Sunday 12 August 2012

A bad day to be the Queen of Egypt

Today marks the 2,042nd anniversary of Cleopatra's death. She was just thirty-nine. The last Pharaoh of Egypt was the mother of Julius Caesar's only son - Caesarion - and mother of Mark Antony's three youngest children - Cleopatra Selene II, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus. The latter was just three when his mother and father died - tragic enough for the orphaned siblings, but it was also the end of a tragic and tumultuous decade for Rome, not to mention the end of Egypt's 3,100-years of uninterrupted Pharonic rule. In Octavian's Triumph the following year, the three Antonian children were paraded in gold chains, reportedly upsetting the Roman public to the extent the up and coming Emperor had his sister adopt and raise them.

Cleopatra VII Philopater, 69BC-30BC
Popular myth has Cleopatra holding an asp to her breast in a last act of heroic defiance against the arrival of Octavian's forces in her capital of Alexandria. But this is only a myth. What we do know is a wound was inflicted on her arm, either by a snake or by self-injected poison (yes, syringes, hollow needles and intravenous injections were available back then). If she did indeed choose to die by snake bite, it certainly wasn't an asp. Asp bites were well known for providing a very painful and prolonged death. Cobras, on the other hand, while not only being a symbol of the Pharonic crown, were quick and relatively pain free and had been used as a method of execution in Egypt for centuries - a fact, Cleopatra, one of the greatest minds of her age, would have been well aware of. Of course, there's also the ancient conspiracy theories her suicide was more murder than self inflicted, but to give Octavian his dues, he did organise attempts to save the Queen's life when he heard what she had done. In the end, it wasn't a good day for anyone involved...and to be honest, things haven't been the same since. In her death, Cleopatra gave us the Roman Empire, and, as a result, Western Civilisation.

Find out if Calvus was a snake charmer

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