Did you know archeologists still haven’t found Cleopatra’s tomb? While researching my latest thriller, Cleopatra’s Vendetta, I learned much about the ancient queen.
She had sparkling eyes, a commanding presence, and a rich voice. Her beauty has been debated, but it’s clear she had a host of responsibilities as empress of Egypt, including commanding the army and navy, dispensing justice, setting prices, distributing grain, collecting taxes, dealing with foreign powers, building temples, and acting as high priestess. Everyone answered to her. She was the first to introduce coins of different denominations to her populace and was known to be a trickster with a cunning wit.
Besides being a prankster, Cleopatra had a flair for the dramatic. She put off a summons from Mark Antony for months, and when she finally agreed to meet him, she wowed him at a party with rose petals knee-deep.
She was also smart. According to Plutarch, she spoke nine languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Troglodyte (Ethiopian), and she was the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn the Egyptian language.
Her city, Alexandria, was ahead of its time. Thirty years before Christ was born, the city had automatic doors and hydraulic lifts, hidden treadmills, and even some coin-operated machines, which blew me away. Magnets, wires, pulleys, and other mechanical innovations delighted the citizens.
Egyptian women of Cleopatra’s time were highly educated and legally autonomous. They married and divorced at will. Female workers were often represented in art, or in tombs, selling wares, making offerings, running barges, loaning money, and trapping birds. They owned property and businesses, such as wineries, perfumeries, mills, camels, and slaves. A third of Egyptian property in Cleopatra’s time may have belonged to women.
Their female Roman counterparts, however, were supposed to be inconspicuous. They had no legal rights, and carried their father’s name while they walked about in public with their eyes cast down. Historians believe Romans were allowed to kill female children, except the firstborn. She must have experienced culture shock when visiting Rome with her lovers.
Historians continue to disagree over whether Cleopatra’s death involved an asp. The cobra, a symbol of power in Egypt that adorned the headdresses of her ancestors for thousands of years, can still be seen on figures of Isis. When Octavian found Cleopatra dead, he called upon a group of psylli who were said to be able to remove venom from a snakebite. Historians, however, believe she experimented with deadly poison for some time before her suicide. How she smuggled the snake and/or poison into the mausoleum where she died remains a mystery.
The novel involves the modern-day hunt for a gold-bound journal that holds the location of an ancient cult still active today. In my fictional world, Octavian, also known as Augustus Caesar, was head of the cult. In reality, he was indeed her nemesis. It was fun to research the history of propaganda as well, and surprising to learn that Octavian used provocative and misleading leaflets in his efforts to defeat Cleopatra and Mark Antony. After the dual suicide, Octavian ruled for forty-four years, twice as long as Cleopatra. He died at the age of seventy-six, having had plenty of time to destroy her statues and rewrite history. If you like action-packed thrills laced with history and intrigue, the novel will be out November 15th.
An earthquake in the fifth century caused Cleopatra’s palace to slip into the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the most famous landmarks of her time have vanished, including the lighthouse, the Library of Alexandria, and the museum. Even the Nile has changed course in the two millennia since she ruled. Today, archeologists have numerous excavations at Taposiris Magna, west of Cairo, and are still hoping to find her tomb there.
What do you think archeologists will discover when they eventually locate her final resting place?