Why Cleopatra Probably Didn’t Kill Herself With A Snake

ImageContent(562949fce4b0aac0b8fc44c5,562949761400001b013c8ee1,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562949761400001b013c8ee1.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti via Getty Images,The Suicide of Cleopatra, by Domenico Riccio (1516-1567). Today, researchers doubt the Egyptian queen could have killed herself with a snake. Cleopatra probably didn’t look like this, either, but that’s another issue altogether.)

The classic imagery of Cleopatra killing herself with a snake might be dramatic, but it probably never happened, experts say.

For years, researchers have argued that the Egyptian ruler might not actually have committed suicide via snake — but that hasn’t really changed public perception, Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester in England told The Huffington Post.

“Death by snake remains deep within the publicly held Cleopatra myth,” said Tyldesley, noting that she discussed alternatives means of death in her book, Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt.

Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 B.C., shortly after she and her lover and political ally Mark Antony suffered military defeat at the hands of Roman emperor-to-be Octavian, Tyldesley wrote for Encyclopaedia Britannica.


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This month, Tyldesley and Andrew Gray, curator of herpetology at the Manchester Museum, appeared together in a video explaining the impracticalities Cleopatra would have encountered if she’d actually attempted to kill herself with a venomous snake. The video, which can be seen above, is part of a free online course about ancient Egyptian history that will launch on Oct. 26.

Classical accounts say Cleopatra had an “asp” covertly transported into the palace where Octavian was holding her prisoner, inducing the snake to bite her and one or two of her maids. In the video, Gray notes that an “asp” could refer to either a viper (the European asp) or the Egyptian cobra.

A cobra would be too large for Cleopatra —> Read More