1-Throughout history Cleopatra was (and still is) often much maligned. After your extensive research, what do you make of this grand ruler?
I actually wrote about this in a separate post, but essentially, I think that Cleopatra represents the absolute best example of how history is written by the winner, throughout the ages. Considering that, with the lone exception of Caesar’s account of his time in Alexandria, which wasn’t even written by him, none of the accounts of Cleopatra were written by anyone who actually knew her. And all of these accounts were written after the events that made her so famous, or infamous, and I would argue that the picture of her, and of Mark Antony, was created through the lens provided by someone who, without a doubt, hated Cleopatra on a personal level, in Octavian.
One thing I tried to keep in mind at all times was that, in terms of options, Cleopatra was seriously limited. Her army had been crushed by a motley collection of a couple of Cohorts of the 6th Legion, a green 28th, and a Legion made of Pompeian leftovers in the 37th. Granted these were led by Caesar, and although his defeat of her brother-husband Ptolemy and sister Arsinoe was to her advantage, it had to be instructive to her. Then, 16 years later at Actium, she saw what was supposed to be the strongest navy in the known world destroyed. Finally, her other major asset, her wealth, didn’t interest Octavian because he knew the location of Egypt’s treasury, which was one of the great secrets of the ancient world.
In a world run and dominated by men, that really left her one option, and one only, and that was to use the same charms that ensnared Caesar first, then Mark Antony. Unfortunately for her, much of that charm was based in her power and wealth, but by the time she met with Octavian, her power was gone, and as I said, he knew where the money was.
However, I don’t think Cleopatra was a shrinking violet; she was just as ruthless as her male counterparts, for example. One only has to look at her treatment of her siblings, particularly Arsinoe, but considering the kind of environment she grew up in, I don’t think it’s particularly surprising. Still, of all the historical figures that we know about, particularly those we know by one name, I think Cleopatra has gotten the worst treatment by posterity.
2- In your opinion who was the grander leader, Caesar or Mark Anthony?
Not even close; Caesar in a runaway. Consider that Caesar was never defeated in a campaign, although he did suffer two tactical setbacks, one at Gergovia and one at Dyrrhachium. Antony, on the other hand, had a mediocre record, and that is being kind. His Parthian campaign was an epic disaster, where the vast majority of his casualties weren’t caused by a Parthian arrow or lance, but by his own ineptitude.
That said, there are definitely similarities between the two generals, mainly in their inability to look at a situation or problem through anyone else’s eyes and viewpoint but their own. And both of them suffered for this failing.
3- Considering your military background, what fascinates you most about ancient military campaigns- is there anything to be admired and learned from those times?
The level of hardship that the men of the Legions endured. Consider that at the end of every day, almost without exception, they had to dig a ditch that was at a minimum of 9 feet deep and 12 feet wide; if they marched for Caesar, it was 12 feet by 15 feet. Then, the next day, before they continued on the march, they had to fill those ditches in, then marched for anywhere from 20 to 30 miles, over all types of terrain and in all types of weather. Day in, day out, rinse, lather, repeat.
Then, in battle, it was very much an “up close and personal” way of fighting, where you faced your enemy with only inches between you, which is much different from modern combat. At least most of the time.
4- Back to Cleopatra: Had there not been that tragic misunderstanding leading to her death- what do you think the outcome would have been and what impact would this have had on history?
Honestly, I don’t think that the world was big enough for Cleopatra and Octavian to co-exist, if only because of her son Caesarion. As long as the true son of Caesar existed, he would present a threat to the ersatz Caesar, Octavian. And while I suppose it’s possible that, in order to protect the other children Cleopatra had with Mark Antony, she would have allowed Caearion to be sacrificed, personally I don’t see that happening. And even if she did, how comfortable would Octavian be, knowing that the mother of the youth that he murdered still lived, just waiting to exact revenge?
Also, how would Cleopatra have reacted to the idea of having her treasury stripped bare by Octavian, who desperately needed that money to pay the greedy Legions all the bonuses and pensions they had been promised? If she had allowed it to happen, then I would argue that, while she would save herself from Octavian, (perhaps), she would have become a target of her own subjects.
Ultimately, I don’t think the world had a place for Cleopatra.
5- In terms of research for content, please take us on a brief tour of your process to gather it all up and turning it into a book.
I started what has become the Marching With Caesar series in 2008, and let’s just say I jumped into the research with both caligae, and I mean that literally. Since this is based on the experiences of a man from the ranks, part of my research effort was focused on trying to get a feel for what it was like to “hump” (which isn’t nearly as fun as the name implies; it’s what we Marines call a forced march over rough terrain) as a Legionary. To that end I bought the entire kit of a Republican-era Legionary, and drove out to Big Bend National Park in West Texas, which has some of the most rugged terrain in the country. My reason for choosing Big Bend was only partially based on the rough country; it’s also highly unlikely that any of the drug smugglers who use the remote area as a major route carry cameras.
From that experience, I moved onto getting a feel for what it was like to handle a sword, which involved the purchase of a (already dead) pig that I hung from the rafters of my garage. And a lot of what I learned made it into the book, particularly with the sword, as I discovered the hard way the importance of holding the sword with the blade parallel to the ground, because in the perpendicular the blade will stick in the rib cartilage.
Otherwise, there was the purchase of a LOT of books, of which a great number were out-of-print volumes from the 19th Century, when there was a Renaissance of scholarship focused on the Late Republic and Early Empire period. Most useful were the books of T. Rice-Holmes, along with T.A. Dodge, and M. Grant. However, the most important works were the primary sources; Caesar, of course, Plutarch; Dio; Appian, and to a lesser extent Suetonius, who was essentially the gossip columnist of his day.
6- Lastly, if your series makes it to the Big Screen (could happen!), who would you see in the roles of Cleo, Caesar and MA?
That is actually closer than you might think, but that’s all I can say at this point.
However, while I’ve put a lot more thought into who would play Titus, I will confess to some daydreaming about the other characters. And while I know this is unoriginal, for Mark Antony it’s not even close; James Purefoy IS Mark Antony, based on his performance in the HBO series Rome, particularly the second season.
Cleopatra is more problematic, and here I will admit to some hypocrisy, because of the wonderful cover produced by my cover artist Marina Shipova. As you have seen, our Cleopatra is very, very easy on the eye; historically speaking, from the available evidence, the cover isn’t an accurate representation.
Lyndsey Marshal, the actress who played Cleopatra in the series, opposite Purefoy, I think was a good choice because she was attractive, but had a definite exotic look, in contrast to Elizabeth Taylor. And she wasn’t a classic beauty in the mold of Taylor. I’ve seen some websites that have suggested Angelina Jolie (not for my books, but in other projects) but I think that would be akin to having Liz Taylor playing the role. For my own personal reasons, I would throw all my objectivity out the window to lobby hard for Salma Hayek, but that’s just me.
Finally, Caesar. Hmmm. Good question. I will say that my Caesar wouldn’t have the full head of hair that Ciaran Hinds sported, but he would have to be an actor with the appropriate gravitas. Maybe…:-)