Today I’m thrilled to invite Roman scholar and novelist Brook Allen to my blog, celebrating the publication of her new book, Soldier of Fate, which includes one of history’s most famous couples – Antony and Cleopatra.
Brook, great to talk, and congrats on the fabulous new release. And, of course, I have to ask the burning question… “But did they LOVE one another?”
Over to you, Brook!
As author of The Antonius Trilogy, it’s my most-asked question and one that historians have tried to figure out for thousands of years. I say thousands, because whatever the truth was, Octavian Augustus—victor against the lovers, swept any evidence of Marc Antony under the rug. Strangely, he allowed Cleopatra’s statuary to survive. Although it’s believed that a wealthy man used gold to convince him to do so.
Figures. Money always talks.
Antony’s memory, however, was treated with damnatio memoriae—the damning of one’s memory. His statues were destroyed, inscriptions bearing his name were chiseled out, the Senate declared his birthdate as nefas—a bad luck day. No other member of his family was allowed to name their child “Marcus Antonius”. In other words, there was little love lost between Antony and Octavian.
Officially, the Augustan spin on the fate of both was to portray Cleopatra as a wily femme fatale who sexed her way into Caesar’s bed first, then Antony’s, to make a bid at ruling what would be known as the Roman Empire. Indeed, the tale stuck, didn’t it?
But what about the emotions between Antony and Cleopatra? What did they feel for one another?
Some could argue that Caesar was old enough to be Cleopatra’s grandfather when he and Egypt’s Queen first met—when she was smuggled into his presence during a time of Egyptian and Roman civil unrest. Past Ptolemies had managed to destroy and sell Egypt out through corruption and the Romans had been busy fighting themselves and fellow Italians for nearly one-hundred years by the time Cleopatra rolled out of her carpet.
Caesar, a known womanizer wasted no time in dictating his expectations of the young Queen. Though she may have been a virgin—or not—Cleopatra was certainly not naïve. Here was a young woman of twenty-one who spoke at least seven languages, was astute in mathematics, politics, and astronomy. She was Queen over the most prestigious center of learning in the known world at the time, and wound up impressing Caesar enough to wind up as sole ruler. Especially after the convenient death of her brother during the Alexandrian War, which Caesar fought on her behalf.
When she visited Rome, she was Caesar’s “guest” for a good two years, living in a fantastic villa across the Tiber from the pomerium—Rome’s official boundary which wasn’t to be crossed by foreigners. Caesar himself was absent for much of that time, still finishing his civil war against the sons of Pompeius Magnus in what is now Spain. But she did make impressions and according to ancient writers, most notably Cicero, they weren’t good ones.
Cicero wrote an enormous collection of letters to his close friend, Atticus, which actually makes for fascinating reading. I highly recommend them! He was truly Rome’s megaphone and continued to have great influence within the Senate. He denounced Cleopatra vehemently, snarling, “The arrogance of the Queen herself when she was living on the estate across the Tiber makes my blood boil to recall.” He went so far as declaring, “I detest the Queen!” After she left Rome, Cicero may have even spitefully voiced glee at her possibly miscarrying a second pregnancy by Caesar.
Cicero attacked Antony too—fourteen times—in letters to the State, known as his Philippics. Antony had many reasons for despising Cicero, and they were very good reasons. (Read my books!!!) When he finally made his way into Cleopatra’s life, Antony had made it a priority to have Cicero executed and he was at the height of his career. He’d just defeated Brutus and Cassius, putting an end to true Roman Republican voices forever. What he didn’t bargain on was what his own colleagues would think about having a woman given equal footing in their strategic planning. Nor did they imagine his generous nature would include granting her large land endowments.
Was he foolish in capitulating with her like this? Not necessarily.
Cleopatra had something Antony needed too—GOLD. He needed it to pay and upkeep his enormous army which he’d use to invade Parthia. He needed assurances of allies at his back to keep the East in line in his absence and to guarantee fealty from client kings. His territory was enormous and I see him as a huge risk-taker, and with the soldierly, easy-going nature he had with his men, it’s possible he believed that they’d come around to see the benefits of his alliance with Egypt.
Sadly for Antony, they never did. Roman sentiment for Egypt’s Queen had been marred by Cicero, Octavian, and Caesar’s behavior with her. His full acceptance of her as a mistress, and possibly as a wife, wound up being fodder for Octavian’s propaganda against him and reason for defections from his staff and army.
Some historians and classicists simply believe that this relationship was political and mutually expedient to achieve what they both needed. For Cleopatra, that was sole, secure power and a restoration (of sorts) of former Ptolemaic lands. Antony on the other hand, could have used her for coin, to bolster his strength with a new navy, and for sex. He did have quite the reputation!
As an amateur historian, lover of ancient tales, and yes—a novelist. I don’t buy that this was all they were to one another. I fully believe that Antony and Cleopatra were committed to one another, whether they were married or not. And the funny thing is—my belief in this doesn’t necessarily stem from extravagant gifts they gave each other.
It’s how they acted at the end.
Both Antony and Cleopatra, as it turned out, were in communication with Octavian during their last year of life. He did his UTMOST to drive a wedge between them. To Antony, he refused to spare Cleopatra’s life. Antony could have surrendered the Queen over to him easily. His ally Herod of Judea urged him to do so. But instead, he pleaded mercy on her behalf. Here was a broken man who had lost everything, yet he was still concerned over her well-being. Cleopatra also asked for mercy—for Caesar’s son, Caesarion. She requested that he reign in her stead. Octavian promised her nothing, but suggested leniency if she would but turn over Antony’s head or person—dead or alive.
So, for me, it’s what they DIDN’T do that is the tell-all. Okay, maybe they didn’t LOVE each other, but certainly they were unified in their last stand, willing to die together. And yet when there was confusion on that final day and Cleopatra may or may not have sent Antony a message telling him she was already dead, where did he want to go, following his attempt at suicide?
He wanted to be with her.
Plutarch, who lived nearly a hundred years after the demise of Antony and Cleopatra, left to us the most complete story of their relationship. Oh, there were other ancient sources that left tidbits, but Plutarch really “put out” a story worthy of attention. Shakespeare snagged it in a heartbeat. And each time I’ve read it, I can’t help but believe that there was something more emotional there than what some scholars want us to hold on to. Plutarch had access to a lot more contemporaneous history—both written and oral, I might add.
So—this novelist chooses to believe the best in Antony and Cleopatra. That they tried to craft a kingdom that would join Rome in its glory, that they were loving parents who were proud of the family they’d made, and lastly, that they loved and loved greatly, passionately, and just as marriage vows still state—unto death.
Author Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her current work is a trilogy on the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she has worked on for the past fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with the Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.
In researching the Antonius Trilogy, Brook’s travels have led her to Italy, Egypt, Greece, and even Turkey to explore places where Antony once lived, fought, and eventually died. While researching abroad, she consulted with scholars and archaeologists well-versed in Hellenistic and Roman history, specifically pinpointing the late Republican Period in Rome. Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, Son of Rome was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards.
Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her present works. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and two amazing Labrador Retrievers. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.