The immortal lovers of novels, plays and films, Antony and Cleopatra were reviled by contemporary Romans, but history has transformed them into tragic heroes. Somewhere between their vilification by Augustus and the judgement of a later age there were two vibrant people whose destinies were entwined after the assassination of Julius Caesar in March 44 BC. Mark Antony's reputation for recklessness, hard drinking, and womanising overshadowed his talents for leadership and astute administration. Cleopatra was determined to reconstitute the ancient empire of the Ptolemies, and Antony as legally appointed ruler of the east gave her much, but not all, of what she desired. Their association went far beyond territorial agreements. They had three children, and may have married according to Egyptian law. This blending of politics and sex led to the ultimate ruin of both, since their main rival Octavian-Augustus was able to portray Cleopatra as the arch enemy of Rome and Antony as her bewitched consort. His propaganda was effective, and in the end Antony's soldiers deserted him. When all was lost, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and were buried side by side in Alexandria.
Patricia Southern is an acknowledged expert on ancient Egypt and ancient Rome and the author of four other biographies, Mark Antony, Augustus, Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar, all published by Tempus. She lives in Manchester
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