Julius Caesar found himself in the middle of a family feud when he arrived in Egypt in 47BC. King Ptolemy XII willed his throne to his ten-year-old son, Ptolemy XIII, and his eighteen-year-old daughter, Cleopatra. The brother and sister were to rule Egypt as husband and wife, but Ptolemy XIII forced his sister from the throne in an attempt to seize total power.
Cleopatra saw an opportunity to return to power when she learned Caesar was in Egypt. She arranged to have herself smuggled into Caesar’s suite by wrapping herself in an ornamental carpet. Caesar unraveled his gift to find the former queen. The sly Cleopatra impressed Caesar. His army defeated the people who had removed Cleopatra from power. Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile River while try to escape Caesar’s army.
The 54-year-old Caesar began a love affair with the much younger Cleopatra, who gave birth to Caesar’s only son, Caesarion. While Caesar was popular with the Roman people, Cleopatra was looked upon with suspicion because she was a foreigner.
A year after Caesar’s murder, the Senate selected Octavian, Lepidus and Marc Antony to lead the republic in the Second Triumvirate. Octavian was Caesar’s teenage grandnephew. Caesar’s will stipulated that Octavian would become his adopted son. Marc Antony and Lepedus were generals in Caesar’s army. Octavian wanted complete control of Rome. When Lepidus retired, Octavian’s only rival was Marc Antony.
Marc Antony led the Roman army in Egypt, where he met and fell in love with Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra hoped to oust Octavian and rule together, but Octavian used the relationship between Antony and the unpopular Cleopatra to his advantage. He told the Roman people that Cleopatra had cast a spell on Antony. Octavian argued that Antony was willing to give away the Roman world to a foreign woman. The Roman people supported Octavian when he declared war on Antony and Cleopatra.
Octavian’s forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s ships in the Battle of Actium on the Mediterranean Sea in 31BC. Antony and Cleopatra managed to escape the encounter and returned to Egypt, but when Octavian’s army approached, Marc Antony committed suicide. When Cleopatra learned of Antony’s death, she realized she would soon no longer be Queen. According to legend, Cleopatra wrapped an asp around her arm. The asp was a venomous snake that was the symbol for the Egyptian royalty. The asp’s bite ended Cleopatra’s life.