A bitter defeat in a decisive naval battle in Egypt, on 1 August 30 BC, Mark Antony escaped to Alexandria while his rival Octavian (later Roman Emperor Augustus) invaded the country. Having received false word that his lover, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, had already done so, Antony committed suicide by falling on his own sword. He lingered on in agony just long enough to die in Cleopatra’s arms, and moments later, she was taken prisoner by Octavian. With Antony’s death, Octavian became uncontested ruler of Rome with only the Queen of Egypt and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion (literally “little Caesar”), standing in his way. When twelve days later, the captive queen committed suicide, traditionally by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her, Octavian had the seventeen-year-old Caesarion murdered and Egypt at last fell under the full control of the Roman Empire, thus ending the Age of the Pharaohs forever.
In life, Mark Antony was a great general and politician who fell under the spell of Egypt’s “grand seductress”. Perhaps not a true love match, his union with Cleopatra was one of sex, power, and intense rivalry, both often trying to outdo each other in terms of thrift and splendor. They had three children together (Selene, Alexander, and Ptolemy) and he even rejected his fourth wife (Octavian’s own sister) in order to remain in power by Cleopatra’s side. Even 2000 years after their deaths, their romance is the stuff of legend, portrayed by the likes of William Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra and of course Richard Burton in the 1963 film Cleopatra alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Rex Harrison. The above depiction of his death was painted by French artist Bernard Duvivier in 1759.