TV Review: Unearthing Ancient Secrets – The Death of Cleopatra

This is an episode of a series I have started TIVOing. In this episode they have a profiler, Pat Brown, look into what might be wrong with the story of Cleopatra and the asp. Who is Pat Brown? Well they give has her credential the profiling of the Washington DC Sniper. Given the hopelessly bungled investigation of that incident, this hardly seems like something to have confidence in.

The repudiation of the suicide story is pretty thin. The “evidence” is that Cleopatra was a ‘fighter’ or ‘survivor’. Given her situation, a prisoner of the man who was the sole ruler of the entire known world, supposedly destined for a humiliating triumph followed by execution, the supposition that she should fight on assuming something would ‘turn up’ is ludicrous. The argument that today’s suicides are sad and ineffectual hardly applies to the drives of a queen and demigod. Andi its notable that the suicide of Mark Anthony somehow escapes any sort of scrutiny.

Another other piece of counterargument is that Cleo was dead before her suicide note brought the guards. Since her handmaidens were not dead at the same time, its reasonable to think that Cleo made sure that she was dead before having her handmaidens send the note.

And the final nail, the “motive” is that Augustus had her killed, is pretty silly. For one thing, reportedly he wanted her to display in his triumph. If he did not, there’s no reason why he would feel constrained in ordering the execution of a foreign ruler that Rome had gone to war with. There would be no reason to conceal it because to Rome it wasn’t a crime!

The reason the story of Cleopatra’s suicide resonates through history is that by her death she defied the might of Rome one last time. They make the point that Octavian/Augustus was a master of spin and message control. This would not be the kind of message he would prefer to get out about the woman who he blamed for a huge war and whose son by Julius Caesar was a possible threat (if a remote one) to Octavian’s positon as the heir of Caesar.

There was a funny moment where they said that Augustus got his name from the month he conquered Egypt. Actually August got its name from him, not the reverse. This hardly requires much research to discover.

Most of the rest of these shows are much better done – even the one on the possible murder of King Tut presents the pros and cons of the theory to a much greater extent, even showing at the end some new evidence that casts some doubt on the murder theory – first by countering the X Ray evidence for a head injury, and second by showing a possible leg wound. Although they don’t emphasize this, a lingering wound and decline could lead to the succession crisis between the childless queen and dying king versus the viziers who need to set up a new government after his death, without the need for an actual act of murder.