Mark Antony

  • 82-30 BCE
  • in sole command after Caesar’s death
  • Boisterous, extravagant, at drinker
  • A gambler (aleator)
  • March 17th: the Senate’s comprimise
  • Assassins granted immunity and provinces; Caesar’s acta were confirmed
  • Senate trying to avoid civil war
  • Civil war averted (temporarily)
  • Urban plebs and the army loyal to Caesar however
  • Caesar’s will: left land and money to every Roman citizen
  • Mark Antony tried to mobilize the populace in his interest
  • Caesar’s public funeral
  • Antony’s speech causes a riot which enables him to take control of Rome
  • Cassius, Brutus and Cicero leave (in fear)
  • Antony in firm control May 44 BCE

Marcus Tullius Cicero (death 43 BCE)

  • politician and orator


  • Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus
  • 63 BCE – 14 CE
  • Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son and heir
  • ¾ of Caesar’s estate
  • (Caesar was very rich from time in Gaul)
  • Turned to Antony but Antony rebuffed him
  • Octavian realized he had more to gain from the Senate’s support
  • Very young: 19 years old
  • So young that he is underrated as a politician, everyone underestimates him
  • Brutus and Cassius were overseas trying to get control of the eastern legions
  • Control of the East would be crucial
  • Next few months: shifting alliances
  • October 44 BCE: Antony goes to Gaul, Octavian into Italy to raise troops
  • Senate refuses to let Octavian stand for consul; thereby losing his support
  • Octavian marched on Rome: Aug 43 BCE
  • Declares himself consul
  • The Senate has no armed forces with which to oppose him

The Second Triumvirate

  • A modern name
  • Octavian; Antony; M. Aemelius Lepidus (death 13 BCE)
  • ‘triumvirs for the purpose of restoring the Republic’
  • 5-year period
  • Authority to legislate and name magistrates
  • The First Triumvirate had been an informal agreement with no legal ratification
  • But this was a formal union; legally appointed by the Senate
  • But could, like the first, dominate the Senate


  • Raise money to pay the troops
  • Certain political security
  • 300 senators and 2000 equestrians
  • Cicero killed Dec 7th, 43 BCE
  • Lepidus consul for 42 BCE
  • Octavian and Antony go east to attack the ‘Republican’ forces


  • Octavian and Antony: 28 legions
  • = 140,000 men
  • Battle of Philippi, 42 BCE
  • Republicans defeated (Brutus and Cassius commit suicide)
  • Their supporters surrendered or scattered
  • Caesar’s murder was avenged
  • The triumvirs disbanded their legions
  • Octavian to stay in Italy
  • Antony to go East to raise funds and re-establish order (boarder rebellions)
  • For years the two oscillate between enmity and alliance
  • They competed with each other fiercely
  • Patched up their alliance by repeated pacts and comprimises
  • Octavia, sister of Octavian, married to Antony in 40 BCE
  • Strain soon becomes evident between the dynasts

Ptolemy XI

  • Ptolemy Auletes – Cleopatra’s father
  • Ascended 80 BCE but his reign marred by internal disputes
  • Appealed to Rome in 59/58 BCE
  • Rome put him back on the throne in 55
  • He survived until 51 BCE
  • Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE) then ascended the throne, at 18 yrs old
  • Along with her brother Ptolemy XIII (Married)
  • Daughter of Ptolemy XI and Cleopatra V
The Plague: History & Death

Cleopatra’s VII’s early rule

  • The snake pit
  • She was 18; her brother and husband was 11
  • Aimed for a position of strength
  • Learned Egyptian (previously the royal family spoke Greek); cared about the economy
  • Supported Rome in 49 BCE
  • (Supplies Pompey with ships and supplies)
  • Exiled in 48 BCE (by her brother’s supporters)
  • Goes into Arabia and Palestine to raise an army
  • Caesar puts her on the throne; they become lovers and have a son
  • She travels to Rome in 46
  • And stays there until March of 44 BCE (Caesar’s assassination)
  • Antony approaches Cleopatra for troops and supplies to conquer Parthia
  • He had met her while she was in Rome
  • Antony’s seduction
  • The barge scene

Anthony and Cleopatra

  • Thus Cleopatra retained her kingdom and the support of Rome
  • Twins were born in autumn 40 BCE: Alexander Helios (the sun) and Cleopatra Selene (the moon)
  • Antony to marry Octavia (sister of Octavian) to cement their political alliance (40 BCE)
  • By 37, the marriage AND the political alliance were breaking down
  • Antony goes east to Cleopatra
  • 37/36 BCE: Antony adds some of his conquests to Cleopatra’s domain
  • In 36 she gives birth to their third child Ptolemy Philadelphus
  • 34 (important year): he formally married her (under Macedonian law) and recognizes their children (makes them his heirs)
  • large tactical error
  • he is still married to Octavia at this point
  • And gives them control over parts of the Roman empire
  • Results in mistrust from the Romans
  • 33 BCE: campaign of mutual slander
  • Antony is painted as a drunkard, demoralized, soft, in sexual thrall
  • 32: alliance at end; Antony divorced Octavia
  • Incensed, Octavian seized Antony’s will and made it public
  • The terms of the will outraged the Roman people
  • Antony had instituted Cleopatra and his children of his heirs (and cut out his legitimate Roman children) also requested to be buried in Egypt with Cleopatra


  • War is declared (be Octavian) against Cleopatra
  • Not on Antony, because didn’t want to start a civil war
  • Octavian crosses to Greece
  • Antony had the strong support of many, but desertions were high
  • Battle of Actium: September 31 BCE (naval battle)
  • Cleopatra and Antony defeated; their troops surrender or are captured
  • Octavian left sole master of Rome and all her territories
  • They retreat to Egypt
  • Octavian follows
  • Numerous pleas from the pair to Octavian are rejected

After Actium

  • Octavian follows the pain to Egypt
  • Alexandria capitulates in 30 BCE
  • Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide
  • Antony: by his sword
  • Cleopatra: snake bite
  • Luxurious supper-parties with plenty of drinking (put on by Antony and Cleopatra)
  • Elegant and extravagant lifestyle
  • Cleopatra reportedly tested out various poisons on her slaves
  • Bite of an asp (snake) produced lethargy and numbness
  • Egyptians also believed the bite deified the victim
Themes in John Dryden's All for Love (play)

Antony’s Death

  • Ghostly Bacchic possession out of Alexandria
  • The god Dionysus was abandoning him  (i.e., so bad things were going to happen)
  • His navy and cavalry deserted; he blamed Cleopatra (for being Egyptian)
  • She fled to her funerary monument
  • Antony thinking she was dead plunged his sword into his belly
  • Cleopatra took him into her monument
  • He died in her arms
  • Octavian wept upon hearing of Antony’s death

Cleopatra’s death

  • Octavian worried she would kill herself
  • Interview with Octavian before her death (she did not come off as very brave)
  • She visits Antony’s tomb one last time, bathes and eats
  • Basket of figs containing an asp
  • Addressed a letter to Octavian (basically saying she would be dead once he read this)
  • Dismisses all her servants except Charmian and Iras
  • Slips her wrist into the basket (and asp bites her wrist)
  • Octavian ordered her to be given a royal burial
  • Caesarion (Caesar’s son) executed on Octavian’s orders
  • Her children by Antony brought up by Octavia in Rome

Cleopatra’s story

  • Cleopatra of myth and fantasy as well as history
  • Cleopatra’s story is one of sex, death, and power
  • Can be treated in witty or tragic fashion
  • Disgrace? Temptress? Victim? Great leader?
  • Gets re-invented from generation to generation
  • (according to their own ideas of women and power)
  • Examples of some portrayals:
  • Theda Bara, 1917 (silent film): exotic temptress
  • Claudette Colbert, 1934; witty society lady
  • Elizabeth Taylor, 1963: political visionary
  • Lindsay Marshal, 2005 (show we watched in class); characterized as very young, aggressive, sexually promiscuous, opium addict, indulgent, spoiled
  • Exceptionally able, ambitious, intelligent women
  • She was not conventionally beautiful
  • 5’2”, chunky and hawk-nosed
  • But charismatic, witty, a great conversationalist
  • Sexually compelling

Cleopatra in European Art

  • France, 1480: Antony and Cleopatra’s death (he is stabbing himself, she is getting bit in both breasts by two snakes; dressed in medieval clothing)
  • 1630, Barbieri, Italian: sketch of her, no shirt
  • Renault, 1790, France: wrapped in cloth, but bare breasts, holding her breast
  • Rixens, 1876: her death (she is naked) with her two servants Charmian and Iras
  • Even today still using her in portrayals such as advertisements

1 Comment

  1. Hello,
    Can you tell me the origin of your last illustration on Cleopatra Death ?
    With my best regards.
    Renan Pollès

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