Did Cleopatra kill herself?

Updated 21 March, 2023
Yes, Cleopatra killed herself. She chose to die rather than be taken captive by the invading Roman army led by Octavian. According to the accounts of Plutarch and Cassius Dio, Cleopatra used an asp (a venomous snake) to commit suicide. The asp was believed to be a symbol of divine royalty in ancient Egypt, and Cleopatra may have chosen it for this reason. Her death occurred on August 12, 30 BCE, and marked the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which had ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries.
Detailed answer:

Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt, is widely believed to have died by suicide. According to the most popular account, after the defeat of her armies by the Roman general Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) in 31 BCE, Cleopatra retired to her mausoleum with her two most trusted servants, Charmion and Eiras. There, she reportedly ordered a feast and enjoyed her last meal, after which she bade farewell to her servants and took her own life by means of an asp, a poisonous snake. This story is recounted in various ancient sources, including the writings of Plutarch and Appian, who lived several centuries after Cleopatra's death.

However, there is some debate among historians about the veracity of this account. Some argue that Cleopatra may have been murdered by Octavian or one of his agents, either to avoid a potentially embarrassing public trial or to secure her vast wealth and resources. Others suggest that she may have died from an accidental overdose of drugs or poison, or from a self-inflicted wound rather than snakebite. There are also questions about the credibility and reliability of the ancient sources themselves, many of which were written long after the events they describe and may be based on hearsay, speculation, or biased accounts.

Despite these uncertainties, the most widely accepted view remains that Cleopatra died by her own hand. This interpretation is supported by the fact that suicide was not an uncommon practice among rulers and elites in ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean world, particularly in cases where they faced defeat, disgrace, or loss of power. Moreover, there is evidence that Cleopatra had access to lethal drugs and poisons, as well as an interest in the cult of the goddess Isis, who was often associated with serpents and death. Whether she used an asp or some other means to end her life, Cleopatra's suicide has become an enduring symbol of tragic heroism and defiance in popular culture and literature.

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