What if Cleopatra and Octavian Had Been Friends?
Cleopatra and Octavian are one of the most famous sets of enemies in history. The lover and the adopted son of Gaius Julius Caesar both created monumental chapters in the history of ancient Egypt and Rome. For centuries, people have asked the same question: what would have happened if they had become allies instead of enemies?
Cleopatra VII was the last queen of Egypt and from the dynasty created by Ptolemy I Soter. After three centuries of Ptolemaic rule, she hoped to end the impoverished state of Egypt. To achieve her goals, she decided to connect her dynasty with the greatest man of her times – Julius Caesar. The story about the beginning of their romance became one of the most famous love stories in the world.
The Most Famous Couple of the Ancient World
Julius Caesar seemed to be under the Cleopatra's spells. For that reason, the senators of Rome gossiped that the queen of Egypt must have been a witch, as she had such a strong influence on the thoughts of the famous Roman.
Cleopatra and Caesar (1866). Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme ( Public Domain )
Their story begins when Cleopatra was 21 years old. Caesar was already 52, and well-advanced in his political life. According to Plutarch, she entered past the guards rolled up in a carpet that Apollodorus the Sicilian was carrying. When Caesar saw her, he was very intrigued. They soon became lovers, but they also created a relationship based on common interests and passions. Cleopatra was highly educated. She spoke at least eight languages, knew astronomy, mathematics, alchemy, and history. She wasn't a classical beauty, but her voice sounded like a lyre, and she was full of charm. As a result of this romance, in 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to their son – Ptolemy Caesar. His nickname was Caesarion, what means ''little Caesar''.
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Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion at the Temple of Dendera (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Cleopatra visited Rome with her son in the summer of 46 BC. She resided in Caesar’s luxury house outside Rome. Officially it was because she was a foreign head of state and thus couldn't stay inside Rome, but in fact it was a very comfortable situation for the couple to have a little bit of privacy. Their romance was a huge scandal in Rome because Caesar was already married to Calpurnia Pisonis.
Although, the marriage with Calpurnia was political, Romans were annoyed because of the behavior of their leader. At the same time, Caesar erected a golden statue of Cleopatra presented as Isis and located it in the temple of Venus Genetrix in the Julium forum.
This act proved to the Roman society that Cleopatra was much more than just a lover. She was a life partner and the woman at the side of Julius Caesar. It was also the moment, when the beloved adopted son of Caesar – Octavian – started to worry about his future.
The Forum of Caesar and the Temple of Venus Genetrix. (CC BY-SA 2.0 )
According to the famous orator and philosopher Cicero, Romans hated the foreign queen. The change to the political situation appeared ti be so dangerous for the position of many people that the nobles decided to murder Caesar on March 15, 44 BC. Cleopatra was still in Rome at the time. Did Caesar die because of his attention to the Queen of Egypt? Perhaps not, but the affair with a woman who made many Roman men afraid could have made the decision to assassinate Caesar easier.
The Death of Caesar, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1867). ( Public Domain )
Conflict which Could Have Been Friendship
The real reason for the conflict between Cleopatra and Octavian was young Ptolemy Caesar and the ambitions of his mother. When she went back to Egypt, she poisoned her brother Ptolemy XIV and made Caesarion her co-regent and successor. Cleopatra wrongly believed that the only successor of Caesar to the throne of the Roman Empire was her son - she didn't want to accept that Octavian, as adopted son of Caesar, had rights to follow the ruler.
Octavian, on the other hand, felt himself to be the only person who could legitimately replace Caesar. When his adopted father died, he was studying and undergoing military training in Illyria. But when he discovered what happened, he quickly went back to Rome. Upon his arrival there, he discovered the consul Mark Antony, a friend of Caesar, trying to punish the killers. With his close relationship with Caesar, Mark Antony now appeared as the strongest threat to Octavian’s wishes. The conflict between them started soon after the funeral of the deceased ruler.