Alexander the Great created a huge empire that spread from Spain in the west to India in the east, but shortly after his death in 323BC, Alexander's empire fell to pieces. One of Alexander's Greek generals, Ptolemy, took control of the Egyptian portion of Alexander's empire. The Ptolemy family ruled Egypt for 275 years, until a series of battles with Rome took the life of the last of seven queens named Cleopatra.
Roman general Julius Caesar and his army fought several battles with the army of another Roman general named Pompey in the fifth decade Before the Common Era. Caesar chased Pompey first to Spain, then to Greece and finally to Egypt. In Egypt, Caesar found himself in the middle of a family feud in 47BC. King Ptolemy XII had willed his throne both to his ten-year-old son, Ptolemy XIII, and his eighteen-year-old daughter, Cleopatra. The brother and sister were to rule Egypt together as husband and wife, but Ptolemy XIII seized total power and forced his older sister from the throne.
Cleopatra saw an opportunity to return to power when she learned Caesar was in Egypt. She arranged to have herself smuggled into Caesar's suite by wrapping herself in an ornamental carpet. Caesar unraveled his gift to find the former queen. Cleopatra then convinced the Roman general to lead his army against the forces of Ptolemy XIII. Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile River while trying to escape Caesar's army. Cleopatra was returned to power and following the custom of Egypt at that time, was married to an even younger brother, Ptolemy XIV.
The 54-year-old Caesar began a love affair with the much younger Cleopatra. The two traveled the Nile together where Caesar witnessed Cleopatra's luxurious lifestyle. Caesar was the most powerful general in the world, but Cleopatra was worshipped as a goddess. Soon after their voyage, Cleopatra gave birth to Caesar's only son, Caesarion.
Shortly after Caesar returned to Rome, Cleopatra and Caesarion came to visit, staying in one of Caesar's country homes. Caesar was popular with the Roman people, but the presence of Cleopatra in Rome was a scandal. Both Caesar and Cleopatra were married to other people. Further, the Romans were suspicious of Cleopatra because she was a foreigner.
Caesar was murdered in 44BC, so the Roman Senate selected Marc Antony, Lepidus and Octavian to lead the republic in the Second Triumvirate. Marc Antony and Lepidus were generals in Caesar's army. Octavian was Caesar's eighteen-year-old grandnephew, but Roman law allowed Caesar to adopt Octavian in his will. When Lepidus retired, Octavian's only rival for complete control of Rome was Marc Antony.
Marc Antony led a Roman army in Egypt, where he met and fell in love with Cleopatra. Cleopatra regained control of Egypt after Ptolemy XIV was mysteriously poisoned. Antony and Cleopatra hoped to oust Octavian and rule together, but Octavian used the relationship between Antony and the unpopular Cleopatra to his advantage. Octavian told the Roman people that Cleopatra cast a spell on Antony, and argued that Antony was willing to give away the Roman world to a foreign woman. The Roman people supported Octavian when he declared war on Antony and Cleopatra.
Octavian's forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra's ships in the Battle of Actium on the Mediterranean Sea in 31BC. Antony and Cleopatra managed to escape the encounter and returned to Egypt, but Marc Antony committed suicide as Octavian's army approached. When Cleopatra learned of Antony's death, she realized she would soon no longer be Queen. According to legend, Cleopatra wrapped an asp around her arm. The asp was a venomous snake that was the symbol for Egyptian royalty. The asp's bite ended Cleopatra's life and the rule of the Ptolemys. Caesarion was captured and killed as Octavian extended his rule to Egypt.