Death of Cleopatra by Jean Andre Rixens, 1874
One of ancient history's most famous legends may due for revision. A new study contends Cleopatra died of swallowing a lethal drug cocktail and not from the bite of an Egyptian cobra snake called an asp. According to Christoph Schäfer, historian and professor at the University of Trier in Germany: “There was no cobra in Cleopatra's death.”
Author of a best-selling book in Germany, Cleopatra, Schäfer searched historic writings for evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old asp legend.
"The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra's demise, stated that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not compatible with a cobra bite,” he told Discovery News. “Indeed, the snake's venom would have caused a painful and disfiguring death.”
According to German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs, a poison specialist taking part in the study, symptoms occurring after an asp bite are very unpleasant, and include vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory failure. "Death may occur within 45 minutes, but it may also be longer with painful edema at the bite site," he said. "At the end, the dead body does not look very nice with vomit, diarrhea, a swollen bite site."
Ancient texts also record that Cleopatra's two handmaidens died with her -- something very unlikely if she had died of a snake bite, said Schäfer.
The Queen of the Nile committed suicide in August 30 B.C. at the age of 39, following the example of her lover, the Roman leader Marc Antony, who killed himself after losing the Battle of Actium.