Cleopatra and Antony: ‘Till Death Do Us Part

Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae : Painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Everyone can recall the famous words “‘Till Death Do Us Part.” For most, such vows are given at the beginning of a marriage that anticipates a long and happy life together. However, in the case Cleopatra and Mark Antony, it was a completely different story. Their marriage was brief and they had far less time together than they most likely wanted to have.

From the very beginning, Cleopatra was smart, cunning, witty, and independent, and most of all she was a natural leader. She knew how to get things done, and as the Queen of Egypt, this was a crucial skill to have. She also knew what to do in order to gain what she wanted. Of course, when it came to Antony, it was no different. Antony was a Roman politician and general, and Cleopatra knew that she wanted him and she knew just how to get him.

The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra : Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema | 1883 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Cleopatra and Antony met in 42 B.C.E., shortly after the death of Julius Caesar, who was also a former lover of Cleopatra. Not too long after Caesar’s death, many Romans started to suspect that Cleopatra had played a role in Caesar’s death, and among them was Antony. Being overly suspicious of her, Antony demanded to have a meeting with Cleopatra, and although she agreed to meet with him, she was making plans of her own on the side. When Cleopatra arrived in Tarsus, she came on a perfumed ship decorated with purple sails, she dressed as Venus, the goddess of love, and she welcomed Antony as Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Cleopatra “played him like an instrument,” so much that she was able to persuade him to come to her quarters for a feast.1 Cleopatra did things how she wanted to, and a prime example was her meeting with Antony. Soon after this encounter, Antony became completely taken by her; he was “amazed at Cleopatra’s wit as well as her good looks, and became her captive” as though he was a young boy in love.2 Not too long after, they became lovers. By that time, however, Antony had become the joint ruler of the Roman Empire, and his co-ruler, Octavian, was out to get him.3

Cleopatra and Antony, now lovers, were very open about their relationship. The two did not try to cover up or deny their relationship. Cleopatra invited Antony to banquets, whether it was political or not, and they both liked to play around with each other, even making bets about silly things. In one case, Cleopatra told Antony that she could spend 10,000,000 sesterces on a single banquet, which was an enormous sum. Curious, Antony wanted to see how she could possibly do it. He was skeptical about it, so he decided to bet that she could not do it. The next day, Cleopatra set before him a fine banquet. As the last course was being served, the servants put before her a single vessel with vinegar, making Antony even more curious as to what on earth she would do. She took a pearl earring and dropped it into the vinegar, and when it was completely melted, she swallowed it. Plancus, who was umpiring the bet, declared that Antony had lost the bet.4 Cleopatra loved to show off and prove just how smart and cunning she could really be. After losing the bet, Antony could not help but be even more captivated by Cleopatra, especially because of her brains. With every little thing that she did, when she showed him her smarts and cunning abilities, he grew more and more in infatuated with her.

Antony and Cleopatra (1891) | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By 40 B.C.E., while their relationship progressed, Octavian was making plans to destroy Antony. In order to give him another reason for hating Antony, Octavian was making an arrangement that he knew Antony would mess up. Octavian arranged for his sister, Octavia, to marry Antony. This supposedly would create a better bond between the two rulers, but Octavian knew that Antony would end up leaving Octavia for Cleopatra. In fact, he counted on it.5 And Antony did marry Octavia, but it was only for the sake of saving his relationship with Octavian. He really wanted to make it work so as not to have a war in the future. However, his efforts did not pay off, and when Octavia bore a girl from Antony, Cleopatra bore twins from him as well. In 32 B.C.E., Antony ended up leaving Octavia after all, choosing to be with Cleopatra. Octavian knew that Antony would eventually leave his sister, and everything seemed to be working according to his plan.

When Antony left Octavia, he went to Cleopatra, and they continued their romance in public, both of them free from any other romantic entanglements.6  They lived together, and they even had children together. They eventually even went on to become married, although some scholars dispute this, such as Sheila Ager. But there is no doubt that they lived as though they were married. In the words of the classical scholar Ager, Antony treated Cleopatra, “with whom he had long been madly in love…as his wife.”7 In any relationship, it is natural to bear children, and in the case of Antony and Cleopatra, it was no different. The couple had three children in total together, their names being Cleopatra Selene II, Alexander Helios, and Ptolemy Philadelphus. Antony even ended up giving the throne of Armenia to his son Alexander Helios.8

Rare coin of Antony and Cleopatra that was offered for sale in 2010 dating from 32 B.C. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Their happiness did not last long, however, due to Octavian’s wrath and power. Octavian realized the extent of influence that Cleopatra held over Antony, and he used that fully to his advantage.9 He was still trying to steal the power that Antony had, and he began to put a new plan in motion that would lead to a war and ultimately, to the demise of the two lovers. Octavian produced a document that many scholars now believe to have been a forgery. Octavian claimed that the document was Antony’s will. It stated that, in the event of Antony’s death, he would leave his part of Rome’s possessions in Cleopatra’s hands. Of course, when the Roman Senate heard this, they became outraged and declared war against both Antony and Cleopatra.10

In an attempt to win the war against Octavian, Antony took his forces to meet Octavian’s. The Battle of Actium then took place in 31 B.C.E. Antony was supported fully by Cleopatra. However, they lost the battle and the two lovers were forced to flee to Alexandria, Egypt.11 Eventually, despite all of their efforts, Octavian’s troops caught up with them in Alexandria. But Antony decided that he did not want to surrender, be captured, or be killed by Octavian’s troops, and that he would rather die his own way on his own terms. He ended up stabbing himself with his sword, committing suicide.

The Death of Cleopatra | Painting by Juan Luna | 1881 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, Cleopatra was captured by Octavian, who was planning to take her back to Rome as his prisoner. Cleopatra, being the strong-willed woman that she was, had other plans than to become a slave to Octavian, so she made arrangements for her own suicide. She had an asp, a snake with poisonous venom, “carried in to her with the figs and lay hidden under the leaves in the basket.”12 Once she had the asp, she clutched the hissing snake, mouth wide open, fangs visible, and then she pressed it to her breast, her throat muscles contracted in a vicious spasm, and eventually she died from the bite.13

Their romance may not have been long, only lasting from 42 to 31 B.C.E., It may not have been the type that everyone dreams of, and all of the events that occurred during their time together, especially at the Battle of Actium, may have led to their deaths. But it was a strong romance nonetheless.14 Cleopatra and Antony are remembered as a couple, “perhaps the most famous lovers from history.”15 The two lover’s tales are still told to this day and will continue to be told for generations to come.

  1. Ancient Civilizations Reference Library, 2000, s.v. “Cleopatra,” by Judson Knight and Stacy A. McConnell.
  2. Appian, The Civil Wars (Penguin Classics, 1996), 391.
  3. Ancient Civilizations Reference Library, 2000, s.v. “Cleopatra,” by Judson Knight and Stacy A. McConnell.
  4. Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Younger to Laberius, c. AD 95, in Cleopatra.
  5. Ancient Civilizations Reference Library, 2000, s.v. “Cleopatra,” by Judson Knight and Stacy A. McConnell.
  6. Sheila L. Ager, “Marriage or Mirage? The Phantom Wedding of Cleopatra and Antony,” Classical Philology 108, no. 2 (April 2013): 141. Ager writes: “No one disputes the existence of the private relationship between Antony and Cleopatra.”
  7. Sheila L. Ager, “Marriage or Mirage? The Phantom Wedding of Cleopatra and Antony,” Classical Philology 108, no. 2 (April 2013): 144.
  8. Sheila L. Ager, “Marriage or Mirage? The Phantom Wedding of Cleopatra and Antony,” Classical Philology 108, no. 2 (April 2013): 144.
  9. Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007, s.v. “Cleopatra,” by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik.
  10. Ancient Civilizations Reference Library, 2000, s.v. “Cleopatra,” by Judson Knight and Stacy A. McConnell.
  11. John Simkin, “Cleopatra,” Spartacus Educational, last modified August 2014.
  12. Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives: Life of Mark Antony (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1920).
  13. Pat Brown, The murder of Cleopatra: history’s greatest cold case (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2013), 32.
  14. Thomas Burgon, “Observations on a coin of Cleopatra and M. Antony,” The Numismatic Chronicle 1, no. 1 (April 1839): 200.
  15. Adrian Goldsworthy, Antony and Cleopatra (Yale University Press, 2010), 1.
Cleopatra and Antony: ‘Till Death Do Us Part
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  • This was a very interesting article. I had known that they were both together but i did not know that Cleopatra was able to manipulate Antony like that. I also did not know that Octavian had arranged for his sister to be married to Mark Antony knowing that he would eventually leave her and that it would have to force a war between the two so that he could gain the power that Mark Antony had. Awesome Article!

  • Great article! It was very interesting and I like how well you told the story. Nowadays, we’re so used to hearing stories of where the man has to captivate and make the woman fall in love with him, but in the case of Cleopatra and Antony, the narrative is flipped. It is unfortunate to hear an ending such as the one they had. It seems like they were truly happy. I wonder what could’ve happened if Octavian was not in the picture .

  • This was my second time reading this article and I really liked it. I initially did read because of the title, but the story behind it is really captivating. I enjoyed reading about how in love Cleopatra and Anthony were. I thought that it was cute how they would be play games with each other. One interesting thing I found was that they had children. It did give me Romeo and Juliet vibes the way that Cleopatra killed herself because she did not want to live without Anthony. Overall, great article and it was truly a great read.

  • What an interesting story. I really like that you use the words, “Till death do us part” as a statement to capture your audience’s attention. This is a tragic story and a very short one at that. All the events you explained in here made their romance seem so much longer than what it was. It’s very sad that their love ended in death but they seemed like very dedicated lovers that would not part, even after death.

  • An extremely well written and put together article that I could not look away from. I already knew about the love story between Cleopatra and Antony, but never with such detail. I never knew that Cleopatra was taken prisoner, I had thought she had killed herself to avoid capture. She lived her life like we all wish we could by our own rules, all the way till the end.

  • Perhaps one of the most famous love stories of all time, Antony and Cleopatra have occupied my head-space for a long as I can remember. What a dramatic tale! The feud between the Ptolemaic dynasty and Gaius Julius Caesar is something unthinkable in today’s world. I love seeing how wise and powerful Cleopatra was; in a world where women were treated as second-class citizens. While I am not a fan of the manipulative and backhanded methods employed, I do commend these characters for giving us modern humans something to admire. Thank you for your story!

  • Although this story concluded with a not so happy ending, it was very flattering to read as well. I see that many of the readers found similarities between Cleopatra and Antony’s love story with that of Romeo and Juliet, I could not agree more. Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite stories due to the incredible love the two have for each other, enough to end their lives for. This article portrayed the pair’s love in a very passionate way.

  • Prior to reading this article, I really did not know about Cleopatra and Antony or their love for one another. The title is a great attention grabber and is what got me to read the article completely. I loved how she had such goals and knew exactly what she wanted. I think Cleopatra and Antony’s love story was great, but the way it ended was terrible.

  • Its nice to see some more light shed on these two historical figures. The detail and insight provided was much appreciated as I haven’t studied much on the subject of Antony and Cleopatra. This tragic love affair makes for a great story and I feel that you did a great job at choosing a topic for your article. good job.

  • Your article was beautifully written, and it flowed nicely. You painted a clear picture of who Antony and Cleopatra were and how deeply in love they were. Their relationship was both romantic and tumultuous. Suicide isn’t always considered brave but when Cleopatra allowed the asp to bite her so that she would not become Octavian’s slave she showed her bravery. Antony and Cleopatra draw great parallels between another pair of star crossed lovers who met a tragic fate, Rome and Juliet.

  • I really enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the legendary Cleopatra. I never knew that the phrase “till death do us part” would originate all the way back to the 42 B.C.E. Before reading this article, I did not know her story or why she was so well known. It is amazing how their romance was one not accepted by others but that did not matter to Cleopatra and Antony. They made each other happy and that was all that mattered. I agree that this is the love that everyone dreams of. Great job!

  • This article was remarkable. I had no idea that such a common phrase used in traditional marriage practiced derived from such a tragic story. I find it somewhat comical that Octavia only had one child and Cleopatra bore 2. Sounds exactly like someone of her persona to outshine Octavia. Although their romance was short lived, it went on to being one of the most prominent romances in history and that’s pretty inspiring. I’m thankful that this article was written in a way that it made me wish it was longer. Great article.

  • Remarkable article! I really liked your take on the story and how you started with the vows of marriage. I actually found the beginning sort of funny when Cleopatra was being described and how she knew how to get what she wanted. Also the pictures that were included really supported the article as they contributed to each different setting as the story went along.

  • Very interesting and well-written article! I never knew much about Cleopatra and Antony but this was well written with a lot of information. I really enjoyed reading this. The title drew me in and I liked the love story that was told between Antony and Cleopatra. It’s crazy to think how far people will go because they love each other and also that their love could have extreme consequences.

  • A very great and captivating story that offers a lot not just in details on Cleopatra and Antony but in Antony’s relationship with Octavian. I knew they had a close and romantic relationship but not of just how almost one sided it seemed in favor of Cleopatra. Although they both clearly loved each other, I also liked just how strong and captivating Cleopatra was made out to be.

  • What an amazing heartfelt story that really shows the extent of love. I was unaware of this story and I am extremely glad i clicked on this article. Its incredible to think that Cleopatra and Antony were both out to use each other then actually fell in love. It shows the things that love can make you do, and makes you wonder if theres only person in the world who you will truly love you. Was Cleopatra Antony’s soul mate? Great article

  • This was such a wonderfully written article! I loved the story! Cleopatra and Anthony seem have been the couple goals. The story of how they met and fall in love was cute. I could defiantly see how Cleopatra is strong women who liked to play by her own rules. For instance how she died and how she lived her life. I never knew that they would bet each other or would like the story about the banquet. Overall, this was a great article with lots of good information!

  • This is a very well written article about the love story between Cleopatra and Antony. I had heard of them, but never knew in detail the story behind them. I wonder how Cleopatra felt when Antony married Octavian’s sister when she had wanted him so much. I find it interesting how the ending of this story is similar to Romeo and Juliet.

  • This article was a great read, I was attracted by the title, I wanted to know the origins of the famous vows usually shared at weddings. I found the story of Cleopatra and Antony to be very romantic, the two seemed like they shared an immense love for each other and had an unbreakable bond. Aspects of their relationship were admirable, since they were essentially best friends to begin with and then accepted their strong love for each other. Although they had a difficult decision to make, I was happy to read that they chose suicide as their way out because it showed me that they would rather die than not be with each other in life.

  • The article hooks the reader right away and makes the reader want to read more and more about the relationship they had. I have heard and learned a lot about Cleopatra in the past but I did not know that she had a significant other. Cleopatra’s and Anthony’s love story is a great one and it is upsetting how their relationship ended. They would do what they wanted in both the relationship and in their political careers. It is inspiring because they were able to separate their work and relationship.

  • Much better “love story” than Rome and Juliette or Jack and Rose. Nonetheless the story was very intriguing and the article accurately depicted lots of the events in a lovely story format. Cleopatra was known to be a very beautiful and lust filled female, she was capable of getting anything she wanted; as expressed in the article. Very iconic if you ask me, Antony was very powerful as well yet it was easy to decipher how she made him weak due to her stunning beauty and intelligence. Much like any tragic love story the ending was not very happy however it was very intriguing and will continue to be told for many years in mythology.

  • I knew the basic facts about how they met and of course how they dies, but I was unaware that they had children together. I think its really interesting how for both of them it started out as them trying to get something out of each other, but that in the end they actually really loved each other. I also did not know that Antony had married Octavian’s sister. Very intriguing article.

  • The story of Antony and Cleopatra is very intriguing. This article characterizes Cleopatra, Antony, and Octavian very well. In their own ways, they were all scheming for power. I feel bad that Octavian’s sister was caught up in their vying for power. It is so easy to question if Cleopatra and Antony were really in love, or if they simply complemented each other as rulers. In the article, while the introduction was interesting, it could be stronger in order to captivate the audience. Good article!

  • before reading this article I had n idea or and knowledge about Cleopatra and Anthony’s romance. its fascinating what people will do or go through for a person that they love. thee love was really deep and it makes you think do you feel that way about multiple people or will you just find one special person in your life. you did a great job on giving us insight on their relationship.

  • I love this story! The whole concept of Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s relationship is very interesting. The details in this article are great, I learned so much about their relationship and I feel very well informed on the subject. You did a great job at giving a great description of the story and keeping it interesting throughout the whole article. Well done!

  • The story of Antony and Cleopatra is one that everyone hears about at one point or another in their lifetime, myself included. I knew a few facts about Cleopatra and Antony as individuals and as a couple, but not the whole story. This news article provided a good narrative one their love story. I was particularly surprised with their tragic end.

  • This article is very interesting and immediately caught my eye. I have previous knowledge of Cleopatra’s and Antony’s relationship, but I never looked further into it nor bothered to learn more of it. I see this story as a story of actual love. It is a shame how their fate ended them but while they lived is what mattered to them both. They enjoyed their time together and their love is all that mattered. It is a truly inspiring love story unlike any other. The article hooks the readers right away and makes you want to keep reading to learn more about their love.

  • Very well written article, sweet and well worded explaining the story. “Antony did marry Octavia, but it was only for the sake of saving his relationship with Octavian.” It goes from a sweet story to something more Action Adventure. She became a slave to Octavia making it become pretty dramatic. Antony and Cleopatra had a very sweet love story torn apart. Sad that they couldn’t spend the rest of there lives together.

  • One of my favorite HBO shows was Rome, a drama series based on the events that led to Julius Caesars murder and eventually Octavian becoming Emperor. This introduced be to historical figures such as Antony and Cleopatra. Reading this article gave me more historical information on the relationship between the two lovers, allowing for a better understanding of the lover’s situation and eventual death.

  • Very informative article. I had heard of the strong love of Antony and Cleopatra, but I did not know all the details until now. I found it interesting that Antony tried to make a marriage between himself and Octavia work for the good of the country even though he was in love with Cleopatra. It reminds us that through most of history, marriage was a business deal and not for love. It seems to me that Antony and Cleopatra knew the risk they were taking when they decided to do what they wanted instead of what was best for their countries. It is not surprising that both ended up dead for their passion.

  • This story is extremely interesting. I never really knew about Antony and Cleopatra’s romance, but know that I do it is really surprising. It is a shame that they both ended up dying but at least they were able to be with each other for a long period of time. This story reminds me a lot of Romeo and Juliet based on how both couples were extremely in love with each other and they both ended in tragedy. It is a really interesting part of history and it was beautifully told.

  • Alexandria Martinez does a fantastic job telling the story of one of the most famous couples in history. I enjoyed reading this article because it narrated the story of two lovers remaining educational and not conversational. Martinez does a great job at building the story including a climax, protagonist, antagonist, and falling action. The development and ending is a target as the characters do not get a happy ending.

  • Truly a first of it’s kind story during this time period, I ha never imagined a love story of the ancient world like this one. Not quite a Romeo and Juliet story, but one of its own breed rather. While it is merely a tale of the ancient world, there are perhaps themes and value we can draw from it. The dangers of third parties in relation to certain circumstance, trust, loyalty, and among other things.

  • Cleopatra and Antony are such an iconic duo. In history class, we didn’t go over the love affair that Cleopatra and Antony had for each other, but thanks to your article I know more about them and there love and shortly after their demise. Your article was such a great read and very entertaining to read. Their deaths reminded me so much of how Romeo and Julia committed suicide, and I guess that Shakespeare used his knowledge about Antony and Cleopatra to his advantage. Overall, great work and I can’t wait to read more articles from you.

  • This article tells a very good story. Its portrays the relationship between Cleopatra and Antony well. How they fell in love and the hardship that they went through. Then end up choosing to be together in death than to be without each other in life. The author really uses emotion to move the article forward. They make you want to find out what happens to Cleopatra and Antony.

  • This article in a way reminds me of Romeo in Juliet, in a different time and a different version. It’s pretty impressive how Cleopatra achieved the things she wanted. The factors that helped persuade or manipulate man were her beauty, her intelligence, her being so cunning and witty. But it does lead me to question: Since she already had the plan of making Antony fall in love with her. Obviously her plan started as to captivating a very powerful man. But her first objective being power. Did she really fall for him or more for his power? Because it seems as if Antony getting married to another woman did not affect her much.

  • This was a very interesting telling of true love. I will admit when I read the part about Cleopatra and Antony making plans to carry out their own suicides, I immediately thought of Romeo and Juliet. However, what separates this story from Romeo and Juliet is that there is actual substance within Cleopatra and Antony’s love. Antony loved Cleopatra for more than just her good looks and they made their love public for all to see despite what others would think or thought.

  • What an interesting story of love. I was unaware of this story but I am now glad that I know of it. It is crazy the extent people will go to to be together. It makes one wonder if there is only one person they will meet that they would do anything for, or if it is possible to feel this way about multiple people. It is interesting how passionate these two were in love, and it keeps the idea of perfect love alive.

  • The quote at the beginning “Till Death Do Us Part” really grabbed my attention towards reading the article. I found this article really interesting and informative. Especially, I loved reading about Cleopatra. After reading the article, I approve that she was smart, cunning, witty, and independent, and a leader. It was very sad to read that Antony stabbed himself and Cleopatra killed herself by the snake. To sum it up, it was a good read.

  • This love story is even better than Romeo and Juliet, these lovers had actual conflict in their lives and were both great leaders. The author did a good job in retelling this story with such detail, and the tragedy of their story was all from one person. I never knew the whole story of Cleopatra up until now, and after reading this article I have come to admire her. She took her own life rather than have a man take her in as a prisoner.

  • I never knew the story of Cleopatra and Mark Antony! I always thought that Cleopatra was an interesting character and I knew of Mark Antony, but I had no idea they had such a movie type relationship. You wrote their story in a way that I had to keep reading to see what would happen and made me feel disappointed when they didn’t get a happily ever after; really interesting article.

  • When I think of the quote “till death do us part” I think of Romeo and Juliet. This quotes is known around the world. I think its amazing how love can make people do such drastic decisions like committing suicide for each other and to not be captured by the enemy. In those years it seems so easy to do forgery and take what you wanted especially because of the power they had as queens and rulers.

  • This is a very well written article. I enjoyed reading the story of Antony and Cleopatra because I’ve heard of their names before but did not know their story. It was sad that they did not get to live happily together for a long time. The part where Antony stabbed himself with a sword and Cleopatra killed herself by the snake were sad as well. I can tell you put a lot of research in to this article and it paid off well.

  • Super interesting article! I never knew that Julius Caesar had an affair with Cleopatra. She seemed to be very good at manipulating men in order to get whatever she wanted. Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship was full of passion, and I think that you executed their love story perfectly! Both committing suicide is such a dramatic ending to this story, they both died in brutal ways so they wouldn’t have to slave to the Octavians. Great Story!

  • This has got to be the most complex and dramatic love story I have ever read. From the very beginning Cleopatra and Antony’s relationship was filled with intense burning passion, regardless of the fact Antony wanted to confront her about Julius Caesars death. Both of them did things how they wanted both in their relationship and their political careers, even in the ways they killed themselves, they showed no restraint or hesitation.

  • This was an amzing article. I knew the general story of Antony and Cleopatra but detail and vividness for which you told the story, made it really easy for me to picture and follow along. After reading this story, I agree that it is one of the most famous love stories ever. I would even go as far as to say that influenced other famous love stories, we cherish today. The specific example I am thinking of is Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet, while he adapted it to his own area and time period, he seemed to be influcence by this ancient story.

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