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Cleopatra and Mark Antony: His Love for Her and the Power She Became
Mark Antony and Cleopatra
Mark Antony was born in Rome and from a distinguished family. His father died when he was young. When he got older he wasted the property his father had left him, incurred huge debts, and had many lawsuits against him. He went to Greece to escape these problems. Antony was known to be a wild and indulgent young man that had evil friends. Some say that he was very handsome and Plutarch describes him as a noble dignified person with a well-grown beard, broad forehead, and hooked nose. He was a Roman cavalry officer that was second in command to Gabinius a lieutenant in Syria. As an officer he would have been very courageous with excellent military abilities. Antony was a favorite among his men, probably because he joked with them and ate with them. He dressed plainly and was tall and manly. He was also known to be ardent, cool, and collected. Antony first met Cleopatra when she was fifteen years old, after Berenice was dethroned and Ptolemy was reinstated. He thought that Cleopatra was beautiful and witty. He was only twenty-eight years old at the time.
Mark Antony became very powerful by the time he was age forty-two. This is when Antony and Octavian divided the Mediterranean world between them. Antony controlled the East and began looking to Egypt. He settled in Tarsus and then summoned Cleopatra to him by letter. He sent one letter right after the other and she just let them pile up. She eventually went to him.
Cleopatra planned her seven-hundred mile trip across the Mediterranean from Egypt to Turkey. She was very rich and spared no expense to impress Mark Antony. She arrived in Tarsus in an extravagant display of sound, color, and smell. Cleopatra herself was reclined beneath a gold canopy with beautiful boys standing beside her fanning her on her ship. The ship would have been decorated with the most expensive items and had a huge crew of people at task. Antony and his men boarded the ship to greet her. She invited them to a dinner that was rich and elaborate and all the guests went away with gifts of jewels. He then invited her to dinner, but it was nothing in compare to hers. Antony and Cleopatra had a lot in common. He had just been hailed the new Dionysus and her family claimed descent of this god. They were both promiscuous: he just had an affair with a queen and she just had one with a king’s wife. Cleopatra stayed in Tarsus for a few weeks and then returned to Egypt. She had a huge effect on Antony. He had Cleopatra’s sister and the high priest of the temple killed. After this, Antony went to Egypt to be with Cleopatra. They did everything together while in Alexandria. They played games, drank, hunted, and played jokes on people. They really enjoyed dressing up as servants and going into the city. The Alexandrian’s were won over by Antony’s charm.
Mark Antony was having a wonderful time with Cleopatra, but he was a married man. Fulvia, his wife, conspired a war against Octavian to get Antony back. Antony went to Fulvia and she tried to convince him that he could win a war against Octavian. He would have nothing to do with it and left her. Fulvia became depressed and eventually died.
Octavian and Mark Antony reconciled and Antony married Octavian’s half-sister, Octavia. About the same time that Antony remarried Cleopatra gave birth to twins: Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. These children were Antony’s and he was not there. Antony was gaining popularity in Rome. He had a soothsayer that Cleopatra had given to him to help him with his career. The soothsayer told Antony that if he did not distance himself from Octavian that he would never go further in his career. This soothsayer is also the one that relayed news to Cleopatra about Antony. Antony went to Athens to distance himself from Octavian. Octavian always came out ahead of Antony know matter what he did. Antony eventually lost interest in his wife, Octavia and left her. He never saw her again. He then sent Cleopatra a message to meet him in Antioch, which she did immediately. While they were there they had coins made up with their images on them. The twins also met their father for the first time in Antioch; they were three years old. Antony then gave Cleopatra extraordinary gifts: the island of Cyprus, Coele-Syria, Cyrene, Cilicia, some of Crete, and most of the Phoenician coast. Now Cleopatra ruled most of the Mediterranean coast from Libya to Africa, through Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. It was no mistake that Antony gave Cleopatra timber rich lands so that they could build a fleet of ships. Cleopatra became even richer and more powerful. In her sixteenth year reigning as queen, she renamed it year one and renamed herself: Queen Cleopatra, the Goddess, the Younger, Father-Loving and Fatherland Loving. She was also pregnant again with Antony’s third child. She called her new son Ptolemy Philadelphus. Meanwhile, Antony and his army went to battle the Parthians. This proved to be unsuccessful because Antony decided to attack earlier than he should have so that he could spend the winter with Cleopatra. Plutarch explains, “For so eager was he to spend the winter with her that he began the war before the proper time, and managed everything confusedly. He was no master of his own faculties, but, as if he were under the influence of certain drugs or of magic rites, was ever looking eagerly towards her, and thinking more of his speedy return than of conquering the enemy.”
Cleopatra and Antony did spend the winter together and then he got his army together to attack Armenia. Antony and his army were victorious. Cleopatra planned an extravagant celebration for this victory. He renamed Cleopatra “Queen of Kings” and gave their children each a couple countries. They were both feeling very powerful and ready to go back and take the Parthians. However, the Romans were not happy with Antony’s conquests. They also were not happy with Cleopatra on Roman coins and the Roman celebration in Alexandria. Octavian was especially not happy with Antony. He went before the Senate with accusations that Cleopatra was a threat to Rome and declared war on her. He also removed Antony from his consulship and all authority.
What were Mark Antony’s intentions with Cleopatra? Antony had divorced Octavia but according to Roman law he could not marry Cleopatra. In Egypt, their marriage would mean nothing; Cleopatra and Caesarion were the rightful rulers of Egypt. Antony would never become King of Egypt. Octavian’s army began attacking Antony’s and Cleopatra’s countries and winning. Antony could have easily murdered Cleopatra and annexed Egypt. His troubles would have been over then. His closest companions did not like Cleopatra’s authority.
Antony and Cleopatra had many disputes: he had even thought she had poisoned him at one time. During a battle with Octavian and his army, Antony and Cleopatra had to escape together on her ship. They were not speaking to each other by this time. Cleopatra’s servants urged them to reconcile and even to eat and sleep together. They did reconcile but Antony was severely distressed over his defeat by Octavian. Cleopatra had huge parties of feasts, drinks, and presents to help Antony get over his sadness. They had a party for Antony’s fifteen year old son, Antyllus, and her sixteen year old son, Caesarion, to celebrate their coming of age. Both sons joined the military and Caesarion officially became a pharaoh.
Cleopatra and Antony began negotiating with Octavian and sending him presents to allow Antony to live peacefully with Cleopatra. Cleopatra began bargaining with Octavian and his messenger, which made Antony extremely jealous. Antony had the messenger beaten and whipped. Cleopatra continued making alliances with Octavian causing Antony to be even angrier. It became so hostile between Cleopatra and Antony that she locked herself in the mausoleum and sent Antony a message of her death. He was so overcome with grief that he drew his sword on himself, but missed his heart keeping him alive. Cleopatra received word of this and had him sent to her in the mausoleum. Antony told her to ally herself with Octavian and then died in her arms.
What happened next has been disputed by historians for centuries. All we know is that Octavian went in and found Cleopatra dead. He said that she died of a snake bite; however, there were no snakes in the room. Cleopatra was a master alchemist and an expert in making poisons.The most likely cause of her death would be that she poisoned herself. This would be the quickest and less painful way for a queen to die. Cleopatra died at the age of thirty-nine, ending the Egyptian government. After her death Egypt became a Roman province.
Cleopatra was one of the most powerful women in history. She rose to power with her father’s help and with the protection of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Julius Caesar had a fondness for her and helped her to keep her throne. After his death, Mark Antony did everything in his power to keep her the Queen of Egypt. With Mark Antony she became the most powerful woman in the world. It was with Antony that she was at the peak of her power and at the fall of it. There are many debates surrounding Cleopatra and how she achieved such power. It has been proven that those that loved her would do anything they could to help her keep the throne. Whether it was murder or war Antony and Caesar joined forces with her to achieve the ultimate achievements. Both men gave their lives for her.
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Jacob Abbott, History of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854).
Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010).
Philip W. Sergeant, Cleopatra of Egypt: Antiquity’s Queen of Romance (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1909).