PhotobucketWhen Cleopatra heard that the strapping red-haired general was waiting for her in her foray, she greeted the news with a smile. She had first met Mark Antony many years before in Egypt, when she was only a child. She had liked him from the start. Now he was one of her only friends in Rome. The two shared one compelling bond: Both were fiercely loyal to her lover, the great Julius Ceasar.

The moment she laid eyes on Antony, her smile faded. His face gave her the grim news before his words. Julius Caesar was dead, murdered by his own council. Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, were in terrible danger. There was no time to lose. They must get out of Rome immediately.

PhotobucketCleopatra had married Caesar in Egypt. Though the union was not recognized in Rome, Caesarion was Caesar's only son. A child of three, he would be a threat to those who wanted to rule in Caesar's place as long as he lived. Worse, the Roman populace universally despised his mother. Cleopatra was blamed for Caesar's excessive ambition, his desire to convert Rome from a republic to a monarchy with himself as king and Caesarion as his heir. Some claimed she had bewitched Caesar with African magic.

PhotobucketIn truth, Cleopatra was not really African. She was Macedonian (Greek), descended from the man Caesar admired most, Alexander the Great. Though blonde and fair - she wore a dark wig in public as part of her ceremonial headdress - Cleopatra was hardly a classical beauty. But she possessed more than pedigree and wealth. To present herself before Caesar for the first time, she rolled herself up in Persian rug. She managed more than a clever introduction, averting an assassin's knife in process. She was bright, clever, resourceful and - most of all - original. There was little doubt that Caesar truly loved her.

PhotobucketCaesar was a temperate man, a serious thinker and philosopher, a man who walked upon the world stage - and knew it. He was a man who courted history.

PhotobucketHe had but one weakness. An epileptic since birth, his seizures grew worse under stress, striking often at the most inopportune times. Caesar was terribly embarrassed by his infirmary, but in Cleopatra he discovered a partner who could nurse him through his illness, shield him from the public eye and even make decisions in his stead. In a sense, his weakness drew them closer, forming an indelible bond of trust.

PhotobucketAntony's response to Cleopatra's danger was probably based as much upon his loyalty to Caesar as anything else. There is no evidence that any relationship beyond friendship existed between Antony and Cleopatra before the assassination of Caesar. Still, Antony was taking a considerable risk. As Caesar's favorite general he would be part of the Triumvirate chosen to rule in Caesar's stead. His alliance with the unpopular Cleopatra would galvanize a score of bitter enemies against him in Rome.

PhotobucketHowever, in the moments following Caesar's bloody murder, all Antony could think of was getting Cleopatra and young Caesarion out of Rome. Legend has it that Antony disguised himself as a pregnant beggar woman, strapping little Caesarion to his belly. The muscular Antony would have made a rather imposing beggar woman, but the ruse apparently worked. In rags, Antony, Cleopatra and Caesarion were smuggled aboard a mercantile ship, eventually making their way safely back to Egypt.

PhotobucketIn the majestic Egyptian capital, Alexandria, the romance of Antony and Cleopatra blossomed. They were married on the Nile, though Antony had not divorced his Roman wife. Of course, Cleopatra needed him for Caesarion, for herself, for the plans she had made with Caesar. He would betray her once, but he would come back. In the end, he would risk everything for her.

PhotobucketHer love for him was as fiery as his red curly hair, and as difficult to control. He drank too much. He enjoyed the company of his soldier friends. The royal couple was known to engage in fierce shouting matches. But they produced three beautiful children: the heavenly twins Cleopatra Selene (the Moon) and Alexander Helios (the Sun) and the baby Ptolemy Philadelphus.

PhotobucketAntony was an intelligent man and a competent general, but he was no Caesar, a fact that weighed upon him - and his wife. In truth, both Antony and Cleopatra lived in Caesar's shadow. It would cost them their kingdoms.

PhotobucketIn their crucial showdown with Octavian, Antony's brother-in-law and their enemy in Rome, they were at odds about what to do. Cleopatra wanted Antony to lead the attack by sea, giving the glory to Egypt, which possessed an impressive navy. But Antony, primarily a field commander, still owned the loyalty of his old Roman legions. He wanted to be on the ground, leading the charge with his familiar troops.

PhotobucketAnd he wanted Caesarion to stay at home in Alexandria. Octavian would kill Caesarion at the first opportunity. But Cleopatra's dreams of glory had ignited a fierce passion within her. She wanted Caesarion by her side, and Antony too. She felt a confidence she had not known since Caesar's death.

PhotobucketOf course, Caesar would never have agreed to such a ridiculous plot. Nor would Cleopatra have pressed him so diligently.

PhotobucketThe battle began well enough for Egypt, with the ship of Cleopatra and Caesarion leading one flank and Antony's ship leading the other. But the smaller Roman boats soon outmaneuvered the large Egyptian ships. As the battle began to turn, Cleopatra feared for Caesarion. He was 17 now. She had wanted him to experience the glory of his first great victory. Now, she just wanted to get him out of there. She turned her ship to flee, wishing only to protect her son. Inexplicably, Antony followed. From the shore, Antony's loyal troops watched their leader sail away from the raging battle on the tail of the Queen of the Nile. Disheartened, they surrendered to their former compatriots.

PhotobucketLoyalty to Antony could be forgiven, Octavian reassured them, now that they had seen the error of their ways. Soon the united Roman legions were ready to march against Alexandria.

PhotobucketWord was sent to Cleopatra. Egypt stood no chance against the combined Roman forces. Turn Antony over, Octavian wrote. Spare everyone a costly battle. Remain as Queen of Egypt. All that needed to be done was to turn Antony over.

PhotobucketOctavian, soon to be the Emperor Augustus, was not nearly so charmed by Cleopatra as Caesar and Antony had been. But he felt he knew her pretty well. Ambitious, but practical, he knew nothing had come easily to Cleopatra. Her own sister had tried to kill her. She had needed a keen survival instinct to get this far. Surely, she would accept his offer.

PhotobucketBy this time, Antony was a ruin of a man. Within days he would fall upon his own sword. But Octavian had underestimated Cleopatra. She would never betray her husband, no matter how hopeless the cause. She smuggled Caesarion out of the country, erroneously believing him to be in safe hands (Ceasarion was murdered by his own tutor). When Antony killed himself, Cleopatra resolved not to be taken back to Rome in chains to be humiliated in front of the venomous crowd. With the help of her clever daughter, Selene, a poisonous cobra was secretly slipped past the guard. Cleopatra put the snake to her throat and died in her bed like a Queen.

PhotobucketCleopatra's son, Helios, was killed by Octavian. Selene and little Ptolemy were brought to Rome in chains to march in Octavian's triumphal procession.

PhotobucketSitting in the audience was Juba, a former African prince who himself had been brought to Rome in chains as a child of six. Like most prisoners, Juba was to be sent to the dungeons after the procession, where he would die of starvation or be eaten by rats. But the terrified child had refused to cry and conducted himself with such intelligence and poise that he captured the eye of Octavian, who spared his life. Now age 23, he had become a favorite of the Roman court and a personal friend of the great poet Ovid.

PhotobucketJuba watched the garish display - the armies, the horses, the magnificent wild beasts, the doomed prisoners, the little orphans in chains, dusty tear stained faces, legs giving out. They couldn't take it much longer, he knew.

PhotobucketA trumpet blared, frightening the horse of Tiberius, Octavian's 13-year-old nephew. The horse backed into Ptolemy. Selene screamed, throwing her arms around her brother. Juba sprang from his seat, racing onto the Via Sacra and snatching the small boy into his arms. Then he turned to the sobbing Selene. "I know you're scared," he said, "but remember who you are."

PhotobucketPerhaps moved by the scene, or the courage Selene would exhibit from that point on, Octavian spared the lives of Cleopatra's children, raising them in his own house with his own nephews and nieces.

PhotobucketSelene would eventually marry Juba and the two of them would go on to rule a new nation in Africa and built a city of dreams. Their life would be the stuff of legends. But, that's another story.