Cleopatra: The Battle of Actium and Her Own Death

What Was the Battle of Actium?

Roman General Agrippa met Cleopatra’s (and Antony’s) army in 31 BC. This battle took place on the Ionian Sea. A lot of bad luck happened for the two lovers. Cleopatra and Antony were outnumbered, about 140 ships to 260 ships. One of Antony’s generals turned traitor, Quintus Dellius, revealed to Octavian Antony’s plans. Not only that, but when the battle turned against them, Cleopatra and her fleets fled. When Antony eventually came to the same revelation as Cleopatra (or perhaps they had a plan prior), he also abandoned his men and fled to safety. Octavian acted as savior and saved the men on ships Antony had lit ablaze, and Antony’s camp was quickly overtaken by Octavian. This battle was the end of the war against Cleopatra (Tyldesley 178-180).

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Most of Antony’s men deserted him. He was left feeling as a failure and completely alone. He knew he had lost and had no chance of ever winning against Octavian. Cleopatra soon sent her own form of surrender and requests to Octavian and Antony also tried to assuage the offended leader. Octavian was not pleased, though, and made sure Antony knew he was not accepted back as a citizen and manipulated Cleopatra (“Cleopatra”).

Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII’s Deaths

In 30 BC word was sent from Cleopatra to Mark Antony falsely telling him she was killed. Some speculate she did this to encourage Antony to take his own life and rid herself of the problem associated with him (Roller 145). This was the straw that broke the camel’s back; Antony stabbed himself, and his bad luck continued as he was not instantly killed. His last, dying request was to be brought to where Cleopatra was. It is debated, but he may have been to her and allowed to die in her arms (“Battle of Actium”). The scene as told by Plutarch is quite tragic. After she supposedly would not open the door, but stubbornly had servants tie Antony to a rope that she and two other women pulled up into her chambers, Plutarch describes the following:

And when she had thus got him in and laid him down, she rent her garments over him, beat and tore her breasts with her hands, wiped off some of his blood upon her face, and called him master, husband, and imperator; indeed, she almost forgot her own ills in her pity for his” (77:3).

After Antony’s death, Octavian met with  the grieving Cleopatra. Perhaps she hopelessly tried to convince him to be sympathetic to her, perhaps she tried to seduce him, or perhaps all her hope was lost. Nonetheless, when she returned back to her chambers she did not come out (“Cleopatra”). Evaluating her relationship with Mark Antony, Cleopatra may have really loved him. Her relationship with Julius Caesar was undertoned with her desire to “[assure] her position on the throne and [neutralize] rivals,” but when she met Mark Antony she definitely did not need to indulge in a relationship with him. She was more stable than before and was well off on her own (Roller 82). Plutarch quotes Cleopatra’s speech after Antony’s death:

“Do not abandon thine own wife while she lives…but hide and bury me here with thyself, since out of all my innumerable ills not one is so great and dreadful as this short time that I have lived apart from thee.” (84:4).

So, when Mark Antony died and all hope seemed lost, Cleopatra may have picked a means to kill herself that was still considered dignified. It is thought she killed herself by letting an incredibly poisonous snake, an asp, bite her. She was then buried with Antony; their tomb now somewhere deep in the Mediterranean Sea (Tyldesley 193-6).

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Consequences

After his mother’s dead, Caesarion was assassinated under the orders of Octavian. Mark Antony’s oldest son was also killed by orders of Octavian. In 27 BC, Octavian changed his name to Augustus Caesar and a new era of Rome was born (“Cleopatra”). The other three children of Cleopatra’s were forced to walk through Roman streets in heavy chains as a way to display Octavian’s victory. Surprisingly, Octavia was the one who raised Cleopatra’s and Antony’s twins, Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and youngest son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. It is uncertain what became of Ptolemy Philadelphus and Alexander Helios. Their sister, Cleopatra Selene II, went on to marry Juba II of Numidia; Augustus actually granted Cleopatra Selene II with a large dowry, and she went on to have children (Tyldesley 199).  

Thus was the end of the Ptolemy Dynasty. It was killed along with 39 year old Cleopatra VII.

References

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