entrance left unclosed, he expired in Cleopatra's arms. Octavius now entered Alexandria. In spite of her precautions, the queen was captured in her mausoleum, and brought before him. He assured her that no harm should befall her; but beyond this she could obtain no intimation in regard to her future fate. The fascination that had conquered Caesar and Antony had no effect upon him, and after trying all her power of charming, Cleopatra at last saw that she was only allowed to live to grace the conqueror's triumph. She was carefully watched, lest she should put an end to her own life; but she successfully eluded the vigilance of her guards by a skilful device. A countryman bringing her figs brought with them an asp in his basket, and thus furnished her the means of death. Causing Iras and Charmian to array her in her most splendid royal robes and in her crown, she placed the asp in her breast and died from the poison of its bite.
Her women imitated her, and the soldiers of Octavius found them lving by her, dead.