On 12 August 30 BC, in a scene immortalised many times over, Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator ended her life by asp poison. The snake venom, considered symbolic of divine royalty, was a fitting death for Egypt’s last queen. According to her wishes, the 39-year-old was buried beside her great love, Marcus Antonius, better known today as Mark Antony.
That is the legend. Yet the Tomb of Antony and Cleopatra has never been found. What is more, the truth of the story of her death and what followed is still the subject of intense debate. So where is Cleopatra’s Tomb? And how close is it to being found?
Defeat and Retreat
On 12 August 30 BC, Cleopatra was facing defeat by the Roman army of Octavian, who would become the future emperor Augustus. She had just buried her husband. Antony, believing her already dead, had killed himself with his own sword.
Under attack in Alexandria and fearing capture, the 39-year-old shut herself away in her chamber with two female servants. At this point, according to the widely-known legend and in a scene immortalised many times over, she ended her own life by asp poison. The snake venom, considered symbolic of divine royalty, was a fitting death for Egypt’s last queen. According to her wishes, Cleopatra was buried beside her beloved Antony.
Her death marked many ends, primarily that of her reign of almost three decades. Along with this disappeared Ptolemy’s Macedonian Dynasty and Egypt’s last queen. And yet it was also the beginning of the legend of Antony and Cleopatra. Today, one of the most intriguing parts of this legend is the location of the Tomb of Antony and Cleopatra, which has never been found.
Separating Facts from the Myths of Cleopatra's Tomb
One of the biggest hurdles for historians and archaeologists searching for Cleopatra’s Tomb is the uncertainty of the facts as they have always been presented.
For example, having said to have died in Alexandria, accounts vary as to whether Cleopatra had been in her chamber or inside her tomb at the time. Even her method of death has been questioned. There were no eyewitness accounts. The asp story was derived from later classical writers and there is some question over whether the truth was obscured, having been written by the Roman victors.
Cleopatra had, after all, just been defeated and captured by Octavian. Some even argue he was responsible for her murder, pointing to accounts that he ordered the murder of Cleopatra and Caesar’s son, Caesarion.
Tales of the Lost Tomb of Cleopatra
Contemporary accounts from the time tell of a vast and elaborate tomb commissioned by Cleopatra and completed in 30 BC. Built for her and Mark Antony, this would have been located alongside her palace in Alexandria. Unfortunately, the part of the city it was said to inhabit was submerged following an earthquake in the 4th century AD.
Extensive underwater excavations have formed part of the hunt for Cleopatra’s Lost Tomb. These have uncovered elements that match descriptions aligned with accounts of the tomb, but not the fabled structure itself.
Cleopatra's Tomb: Alexandria vs Taposiris Magna
Alexandria remains the most popular theoretical location of Antony and Cleopatra’s Tomb. However, there have been other suggested sites, including the city of Abusir near Cairo.
However, the main competitor to the Alexandria theory is a site of Ptolemaic ruins at Taposiris Magna, an ancient city located approximately 30 miles to the west of Alexandria. Some believe the queen’s handmaidens smuggled her body there. Excavations of the site have uncovered important Egyptian tombs, but none of royalty. To date, there has been no evidence of this being the location of Cleopatra’s Lost Tomb.
An Ongoing Puzzle
Cleopatra’s death marked many ends, among them her reign of almost three decades along with Ptolemy’s Macedonian Dynasty and Egypt’s last queen. And yet it was also the beginning of a legend and centuries of searching for Cleopatra’s Tomb. The majority, who believe the site was submerged along with her palace in ancient Alexandria, believe it is all but lost. However, there are those who still seek it out to this very day, hoping to finally discover the lost tomb of Cleopatra and possibly even her dearest Antony.