Octavian’s forces defeated Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and captured Alexandria soon afterwards. Historians believe that although Octavian ruled Egypt after the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, he was never actually crowned as an Egyptian pharaoh.
The stele was commissioned by Gaius Cornelius Gallus, a Roman soldier and poet who was appointed by Octavian to run Egypt as a province, and who administered Egypt until he was recalled to Rome in 27 BC. The stele celebrates the end of the Ptolemaic kings and the defeat of the “king of the Ethiopians”. It is written in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Latin and Greek. The stele has been known to scholars for around 100 years, but translation of the hieroglyphic text has been difficult as the inscription is no longer clear. Previous work had suggested that the name of Gaius Cornelius Gallus had been inscribed in the cartouche (an oblong frame).
Historians don’t believe that Octavian Augustus was ever crowned as the Pharaoh of Egypt. However, Professor Martina Minas-Nerpel, who was part of the team translating the stele, said that the inscription clearly indicated that Octavian Augustus was treated as a pharaoh by the Egyptians.
“The name of Octavian is written in a cartouche – he’s treated as any other Egyptian king,” she said.
Professor Minas-Nerpel believes that Egyptian priests had insisted on this honour, and that it was in Octavian’s interests to comply.