How were the Romans able to defeat Cleopatra?

I’ve finished reading Cleopatra: A Life and am more confused than ever about one thing… How were the Romans able to defeat Cleopatra? She was the owner of the richest land in the ancient world and the only one that generated a surplus of food. Therefore tax revenues made her one of the richest people in the Roman world. It seems plausible that the Romans could conquer territories in which disunited tribes squabbled amongst themselves, but how could they win against someone with a central government and a stronger tax base? It can’t be that the Romans had military tactics unknown to Cleopatra; she was allied with Mark Antony, an experienced Roman general. Why couldn’t Cleopatra just maintain a big army and stay home in Egypt waiting for Romans to arrive in their small-by-modern-standards ships, then kill or capture each shipload of soldiers? Or, if the Romans were going to land in present-day Haifa, Israel and walk to Egypt, why not use the massive labor resources available to dig some trenches? Was there some huge advantage for offensive troops back then? In an age without aircraft or large ships it is hard to understand intuitively how Rome could project its power so far away and so effectively against another well-governed empire.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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