Handel's House, watercolour by John Buckler, 1839

The action is based on Julius Caesar’s Egyptian visit of 48-47 BC. Caesar has defeated Pompey, a rival Roman general, at Pharsalia in Greece and has pursued him to Egypt, where Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy are joint sovereigns. Although the characters in the opera are based on historical figures – but with Caesar and Sextus portrayed as much younger than their counterparts in history – the details of the plot are largely fictional.