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Updated: March 30, 2013 17:45 IST

Murder of the queen

Deepa Kandaswamy
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Pat Brown
Pat Brown

Pat Brown, who delved into history’s coldest case to come up with a bestseller, tells Deepa Kandaswamy why she’s sure that Cleopatra was assassinated.

Cleopatra VII was the last Pharaoh of Egypt. For over 2000 years, no one has questioned Plutarch’s account of Cleopatra’s suicide. Finally, world renowned criminal profiler Pat Brown did. She spent eight years researching in Egypt, Greece and Italy to write the current bestseller, The Murder of Cleopatra. In this interview, Pat Brown talks about reasons that led her to investigate this 2050 year-old cold case.

How did this investigation of Cleopatra’s death come about?

Atlantic Productions (UK) asked me if I would host a show on Discovery Channel on Cleopatra’s death and if perhaps I could come up with some controversy about it that would make an exciting hour of television. I told them I wouldn’t make up theories just for sensationalism (which is common for television productions). I told them I would do some research and get back to them. I really thought I was going to turn them down — after all, we are talking about a 2000-year-old event that had forever been described as a suicide with a snake — but, when I started reading the historical accounts, red flags popped up immediately and I began to see that historians had never really questioned the veracity of the earliest accounts and I realised that we may indeed have a wrong take on the history of this great queen. I also felt that there was sufficient evidence to support a fuller investigation. I called Atlantic Productions and accepted the job. All this happened in 2003 and the show, The Mysterious Death of Cleopatra, aired in 2004. I was very pleased with the show, only I wanted to examine far more about Cleopatra’s life than was included in the programme, so I went ahead and started researching for my book. It took me another eight years to complete my work and find a publisher who had the guts to put out such a controversial book.

Archaeologists claim that only they can do these kinds of cases. What is your answer to them?

Yes, archaeologists, historians, and Egyptologists may wonder what I am doing looking into the history of Cleopatra…not only her death, but her life leading up to it. In fact, I get asked by a lot of people who are not in these fields but believe one must be in these fields to do this kind of research and analysis. But the scientific method is common to all — a historian, journalist or profiler. One must study the evidence and analyse the facts using logic and scientific reasoning. Deductive criminal profiling — the kind of profiling that I do — involves exactly that. I researched all the historical accounts, researched the history, politics, and economics of the times, studied behaviours of all the players, analysed geographical inputs (Nile inundations, land formation, river currents, wind directions), architecture (temples vs. tombs, construction of buildings of the time), scientific issues (snake venom, physical weight of a person being lifted by a rope, self-abuse), and military strategies, shipbuilding and canal construction. All of this and more were part of the analysis I conducted. For that matter, one of the things that really struck me when I read the accounts of her life is how each book simply retold the original story of the ancient historian Plutarch over and over again. Similar to the practice of passing down stories of old from generation to generation, so it went with the history of Cleopatra, dutifully told, but rarely examined tale.

How did you come to the conclusion that Cleopatra was murdered?

To come to the conclusion of murder, one must first eliminate other manners of death — natural death, accident or suicide. The first manner of death is easy to eliminate: the chances of three healthy, relatively young women dying of natural causes within minutes of each other are astronomically low. As to accident, no report of damage to the three women’s bodies was noted, no natural disaster seen. This leaves out suicide or homicide. It is claimed a cobra killed all three women, but it is scientifically unlikely that this could have occurred within the short time-frame it is claimed to have happened (less than about 20 to 30 minutes). The Naja Haje (the Egyptian Cobra) will not always succeed in releasing venom each time it bites; a high percentage is what is called a “dry” bite. Then, if all the three women had got enough venom in a bite to kill them, it would take them anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours to die. All were gone in the first half hour. Of course, no snake was even seen which is hard to believe considering the tomb room the ladies were supposedly being held captive would have had no openings for the snake to slither out. Perhaps, it is now theorised, the ladies used poison — a better choice but no container was found nor symptoms of poison evident. And we have to ask, how could suicide occur while the women were in captivity and under guard? All of these questions and much more analysis led me to eliminate suicide as a manner of death. Octavian had every reason to kill Cleopatra and good reason to cover it up.

© 2013 by Deepa Kandaswamy, all rights reserved.

Antony and cleopatra is pure theatricl.This is one of the finest plays of Sakespeare.One should be able to differentiate the fact from the fiction.Go through the book and read the imperishable contet,eternal elements and forget the rest.savour the main course of food and salads,do not eat the side dishes.
This is purely an event of either fact or fiction but no research is needed now .

from:  Abraham kandankery
Posted on: Apr 2, 2013 at 07:02 IST

What is sensationalism? To claim that a murder took place 2050-years ago in a phase of history which has never been recorded and always spoken in art and theatre (including from the Bard!) is all that we have to rely on. Mounting evidence based on capacity of Egyptian Cobra to bite and inject sufficient venom may be evidence; but then are comparing cobras of 20th century affected by changes in weather with something we have no scientific data for? It is only wishful thinking that interpolating conclusions based on genetics and possible mutation with mathematical algorithms can solve a riddle. Let sleeping dogs lie.

from:  Swapan Chakravarthy
Posted on: Apr 1, 2013 at 19:16 IST

I am not ardent lover of history.But the way Pat Brown has answered the questions provokes an interest to read more about Cleopatra.

from:  Kumaresan
Posted on: Apr 1, 2013 at 18:13 IST

A very good & appreciable investigation by pat brown.

from:  rajesh reesu
Posted on: Apr 1, 2013 at 06:04 IST

Octavian had a very good reason to murder Cleopatra - she is responsible for his beloved
uncle's (read as Julius Caesar) death. But he had no reason to cover it up. If he had killed
her he might as well parade her head in the streets of Rome to avenge his uncle's death. So
I don't think cleopatra is murdered. You can't challenge historical facts which occurred more
than 2500 years ago sitting in an air conditioned room having hamburgers and coke. So Mrs
pat brown - stop publicising yourself as a historian or archaeologist - you are just a TV Show
presenter who twisted a well known historical fact so as to make your programme more
interesting and to have your own 15 min fame.

from:  Rahul
Posted on: Mar 31, 2013 at 17:13 IST
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