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Cleopatra: Rome and Egypt, 69–30 BC OCR Teachers' Guide

This Teacher's Guide is taken from the OCR Cleopatra: Rome and Egypt, 69-30BC Teachers' Guide which can be accessed at the OCR website and downloaded in full here.

Overview of the topic

Cleopatra has always held a particular fascination for students of the ancient world. Her fabled relationships with the most powerful Romans of the day enabled her to maintain her country’s independence against the odds for over twenty years; rightly or wrongly, Roman writers at the time and later judged that this foreign monarch’s actions and ambitions had had a profound effect on the course of their history. This depth study gives students the chance to understand the latter stages of the collapse of the Roman Republic – one of the most complex and dramatic periods in Roman history – through the prism of Cleopatra’s colourful reign. The principal challenge for students when studying Cleopatra is to learn to evaluate effectively the confusing and contradictory portrayals of her in the archaeological and literary sources. Thus, this depth study provides an excellent opportunity for students to develop skills vital for drawing meaningful conclusions about figures in ancient history.

This depth study is designed to take approximately 27–32 hours of teaching time to complete. This guide will provide an overview of how this content might be taught in that timeframe. The planning guide is structured around the narratives / content and contains possible points that might be considered or discussed in class. The planning guide does not contain activities. This is intentional to enable you to choose a series of activities that compliment your own teaching.

Teachers may use this guide as an example of one possible way of approaching the teaching of the ‘Cleopatra: Rome and Egypt’ depth study and NOT a prescriptive plan for how your teaching should be structured.

What this guide is intended to do is to show you what the teaching outline might look like in practice. It should then help you to build your own scheme of work, confident that you’ve covered all the required content in sufficient depth.


The content and focus of the new depth study is very similar to the old ‘Cleopatra and her role in Roman politics’ unit. Students will examine a range of sources for Cleopatra’s life and reign in detail and need to think critically about how much we can actually learn from them about her actions and motives. A wider range of sources concerning Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar has been included to allow students to explore this important episode in her life more meaningfully. In addition, there is now a more explicit focus on the events and significance of Actium, which was implicit in the old specification. Teachers will need to plan carefully to allow enough time in particular for a thorough exploration of the causes of the Battle of Actium and analysis of the sources’ portrayal of Cleopatra’s actions and motives.

The table below shows continued content from the GCSE ‘Cleopatra and her role in Roman politics’ unit and the areas expanded upon for the new depth study specifically. Bear in mind that each of these points will not all require the same amount of teaching time: please see the planning guide for further guidance.

Continued content areas from GCSE ‘Cleopatra and her role in Roman Politics’

New content areas for Cleopatra: Rome and Egypt

· Cleopatra’s family background

· Cleopatra’s early reign and situation at the time of Caesar’s arrival in Egypt

· Cleopatra’s character and personal relationships

· The political relationship between Egypt and the Roman Republic

· Cleopatra as queen of Egypt, including expansion of Egyptian territory, her self-representation and promotion of the cult of Isis

· Cleopatra’s political relationships with Roman leaders, i.e. Caesar, Antony and Octavian, and their significance for both Rome and Egypt

· The Battle of Actium and its significance in Cleopatra’s life

· Cleopatra’s suicide

· A greater range of sources relating to Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar

· Greater focus on the Battle of Actium as a theme in its own right



Common misconceptions

The items below are key areas which pupils may need explaining in more depth. As a teacher it is important that you have a really good working knowledge of these aspects.

Attitudes of Roman writers towards Cleopatra. Students must not be allowed to take the sources at face value, particularly when it comes to judging Cleopatra’s motives, and be taught to evaluate their usefulness carefully. None of the set source authors apart from Cicero had ever met her, and his letter shows clear evidence of bias. It is crucial to distinguish between the way Cleopatra is characterised by the Augustan-era authors and those who wrote later, i.e. Cassius Dio, Plutarch and Suetonius.

The role of client kings and queens. Students may find it difficult to understand what Cleopatra’s ‘role in Roman politics’ was supposed to be. Roman allies were expected to support Rome unquestioningly, particularly when the Romans called upon them for military supplies. For the most part, client kings and (less often) queens, played no direct role in Roman politics other than this. When we talk about Cleopatra’s role in Roman politics, we are really referring to her allied status, which gave some protection from a Roman invasion, and her personal influence with Caesar and Antony. It is important that students are clear that she could not affect the proceedings of senate meetings or participate directly in Roman political life.

The nature of Ptolemaic rule. Right from the outset, it is important to stress that the Ptolemies were Macedonian, not Egyptian. Cleopatra was a descendent of Ptolemy I, who had gained control of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great three hundred years before. Alexandria was a Greek, outward-looking city, where native Egyptians were at the bottom of the social heap. However, Cleopatra was not the first Ptolemy to show an interest in Egyptian religion and culture (although she was, apparently, the first Ptolemy to speak Egyptian). For example, her father, Ptolemy XII, had ordered himself depicted in Egyptian style overcoming his enemies on the Ptolemaic temple to Horus at Edfu.

Roman politics. The two decades during which Cleopatra interacted with the Roman Republic were not ones when the Roman political system was operating for the most part in a traditional way, but nor was there an emperor, which students may find difficult to grasp. Caesar’s dictatorship had opened the door wide to the domination of men who commanded the loyalty of legions in their own right and divided up the lands ruled by Rome as they pleased, but this is not to say that there were not still consuls, praetors, quaestors and the rest. However, they matter little in our study of Cleopatra’s interaction with Rome.

The Battle of Actium and Cleopatra’s actions. Students often find it difficult to picture events before and at Actium. Maps and diagrams are essential and the 1963 film is quite helpful, although it imposes dubious motives on Cleopatra, which students should be encouraged to compare with the sources and question thoroughly. Students should look at the two sides’ preparation for the war in detail and to ask who was better prepared and what Antony and Cleopatra’s longer-term plans may have been, including whether Cleopatra’s departure from the battle was planned. They may find Antony’s decision to fight at sea utterly baffling if they do not consider the benefits of fighting a naval battle at this point, for which they will need to look explore beyond the set sources, which focus on the corrupting influence of Cleopatra. Exploring the prominence given to Actium in Augustan propaganda would help students to appreciate how distorted a view we get of Cleopatra’s motives and the significance of the battle.

Planning guide

It is important to note that ‘Cleopatra: Rome and Egypt, 69–30 BC’ is a depth study. This means that students need to understand the complexity and development of her relationship with Rome over the course of her reign and to be able to evaluate how much influence she had over the key figures in Roman politics, as well as her leadership of Egypt. Focus will be on a wide range of historical concepts including: causation, consequence, change and continuity, significance, and similarity and difference.

The basic format of this termly planning guide is to take the events in chronological order as the easiest approach for students to gain familiarity with the facts and sources. The themes in the specification can be accessed at various points in the scheme. Throughout this planning guide relevant ancient sources are mentioned, as well as useful themes for discussion in the classroom.



Relevant ancient sources

Themes for Discussion

Introduction of key concepts

(Suggested timing: 2 hours)

· The geography of Cleopatra’s world

· Roman attitudes to foreigners

· Roman expectations of men and women

· An overview of Roman republican government


· The qualities and behaviours the Romans admired / condemned

· Traditional Roman views and how they might have affected how foreign monarchs like Cleopatra were viewed

Egypt’s relationship with Rome

(Suggested timing: 1 hour)

· Egypt had been under threat of invasion by Rome for several decades before Cleopatra came to the throne. Ptolemy X had left Egypt to Rome in his will in 88 BC and there had been discussion of full annexation on at least two occasions since. Ptolemy Auletes owed his throne to the Romans, who had restored him in 55 BC. Cleopatra will have been acutely aware of the continued threat of a full-scale Roman invasion.

· Ptolemy Auletes considered Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) his Roman patron. His children inherited this status, which caused Pompey to seek refuge in Egypt after he was defeated by Caesar at Pharsalus in 48. It would be useful at this stage to explore the role of client kings within the Roman Empire and Roman attitudes to them and expectations of them.


· The value of client kings / queens to the Romans

· Expectations of Cleopatra as a client queen

· The reasons why the annexation of Egypt would be so attractive to the Romans

Cleopatra’s early life and reign (69–48 BC)

(Suggested timing: 1 hour)

· We know very little about Cleopatra’s childhood, but it would be interesting to explore the upbringing of Egyptian and Greek girls. There is evidence from Plutarch that she spoke a range of languages and was educated to an impressive standard – one might make a comparison with Elizabeth I.

· Ptolemy Auletes died in 51 BC, leaving Cleopatra co-ruler with her younger brother Ptolemy XIII. It is possible that Cleopatra reigned alongside her father for a short time. Upon her father’s death, Cleopatra clearly intended to rule alone for as long as possible: she minted coins and sealed state documents in her name alone. She began to associate herself with the Egyptian religion, attending the installation of the new sacred bull of Amon-Ra. She also dealt successfully with the Romans for the first time: the sons of Marcus Bibulus, the governor of Syria, had come to Egypt to recruit the Roman troops left there in 55 BC, who promptly murdered them. Cleopatra acted decisively, handing over the murderers to Bibulus. However, several bad harvests led her to issue a decree prioritising grain movement to Alexandria over Upper Egypt. Her brother’s advisors also began to fight back against his exclusion from government and, by the summer of 49 BC, Cleopatra had been driven out of Alexandria.

· Coin of Ptolemy Auletes

· Coin of Cleopatra with distinctive hairstyle and hooked nose

· Head of Cleopatra as a young woman

· The nature of Cleopatra’s rule in her first few years as queen

· The value of the ancient sources to understand Cleopatra’s early life and reign

Cleopatra’s personal and political relationship with Caesar (48–44 BC)

(Suggested timing: 4 hours)

· It may be useful to briefly cover the Civil War between Caesar and the Optimates up to Pompey’s defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus in August 48 BC.

· Having murdered Pompey upon his arrival in Egypt in September 48 BC, Ptolemy’s advisors presented Caesar with his head, hoping to secure his support against Cleopatra. Caesar appeared distraught at the fate of his former son-in-law and ally, but, more importantly, this made it almost impossible for him to support Ptolemy, who had murdered one of the greatest military heroes Rome had ever had.

· Plutarch gives us the famous story of Cleopatra being furtively carried into the palace in a bed-sack and unloaded in front of Caesar, who was apparently immediately captivated by her daring. The Roman sources connected his political support of her directly with their personal relationship. Their son Ptolemy Caesar (Caesarion) was probably born in June 47 BC.

· Caesar set both Cleopatra and her brother back on the throne as joint monarchs for a time, until Ptolemy joined his general Achillas and laid siege to the palace, hoping to force Caesar and his troops out. After much fierce fighting, Caesar defeated Ptolemy’s army and the king was discovered conveniently drowned in the Nile.

· Caesar and Cleopatra may have cruised down the Nile, presumably to demonstrate Rome’s support for her rule and to show Caesar Egypt’s wealth. In the summer of 47 BC, Caesar left to continue the civil war.

· Cleopatra arrived in Rome in 46 BC to secure her status as Friend and Ally of the Roman People. She was certainly in Rome again at the time of Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. Cassius Dio suggests that Caesar’s reputation suffered as a result of her presence, even though the statue of her that Caesar placed in the temple of Venus Genetrix still remained when he was writing over 200 years later.

· Plutarch, The Life of Caesar 48–49

· Suetonius, The Divine Julius 52

· Cassius Dio, Roman History XLII 44–45; XLIII 27

· Cicero, Letter to Atticus XV.15


· The reasons why Caesar was in a position to intervene in the civil war in Egypt

· Caesar’s decision to support Cleopatra rather than her brother

· The value of the ancient sources regarding Cleopatra’s personal and political relationship with Caesar

· The value of Roman ally status to Cleopatra

· What other Romans thought of Cleopatra

· The problems Cleopatra was likely to face as a result of Caesar’s death

The aftermath of Caesar’s assassination and Cleopatra’s initial meeting with Antony (44–41 BC)

(Suggested timing: 2 hours)

· Cleopatra returned to Egypt shortly after Caesar’s death. Around this time, Ptolemy XIV died; Cleopatra elevated Caesarion to the throne rather than remarry.

· As the second triumvirate – Caesar’s heir, Octavian, Marcus Antonius (Antony) and Marcus Lepidus - set about dealing with Caesar’s assassins, Cleopatra assisted by sending troops to support Dolabella, for which her rule was recognised by the triumvirs. She herself took a fleet to help Antony and Octavian ferry troops across to Greece, although storms forced them to return to Egypt.

· Antony intended to follow in Caesar's footsteps by invading Parthia. His arrangement with Octavian and Lepidus gave him the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire to oversee.

· In 41 BC, Antony summoned Cleopatra to meet him at Tarsus. She presented herself in full state on the royal barge, dressed as Aphrodite. Antony departed with her and spent the winter in Alexandria. Their twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, were born the following year.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 24–29

· Relief portraits of Cleopatra and Caesarion from Dendera

· Coin of Cleopatra and Caesarion minted in Cyprus

· Cleopatra's priorities after Caesar's death

· Cleopatra’s decision to elevate Caesarion to the position of co-ruler rather than re-marry

· The value of the alliance for both Cleopatra and Antony

The Perusine War and subsequent treaty (41–40 BC)

(Suggested timing: 1 hour)

· Back in Italy, Antony's wife and brother started a war against Octavian, protesting against his treatment of soldiers who had fought at Philippi. It isn’t clear whether Antony was aware of their plans to create chaos or not, but it seems unlikely that he wasn’t.

· Octavian quickly gained the upper hand and, according to Plutarch, Fulvia wrote to Antony to ask for help. At the same time, the Parthians invaded Asia Minor under Pacorus, the king’s son, and Quintus Labienus, a Roman traitor.

· As a consequence, Antony sailed from Egypt with 200 ships. Fulvia died shortly after meeting him, allowing both Octavian and Antony to blame her for the dispute between them and make peace, dividing up the empire between themselves and Lepidus. Antony also married Octavia, Octavian’s sister, to strengthen the alliance. When discussing this, it would be useful to talk about how normal it was for upper class Romans to marry for political reasons, rather than love.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony, 30–31

· Whether Lucius Antonius and Fulvia acted on their own, or was Antony aware of their plans?

· Antony’s motives in returning to Italy in the way he did


Octavian in the West (39–36 BC)

(Suggested timing: 1 hour)

· Sextus, Pompey’s younger son, had assembled a renegade fleet and was blocking the grain supply to Rome. Octavian and Antony temporarily appeased him by offering him land and the consulship for 33 at Misenum in the summer of 39.

· The triumvirate was renewed in 37 BC at Tarentum, where Antony promised Octavian 120 ships to help in the war against Sextus in exchange for 20,000 men.

· Hostilities resumed when Antony refused to give over the Peloponnese to Sextus’ control. Octavian also took control of Sardinia and divorced Sextus’ relative, Scribonia, on the day she gave birth to his daughter, Julia.

· Marcus Agrippa, Octavian’s great friend and colleague, spent the next few years building a new harbour and training the navy. Sextus was eventually defeated at the Battle of Naulochus in September 36 BC. He fled eastwards and was executed by Antony the following year.

· Lepidus, having sailed to Sicily to assist Octavian, tried to wrest control from him. Octavian, however, easily persuaded Lepidus’ troops to defect to him and put Lepidus under house arrest for the rest of his life.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 32

· The reasons why the triumvirate delayed so long in dealing with Sextus

· The consequences of the removal of Sextus and Lepidus on the relationship between Antony and Octavian

Antony in the East

(38–34 BC)

(Suggested timing: 2 hours)

· Meanwhile, Antony spent the winter of 39–38 BC in Athens with Octavia preparing to join the war against Parthia. The war had already begun and P. Ventidius Bassus, Antony’s second-in-command, had achieved some considerable successes, driving the Parthians out of Syria.

· Antony briefly returned to Italy in 38 BC, leaving Ventidius to besiege Antiochus of Commagene at Samosata. Antony took over when he returned and sent Ventidius home to celebrate a triumph, which reminded the Romans how well he was doing. Having negotiated an end to the siege, Antony retired to Athens for the winter and set about appointing pro-Roman kings to the eastern states. He returned from Tarentum too late to start a campaign against Parthia and travelled instead to Antioch. He sent Octavia, who was pregnant, back to Rome, and summoned Cleopatra to join him.

· Antony allowed Cleopatra control of important ports to the north and east of Egypt and on the southern coast of Asia Minor. She also gained the balsam groves of Judaea.

· Antony set off for Parthia in May, 36. Despite a sound plan to march through Armenia and attack Parthia from the north, Antony’s campaign was a disaster and he retreated to Syria to await assistance and supplies from Cleopatra.

· In 35, Antony spent the winter in Alexandria rather than with Octavia, who had brought men and supplies from Octavian. He turned his attention to Armenia in order to punish Artavasdes for deserting him the previous year and to secure the route into Parthia. This time, Antony was successful.

· In 34, Antony returned to Alexandria and held a triumphal procession to celebrate his conquest of Armenia. He then rewarded Cleopatra by acknowledging Caesarion as Caesar’s son and king of Egypt and giving vast territories to their three children (she had given birth to the third, Ptolemy Philadelphus, in 36 BC), including lands not yet conquered. It is important to discuss Antony’s possible motives here – was he giving in to Cleopatra’s desire to rebuild the Ptolemaic empire or sensibly entrusting important territories to a loyal client monarch before heading off to Parthia again?

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 33; 36–37; 51; 53

· Velleius Paterculus 2.82

· The value of Cleopatra to Rome during Antony’s eastern campaigns

· Antony’s decision to give control of such a large area to Cleopatra and her children

· The ways Octavian used the donations to his advantage

Preparations for war (33–32 BC)

(Suggested timing: 2 hours)

· Probably as consul in 33 BC, Octavian began a campaign to portray Cleopatra as a corrupting influence over Antony. Letters between the two men became steadily more insulting. Antony complained that he had not been sent the troops Octavian had promised, that his veterans had been treated unfairly and that he was owed half of Sicily. Octavian responded that Antony would need to share Armenia in exchange. He also criticised Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra. In November 33 BC, Antony ordered his troops out of Armenia in preparation for war with Octavian.

· In 32 BC, the two Antonian consuls and around 300 of their senatorial colleagues left Rome for Antony’s headquarters at Ephesus. Antony then divorced Octavia, clearly signalling the end of his political alliance with her brother.

· Two allies of Antony, M. Titus and L. Munatius Plancus, defected to Octavian, bringing with them the news that Antony had made his will and had it lodged in the temple of Vesta. Octavian illegally, and apparently unopposed, seized the will and read it publicly. The document restated the gifts of land to Egypt and Caesarion’s parentage. It also stated Antony’s wish to be buried in Alexandria. All of this was trumpeted by Octavian as evidence of Antony’s unRoman attitudes and subservience to Cleopatra.

· Octavian ensured that all Italy swore an oath of allegiance to him personally and then declared war on Cleopatra.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 55–60

· Velleius Patercolus, 2.83

· Silver denarius of Antony and Cleopatra minted in 32 BC

· Octavia and the breakdown of relations between Octavian and Antony

· The inevitability of war between the triumvirs

· The decision to declare war on Cleopatra rather than Antony

The Battle of Actium (2nd September 31 BC)

(Suggested timing: 6–8 hours)

· Antony based his naval forces at Actium, near the Gulf of Ambracia in western Greece.

· Cleopatra and a number of client kings supported Antony. She herself remained with Antony throughout the preparations for the war, despite some of his officers and allies demanding that she return to Alexandria.

· Agrippa managed quickly to secure a naval base at Methone and Octavian sailed across to Greece with his troops. Antony and Cleopatra moved up to Actium and the two forces engaged in a series of indecisive skirmishes. Antony’s supplies gradually dwindled and his troops began to suffer from disease.

· In order to break out from the Gulf of Ambracia, Cleopatra argued that they should fight a battle at sea, despite Antony’s considerable experience as a land commander. Antony may have considered this a more realistic prospect than bringing Octavian to battle inland or spending months marching his army through Greece and back to Egypt without established supply lines.

· Canidius commanded the land troops with orders to march them back to Egypt, while Antony attempted to break out by sea with a portion of the fleet Cleopatra had brought with her. The ships carried sails and Cleopatra the war chest.

· The battle itself began slowly and for a time seemed to be fairly even. As the battle lines thinned out, Cleopatra’s squadron sailed through both Antony and Octavian’s ships into open sea and away to Egypt. This had almost certainly been the plan all along, but Antony’s failure to bring the bulk of his fleet with him when he followed her led to accusations of cowardice against them both. As the weather worsened, Antony’s fleet eventually surrendered to Octavian. Octavian went on to bribe Canidius’ army into joining him, just as he had done with Lepidus’.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 61–68

· Velleius Paterculus 2.84–86

· Horace, Odes 1.37

· Virgil, Aeneid Book 8, 675–731

· Antony and Cleopatra’s preparations for the war against Octavian

· Antony’s decision to fight at sea

· Cleopatra’s role in the outcome of the Battle of Actium

The suicides of Antony and Cleopatra and Octavian’s conquest of Egypt

(Suggested timing: 3–4 hours)

· Octavian was temporarily delayed from pursuing Antony and Cleopatra by a revolt in Italy led by Lepidus’ son.

· When they reached Egypt, Antony remained outside Alexandria (Plutarch says he was depressed), while Cleopatra entered the city and declared victory. She then began to organise the defence of Egypt. Caesarion formally became Ptolemy XV and Antony’s son M. Antonius Antyllus came of age slightly earlier than was usual. The people of Upper Egypt offered to fight for her, but she declined.

· As Octavian headed towards Egypt, desertions increased. Cleopatra tried to negotiate, offering to abdicate in favour of her children and retire with Antony into private life, but she was rebuffed. She started to make preparations to bring ships into the Red Sea to sail way from Egypt and Caesarion was sent south to the port at Berenice to make his way to India.

· As Octavian’s cavalry approached Alexandria, Antony hurried out and drove them off, which led to a short-lived celebration. At the beginning of August 30 BC, Antony’s remaining troops deserted to Octavian. Cleopatra barricaded herself in her tomb; Antony, thinking her dead, botched a suicide attempt. He was brought to Cleopatra and shortly afterwards died.

· Cleopatra remained in captivity – it may have been Octavian’s intention to take her back to Rome to walk in his triumph. Somehow, she prepared a method of suicide and she and her two servants died together, having written to Octavian to ask to be buried at Antony’s side. Even Plutarch says that it is unclear how she died, but that the asp in the basket of figs quickly became the accepted story. Egypt became a Roman province under Octavian’s direct control.

· Caesarion was betrayed by his tutor and returned to Alexandria, where he was killed. Antony and Cleopatra’s three children were all brought up by Octavia in Rome, although it is possible that only Cleopatra Selene survived into adulthood.

· Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony 69; 72–79; 81–86

· Velleius Paterculus 2.87

· Horace, Odes 1.37

· The consequences of the Battle of Actium for Egypt

· The qualities / characteristics Cleopatra demonstrated after the Battle of Actium

· The reasons for Cleopatra’s suicide

Overview of Cleopatra’s reign

(Suggested timing: 2 hours)

· A chance to pull together the key themes of the depth study, to allow students to engage with overarching general questions about Cleopatra, similar to the style of essay questions that they will find in the examination.


Endorsed textbooks from Bloomsbury

Resources for OCR specification for first teaching September 2017



OCR Ancient History GCSE Component 1: Greece and Persia

Sam Baddeley, Paul Fowler, Lucy Nicholas, James Renshaw

ISBN-13: 978-1350015173

Released July 2017


OCR Ancient History GCSE Component 2: Rome

Paul Fowler, Christopher Grocock, James Melville

ISBN-13: 978-1350015203

Released July 2017


This textbook supports OCR's GCSE Ancient History Component 1. It covers the period study on the Persian Empire and the three optional depth studies.


This textbook supports OCR's GCSE Ancient History Component 2. It covers the longer period study on the Foundation of Rome and the three optional depth studies.

These textbooks have been written by experts and experienced teachers in a clear and accessible narrative. Ancient sources are described and analysed, with supporting images. Helpful features include study questions, further reading, and boxes focusing in on key people, events and terms.


Suggested resources


In complete contrast to the ancient world, there is a wide range of modern biographies of Cleopatra available, some more scholarly than others. She also features prominently in any work on the life of Mark Antony and to a lesser extent in those on Caesar. Suggested below are a range of books, websites and other resources to support the study and teaching of this topic.


Student resources



  • An excellent, accessible biography of Cleopatra covering all the key issues is Patricia Southern’s Cleopatra (2000, Tempus Publishing).
  • Michael Grant’s Cleopatra (2000, Orion Publishing) is more detailed and includes a wider range of illustrations and maps, but is a more challenging read.
  • Adrian Goldsworthy’s Antony and Cleopatra (2010, Orion Publishing) is excellent on the military side of things and provides a good amount of context.
  • A really good book on the Battle of Actium for students keen on military history is Si Sheppard’s Actium 31 BC (2009, Osprey Publishing), which sets the battle in context and describes the technicalities of the fighting in detail, including a wealth of illustrations, diagrams and visual sources.
  • Principally aimed at A-Level ancient historians, Aspects of Roman History 82BC–AD14: A Source-Based Approach, by Hilary Swain and Mark Davies (2010, Routledge) is a very readable narrative of the whole period.




Fiction and Films:

  • The only really useful film is Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963), which follows Plutarch to a large extent, although the dialogue between Cleopatra and Octavian near the end needs to be treated with caution, since Caesarion in reality probably died after her.
  • Really keen readers might enjoy Colleen McCullough’s Antony and Cleopatra (2008, Harper), which follows the historical figures through the period in typical detail.
  • Margaret George’s The Memoirs of Cleopatra (2012, Pan) is similarly epic, but more accessibly written and more sympathetic to Cleopatra.

Teacher resources (in addition to those recommended for students)



  • Cleopatra’s Life and Reign
  • Roller, Diane W (2010) Cleopatra: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press – a very readable life of Cleopatra with some interesting appendices.
  • Jones, Prudence J (2006) Cleopatra: A Sourcebook. Oklahoma: Oklahoma University Press – a useful supplement to the set sources.
  • Kleiner, Diana E E (2005) Cleopatra and Rome. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press – A life of Cleopatra that focuses on her influence on Roman culture and art, including lots of useful images.
  • McLaughlin, Raoul (2014) The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India. South Yorkshire: Pen and Ink Military – A fascinating survey of trade in the Indian Ocean that helps to explain why Egypt was such a valuable acquisition for the Romans.
  • The temple complex at Dendera
  • Coins of Cleopatra
  • Overview and further reading ideas


  • Events and Politics in Rome
  • Beard, Mary and Crawford, Michael (1999) Rome in the Late Republic (2nd Edition). London: Duckworth – A guide to the workings of Roman republican politics.
  • Richardson, J S (2012) Augustan Rome 44 BC to AD 14: The Restoration of the Republic and the Establishment of the Empire. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press – a thorough examination of the period after Caesar’s death.
  • Osgood, Josiah (2006) Caesar’s Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press – A thorough examination of the period after Caesar’s death.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew (1993) Augustan Rome Bristol: Bristol Classical Press – Chapter 1 looks at the myth of Actium in detail.
  • Notes on Roman politics
  • Lecture notes on the rise of Octavian