Egypt Captured - Sample Essay

Horace implies that Cleopatra’s death was a noble one, stating “determined on death, she grew fiercer yet….No humble woman, in a proud triumph”. This creates the image of a woman that would rather die than be part of a triumph in Rome and die proud. It is known that Cleopatra was killed by the bite of a “savage serpent”(Odes 1.37) (an asp) which itself, serves as a strong analogy for a noble death; the Uraeus cobra symbol that represented the royal protector goddess Wadjet, was an emblem of supreme power and legitimacy that Cleopatra regularly wore, it served to protect Cleopatra and yet, she used a cobra as the vehicle for her own suicide.

This suggests that Horace’s Odes 1.37 very much disagrees with the idea that Roman soldiery was “in service to a woman” by in fact, honouring Cleopatra’s noble death rather than dismissing her as a manipulative, scheming and devious conspirator. This can be taken as a more reliable source than Epode 9 as Horace has subtly gone against the wishes of his employer by praising the foreign Queen.

Many of the sources retelling stories of the Battle of Actium and Cleopatra’s suicide do not mention her by name rather, referring to her as ‘she’, ‘her’, ‘woman’ or similar; this is because it was disrespectful to refer to an enemy by name. However, Plutarch refers to “Cleopatra” in the Life of Marc Antony, which insinuates that Cleopatra was not as strong an enemy as otherwise implied, but a woman as opposed to an “alien Queen” (Propertius 4.6). Plutarch’s mentioning of “Cleopatra” advocates the idea that Roman soldiery was not “in service to a woman”. As Plutarch wrote after the reign of Augustus so was not obliged to use his work as Augustan propaganda; this makes this source more reliable than others and so it can be taken more at face value.

The denarius from 29-27 BC contains many allusions to the Battle of Actium. The Goddess of Victory, Nike, is seen on the obverse standing on the prow of a ship, a reference to the naval victory at Actium. On the reverse, Octavian is standing in a triumphal quadriga specifically commemorating the triple triumph of Octavian in 29 BC. Similarly, the denarius of 27 BC denotes the importance of the capture and annexation of Egypt; the crocodile on the reverse of the coin represents Egypt, with the words “AEGVPTO CAPTA” written around it, meaning “Egypt Captured”. The minting of all coins in Rome were controlled by the emperor and so were used as the primary form of propaganda. This suggests that coins are not a reliable Augustan source as it is Octavian who is in charge of how he wishes the Battle of Actium to be seen by the Roman people. The Arch of Augustus can also be taken as an unreliable source as, like the minting of the coins, building work was generally controlled by the emperor too.

In conclusion, the weight of evidence tends to suggest that Augustan sources do not portray an accurate portrayal of the Battle of Actium. Sources such as Plutarch’s Life of Marc Antony provide a far more balanced view of the Battle than the sources such as Horace or numismatic evidence. This is most likely down to the fact the Augustan sources were either commissioned by Augustus himself or produced under his reign and therefore, could not provide an honest account of the Battle as it could result in heavy punishment for the perpetrator.