Octavian Chronicle #12, Suicide-30 BC, tells the whole story
It can be said of Cleopatra that she gained power through her relationship with one great Roman leader (Julius Caesar), maintained it with another great Roman leader (Mark Antony), and lost it because of a third (Octavian).Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, committed suicide on August 12, 30 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. A year prior, Octavian had handed her and Mark Antony a severe defeat in the Sea Battle at Actium off the coast of Greece. In 30 BC, he defeated them again at Alexandria. Mark Antony committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner.
She tried to use her wiles on Octavian, but he would have none of it. Once Cleopatra was convinced all was lost, she too committed suicide. When the word came that she was dead, Octavian and his aides visited her mausoleum to view the body to determine how she died. It was important to him that the Egyptian people not blame him for her death and that they perceive her death as a noble one. He did not want an unnecessary rebellion on his hands. They entered through the heavy doors to investigate.
Just then, Epaphroditus walked in and stood with them. Octavian asked, “Do you see anything different about her?”
With a sad face, he looked the body over. There was silence in the room as everyone watched him. Suddenly, he said, “I don’t see the hairpin she was wearing!”
Pollonius looked at Octavian. “She might’ve had poison on her hairpin all along.”
“That’s a good possibility,” said Octavian.
Gallus came back in and said, “I found what looks like the trail of a large snake in the sand. It was on the side where that opening is.” He pointed up to the top of the mausoleum. “Maybe it got out that way,” he said.
“Look at this,” said Pollonius. “There are two marks here high on her arm under her sleeve. They look like they might’ve come from the fangs of a snake, but they’re so faint it’s hard to believe that they came from a recent bite.”
Octavian leaned down and looked closely. He asked, “Or are they two pinpricks made with a hairpin to look like the bite of a snake? Maybe that’s why they’re so faint.” He turned to Epaphroditus and asked, “What else happened today that was different?”
Epaphroditus wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and said, “I’ve been thinking about this because it did seem a little strange to me. A large basket of figs was delivered here by a farmer. Charmion had made the arrangement.”
Pollonius said, “If she was intent on killing herself, why would Cleopatra order a large basket of figs?”
“Maybe there was a snake hidden in the basket,” said Octavian.
Gallus said, “It would have to have been a large basket if it was a snake of the size that made the tracks in the sand outside the mausoleum.”
“It was a basket that large,” said Epaphroditus, nodding.
They all stood there quietly for a moment until Octavian said, “For our part, we’ll let it be told that she died by the bite of an asp. That way, her people can say that she died as royalty. The snake appears on the statues of Isis, and it’s a symbol of royalty to the Egyptians. If others want to draw another conclusion, it will be less popular than our conclusion, and it won’t last.”
“Are you going to let her be buried beside Antony as she requested?” asked Gallus.
“Yes, and we’ll have Charmion and Iras buried beside her. The eunuch Mardion can be buried in here too. He either took the poison or let himself be bitten by the snake, then jumped in the coffin that was meant for him.”
Octavian took one last look at Cleopatra and said, “Let’s get out of here and get some fresh air.”