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Join the conversation! There are now 13 comments on this chapter's page 101. Egypt: The First Territorial State. What are your thoughts?
  1. Aksej says

    Isn’t the thing about time scales at the very beginning not a matter of perception? It seems like we think that less happened in the same time because we know less about that time, is what I hear.

    • That makes sense. It also makes it seem like thousands and thousands of years were somehow a briefer amount of time than the last century, because it seems like so much more happened recently that it must occupy more time.

      I’m sure if Terry Pratchett were still alive, he’d have a cool narrative device locked and loaded to make that perception some kind of natural law, to great comedic effect. (Sadly, I am no Terry Pratchett. Nor a Terry Gilliam, Terry-Thomas, nor even a Terry Bradshaw.)

  2. Gebe says

    Try to convince a woman to be with you instead of killing herself, but make it clear her son has to die. I don’t think that’s going to work out for you Octavian.

    • Yeah, he botched that one big time. The full story only makes it worse.

      Octavian totally wanted peace with Cleopatra, even before Antony was defeated. A favorable merger giving Rome significant control over the agricultural riches of Egypt would have been awesome. And assuming sovereign power over Egypt would have been far easier if Cleopatra remained on the throne as his vassal or better yet as his empress. He’d been negotiating with her since well before he took Alexandria and defeated Antony. But now, when she and her handmaidens had locked themselves inside the sepulcher with Antony’s body, Octavian feared that she might take her life.

      In the comic, I’ve compressed many days of events into that final panel. Fearing for the worst, Octavian quickly sent an envoy to negotiate with Cleopatra and talk her out of suicide. When she was behind the door telling the envoy to take a hike, some soldiers came in through a window. Cleopatra drew a dagger and tried to stab herself, but she was overpowered and searched for more weapons. Octavian ordered that she be kept under watch in a more splendid location fit for a queen. And so she was placed under a sort of house arrest in the palace (palace arrest?), which Octavian made his headquarters. There, she and her children were cared for, while Cleopatra and Octavian negotiated over what would happen next (including how much of her treasure he could seize). When she threatened suicide again, Octavian said he’d kill all her children if she did it. Of course, her son Caesarion would have to go regardless, but… Anyway, eventually Cleopatra found out that she and her children were going to be transported to Rome in a few days. She immediately requested that she be allowed to visit Antony’s grave one last time, and gave Octavian a list of demands for him to consider in the meantime. When he got around to reading it, however, all she’d asked was that she be buried next to Antony and that her children be taken care of. Octavian ran to her chamber, but it was too late: she’d taken poison. She was 39 years old.

      So yeah, Octavian totally cocked that up. It wasn’t going to be so easy now to get Egypt to accept him as a legitimate ruler. Now he was just a general who’d taken Alexandria. He’d have to seize the damn country now. He wound up having to send in armies to conquer the whole territory by force and hold it while a new government got set up, which turned out to be anything but easy. If only he’d read that letter in time… He must have been kicking himself.

      Not only that, her death screwed up his plans for the big triumphal parade in Rome. He’d wanted Cleopatra marching not only as the defeated ruler (which was always a nice touch) but also as a very visible demonstration that Rome and Egypt were now united. Instead, he had to get a sculptor to make a statue of Cleopatra that could be wheeled down the avenue.

      Because she was (among many other things) the high priestess of Isis, whose symbol was the snake (notice her bracelet/armlet?), the sculptor naturally depicted her holding a snake. Nobody back in Rome got the reference, however, and so the parade-goers naturally assumed that the statue showed how she’d died, apparently by getting a snake to bite her. There are so many ways that this story doesn’t even begin to make sense, but you have to admit it makes for a damn good bit of gossip, and to this day that’s how most people think she killed herself. So if you think about it, Octavian screwed up history while he was at it. Yay, Octavian.

      To his credit, though, Octavian did honor Cleopatra’s last wish: He had her buried next to Octavian, with full royal honors. Can’t go around disrespecting royalty. Sets a bad precedent.

  3. pgrmdave says

    Was Cleopatra likely to be a redhead? I would’ve assumed dark hair, given her background. Or is that a red wig?

    • She was of Macedonian descent, and it wasn’t unheard of for Greeks to have red hair. Ancient descriptions of Scythians say they were blue-eyed redheads, and Thracians were also described as having red hair. In the Iliad, Achilles was a redhead. Aristotle made all kinds of sweeping generalizations about redheads. (And Alexander the Great, Macedonian, was blond.) It wasn’t just Greece—you found redheads all over the Mediterranean. Even some Egyptians had naturally red hair (without dyeing or bleaching it), as apparently Ramses II and several other pharaohs did. Which shouldn’t be surprising, as the Egyptians genetically came from Mediterranean peoples, not sub-Saharan. So it wouldn’t have been improbable for Cleo to have had red hair.

      But it’s not just a question of probabilities. Cleopatra is described as having flaming red hair, sparking (ha) a fashion trend when she ruled, so that at a feast in Alexandria Julius Caesar commented that he hadn’t seen so much red hair even in the Rhine lands. The “Venus and Cupid” fresco in Pompeii, painted during her lifetime, almost certainly depicts Cleo and her infant Caesarion, and even with the faded paint she’s a ginger. Another fresco in Herculaneum that’s definitely her also has ginger hair.

      So the evidence is pretty strong that she was a redhead. She may have even used henna to accentuate the color. (She certainly would have used henna lipstick, too, I hope I got the color right.) She also wore her hair up, not in the straight pageboy-looking cut we’re used to seeing in pop culture. That’s a typical Hollywood anachronism inspired by the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb (which inspired all kinds of women’s fashion, hairstyles, and makeup well into the 30s).

  4. Michael says

    Would you please provide citations for this lesson?

    I would like to go into more depth about it.

  5. Nikolay S. says

    Your banner for the print versions of the comic link to an Amazon page with your books, plus a ton of other romance novels? If you search by author, it only lists your books though, so you may want to change the link to a search by author.

  6. Lydia says

    Fun fact! Octavian wasn’t his real name. That’s a construction to make things less confusing–it literally just means “Guy who used to be called Octavius.” So if he “used to” be called Octavius, what name was he going by?

    Gaius Julius Caesar.

    Yes, when his uncle, Gaius Julius Caesar, was assassinated, one of the things in his will was he inherited his name.

    • And boy was THAT awkward! People needed a way to make it clear which Gaius Julius Caesar they were talking about. (His followers just called him Caesar, and opponents might have had more colorful names for him, but there are documents where both men are mentioned and it can be a puzzle to figure out which is which.) Technically, he could have been called “Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus,” but he HATED that. So you didn’t. You might have called him “Caesar adulescens”—sort of like “Caesar the Younger”—but yeah, he really just went by Gaius Julius Caesar. It got a LOT easier for everybody about 17 years later when they made him princeps and gave him the new honorific “Augustus.”

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