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Thread: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Icon5 Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    The full details of the life of Cleopatra VII Philopator and her immediate Ptolemaic family members is somewhat garbled with the surviving accounts in Greco-Roman historiography if not tainted by the spurious claims and exaggerations of Augustan period Latin poetry. Octavian's claims that Antony's will included stipulations that Alexandria be made the new capital of the Roman Republic ring of partisan invective and propaganda, the sort that (falsely) claimed Antony stole books from the Library of Pergamon to restock the Library of Alexandria after it was partially burned down during the siege against Caesar by Ptolemy XIII. However, it is entirely reasonable to think Antony wanted to be buried alongside Cleopatra VII and that he wanted his children with her to directly benefit from the so-called Donations of Alexandria. In either case, these claims and following ones were allegedly censored from public view by consuls who were allied with Antony. They successfully blocked it until Octavian finally raided the Temple of Vesta in 32 BC where it was held, to acquire it and disclose selective passages instead of releasing it in full.

    The donations were announced in 34 BC during Antony's mock Roman triumph celebrating his capture of the Armenian king Artavasdes II and his royal family. Antony, dressed like the Greek god Dionysos (and was often equated with the Egyptian Osiris), presented the prisoners to Cleopatra as she dressed up for the ritual as the Egyptian goddess Isis (with Aphrodite as the common Greek equivalent). Imitating the Achaemenid Persian King of Kings, Cleopatra was declared the Queen of Kings. In this feudal arrangement, Caesar's son Caesarion would be Cleopatra's groomed successor in Egypt as King of Kings, but her children with Antony would inherit other domains in the east under Antony's triumviral authority, ones that had recently been gained by Roman arms, treasure, and blood. Alexander Helios, dressed for the ceremony in the garb of a Median king of old, would inherit Armenia (recently brought under Roman control) and more ambitiously Parthia and Medes with hypothetical future campaigns of Antony funded by Cleopatra. Their other son Ptolemy Philadelphos was decked out in the clothes of a Macedonian Greek and typical Hellenistic ruler, a miniature Alexander the Great, and he was to rule Syria and Cilicia in place of the fallen Seleucids. Cleopatra Selene II would inherit the isle of Crete and the Greek colony of Cyrene in nearby Libya.

    While still in office as an elected triumvir, Antony technically had the legal authority to delegate things and move chess pieces around in the eastern provinces, but he was really pushing his authority to the limit here and his actions were certainly unpopular back home. When war was finally declared by the Roman Senate, it was done so against Cleopatra VII instead of Antony, due to her financing and military aid given to a private Roman citizen who no longer held a relevant office. It was also orchestrated this way as to be more palatable to the Roman people, who were sick and tired of civil wars against fellow Romans by this point, but were always happy to fight foreigners who challenged Rome.

    So then, what was Cleopatra's endgame here with Antony? What did she hope to achieve if she and Antony had won the Battle of Actium against Agrippa and managed to defeat Octavian or force him into a permanent truce or cementing a long-lasting negotiated settlement of splitting the Roman world between their two spheres of influence? Was she deluded enough to think she could keep this going forever? The assassination of Julius Caesar probably should have taught her to avoid getting involved directly in Roman politics, but instead she remained determined to wed and embed her Hellenistic monarchy into the existing Republican Roman political system. How would this even be sustainable going forward? The Romans only accepted Octavian as Augustus and Princeps because of the veneer of a Republic still being in place. If the Roman historians during and after Augustus are to be trusted, it doesn't seem like Antony was very much interested in maintaining the facade that the Republic mattered to him, if he was literally acting as a god emperor over his children who were literal kings and queens (albeit clients of the Roman Republic).

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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    Cleopatra really had no choice to thrown her fortune in with Rome. If she didn't voluntarily throe in with Rome,Rome would have just come and taken over Egypt. Cleopatra hoped to have Egypt was a mostly autonomous client kingdom of Rome, where she would be pretty much free to rule as she liked.

    If Mark Antony had succeeded in creating an eastern empire with himself at the head, Egypt could have a role.as an equal partner, instead of the subordinate client kingdom Egypt now was. Sooner or later, Cleopatra probably feared the Romans would find some excuse to take direct control of Egypt, and siding with Antony probably offered the best alternative to escape that fate. With Many k Anthony triumphant, Egypt would have likely had a more equal partnership inhis regime than s
    It currently had under Rome.

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    Ludicus's Avatar Vicarius Provinciae
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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    Quote Originally Posted by Common Soldier View Post
    Cleopatra hoped to have Egypt was a mostly autonomous client kingdom of Rome, where she would be pretty much free to rule as she liked.
    I completely agreed with this thesis.She realized that the future prosperity of Egypt depended on a favorable alliance with Rome.
    Il y a quelque chose de pire que d'avoir une âme perverse. C’est d'avoir une âme habituée
    Charles Péguy

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    Abdülmecid I's Avatar ¡Ay Carmela!
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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    In my opinion, Cleopatra meddled into Roman poltics out of despair about the declining fortunes of her career as a member of the royal dynasty. She was about to be crushed by Ptolemy XIII and Arsinoe IV, until she formed a very convenient alliance with Ceasar, in order for her to prevail in the civil war, while the Roman general was given the precious opportunity to install a very loyal ruler over one of the wealthiest regions of the Mediterranean. After all, her father's pro-Roman strategy had guaranteed him a relatively peaceful reign three decades, despite the objections of the nobility and Alexandria's mob. Her rapprochement with Mark Anthony was probably motivated by similar concerns, as they both needed a powerful friend, in order to protect their fragile hold on power. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Cleopatra's ambitions had evolved through time, although I personally do not consider the Donations of Alexandria as a particularly reliable indication.

    The event gives me the impression of a staged affair, mostly intended to reinforce the ruling couple's prestige, instead of presenting an initial ground for the empire's future heritage. The toddlers would of course excercise no real authority for a long time, while the titles of especially Helios Alexander lack any substance. Even Armenia was not really integrated into the provincial system, but was basically kept under Roman military occupation, which easily collapsed when the Parthian King Phraates IV and Artaxias II, the son of the deposed and murdered Artavasdes II, exploited the distraction offered by Octavian's offensive. In summary, I believe that Cleopatra's priority was to safeguard her position as Queen of Egypt, while the prospects of a future prosperous Egypt or the restoration of Alexander's state played a secondary role. To be sincere, in my opinion, her significance and influence have been grossly exaggerated by the hostile literature of the Augustan era and the romantic historiography of the 19th century. Cleopatra is portrayed as the epitome of the Oriental stereotype, determined to either corrupt the virility of the European soldier or to elevate the exotic East to her former glory. The reality, unfortunately, is remarkably more neutral and dull.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    Very good responses you guys! Yes, Cleopatra charming and coupling herself to Caesar was born out of desperation and necessity, in order to combat her brother Ptolemy XIII, who was arguably winning the Ptolemaic civil war up until that point. With Caesar's death, however, Cleopatra was in serious trouble now that her son and successor Caesarion was a rival heir to Caesar's official heir Octavian. Perhaps Cleopatra figured that if she didn't side with a powerful figure like Antony, her son would be in serious danger with Octavian unofficially at the helm of the Roman state. Unlike Caesar, his triumviral authority was given state legitimacy when he, Lepidus, and Antony were all elected to five-year terms with full imperium to deal with the assassins of Caesar in the Liberators' civil war.

    As for Cleopatra fearing that the Romans would take Egypt from her, this is debatable. Her father Ptolemy XII temporarily lost the throne to his rival daughter Berenice IV from 58-55 BC, due to an uprising of an Alexandrian mob furious that he allowed the Romans to drive his brother into suicide on charges of piracy and take over Ptolemaic Cyprus as a new Roman province. However, the Romans didn't bother to take over Egypt, but instead reinstalled Ptolemy XII on the throne with military aid from Aulus Gabianus, governor of Roman Syria. In fact, Ptolemy XII was put on the throne of Egypt in the first place in 80 BC due to Roman reluctance to rule Egypt directly. This was in 80 BC when Ptolemy XI Alexander II killed his cousin-wife but was then killed by a furious mob soon afterwards. Ptolemy XI had married Berenice III at the behest of the Roman dictator Sulla, who wanted an orderly transition in Egypt due to its immense economic importance to Rome (especially for maintaining the Cura Annonae, the enormously popular and effective grain dole policy). When that failed, Ptolemy XII Auletes being placed on the throne was the solution.

    So then, why would the Romans do this repeatedly instead of taking over Egypt directly? This was done even after the kingdom had been willed to the Roman Republic by Ptolemy XI as collateral for loans, much like Pergamon had been willed to Rome by Attalus III. It's because the Roman Senate feared the corrupting influence of Egypt, not because of oriental stereotypes, but because a single prefect left in charge there for too long could amass an immeasurable fortune from the Indian Ocean silk & spice trade and challenge the Roman state. This exact fear is expressed even after Egypt was conquered by Rome, when Octavian/Augustus forbade any senators from even stepping foot onto Egyptian soil and allowing only members of the equestrian class to serve as prefect governors there under his direct supervision.

    With all of that in mind, one can see why Cleopatra wanted to latch onto another powerful Roman statesman to keep herself and her son safe from Octavian, but at the same time she must have been fully aware that Rome wanted to keep Egypt at arm's length. I think she could have made a different decision here and could have stayed out of politics and kept a low profile. Instead she decided to flip the coin and take her chances with Antony in a brazen effort to counter Octavian.

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    Abdülmecid I's Avatar ¡Ay Carmela!
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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    I agree completely about the hesitations of Rome to add new territories to its empire, but I still believe that Cleopatra had no choice. The problem was that the circumstances had gradually changed every since the Marian reforms were implemented. As ambitious generals gained more power over their professional armies, the foreign policy of Rome evolved accordingly, even despite the objections of the Senate. Military commanders now enjoyed more freedom and were often allowed to pursue a more personal policy, not hesitating to casually provoke conflicts with neutral neighbors and annex new territories. The reasons for this shift of policy are exactly what you described above: As the Senators were afraid of the possibility of a governor accumulating too many resources, so were the generals motivated to expand their sphere of influence, by installing obedientl governors to recently conquered regions, by stabilising the throne of now completely dependent client-kings and by positioning friendly tyrants to nominally autonomous cities. Not to mention the fact that loot and military glory guaranteed the loyalty of their troops in times of need. All these assets would come very handy, when a civil war broke out and the Roman general attempted to usurp the ultimate power.

    Now, to come back to the subject, a series of semi-successful imperialist strongmen, from Marius and Sulla to Crassus, Pompey and Ceasar had indicated to Cleopatra that the good, old times of senatorial conservatism were over. Whoever emerged as the final victor from the second Triumvirate, Octavian, Mark Anthony, Lepidus or even Sextus "Pirate" Pompey, the days of an independent Lagid dynasty were few. Neutrality was frankly not an option, because it would have saved the kingdom, according to the most optimistic scenario, as long as the Roman Empire remained fragmented. Once the Empire was reunited (an inevitable result, in my opinion), the new dictator/emperor/Augustus would hardly hesitate to invade the wealthy Nile valley. It would have been an easy campaign, which would reinforce his prestige, restore the finances of the state and provide him with a precious basis of support for his fragile and precarious position as the "absolute monarch" of the empire. Cleopatra was obliged to join one of the two camps, in order to have a chance to save her royal career. Unluckily enough for her, she bet on the wrong horse.

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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    Perhaps Cleopatra was hoping in getting a sister of Julian blood for Caesarion (Ptolemaĩos Philopátor Philométor Kaĩsar), to marry him and save her bloodless dynastic line ..

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    Praepositus
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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    Quote Originally Posted by Abdülmecid I View Post
    In my opinion, Cleopatra meddled into Roman poltics out of despair about the declining fortunes of her career as a member of the royal dynasty. ....
    Yes she is a woman in a vice: dominant Rome holding the fate of Egypt in its talons, factions within the country at daggers drawn, and a chance to start a relationship with powerful warlords who seem capable of overturning the Roman state like a new Alexander. She may have rage-quit but she accumulated a lot of VPs before she went.

    So I would say she didn't have an endgame, she was dancing from moment to moment and year to year, surviving and enjoying her survival. She probably had plans within plans, she was a survivor so that would make sense, but nothing firm. It is unclear what happened at Actium, but maybe Anthony was disposable to her even after all they had been through? Augustan propaganda makes the episode opaque, it may be she was just beaten on the field.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    ...the Roman Senate feared the corrupting influence of Egypt, not because of oriental stereotypes, but because a single prefect left in charge there for too long could amass an immeasurable fortune from the Indian Ocean silk & spice trade and challenge the Roman state. This exact fear is expressed even after Egypt was conquered by Rome, when Octavian/Augustus forbade any senators from even stepping foot onto Egyptian soil and allowing only members of the equestrian class to serve as prefect governors there under his direct supervision.
    Have to agree. I think local instability was a threat too: when Rome broke up Makedonia they caused chaos for the Southern Balkans as the bulwark against Thrakian and Gallic incursions was removed, and they were forced to create a (heavily militarised) province within a decade. Romans like provinces with easily conquerable tribes to farm VPs for the cursus honorum: Egypt was unfamiliar terrain: it had a theocratic economy with an alien elite planted on a sullen peasantry, hardly suitable for aspiring magistrates to cut their teeth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    With all of that in mind, one can see why Cleopatra wanted to latch onto another powerful Roman statesman to keep herself and her son safe from Octavian, but at the same time she must have been fully aware that Rome wanted to keep Egypt at arm's length. I think she could have made a different decision here and could have stayed out of politics and kept a low profile. Instead she decided to flip the coin and take her chances with Antony in a brazen effort to counter Octavian.
    As a Ptolemaic princess she was playing the Game of Throne with the usual stakes: I think she had no quiet retirement option. Her options were to bang the warlords or not bang the warlords: she gave herself a better chance to keep her throne and even influence affairs if she was close to Caesar and Anthony.

    She may even have podded Anthony to something like the excesses Augustan propaganda insists. Obviously it was mostly crap but Rome was inclining to monarchy already and within two generations would see heritable monarchy established. Maybe Cleopatra just punted early and as we know on the wrong horse. The Hellenised Romans found the Hellenistic East intoxicating, a victorious Anthony may have been the agent for a Hellenised West and a less divided Empire.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

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    Default Re: Cleopatra's endgame: what did she really hope to accomplish with Mark Antony?

    I don't think there was one. The claims that Cleopatra was planning on manipulating Antony to take over Rome or whatever sounds completely made up. Octavian needed it to be true so that he could declare war on Cleopatra and thereby erode Antony's power base. Since he could not directly try to fight Antony as Antony was still too popular and had the support of the Republican faction. The Donations of Alexandria being cited as an example for debauchery but making client kings is hardly a case for this kind of corruption. Not at all different from what Caesar or Pompey would have done. Cleopatra was very much a Roman client.

    Antony was so under prepared for any conflict that he had to demobilize his legions of old veterans and recruit locally from Roman and Greek colonies, as well as native easterners. Something practically unheard of at the time. While Cleopatra's fleet was formidable Antony also had to pass emergency legislation in order to take ownership of the resources (so for example groves from temples) to expand his fleet and take additional measures to recruit laborers and ship crews. Antony was so much at a disadvantage that he tried to avoid a pitched battle.

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