Rollover Information
About the Series Schedule The Archive Learning Resources The American Collection Home Search Shop
Bertie and Elizabeth
Links and Bibliography The Forum Russell Baker Who's Who Preview Production Notes Essays + Interviews Masterpiece Theatre Bertie and Elizabeth
Who's Who [imagemap with 7 links] Egyptian Queen And Roman Lover Die In Suicide Pact

An accomplished mathematician and a linguist fluent in nine languages, Cleopatra VII was the brilliant and seductive last Pharaoh of Egypt. Reports differ on her beauty -- some claim she was actually quite plain -- but her allure was unmistakable. She ruled Egypt alongside two of her younger brothers -- Ptolemy XII, who drowned, and then Ptolemy XIII -- and later became the mistress of the Roman general Julius Caesar. But it was her romance with another Roman general, Marc Antony, and their tragic love story that caught the imagination of everyone from Shakespeare to Cecil B. DeMille.

After Caesar's murder at the hands of his fellow Roman senators (brought on in no small part by his dalliances with the Egyptian queen), Rome split between supporters of Marc Antony and his rival, Octavian. In 42 B.C., Antony arrived in Egypt to demand an account of Cleopatra's actions. It was here, in Alexandria, that the two fell hopelessly in love. Cleopatra, conscious of her royalty and even her claims to divinity as the Pharaoh's daughter, used Antony to reestablish the power of the Egyptian throne.

Summoned back to Rome upon the death of his wife, Fulvia, who had antagonized Octavian, Antony attempted to heal the political rift by marrying Octavian's sister, Octavia. Word of his nuptials enraged Cleopatra. Renewed strife with Octavian, however, soon sent Antony back to his lover's arms. In 37 B.C., Antony settled in Alexandria as the acknowledged lover of Cleopatra, caring neither for the growing ill will toward him in Rome nor for the increasing impatience of Octavian. Antony and Cleopatra's affair scandalized Roman society and outraged Roman politicians, who were suspicious of Egypt's power. Octavian undertook the destruction of the two lovers.

In 31 B.C., Octavian destroyed the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra in the battle of Actium. Finding their cumbersome ships no match for the Romans' swift craft, they fled to Alexandria but failed to defend themselves from Octavian. Hearing a false report that Cleopatra was dead, Antony fell on his sword, asked to be taken to Cleopatra, and died in her arms. Rather than submit to Roman conquest, Cleopatra also killed herself, inducing a poisonous asp to bite her. Four thousand years of Pharaonic rule was over. Egypt became a Roman province and Octavian became Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, launching a new era in history.

Royal Love Exposed!:
Divorced Arabian King Falls for Brainy American Bombshell!
Monaco Ready for its Closeup: King Weds Hollywood Starlet
Egyptian Queen + Roman Lover Die in Suicide Pact
Murders, Power Struggles, Amputations...Ah, Love
The Emperor's Passion Revealed
First Cousins Marry for Love!

Essays + Interviews | Production Notes | Preview
Who's Who | Russell Baker | The Forum | Links and Bibliography

Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback

WGBH Logo PBS logo


Masterpiece is sponsored by: