The possibility that an Egyptian cobra quietly awaits the final moment of Cleopatra’s life in a basket of figs is questionable.
The last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt decided not to see the fall of her great empire. In the hands of the Romans, collapse was inevitable. Overwhelmed by grief and political anguish, according to the myth, Cleopatra decided to take her life with an Egyptian cobra. Almost 2,000 years after her death, the cause of her death has been questioned by various historians.
Egyptian cobra: Cleopatra’s real cause of death?
Cleopatra is recorded as a pharaoh scholar in the medical sciences of her empire. In addition to being a powerful ruler, she stood out as a naval commander and linguist, among her various cultural interests for the people she had under her command. However, her imperial experience was short-lived: the Roman occupation ended with her, under Julius Caesar.
Between her political tensions with Rome and the deep deficiencies that the Egyptian Empire already had, it has been historically assumed that Cleopatra took her own life. At the age of 39, in the city of Alexandria, it is said that she took an Egyptian cobra so that, with the poison, she would end her own life. Alternative Roman narratives suggest that she poisoned herself with toxic ointments, to avoid accepting her defeat in front of Rome.
However, a recent review by the University of Manchester categorizes this scenario as “impossible“, according to the BBC. The possibility that the snake was hidden in a basket of figs is metaphorical at best, from the point of view of British scholars. This is the reason.
An unlikely scenario
The probability that an Egyptian cobra rested immutable in a basket full of figs, for the historians in charge of the study, rests on mythical ground. Given the pressure from the Roman Empire for the pharaoh to give in, it is much more likely that she lost her life early — and not by her own hand.
According to the analysis of the University of Manchester, the Egyptian cobra that stars in the final scene in Cleopatra’s life would have been large and powerful enough to kill the ruler and the two servants who accompanied her. No one could’ve escaped the wrath of an enraged snake of that size.
For this reason, Manchester historians suggest that Cleopatra was murdered in Alexandria in 30 BC. Power struggles, political interests, and Roman military might are more reasonable causalities, under this historical filter, for the death of the last Ptolemaic pharaoh. For the rest, the story of the Egyptian cobra serves as a literary element for the epic of Ancient Egypt.