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Antony and Cleopatra, by Adrian Goldsworthy


"Antony and Cleopatra"


The Bottom Line

Adrian Goldsworthy's Antony and Cleopatra (2010) will satisfy those who can't get enough of the Egyptian queen. It is also worth reading by those interested in the period between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire because it presents information that isn't readily available: The analysis is thorough and in-depth, but still eminently readable, like others by Goldsworthy. For people who enjoy the romantic myth of Antony and Cleopatra, this look at the pair may be a bit disillusioning.

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Guide Review: Adrian Goldsworthy's Antony and Cleopatra

In Goldsworthy's Antony and Cleopatra, the romantic suicidal pair are put under a microscope to see what actual evidence there is for their most popular reputations. Clearly, the pair enjoyed the extravagant food and drink required for a reputation for good living, but was Antony really a brave general and Cleopatra either a seductress or a political dynamo?

Goldsworthy, author of How Rome Fell, Caesar Life of a Colossus, and Roman Warfare, among others, shows that even if Cleopatra were politically astute, she didn't matter: she just wasn't that important to Rome. She may not have been a particularly loving mother, but instead have feared her own son would remove her from power. Mark Antony, who did eventually learn the basics of a battlefield, was a bit of a spoiled brat, relying on family connections, winning drinking bouts and avoiding political service. His actions were always self-centered and never with thought of the good of Rome put first.


  • Goldsworthy brings lay readers up to speed on Roman history.

  • He tells the history of Cleopatra's family, the Ptolemies. The family became entrenched as well as it did because of the longevity of the first 3 monarchs. Later Ptolemies lived shorter lives and gradually lost the power that had been handed down.

  • Goldsworthy tells the story of the murder of Caesar and its aftermath, including Antony's cowering at home for fear he would be next.

  • Conflict between Antony and Octavian became inevitable in the nearly lawless period that followed the Ides of March assassination.

  • The triumvirate of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus wasn't an equal 3-way partnership. Octavian took more than he gave, but Antony was learning to be a soldier. Unfortunately, he didn't fare too well in the East.

  • Antony took solace in Cleopatra, who, in turn, secured power by her alliance with him.

  • Meanwhile, political leaders in Rome continued to bend the laws. Propaganda put Antony in the defensive by 32 B.C.

  • Never a great commander, Antony lost the battle of Actium.

  • Following defeat, Antony committed suicide, and then, so did Cleopatra, perhaps with great theater. Octavian may have turned a blind eye since not only was Cleopatra just not that important, but she may have been too much trouble.

  • Although Cleopatra's first son, Caesarion, was killed, Mark Antony's children survived to be used as political pawns in marriages. The Emperor Caligula was a descendant.

The 470-page Antony and Cleopatra has an excellent glossary, chronology, and family trees.

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By Adrian Goldsworthy
Yale University Press

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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