Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.10, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.5, SL.6-8.6, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.9

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.6, Civ.14, Eco.1, Eco.2, His.1, His.3, His.5, His.14

NCSS: Power, authority, and governance; Time, continuity, and change; Individuals, groups, and institutions; Global connections

Egypt’s Last Queen

She was young and bold, but could she save her once-mighty empire?

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

Illustration by Meg Hunt

Queen Cleopatra dazzles Mark Antony aboard her luxurious barge.


*Counselor to Cleopatra

Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt

Dellius, aide to Mark Antony

Mark Antony, co-ruler of Rome

Octavian (ahk-TAY-vee-un), co-ruler of Rome

Caesarion (say-ZAIR-ee-un), Cleopatra’s son

Octavia, Octavian’s sister, Mark Antony’s wife

*Captain of Cleopatra’s warships

Eiras (EYE-ras), Cleopatra’s lady-in-waiting

Charmion (SHAR-mee-un), Cleopatra’s lady-in-waiting

Narrators A-E

*Indicates a fictional or composite character. All others were real people.


Narrator A: Ancient Egypt’s thriving civilization lasted thousands of years. Its last capital, the dazzling city of Alexandria, was a center of education and culture.

Narrator B: But by the first century B.C., Egypt had been over­shadowed by a new superpower: Rome. Rome had conquered most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and was becoming a growing threat to Egypt.

Narrator C: In 51 B.C., a new Egyptian ruler came to the throne. Cleopatra was only 18, but she was determined to restore her kingdom to glory.

Scene 1

Narrator D: Born in 69 B.C., Cleopatra grows up in Alexandria and learns from some of the greatest scholars of her time.

Narrator E: After her father dies, Cleopatra takes the throne with her brother. The young queen knows major challenges lie ahead.

Counselor: My Queen, your father borrowed a lot of money from Roman bankers. When he was forced from power by a rebellion, Rome crushed the rebels and put him back on the throne. Now that your father is gone, Egypt is left with a debt we can’t repay.

Cleopatra VII: If Rome doesn’t get its money, I fear it will demand our kingdom instead. I must keep Egypt free.

Narrator A: In 48 B.C., Cleopatra’s brother tries to seize the throne for himself. Despite her concerns about Rome, Cleopatra must seek help from the most power­ful Roman of all: its ruler, Julius Caesar.

Narrator B: Caesar defeats her brother’s army. The ties between Egypt and Rome grow stronger than ever. Cleopatra forms a strong alliance with Caesar, and the two have a son, Caesarion.

Scene 2

Narrator C: In 44 B.C., Caesar is assassinated. A civil war breaks out in Rome. Two years later, Octavian and Mark Antony lead a force that defeats the rebel army in the Greek city of Philippi. While Octavian stays in Rome, Antony sets up head­quarters in what is now Turkey.

Dellius: Antony, come quick! A magnificent barge is headed toward us! Look at its purple sails—and Queen Cleopatra, under a canopy of gold. Why is she here?

Mark Antony: I heard that she supported the rebels who fought us. I summoned her to explain herself.

Narrator D: Cleopatra invites Antony and his officers on board her ship for a feast. A dozen tables overflow with food. Wine is served in golden chalices. The Romans have never seen such luxury.

Antony: Here is the glory of Egypt!

Cleopatra: Sir, I assure you that I was loyal during your civil war. I even sent ships to fight for you.

Antony: Cleopatra, I never really doubted you. I just wanted to see if you were as impressive as Caesar said you were. Now I know you are even more amazing than that.

Narrator E: That autumn, Antony visits Cleopatra in Alexandria, where he is treated like a king. Months later, she gives birth to twins fathered by Antony. Forever after, Antony’s and Cleopatra’s fates are intertwined.

Scene 3

Narrator A: About a year later, Antony meets Octavian in the Roman port city of Brundisium.

Octavian: You’ve been gone too long! Here we are trying to rule over the mightiest empire on Earth, and you’re off with the queen of Egypt!

Antony: You’ve never met her, have you? Not only is she beautiful, she’s smarter than any man I’ve ever known.

Octavian: Don’t be blinded by her charms. Cleopatra’s Egypt is a dying dream. Rome is the future! Remember what we discussed. You will marry my sister Octavia, and you and I will rule Rome. Agreed?

Antony: Yes. We’re brothers now.

Narrator B: Antony weds Octavia and makes his home in Athens. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Cleopatra is busy trying to provide food for her people during a severe drought.

Narrator C: Things start to go badly for Antony. In 36 B.C., he tries to conquer Parthia [modern-day Iran]. He is beaten and flees to Cleopatra’s side, in Alexandria.

Antony: I’ve lost half my army and sent Octavia back to Rome! Our marriage is a lie—and now Octavian blames me for shaming his sister. I can never go back to Rome.

Cleopatra: He wants to rule Rome alone. Let him. Stay with me. Here in Egypt, we can be together.

Narrator D: The queen sends for her 13-year-old son, Caesarion.

Cleopatra: My child, I’ve decided that we’re going to have a big celebra­tion! You’ll be presented to Alexandria as Egypt’s king of kings.

Caesarion: Why now, Mother? Are you going away?

Cleopatra: No. You and I will be co-rulers. With Antony by our side, Egypt will be mighty once again!

Scene 4

Narrator E: When Octavian hears that Antony has returned perma­nently to Cleopatra, he is furious.

Octavian: Octavia, do you realize how much land Antony has given to Egypt? And he says that Caesarion is king of Egypt, the heir of Caesar!

Octavia: But you can’t oppose Antony without risking civil war. The true threat is Egypt’s queen.

Octavian: I’ll conquer Cleo­patra, dead or alive!

Narrator A: Octavian declares war on Cleopatra. Antony vows to fight beside her. In 31 B.C., the largest navies ever gathered meet at sea near the Greek city of Actium. Cleopatra and Antony command separate fleets against Octavian’s.

Captain (to Cleopatra): Many of our allies have taken Octavian’s side. Even Anto­ny’s loyal aide Dellius has left us.

Narrator B: Cleopatra watches as Antony’s ships burst into flames.

Captain: We must flee to safety, my Queen!

Cleopatra: Who’s approaching in that little boat? Is that Antony?!

Narrator C: It is. Antony climbs aboard Cleopatra’s ship and gives her the bad news.

Antony: I have led my men to slaughter. All is lost!

Scene 5

Narrator D: They head back to Egypt. Once in Alexandria, Cleo­patra tries to negotiate peace with Octavian. When that fails, she prepares for Roman troops to arrive.

Cleopatra: My children must flee!

Eiras: They are ready, my lady.

Cleopatra: If I can’t escape, I won’t let the Romans take me alive. Have you prepared the poison?

Eiras: I have. What about Antony?

Cleopatra: He’s no help to us now. He stares off into space, wondering what he could have done differently.

Charmion (bursting into the room): Antony has stabbed himself!

Cleopatra: Bring him to me.

Narrator E: Antony dies in Cleopatra’s arms. When Octavian hears of Antony’s suicide, he rushes to Alexandria.

Octavian (to Cleopatra): This is your fault! Antony was a noble Roman before you ruined him.

Cleopatra: I loved him! Together we could have made Egypt great again. Now I beg you: Spare Caesarion, and let me go into exile.

Narrator A: Octavian leaves, but Cleopatra doubts that he’ll honor her wishes.

Cleopatra: He’s saving us for the humiliation of defeat. I cannot live like that. Bring me the poison.

Narrator B: Cleopatra takes the poison. Soon, she is found dead beside Antony’s body.


Narrator C: Despite his anger, Octavian buried Cleopatra and Antony together in Alexandria. Caesarion ruled for 18 days before Octavian had him killed. In 30 B.C., the centuries-old kingdom of Egypt was reduced to a province of Rome.

Narrator D: Three years later, Octavian changed his name to Caesar Augustus. He became the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which dominated the world for more than four centuries.

CORE QUESTION: What alliances does Cleopatra seek as she tries to strengthen her power in Egypt?

Cleopatra’s World

The queen of Egypt challenged the dominant empire of her time.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®
Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Artifacts found recently near the Valley of the Kings

Finding Ancient Egypt

Egypt’s civilization is so old, it was ancient even in Cleopatra’s time.

Cleopatra was born 2,000-plus years ago. Her world might seem incredibly old now, but Egyptian civilizations had thrived for thousands of years before her time—and we’re still finding evidence of it today.

This past spring, Egyptian officials announced two huge discoveries that even Cleopatra would have considered old. In southern Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, a 3,500-year-old tomb was uncovered that held at least eight mummies and more than 1,000 statues (see photo above). And in northern Egypt, near the capital of Cairo, something even older was found: a pyramid dating back some 3,700 years.

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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