XX. Lathyros — Kleopatra Berenike — Ptolemy the New Bacchus, or the Flute-Player — Ptolemy and Kleopatra — Expulsion of Kleopatra — Murder of Pompey — Kleopatra Again Queen — Her Visit to Rome — Caesar Assassinated — Kleopatra and Antony — Herod the Great — Intrigues of Octavianus Caesar — Battle of Aktium — Last Weeks at Alexandreia — Death of Antony and Kleopatra — Rise and Fall of Egypt with Kleopatra.
So Lathyros was successful. He had made the ancient capital of Egypt a ruin and a solitude. The Greek had crushed the Kopt, and the city from which kings had gone forth to drive usurpers from power, and to follow them into the heart of Asia, was humbled and utterly destroyed. But peace did not solace the conqueror. He must now prepare to reckon with Rome.
A threatened secession and forming of a new nation had shaken the foundations of the Republic. With its defeat the victorious General, Lucius Cornelius Sulla was chosen first consul. He had been elected by the influence of his soldiers. The opposition to him on the part of the Roman people made the holding of power for a long time uncertain. Meanwhile, the King of Pontos, Mithradates VI, had successfully resisted the encroachments of Rome, driven the Romans from Asia, and established his own power in Greece. Sulla hurried to recover the lost power and prestige, and laid siege to Athens.
In this emergency, he sent Lucullus as ambassador to Alexandreia, to ask Lathyros to assist him with his ships. The Egyptian king did not venture upon any choice between two powers so closely matched. He gave Lucullus a flattering reception, escorting him into the harbor with a fleet, entertaining him at the royal palace, introducing his companions to the philosophers of the New Academy, and making him a present of eighty talents of silver. Lucullus, however, returned his gifts, understanding the refusal which they implied. Mithradates was defeated shortly afterward, and Lathyros was only able by bribes and skillful diplomacy to placate the Roman Consul.
His daughter, Kleopatra Berenike, the widow of his brother Ptolemy Alexander, succeeded him. Alexander, her husband's son, however, claimed the throne. He had been placed by his grandmother in the island of Kos for safety, and made a prisoner by Mithradates, together with the chla or military clerk of Alexander the Great. Both afterward became the prize of Pompey. The young prince made a will, bequeathing the kingdom of Egypt to the Romans. Sulla was then Dictator, and quick to take advantage of such an opportunity. He sent him to Alexandreia with a command that he should be received as king, and that he should marry Berenike. He was to be joint sovereign with her, but nineteen days after the nuptials he poisoned her. His own retribution speedily followed. The royal guards, upon learning of the crime, dragged the assassin from the palace to the Gymnasium, and there put him to death.
It was now an opportunity for Alexandreia to establish a new dynasty and better government, but the city was commercial and not patriotic. It was proposed at Rome to take possession under the provisions of the will of the late king. But the nobles had been enriched by bribes from Alexandreia, and were in no haste to slay a goose that could yield them golden eggs. The money of Tyre belonging to the king was taken, and Egypt left.
Ptolemy Soter II (Lathyros) had left two sons, who were not considered legal heirs. The older of these, a boy hardly fourteen years old, was made king, by the title of Ptolemy Neos Dionysos, "the new Bacchus." He was also called in the hieroglyphics, Philopator and Philometor, and in an inscription at Philai, by all three names. He is better known by historians as Auletes, the "flute-player." He is said to have been more proud of his musical skill than of his acts as king for twenty-nine years.
The first endeavor of his reign was to procure recognition by the Roman senate. He borrowed money and spent large sums to purchase the votes of the senators, but only secured their abstinence from action. His career was a series of revellings. Demetrios, a Platonic philosopher, was haled before him for sobriety and compelled to save his life by getting drunk and dancing with cymbals in an unseemly costume.
The successors of Mithradates had enabled another dominion, the Pirate Empire, to obtain a formidable position in the Mediterranean. It included four hundred towns in its government, and was master of a thousand galleys. Large districts of the coast were forsaken by the inhabitants. Sulla had retired from public life, and his friend and partisan, Cneius Pompey, was now a political leader. He had conquered Mithradates, and was now commissioned to destroy the Pirate Empire.
Egypt was too weak to defend its own coasts, and Pompey sent Lentulus Marcellinus with a fleet in the thirteenth year of Ptolemy, to exterminate the marauders. He was successful, and when he became consul at Rome, he put the Ptolemaic eagle and thunderbolt on his coins. This practice was followed by his successors.
The conquest of Mithradates and the Pirates was the prelude to the dissemination of the worship of Mithras and the Secret Rites of the Grotto-Temple over the Roman provinces of Europe and Africa. It was the theology of Zoroaster in its origin, modified and assimilated to the systems of the West. It now superseded the Grecian and Italian divinities, and "in fact during the second and third centuries of the Empire, Serapis and Mithras may be said to have become the sole objects of worship, even in the remotest corners of the known world." (1) Nor did their influence then abate, for we find it in the various secret and religious observances of later periods, and in the notions scouted as magic, heresy and witchcraft, as the "wisdom-craft" was denominated. "There is very good reason to believe" says Mr. King, "that as in the East, the worship of Serapis was at first combined with Christianity, and gradually merged into it, with an entire change of name, not substance, carrying with it many of its notions and rites; so, in the West a similar influence was exerted by the Mithraic religion." Such observances as that of the twenty-fifth day of December, the natal day of the Persian divinity, and others more familiar, are illustrations.
Ptolemy Auletes had played a dual part in the war. He sent a golden crown to Pompey at Damascus, and made a secret treaty with Mithradates, agreeing to marry his daughter. He was able, however, to avoid detection.
The next year after the defeat of Mithradates, Pompey took Jerusalem. This was a blow to the Jews of Egypt, which lost them much influence.
The Roman senate, some years afterward, passed a law to make Cyprus a province of the Republic. Ptolemy, the brother of Auletes, was king of the island, and Cato the Censor was sent to dispossess him. Auletes made no protest. At this the Egyptians rose up and drove him from Alexandreia. He set out for Rome, and met Cato at Rhodes, who advised him to go back and make peace with his subjects. Auletes, however, went on to Rome and spent three years courting the senators.
The Alexandreians placed his two older daughters, Kleopatra Tryphsena and Berenike, on the throne, and sent an embassy to Rome, headed by Dion, the Platonic philosopher, to plead their cause. But the money of Auletes operated against them. Cicero and Caesar, who was then consul, took their part, and the senate acknowledged his title. The ambassadors were excluded from any hearing, and Dion was poisoned by a slave. Pompey was now eager to command an army to replace the king, but the Pontifex Maximus, or High Priest of Rome, declared from the Sibylline books that Rome should be the friend of Egypt, but might not help with an army. This disappointed an immense force of money-lenders, who depended for payment on his restoration.
Auletes, however, was able, with letters from Pompey, and the aid of Mark Antony and a bribe of seven and a half million dollars, by American computation, to procure the aid of Gabinius, the proconsul of Syria. During this period, the older Queen Kleopatra Nyptgena, had died. The Alexandreians invited Seleukos, the son of Antiokhos Gryphos and Selene, to take the crown and marry Berenike. He was a man so gross in his tastes and pleasures as to get the nickname of "scullion." He was said to have stolen the golden coffin of Alexander; and he so heartily disgusted the young queen that she caused him to be strangled five days after the nuptials. She then married Arkhelaos, the son of Mithradates of Pontos, and they reigned together two years
During this period, Gabinius had terminated the kingdom of Judea, and formed an aristocratic government, but the head of which was Hyrkanos, the high priest. He refused, however, to go out of his jurisdiction into Egypt, on any promises of Auletes. The latter, however, was able to obtain money from one of his numerous creditors, Rubirius Post-humos, on the assurance that all would be repaid in Alexandreia.
Gabinius then marched to Egypt. He was accompanied by a Jewish army sent by Hyrkanos, and commanded by Antipater the Idumsean, father of Herod. Mark Antony was in command of the Roman cavalry, and defeated the Egyptian forces at Pelusium. Auletes was then able to enter his capital, and was about to begin a massacre, when Antony interfered. Gabinius put Arkhelaos and Berenike to death, and returned in haste to Syria. He had now to meet his trial before the Roman senate, and it required the influence of Pompey and Caesar together to save him from death.
Rubirius was appointed paymaster-general at Alexandreia, but before he could repay himself, Auletes removed him. He had violated a law by lending money, and he was obliged now to lose it and stand trial as an offender.
Universal lawlessness existed over the devoted country. It was as Italy had become under Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Men who had been banished for crime, fugitives from justice, run-away slaves, ruined debtors, renegade soldiers, and freebooters of all kinds, came in from everywhere. They could be enrolled in the army and then be beyond all law and discipline. Crime was unpunished, and the robbers acquired a kind of village organization of their own, like that of the dakoits of India. They were under the orders of their chief, and a person who had been robbed could make application to him and receive his property again, upon payment of a fourth of its value.
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos, the royal flute-player, died in the twenty-ninth year of his reign, fifty-one years before the present era, unhonored and unremembered, except for folly and vices. He left two sons and two daughters, all of them more noted in history than himself. The sons were called after the dynastic appellation, Ptolemy; the daughters were the famous Kleopatra, then sixteen years old, and Arsinoe. He bequeathed the kingdom to Kleopatra and the older son, who were to be married, and asked the Roman senate to be guardian. Pompey, who was then sole consul, was appointed tutor to the king. Three years after this arrangement, the Roman world was in war. Julius Caesar, in defiance of the decree of the senate, crossed the River Rubicon, and found himself master in Rome. Pompey, the consuls, senators and nobility generally had fled to Greece.
During the final struggle for the supremacy, the Alexandreians sent sixty ships of war to the aid of Pompey. But Pothinos, the minister, in disregard of the will of Auletes and its confirmation by the Roman senate, expelled Kleopatra from the throne, and proclaimed the young prince as Ptolemy Dionysos II, King of Egypt.
Kleopatra made her escape immediately to Syria and raised an army, with which she set out to recover her throne, encountering the Egyptian forces at Pelusium. Here the occurrences of the greater world arrested her progress. Pompey had been defeated by Caesar at Pharsalia in Thessaly, and now came with his wife Cornelia to Egypt, where he had every claim of gratitude. But the Council of Ptolemy caused only to propitiate the man who had won, and the members were capable of any treachery, however base. Accordingly, as the galley of Pompey approached Mount Kasios, Akhillas, the Egyptian General, and Septimius, who commanded the Roman troops in Egypt, met him as friends, received him into their boat, and then assassinated him as he landed. His head was carried to young Ptolemy, who, with heartless indifference, gazed upon the face of the man who had been his father's sincerest friend.
Caesar followed with less than four thousand men in pursuit of Pompey, but found himself anticipated by the assassins. He entered Alexandreia as a Consul, preceded by the Roman lictors, with their bundles of rods. The city had been in disorder hard to repress, and it was made more imconquerable by these manifestations, that a master had come. He was assailed by the mob, and for days was detained on shore, by adverse winds, in imminent danger, and unable to get away.
He put on a bold front as a sovereign in full command, and ordered both armies to be disbanded. Pothinos sent a secret message to Akhillas to bring his army from Pelusium to Alexandreia, while Ptolemy, under the eye of Caesar, transmitted an order to remain where it was. His messenger was assassinated at the camp.
Kleopatra was with her forces near Pelusium. Relying upon personal influence rather than on formal negotiations, she sailed privately to Alexandreia. She then resorted to artifice to evade the sentinels around the palace. Rolling herself in a carpet, she suffered herself to be carried like a bag of goods into the presence of the Roman Imperator. It was enough. Caesar had before sought to enforce the will of her father, and to empower her to reign over Egypt jointly with her brother; now she reigned over Caesar himself.
He had, however, already made enemies of the Alexandreians, by exacting from them the immense debt which Auletes had incurred to him while sojourning at Rome. Pothinos, the treasurer, did all that lay in his power to make the demands harassing. When Akhillas arrived from Pelusium with twenty-two thousand soldiers, Caesar, with less than four thousand, found himself in a woeful strait. He shut himself up in the Brukheion by the harbor, taking the two royal brothers, their sister Arsinoe, and the Treasurer Pothinos with him as hostages for his own safety.
It was easy to resist the attack, but it became necessary to burn part of the galleys. The fire extended to the docks, thence to the neighboring buildings, and to the Museum itself. Seven hundred thousand rolls were in the Library, and perished in the flames. Ptolemy Soter himself had begun the collection, and his successors, however unworthy many of them were, had taken pride in adding their contributions. Caesar, though himself an author and lover of literature, has left no utterance of regret at the sight of this destruction of the recorded learning of ages. But ancient conquerors had always sought to make sure their conquests by destroying the literature of the conquered peoples. The Avesta, the Hebrew Scriptures, the records of Karthage, Italy and Spain, all perished by the torch.
Caesar soon learned to distrust his hostages. Arsinoe escaped to the camp of Akhillas, and Pothinos gave information to him of the weakness of the Roman forces. The treacherous eunuch was at once put to death for his perfidy.
The Alexandreians were about to make another attack, when a quarrel broke out between Akhillas and the Princess Arsinoe. The General was murdered, and she became mistress of the army, and for the time sovereign over Egypt. She was not yet eighteen, but she exhibited a soldier's energy. She placed Ganymedes in command and ordered to pump sea water into the cisterns that supplied the Brukheion. Caesar met this condition by the digging of wells. His ships were next attacked, but were victorious. His attempt to capture the island of Pharos was unsuccessful, and he came near losing his life by drowning. His scarlet cloak, the mark of his rank, fell into the possession of the Alexandreians, and was exhibited as a trophy.
But as a ruler, the princess soon became obnoxious for her cruelty. The Alexandreians offered a truce and asked for their king. Caesar trusted the professions of Ptolemy, and let him go to the Egyptian army to take possession of the throne. The prince affected unwillingness, shedding tears copiously, but no sooner had he got away than he turned all his energies to dislodge Caesar from the Brukheion.
About this time Mithradates, the king of Pergamos, came to Egypt with an army to the help of Caesar. He captured Pelusium and marched to Memphis. The Jews of Heliopolis took arms to oppose him, but Antipater arriving with more troops from Judea, sent by Hyrkanos, they changed sides. Ptolemy then marched from Alexandreia, but Caesar came to the assistance of Mithradates. Several battles took place, near the head of the Delta, and finally the Alexandreians were routed. Ptolemy was making his escape by ship, but it was sunk by the weight of the fugitives, and he was drowned.
This brought the war to an end, and when Caesar returned from the battle, the Alexandreians met him, bearing the images of the gods in procession. He took possession of the city and proceeded to arrange the affairs of Egypt in conformity to the terms of the will of the late King Auletes. Kleopatra was made queen, with her younger brother Ptolemy Nekteros for a colleague. He had been chosen Dictator at Rome, but for the last six months of his stay he refrained from writing to any one there, and in the meanwhile Mark Antony exercised the powers of the office.
He finally set out by way of the sea-coast, and finished the war against Pharnakes, or Phana-Ka, the son of Mithradates of Pontos. Its speedy completion was expressed by his famous despatch: "Veni, Vidi, Vici."
On his return to Rome, he celebrated a triumph. He had brought with him the Princess Arsinoe, and he now exhibited her at the procession in chains, following his car with other prisoners. There was a giraffe in the train, along with other spoils of conquest, the first animal of the kind ever beheld in Rome. The statue of the god of the River Nile was also in the procession in the guise of a captive.
Kleopatra came immediately afterward to Rome with her brother, and Ptolemy Caesar, her young son. She asked to be acknowledged at Rome as at Alexandreia, as the wife of Caesar, and her son as his heir. He entertained her as a guest in his house.
At this time he was engaged in projects to consolidate the provinces and to extend systematic administration to them. The city of Rome was still a Republic, with democratic forms of government, and he was its chief magistrate by popular suffrage; but the proconsulships were military despotisms. Hence, while he was simply consul and first citizen at Rome, he was Imperator with autocratic powers elsewhere. His assuming of the style and trappings of imperial authority created apprehension among his own partisans, and led to his assassination. He was about to conduct an expedition into the East, when his career was thus abruptly terminated.
Whatever expectations Kleopatra may have entertained were entirely dissipated by this catastrophe. She now directed her endeavors to procure the recognition of the young Ptolemy Caesar as her colleague. The application, however, was unsuccessful, and she returned to Alexandreia.
The Roman world was now embroiled in civil strife. Brutus was master of Greece, and Cassius Longinus had possession of Asia. Decimus Brutus was appointed over Cisalpine Gaul, and Mark Antony attempted to exercise supreme power at Rome. But Octavianus Caesar, with the aid of Cicero, procured a vote of the senate, declaring Antony an enemy to the Republic; and then, having defeated him in battle, entered into an agreement to unite and grasp the supreme authority. Octavianus was elected consul, and a commission of the triumvirate was appointed to revise the government. It began by a proscription in which each delivered his nearest supporters for victims, one of whom was Cicero himself. Sextus Pompey, who had sought to be made one of the triumvirs, was put off with a promise of the consulship, the supreme command in the Mediterranean and the possession of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Akhaia. The republican party in Rome, having been put down, the war was prosecuted against Brutus and Cassius in the East, ending in their defeat at Philippi, and with it the final overthrow of republicanism.
A contest of this character did not leave it safe for a client country to remain neutral. Yet at the same time it was dangerous to affiliate with the losing side. Kleopatra was therefore in a position of extreme peril to herself. She resorted to several expedients to extricate herself. Her brother Ptolemy had become of age, and demanded a share in the government. He would not only interfere with her ambitions for her own son, but he was likely to embroil the country unwisely in this conflict of the masters. The perplexity was resolved by his death, and she was left to meet the exigencies as she was able. Sextus Pompey had full control with his fleets over the sea-coast and commerce of Egypt, and she was obliged to propitiate his favor.
Then Dolabella (2) sent Allienus to her for soldiers to help recover Syria from Cassius. He was permitted to take four Roman legions that had been left by Julius Caesar to hold Egypt, but he added them to the force that Cassius had assembled against Antony. Serapion also, who was the Egyptian governor of Cyprus, aided Cassius with his ships. Kleopatra herself likewise prepared a fleet, but before it was ready to sail, the battle of Philippi had been fought, and the republicans utterly crushed. It was necessary, therefore, under these circumstances, that she should give an account of her action to the conquerors. Antony, accordingly, having marched through Greece and Asia Minor to receive the submission of the provinces, sent orders to her to come to Tarsus.
Nevertheless, it was hardly as a culprit that she was summoned. The man who had been Julius Caesar's most trusted lieutenant was no stranger to the Egyptian queen, and his messenger made it clear to her that she had no peril to apprehend. Her power of pleasing surpassed the arts that are usually at disposal. She was twenty-four years old, beautiful and intellectual, having the accomplishments in perfection that attract the fancy, and win admiration. She was pure Greek in form and character, the features regular, the hair wavy, the nose aquiline, the eyes deeply set, the forehead arched, and the mouth full and eloquent.
She had been carefully instructed in every department of learning. She was proficient in music and an accomplished linguist. She was of course skilled in Greek and Latin, but not less so in Arabic, Aramaean, Persian and Ethiopian. She had no need of an interpreter. She was also a scholar in physical science, and deeply learned in the philosophemes of the School of Alexandreia. In short, she seemed to have combined in her mental endowments, all the gifts that her ancestor, the first Ptolemy, had contemplated to be brought to perfection by the institutions and facilities which he had provided for instruction. If with all these her personal charms were more regarded and longer remembered, it must be attributed to the temper of the period in which she lived, and the persons with whom she was obliged to associate. If her attractions were superior, so also was her talent. She was born to rule.
Her expedition to meet the Imperator at his tribunal has been often described in glowing colors. It would seem to have resembled the advent of an Aphrodite, gift of the waves, attended by her graces. More correctly, however, it was the endeavor of a queen to procure a longer term of existence for her realm, and of a mother ready for any sacrifice to make sure the fortunes of her son. It is superfluous to discourse upon the prodigality exhibited in festive entertainments, or the glamour which was about her, as matters of wonderment. Women were the peace-makers of former times. They went on embassies to supplicate kings for mercy to their families and people, or benefits for their country. The visits of the wife of Nimarata to the Court of Piankhi, of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, of Judith to the camp of Holofernes, and of the mother and sister of Coriolanus to the Volscian camp are examples.
Kleopatra, like the first Cassar, also came, saw and overcame. Antony was eager to obey her will. The ambition of her sister had imperilled her throne, and Antony caused Arsinoe to be put to death in the temple of the Amazonian goddess at Ephesus. After a brief campaign in Syria, he went to Alexandreia, and there set up his imperial court. The devotion which he and Kleopatra manifested toward each other was not far unlike that of the lovers in the Hebrew Book of Canticles. Antony was passionately fond of luxury, pastimes and magnificent display; and she was diligent to gratify his tastes. He, likewise, after the manner of the Khalif Harun at Bagdad, would traverse the streets of Alexandreia by night in quest of adventures, and she accompanied him in the dress of a servant. Iulus, his son, came to Egypt and was received as one of the royal family.
Fulvia, the wife of Antony, was endeavoring to guard his interests at Rome. She proposed to marry her daughter to Octavianus, but he refused and war ensued. Antony hurried home, but did not arrive till his wife and brother had been driven from the city. Fulvia died about this time, and the two chiefs were soon reconciled. Antony married Octavia, the sister of his colleague, and the triumvirate was again established.
The Parthians took advantage of this state of affairs to invade Palestine. They captured Jerusalem, carrying the priest-king Hyrkanos to Babylon and placing Antigonos, his nephew, in power. Herod, who was betrothed to Mariamne, the daughter of Hyrkanos, immediately set out for Rome, to procure the appointment of her brother Aristobulos to the kingdom.
Alexandreia was on the highway of navigators from the East to Italy, and the young Idumasan stopped there. Kleopatra was impressed by his appearance and ability, and endeavored to secure him for herself. She pointed out the fact that it was the dangerous season for shipping on the Mediterranean, and that affairs in Italy were in inextricable disorder. If he would remain in Egypt, she offered him the command of her army. Herod, however, continued his voyage, encountering no little danger and delays. He was shipwrecked, barely escaping with his life, and was obliged to build a ship at Rhodes with which to prosecute his journey. He arrived at Rome at a fortunate period. Calvin was first consul, and the triumvirs had composed their quarrel. They received him cordially, for his father had served them both, and they were eager to oblige each other. On learning his errand and the state of affairs in Judea, the senate was assembled, and at the suggestion of Antony the kingdom was bestowed upon Herod, and Antigonos declared an enemy of the Republic.
Antony set out for the East with Octavia, spending the winter at Athens. Octavianus, who was now planning to uproot both his colleagues, began a quarrel, and his sister returned to Rome to conciliate the two. Antony conducted a campaign against the Parthians, and she accompanied him as far as Korkyra or Korfu, in the Ionian Sea. She then returned to Rome, and Antony proceeded to Syria, where he was joined by Kleopatra, with soldiers and money. She obtained from him in return the former possessions of Egypt, Cyprus and the Kyrenaika, and also Phoenicia. Herod, aided by Sosios, the Roman general, had recovered Judea from the Parthians, but he appointed Ananel, a priest of the former lineage, to the primacy. He was afterward compelled to restore it to Aristobulos, the brother of his queen. Upon the assassination of the young pontiff at his instigation, Kleopatra made it the pretext to call him to account, hoping thereby to acquire the kingdom for Egypt. Antony, however, gave her Hollow Syria, and parts of Judea, and Arabic Nabatse. She afterward accompanied him as far as the Euphrates on his expedition against Armenia, and was visited by Herod on the way back, to farm the revenues of these countries. He was on the point of putting her to death, but his friends dissuaded him, insisting that he would thereby make an enemy of Antony, and procure his own destruction. He declared in justification that she was endeavoring to persuade him to compromise himself with her, in order that she might embroil him with Antony and obtain his kingdom. However, their counsels prevailed, and he conducted her on her way to Egypt.
Kleopatra was by no means unmindful of the glory of Alexandreia. She repaired as well as she was able, the injuries sustained from the war against Caesar, and also obtained from Antony the famous library of Pergamos, founded by Attalos and Eumenes II, exceeding two hundred thousand parchment rolls. Alexandreia thus continued in its exalted rank as metropolis of learning, while Pergamos retained only the fame which it derived from the famous temple of Æsculapius.
Octavianus had not relaxed an endeavor in his purpose to become sole master of the Roman world. He conquered Sextus Pompey and evicted Lepidus from the triumvirate and government of Africa. He now perpared for the final conflict with Antony himself. He first commanded his sister to repudiate her husband for his profligacy and infidelity. He got possession of a will purporting to be that of Antony, which had been deposited in Rome, broke the seals and read it first to the senate, and afterward to the Roman multitude. In it Antony desired that his body after death, should be carried to Egypt and buried by the side of Kleopatra. He endeavored to create the impression that Antony would give the Republic to the Egyptian queen, and transfer the seat of empire from the banks of the Tiber to the city on the Nile.
He was successful with his perfidy. The Romans would permit any degree of profligacy, but they were tenacious in regard to marriage alliances with persons of foreign nationalities. A decree of the senate was obtained divesting Antony of his authority and a declaration of war was issued against Kleopatra. Antony had just been elected consul, but he was not inaugurated.
He was not able to cope with the cunning of his rival, and the net had been too carefully woven to be disentangled. He sent an order to Octavia at Rome to leave his house as being no more his wife. She sorrowfully obeyed. She had faithfully labored to preserve peace, but she was weak against the machinations of her brother, and the wayward acts of her husband.
Antony returned victorious from Armenia and his triumph at Alexandreia was signalized by the presence of the captive king following behind his car. He was now Imperator of the East, and proceeded to make a disposition of his provinces. Calling an assembly of Alexandreians at the Gymnasium, and seating himself and Kleopatra on two golden thrones, he proclaimed her with her son Ptolemy Caesar as her colleague, queen over Egypt, Cyprus, the Kyre-naika and Syria. He also declared Ptolemy, the son, the true and lawful heir of Julius Caesar. To her sons by himself he gave the title of "Kings, the Sons of Kings," and he also bestowed provinces upon them. Ptolemy, the older of them, was appointed king of Phoenicia, Syria, and Kilikia; and Alexander, the younger, received Armenia, Media and Parthia, when it should be conquered.
The royal personages were all apparelled in costumes corresponding to their respective countries. Kleopatra wore the sacred robe and was styled the "Later Isis." Ptolemy had a long cloak and slippers, with a bonnet encircled by a diadem; and Alexander was attired in a Medic garb and tiara. Antony himself carried an oriental cimiter, and was crowned as a king and Imperator greater than kings.
The coins of this period commemorated these events. Sosios, who was then consul at Rome, issued one with the head of Antony on one side, and the Egyptian Eagle and sceptre on the other, and bearing the inscription: "A Third Time Consul," in Latin. At Alexandreia the coins of the Sons bore the names of their father and mother; and the others had the heads of Antony and Kleopatra, with the inscriptions: "Antony, third time autocrat of the Romans," and "Kleopatra, the Later Goddess." On the coins of Antioch the royal pair were named together.
The lines were now drawn, and preparations were made for war. Two years were spent in the work. Octavianus recruited his forces from Italy, Gaul, Spain and Carthage, eighty thousand infantry and twelve thousand horse, with two hundred and fifty ships. Antony collected his from Thrace, Asia Minor, Egypt and Africa, a hundred thousand foot, twelve thousand horse, and five hundred ships.
Kleopatra was sanguine of victory. It was her favorite asseveration: "As surely as I shall issue my decrees from the Roman Capitol." But the voyage to the Adriatic was no excursion of a goddess-queen attended by cupids and graces on her galley, and the event was no conquest of an Imperator. The fleets of the rival chiefs encountered each other on the second of September, in a little bay of the Adriatic, near the temple of Actium. For a time, the prospects were bright for Antony, when panic seized the queen. She turned her galley and fled from the conflict, not stopping till she had reached the African shore. Antony followed. The victory which was in his grasp was abandoned. His forces on land greatly outnumbered the others, and it was difficult to convince them that their Imperator had deserted them. Immediately on learning this they changed masters, part to join the army of Octavianus, and part to return home.
The fugitives landed in Libya. Kleopatra went on to Alexandreia. She had recovered from her panic, but Antony brooded in moody despair. All was not lost, the queen insisted. She endeavored to effect negotiations with different princes. But they had taken the part of the conqueror.
Herod of Judea had owed his throne to Antony, and been both profuse in gifts and abject in professions of devotion. He was of a jealous temper, and had long apprehended that Kleopatra might undermine him and deprive him of his crown. He even contemplated putting her to death in his jealousy, but feared that it would involve him in the very calamity which he dreaded. Now, however, he cut loose from his benefactor, and hastened to Rhodes to meet Octavianus, and swear anew allegiance. He afterward accompanied the Roman army through Syria, entertaining the officers and men, and "made a plentiful provision of water for them when they were to march as far as Pelusium, through a dry country, which he did also on their return; nor were there any necessaries wanting to the army."
The defection of Herod was the one thing desired, to assure the destruction of Antony. Other princes copied his example. The queen, however, did not yet give up all. She proposed, likewise, that if Egypt could not be held, to go with her fleet through the Suez Canal to some country, like Punt, to which the power of Rome did not extend.
Antony had remained in a little fortress near the harbor of Alexandreia, in a state of abject prostration. Here word came to him that his allies had abandoned him, and that his army had joined Octavianus. He came immediately from his retreat and joined the queen. It was, however, an adding of his impotency to her burden.
As Antony and Kleopatra were the losers in this conflict, the story of their fall has been told for the conquerors and colored as they might require. Much that has been written and repeated is exaggerated and even untrue. In drama, it is common to do this; and even the tragedies of Shakespeare have perverted history.
The round of costly festivals and shows at Alexandreia was again revived. It was in accordance with a policy to create an atmosphere of hopefulness. Unfortunately, however, the population of Northern Egypt was not homogeneous nor even Egyptian, but a conglomerate of Greeks and Asiatics, traders and nomads, with little attachment to the soil. It had, therefore, neither the devotion to Egypt, characteristic of the natives, as a religion, nor even common patriotism. It mattered little to such men what was the government or by whom it was administered.
The Roman army finally reached Pelusium, and its Greek commander surrendered it without a struggle, falsely asserting that he did so by the command of the queen. Other garrisons made a feeble show of resistance, but it was not long before the invaders were in front of Alexandreia. Then Antony sailed out, and routed the cavalry. The old master of horse in Roman armies had still the remains of former force. It was told, that on his return from battle, he praised the bravery of a soldier to Kleopatra, and that the soldier received a rich present from her, and immediately deserted to Octavianus. The next morning Antony renewed the conflict. His fleet and cavalry abandoned him, leaving the infantry to suffer a rout. Octavianus had succeeded better with his gold than with his soldiers.
He endeavored to effect a negotiation with the queen, but his overtures included the condition that Antony should be put to death. At the same time he caused the word to be carried to Antony, that such a negotiation was in progress. He knew the temper of his rival and hoped by exciting his jealousy to stimulate him to a desperate act. He dared not execute Antony or exhibit him as a prisoner in Rome. Antony might seek to punish the supposed duplicity of Kleopatra, but he would not be willing to survive her. Thus the knotty problem would be solved.
While receiving messengers from Octavianus, the queen was engaged in preparing for herself a funeral pyre worthy of an Oriental monarch. She had erected a tower near the temple of Isis, and brought to it her treasures, jewels, clothing and other valuables, and had stored it with flax and other combustibles. Torches were placed in every corner ready for lighting. She then retired to it, and sent to Antony her farewell message. He, at once, in an agony of grief, plunged his sword into his breast. The messenger hurried back to the queen, who immediately sent to bring him to her. He was borne to the tower, and Kleopatra with her two maids drew him by cords to the upper window. A few words were uttered and he expired.
Octavianus found little resistance in taking possession of Alexandreia. He immediately gave orders to seize the person of the queen. Her sister, Arsinoe had been led through the streets of Rome in chains to grace the triumph of Julius Caesar, and it would be a greater achievement now to exhibit Queen Kleopatra herself in like humiliation. Cornelius Callus, whom he made proconsul, was sent to take her alive. While he was holding conversation with her, three soldiers scaled the tower, and coming stealthily behind her, snatched the dagger from her hand.
At the same time, Octavianus called the Greek citizens of Alexandreia together in the Gymnasium, and promised them amnesty. He also took the three children of Antony and Kleopatra into his charge, but the unfortunate King Ptolemy, the son of Julius Cssar, whom his perfidious Greek tutor betrayed, as he was fleeing to Ethiopia, was remorselessly put to death. The man who aspired to the name and inheritance of Caesar, esteemed it necessary to have all rivals of near relationship out of his way. He was too selfish to let even gratitude stand in his way. Once Cicero had stood up intrepidly for him when he was unable to maintain his own cause, and he, a few months later gave the orator up to be murdered.
He now endeavored to influence Kleopatra. He visited her in her chamber and gave her leave to bury the body of Antony. He strove to prevent her from doing violence to herself, promising her honorable treatment, and threatening the lives of her children. But Kleopatra knew that little confidence could be given to a man who knew no law but his own ambition, who had abandoned his own friends after they had saved his life, and who had scrupled at no perfidy or intrigue, to undermine Antony. She was also aware that her children would be safer in his hands if she should die.
Her plans were made accordingly. As though to declare herself still a queen she attired herself in her robes of state, put on the crown of Egypt surmounted by the royal asp, and then met her death. By what means she died is not known.
So she passed away, Kleopatra, the "Glory of the Fatherland." Perhaps with better conditions, her career would have better justified her name. She had the energy and persuasiveness which characterized Manon Roland, the sagacity and eloquence of Aspasia, the positiveness of Maria Theresa. With the means which the times permitted to her she accomplished results that needed only permanence to have won for her effusive praise. She lived thirty-nine years, and reigned twenty-two, seven of them as the spouse of Antony. When she became queen, Egypt was but a province, and its kings but effigies kept in position by Rome. With her it became once more a sovereignty, and Alexandreia was the seat of empire. None of the old warrior-kings, Osirtasen, Thothmes, or Rameses, accomplished more. Unfortunately for her, she had no partner in her power, who was equal to the exigency. She was renowned for luxury, but with her it was like a weapon, or means to an end; with Antony it was the end, the boon for what had been already endured. She failed in a moment of panic, as soldiers often do, but recovered; he sank abjectly, like one broken down by calamity. The more she made of him an imperial ruler, the less able he became to command an army. Perhaps she might have saved Egypt, but he became in the end a clog and dead weight upon her energy. Nevertheless, she was faithful to him to the last; if unable to live with him, she was resolute to die with him.
Octavianus did not overturn her statues with those of Antony, but accepted a thousand talents for permitting them to stand. He, however, assumed to be her successor, taking for himself the title of "King of Egypt," and dating documents from the first year of his reign. He placed the government in the hands of Gallus, a man of inferior rank, and forbade Roman senators from visiting Egypt except by his special permission. He set out to build a new capital instead of Alexandreia, calling it Nikopolis, the "City of the Conqueror." He carried the twin orphans, Alexander and Kleopatra, to Rome and exhibited them in chains in his triumphal procession, together with the statue of their mother. He likewise took the double crown of Egypt, the crown jewels and other regalia, and showed them to the multitude. He also removed statues and the obelisks of Thothmes IV and Psametikh, and looted so much money that the rate of interest fell in Italy and land rose in price.
But the Egyptians themselves, the bodies of their kings, and their religion, he treated with contempt; and he gave the people no more consideration than was extended to nomad Skyths and Arabs. Tribute was exacted in fourfold amount; all the gold of the country was taken, and twenty million bushels of wheat were carried annually to Rome to feed the idle populace.
A few temples were built, and the priests continued their functions. The inscriptions give the Emperor the same titles that were borne by the Ptolemies and native kings.
Egyptian rites and theology were also carried to Rome, and adopted by many of the people in preference to the lifeless statue worship which was only permitted to Roman patrician families. The Egyptian Eagle and thunderbolt appeared henceforth on Roman coins. So general was the prevalence of the Egyptian influence that the Emperor passed a law necessary to forbid the Egyptian rites in Rome. They permeated all the later faiths.
Yet though she, the Glory of the Fatherland, thus passed away, and her dominion became the prize of strangers, there still remained her monument for centuries, — the Library and School of Philosophy which the ancestor of her line had founded, and which she restored and embellished. Alexandreia was the home of learning and culture till the violence of religious jealousy, and the torch of incendiary fanaticism accomplished the fell work of Apollyon the Destroyer.
Such was the fate of Egypt and her Dynasties.
1. Rev. C. W. King, "The Gnostics and their Remains." (return to text)
2. Cornelius Dolabella was the husband of Tullia, the daughter of Cicero, but her father required them to be divorced on account of his profligracy. He acted with the republicans after the death of Caesar, but Mark Antony, during his brief term of supreme power at Rome, was able to bring him back into his party. (return to text)