Cleopatra is perhaps one of the most recognized names of all ancient personalities. She is known as a clever temptress who helped reignite the Roman Civil Wars and oversaw the collapse of the Ptolemaic-Egyptian kingdom. Her life and death has been portrayed in fictionalized accounts on both the big and small screens, most notably in the 1963 film Cleopatra and more recently in the HBO series Rome. The real Cleopatra was much more complex than how she is often depicted: she ruled Egypt with the power of a king during a period when rulership was often a male prerogative.
It is true that Cleopatra played a pivotal role in the last phase of the Roman Civil Wars, but in the final analysis it is clear that she was as much as a “player” with her own agency as Mark Antony or Octavian. Perhaps one of the more fascinating and controversial aspects of Cleopatra’s life is her death. After Cleopatra’s and Mark Antony’s forces lost to Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, the pair had few options. Mark Antony took his life in true Roman fashion by stabbing himself with his gladius, while Cleopatra was said to have either died from the bite of a venomous snake or some other type of poison. An examination of the classical sources combined with more recent studies indicates that Cleopatra more than likely did die from a venomous snake bite.