This Day in History (12-Aug-30 B.C.) – Cleopatra Commits Suicide as Octavian Advances on Alexandria

In 51 BC, Ptolemy Auletes died and left his kingdom to his eighteen year old daughter, Cleopatra, and her younger brother. According to Egyptian law Cleopatra had to marry to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII, twelve years old then. By 48 BC, Cleopatra had alarmed the more powerful court officials of Alexandria by some of her actions. A group of men overthrew her in favor of her younger brother. Meanwhile Roman knight Caesar captured Alexandria. Cleopatra had herself smuggled in through enemy lines rolled in a carpet. She was delivered to Caesar. Caesar fell in love with her and killed Ptolemy XIII. Cleopatra was now the sole ruler of Egypt. But she had to marry her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, who was eleven years old. During July of the year 46 BC, Caesar returned to Rome and brought Cleopatra over. The conservative Republicans were very offended when he established Cleopatra in his home. Caesar also openly claimed Cleopatra’s son as his son. Many were upset that he was planning to marry Cleopatra regardless of the laws against bigamy and marriages to foreigners. Caesar was assassinated outside the Senate Building in Rome. After Caesar’s murder, Cleopatra fled Rome and returned to Alexandria.

When she met Mark Antony, another Roman knight in 41, she charmed him such that he decided to spend the winter with her in Alexandria. Late in 40 BCE, she gave birth to a son and daughter. In 37 BCE, Antony, on his way to attack Parthia, returned to Alexandria to rekindle the romance with Cleopatra and made the city his home for the rest of his life.  Marrying her according to the Egyptian rite, the two conceived another child. In Rome, In 31, Roman noble Octavian would defeat Antony in a pitched sea battle off the coast of Actium.  Moving to land, the Roman armies began pushing toward Alexandria.  Clearly no longer able to maintain her place as the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra ended up dead on August 12th – whether by the asp or a toxic drink is still up for debate to this day.  Cleopatra’s death opened the door for Rome to be the dominant power in the Mediterranean for centuries to come.