Cleopatra's death by asp, reenacted in Augustus's triumph in Rome, was instrumental in elevating her to superstar status. Yet despite her renown, the fundamental outline of the life of Cleopatra VII Philopator may be narrated in a few sentences. She was Queen of Egypt. She allegedly rolled out of bed linens into Julius Caesar's life. She had a highly publicized affair with Mark Antony. These liaisons led to children with both men, one of whom was Caesar's sole male heir, Caesarion. Antony and Cleopatra lived the high life in Alexandria and were treated as celebrities in Asia Minor and Greece, rewarded with gifts and statuary depicting them as deities. Their fame did not protect them, however, from the wrath of Octavian Augustus. Octavian defeated the famous couple at a naval battle at Actium off the western coast of Greece. As Octavian entered Alexandria, a series of miscommunications between the lovers—each thought incorrectly that the other was dead—led to their successive suicides.
These basic facts have been told and retold, in simple and embellished form, in books, plays, films, and animation, with the result that it is no longer easy to distinguish fact from fiction and to discover who this woman really was (Fig. 1.1). Any attempt to reveal her is complicated not only by the vast collection of later interpretations but also by the exceedingly biased picture of her painted by Augustus and his propagandists.
That Cleopatra was the most powerful woman in the ancient world's first century B.C. cannot be contested. That a Roman triad as formidable