According to a new docuseries on Netflix called Queen Cleopatra narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith, the famous romantic relationship between ancient world leaders Mark Antony and Cleopatra had something in common with relationships of our modern day: Ghosting.
You read that right — according to historians quoted in Queen Cleopatra, Mark Antony ghosted Cleopatra. And not just after a few dates. He ghosted her while she was pregnant with their twin children, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.
But don’t worry — he eventually came back.
Why Mark Antony Ghosted Cleopatra
Mark Antony was nervous that Octavian, Julius Caesar’s chosen heir, was trying to take over Rome while he was busy shacking up with Cleopatra in Egypt. So he went back to Rome to assert his dominance, knowing that Cleopatra was pregnant with his child (well, actually, twins, but he didn’t know that yet), according to the docuseries.
When he got back to Rome, he proceeded to marry a Roman woman — Octavian’s sister, Octavia — as a political strategy to get on Octavian’s good side.
Then Mark Antony ghosted Cleopatra.
“In Cleopatra’s mind, it’s fine. Go ahead, take a Roman wife, sure. But he doesn’t come back for three years,” Shelley P. Haley, professor of Africana Studies and Classics at Hamilton College, explains in the docuseries Queen Cleopatra.
Never mind the Roman wife — that’s not a problem for Cleopatra. She had a similar situation with Julius Caesar, with whom she had her first child, Caesarion, while she was married to her little brother, Ptolemy XIV. (Her little brother-husband was dead by the time she had kids with Mark Antony).
“Caesar had a Roman wife. He still wrote to her; took an interest in their child. Mark Antony? Not a word. Not a word. Even after Cleopatra delivers twins,” Haley says.
“Essentially, he ghosts her. He’s gone,” says Dr. Islam Issa, author of Alexandria: The City That Changed The World.
But despite what may have been an emotional blow to the Egyptian pharaoh, she and Egypt thrived during Mark Antony’s absence.
“During that time, Cleopatra turns Egypt’s fortunes around. She’s increased taxes a bit, but she’s also increased exports. She’s increased employment, and suddenly Egypt’s situation is looking very prosperous,” Dr. Issa says.
“The economy was booming. The people loved Cleopatra. She was seen as an effective leader,” Haley adds.
So why is it that Mark Antony ghosted Cleopatra? It’s hard to know for sure since this all happened over 2000 years ago, but one expert suggests he might have been busy making war plans.
“During those three years that Mark Antony stays away from Cleopatra, he’s busy building an Eastern empire and waging war against Parthia, a major power in what is now modern-day Iran,” says Egyptologist Colleen Darnell.
It’s also possible — but this is just speculation — that he was worried that the Roman public would react poorly to him spending so much time with Cleopatra, since his old pal Julius Caesar was murdered during his relationship with the Egyptian beauty.
Don’t Worry — Mark Antony Eventually Came Back to Cleopatra
Mark Antony eventually came crawling back to Cleopatra, and it was because he needed her help. He wanted to conquer Parthia, and he mistakenly thought that marrying Octavian’s sister would entice Octavian to give him a big enough army to do the job, but he didn’t.
It was at that point that Mark Antony saw that there was only one person left who could help fund his Parthian conquest — his former lover and baby mama, Cleopatra. So he decides to un-ghost her.
But being a very powerful queen with a lot of self-respect, when Mark Antony approached Cleopatra and asked for her forgiveness, she didn’t just help him out of the kindness of her heart. She saw it as an opportunity to get some things she wanted, too.
Her demands were ofr Mark Antony to recognize their two children, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, as his heirs — something Julius Caesar never did for their son Caesarion — and she wanted some territories for her children, who she hoped would one day rule Egypt.
Mark Antony eventually agreed to all these conditions. He ended up marrying Cleopatra, divorcing Octavia, and ceremoniously bestowing land held by both Rome and Parthia to Cleopatra’s children in a famous act called the Donations of Alexandria in 34 B.C. As a result, Cleopatra agreed to fund his war against Parthia and they became a military alliance. Then they had a third child together, named after her father, Ptolemy.
But if you’re hoping for a happy ending for these two despite that small blip when Mark Antony ghosted Cleopatra, that was unfortunately not in the cards for these two.
Mark Antony ultimately committed suicide in 30 B.C. and died in Cleopatra’s arms after losing a war against Octavian, who invaded Egypt. Cleopatra, knowing she would almost certainly have been killed by Octavian, committed suicide not long after. She was 39.
Even though Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt, she and Mark Antony’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene, went on to become a queen of a different country. After her parents’ deaths, Cleopatra Selene was sent along with her brother, Alexander Helios, to live with Mark Antony’s ex-wife Octavia (ironic, huh?). Later, Cleopatra Selene went on to marry Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania and became Queen of Mauretania from 25 B.C. to 5 B.C., ensuring that her mother’s legacy lived on.
All four episodes of Queen Cleopatra are now streaming on Netflix.
Main Image: A still from Queen Cleopatra courtesy of Netflix