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History Mysteries

Cleopatra Cause of Death – Suicide or Murder?

The actual cause of Cleopatra’s death is one of the great enduring mysteries of ancient times. Was it suicide by snake or political murder?



Cleopatra Cause of Death
Credit: Shutterstock

Egyptian Queen
69bc – 12 August 30bc

The death of Cleopatra is one of the most famous in all history. The Hellenic-Egyptian queen who had nearly brought about the downfall of the Roman Empire finally found herself a prisoner of Octavian Caesar – the man who would change his name and become one of the greatest rulers of all time – Augustus Caesar. But what was really Cleopatra’s cause of death?

It was apparently Caesar’s intention to display Cleopatra, naked, whipped and as a slave, in all the cities and countries that she had once ruled as had been done to her own sister Arsinoe.

It seems that Cleopatra was desperate to avoid the humiliation and had an Asp (Egyptian Cobra) smuggled into her room and allowed it to bite her on her breast. Naturally, she died. This is one version of events.

A more controversial version is that Augustus Caesar simply wanted the rebellion of Mark Anthony and the chaos that it had caused to end. Displaying Cleopatra as a beaten Monarch wasn’t his style. He was a master of power politics and would have certainly known that this would stimulate anger and support for the Egyptian cause. Much easier and better to give Cleopatra a reason to commit suicide and then have her killed by one of her own snakes. Ah … now that makes more sense.

In fact, Augustus believed that Cleopatra’s son, Cizarian, was a threat to his rule of the Roman Empire in the Middle East. Only days before Augustus arrived in Alexandria, Cleopatra had smuggled out a 14-year-old son to Ethiopia. He too was eventually he was hunted down and killed.


There is a carving of a woman surrounded by a snake in the Egyptian Temple of Philae and this has sometimes been confused with Cleopatra. The carving is actually of the Goddess Isis and although the woman were said to be connected spiritually – they were clearly different. However, the carving may have contributed to the legend of how Cleopatra died.