The Suicide of Cleopatra and Mark Antony

The story of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is one of the most famous and tragic love stories in history. The two rulers of ancient Egypt and Rome defied the political and social norms of their time, forging a powerful alliance that challenged the authority of Octavian, the heir of Julius Caesar. Their romance ended in a dramatic suicide, as they chose to die together rather than be captured by their enemy.

But what were the reasons behind their suicide? How did they plan and execute their final act? And what were the consequences of their death for their kingdoms and the world? In this article, we will explore the historical and cultural context of Cleopatra and Mark Antony's suicide, the circumstances that led them to take their own lives, and the legacy they left behind.

The Reasons Behind Cleopatra and Mark Antony's Suicide

The relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony was not only romantic but also political. They formed an alliance that challenged the authority of Octavian, Caesar's heir and Antony's rival in the Triumvirate. Octavian accused Antony of betraying Rome by marrying Cleopatra (while still being legally married to Octavian's sister Octavia), giving away Roman territories to her and her children (including Caesarion, whom she claimed was Caesar's son), and planning to make Alexandria the new capital of the Roman world.

Octavian declared war on Cleopatra in 32 BC, portraying it as a patriotic crusade against a foreign queen who corrupted and enslaved a Roman hero. He mobilized his forces and his propaganda machine to turn public opinion against Antony and Cleopatra. He also obtained Antony's will from the Vestal Virgins (who were supposed to keep it secret) and read it aloud in the Senate, revealing Antony's wish to be buried with Cleopatra in Egypt.

The war culminated in the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC, where Octavian's fleet defeated Antony's larger but less disciplined navy. Cleopatra fled with her ships, followed by Antony, leaving behind most of his men and allies. The defeat was decisive and irreversible. Octavian pursued them to Egypt, where he besieged them in Alexandria.

The Circumstances of Cleopatra and Mark Antony's Suicide

As Octavian closed in on Alexandria, Cleopatra and Mark Antony prepared for their final stand. They gathered their loyal followers, distributed their treasures among them, and celebrated a mock funeral for themselves. They also tried to negotiate with Octavian, hoping to secure some concessions for their children or themselves.

However, Octavian was determined to capture them alive and parade them as trophies in his triumph in Rome. He sent secret messages to Cleopatra, promising her clemency if she betrayed or killed Antony. He also spread rumors that he had already captured or killed Antony, hoping to demoralize Cleopatra.

In August 30 BC, Antony received false news that Cleopatra had committed suicide. He was overcome with grief and despair. He stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword, but did not die immediately. He was carried to Cleopatra's mausoleum (where she had barricaded herself with her attendants), where he saw her alive and exchanged his last words with her. He died in her arms.

Cleopatra, realizing that she had no escape, decided to follow Antony in death. She had previously experimented with various poisons and venomous animals, looking for the most painless and dignified way to die. She chose to use an asp, a type of Egyptian cobra, whose bite caused a quick and peaceful death. She had one or more asps smuggled into her mausoleum in a basket of figs. She dressed herself in her royal robes, arranged her hair and makeup, and wrote a letter to Octavian, asking him to bury her with Antony.

The Consequences of Cleopatra and Mark Antony's Suicide

The suicide of Cleopatra and Mark Antony marked the end of an era in the ancient world. It ended the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, which became a province of the Roman Empire. It also ended the Roman Republic, which was replaced by the Principate, a system of imperial rule established by Octavian, who became known as Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

The suicide of Cleopatra and Mark Antony also inspired countless works of art and literature throughout history. They became symbols of passionate love, tragic fate, and heroic resistance. Their story has been retold and reimagined by many writers, such as Plutarch, Shakespeare, Dryden, Shaw, and Mankiewicz. Their images have been portrayed by many artists, such as Tiepolo, Delacroix, Cabanel, and Rodin. Their names have become synonymous with romance, drama, and legend.