In the dying days of her reign, Cleopatra VII Philopator made preparations to survive the Roman invasion. In our world, these came to nothing: Cleopatra entombed herself alive, and took poison in wine, by smuggling an asp in a basket of figs, or by biting her arm and smearing a fatal unguent over the wound. This was not, however, Cleopatra’s main scheme. This wasn’t even her initial fallback plan. In Mythic Europe, even a thousand years later, the traces of her actions are seeds for stories.
Cleopatra was a priestess of Isis, a goddess able, so stories say, of bringing people back from the dead. She was given time to prepare the corpse of her lover, Marc Antony, and her own corpse was treated with respect by Octavian, so it’s possible that either one or the both of these figures has, or will, re-emerge from the Magic Realms as incarnate spirits. In Lands of the Nile we called these creatures Akhu, and mentioned the chance that they are the youngest creatures of this type, and Antony, uniquely, is culturally Roman, which may assist an Order descended from a Latin priesthood.
Cleopatra was, according to non-Roman sources, a clever sorceress, who commanded the greatest storehouse of treasure in the world. She had the largest library of books, the greatest concentration of engineers, and a stockpile of magic items. How might she have survived, and what might that mean?
The Roman authors, least controversially, have Cleopatra attempt to flee Egypt. She has some of her fleet dragged to the Red Sea, intending to take treasure and soldiers, then carve out a kingdom in India. Her neighbors, the Nabateans, assiduously burned every ship as it arrived. Or so they said. Similarly, after the fall of his mother’s kingdom, her son Ceasarion fled the country by heading to Berenice, a Red Sea port, intending to take ship for India. His tutor instead tricked him into returning to Alexandria, and capture by Octavian. Either of these attempts could actually have succeeded. The Nabateans were a mercantile people with no love for Rome: a large enough bribe and they might have allowed some ships through. Octavian had never seen Cleopatra or Caesarion. How difficult would it have been to send a substitute to die in place of the sovereigns?
If Cleopatra got away by sea, she could have gone virtually anywhere. Her people had already traveled as far as India as traders. An island kingdom of Helleno-Egyptian sorcerers is possible. She might also have traveled down the Nile, the embodiment of her goddess, and entered Warangia, the mysterious kingdom from which slaves and gold come to the coast.
After the loss of the Red Sea fleet, the Romans were concerned she might head for Spain. It had been a fractious province for some time. She might have continued West, to the Canary Islands, or to Antillia, there to found a kingdom that has avoided Europeans, until now. At least, they have publicly avoided Europeans: they may have had spies throughout Africa, some human, but perhaps some spirits or faeries, like the headless priests of Isis from Philae.
In Cleopatra’s story, the two greatest libraries in the world are destroyed. The Great Library of Alexandria burns, and Marc Antony then replenishes it, by giving the contents of the Library of Pergamum to Cleopatra as a gift. These then disappear from history.
Magi have looked for them (of course they have) but they have had an amazing lack of success. As a plot hook, many games have had a Verditus make a submersible and attempt to recover inscriptions on the stones said to have slid into the bay. Perhaps the lack of success is a sign that the best of the items were hidden, then secreted out of the country? Cleopatra commanded her city not to rise against the Romans, so her networks survived the invasion intact. The Alexandrian resistance could have worked for years to save her kingdom’s treasures, then impersonate merchants or caravans of slaves, and flee to a new home, distant from the Empire.
As a lover of the Foundation novels and a librarian, the idea that there may be a surviving Great Library sending agents into the world is appealing.
There are a few missing Ptolemies in history, who could be the ancestors of this civilisation’s leaders. Cleopatra had four children. Caesarion, son of Julius, likely died at the hands of his adoptive brother, but may have escaped. Cleopatra had fraternal twins with Marc Antony called Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, then another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
The younger Cleopatra was taken to Rome and raised by Octavia, sister of Octavian, until she was married to Juba II. He was also educated in Rome, as a client-king for the Numidians. Their court had a great library, Isis worship and a group of mystical scholars about it. It’s one obvious birthplace for a cult of Egyptian-inspired Roman magicians.
After she poisoned herself, Octavian called in the Psylii to try and save Cleopatra. They were a Berber tribe that were immune to snakebite, and could draw the poison out of bites and restore the dead to life. They used serpents in paternity tests: deliberately ensuring their babies were bitten by snakes. There’s no known link between the Queen of Numidians, the Psylii, and the Massylii priestess who sent Trianoma to Bonisagus, but there’s a hook there to conjure stories with.
The younger boys simply vanish from history. One writer records they were spared by Augustus as a wedding gift to their sister, but that seems oddly sentimental, and vaguely bizarre. Either or both might have vanished away to another civilization, to continue the line of Alexander.
Lands of the Nile has a great deal of information about ancient Egyptian mystical practices and military equipment. The use of a pocket civilization allows these to be used not only be the returning dead, but by a mortal culture. This helps sagas with alternative themeing to stories like the Mongol invasion, the Quest for Prester John, the discovery of the Americas, the addition of a new House to the Order, or the development of a magical homeland.
Cleopatra statue 1
https://www.flickr.com/photos/edenpictures/ via Flickr.