She was not only the last Pharaoh but also a just and famous ruler. She had fought for survival all through her life. Yes, we are talking about Cleopatra. She was a symbol of beauty and stamina. But when we consider the circumstances of her death, they do not match with her character. Let us go through the description of Cleopatra’s death in details. One night after the Roman capture of Egypt, Cleopatra was sitting in her Golden Chamber with veils, fine silk and pillows beside her. She has a tightly woven basket placed beside her. She runs her hand over this basket and opens the lid. Then she pulls out a black cobra from inside. Cleopatra looks into the eyes of the cobra and asks the snake to take her to Isis. The snake rears its head and strikes the Queen making two bloody marks just above her breasts. Octavian arrives inside the chamber and finds Cleopatra; he dismisses his guards and whispers in anguish “you have won Cleopatra”.
According to the records, Cleopatra died on August 12, 30 B.C. after Octavian the grand nephew of Julius Caesar had conquered Egypt. History books claim she had committed suicide by taking in venom of the black cobra. But why would she commit such an act, which was very uncharacteristic of her? Some historians have suggested that Cleopatra committed suicide to avoid humiliation at the hands of Octavian. Octavian had claimed he will drag Cleopatra through the streets of Rome tying her behind his chariot, after the conquest of Egypt. May be this great queen wanted to have control over one thing, that is her death. There are some medical facts that contradict with Cleopatra committing suicide:
- People commit suicide when they are in great pain, or can’t stand being alive, or they would gain something after death. There is nothing in Cleopatra’s story that matches any of these motives.
- Suicide is generally committed by people having a family history of suicide. There is no such instance in Cleopatra’s lineage. They rather took lives.
- Only mentally fragile people commit suicide. Cleopatra fought all through her life. She overcame every loss with grace, so why would she break down?
Thus there is a lot to research about this history’s mystery, the death of Cleopatra. There are only two written sources depicting the death of Cleopatra. The prominent historians of the times Cassius Dio and Plutarch have written records on this event. Both these historians agree that she was imprisoned in her mausoleum on the night of her death. What they disagree on is the way snake was smuggled in. While Plutarch says it was brought in a basket, Cassius Dio writes it was brought in a pitcher. This again intensifies the mystery of Cleopatra’s death.
3D images of the underwater city of Cleopatra reveal another startling fact. The distance between the mausoleum (place where Cleopatra died) and the palace (where Octavian was) is only a few metres and it would take only a few minutes for Octavian to walk to the mausoleum. According to the account of Plutarch, Cleopatra sent a note to Octavian and when Octavian hurried to the mausoleum with his guards he found Cleopatra lying dead. So could snake venom be so potent enough to kill a full grown adult within few minutes? Snake experts feel that the venom of black cobra causes paralysis, it takes about 2 hours to kill a full grown human. So how could Octavian find Cleopatra dead with a few minutes? It is seen in most cases of suicide the weapon, which in this case will be the black Egyptian cobra, should be found on the spot. But the black cobra was found nowhere when Octavian and his soldiers came into the mausoleum.
If it was not suicide then what was it? Researchers have pointed their fingers on Octavian. So let us consider the intentions of Octavian from a crime investigator’s perspective.
- Opportunity: Having captured Egypt Octavian was the supreme command. He had the guards and palace premises under his command. Thus the crime scene was under his control.
- Ability: The Roman guards were always ready to follow his orders. Both the accounts of Plutarch and Cassius Dio were taken from Memoirs of Octavian. Thus he even had the power to control written records.
- Motive: Cleopatra was a popular ruler in Egypt. She was the bellowed of her people. Even after her defeat the people were not ready to give up. The news of her suicide would discourage them and make it smooth for the Roman Empire. Cleopatra also had a son with Julius Caesar. As Julius Caesar had no other direct descendant thus Cleopatra’s son was the legal heir to the throne. Many facts claim that Cleopatra’s son was later murdered by Octavian.
So there are enough evidences that suggest that Cleopatra was indeed murdered by Octavian with the help of his guards. Whole story was later made up to benefit Octavian. She might have been cheated or forced to consume the poison.