Julius Caesar has insulted Cleopatra VII by saying that the Egyptians have become decadent. To prove him wrong, Cleopatra declares that she will have a palace for him built within three months. The Queen of the Nile warns her architect Edifis that if he fails to make the three-month time limit, he will be fed to the crocodiles. Since such a thing would not be possible without magic, Edifis goes to Gaul and enlist the aid of his friend Getafix, with Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix along for the ride.
The construction of the palace is inhibited by Edifis' rival Artifis, who would love to see the former fed to the crocs. Artifis incites a worker's rebellion, and sabotages shipments of stone, but both are stopped by the magic potion. Artifis tries to get rid of the Gauls by first trying to trap them in a pyramid, then framing them for attempting to poison Cleopatra and kidnapping Edifis. The Gauls are able to survive both attempts, and Artifis and his lacky Krukhut are forced to work on the palace without magic potion.
Caesar learns of the Gauls' aid, and not wanting to lose face, tries to capture them. Though the Gauls are able to fend off the Romans, the palace gets wrecked. Asterix and Dogmatix send word of this to Cleopatra, and she puts Caesar in his place. The palace is completed, Edifis receives his reward, Getafix receives scrolls from the Library in Alexandria, and the Gauls return home triumphant.
The comic book and animated adaptation provide examples of the following tropes :
- Artistic License Geography: The region of France where Asterix's village is located is over 3,000 miles from Alexandria as the crow flies, and at least half again that distance as the galley sails (as one has to cross the entire Mediterranean, go through the Strait of Gibraltar, around Spain and up France's west coast). Even with crack rowing teams working multiple shifts, Edifis would take up at least half of his available time just getting to Getafix and bringing him back.
- Been There, Shaped History: Obelix breaks the Sphinx's nose while climbing it.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Better to Sink than Be Sunk, courtesy of the pirates. Amounts to the same thing and saves them a few knocks. The animated version averts this (because this was their first meeting in the cartoons) and their ship gets boarded by the Gauls, who have a good time trashing them.Captain: Did you just say board us?!
- Big Bad Ensemble: Julius Ceasar and Artifis act as two separate big bads who, despite their common goal (both want to see Edifis fail) never join forces. Artifis tries to sabotage the construction by convincing the workers to go on strike, bribing the stone-delivery man to throw his load away, kidnapping Edifis, sending Cleopatra a poisoned cake and blaming the Gauls for it, and having the Gauls locked up in a pyramid. Julius Ceasar on the other hand resorts to brute force, using his soldiers to lay siege to the construction site and attack the palace with catapults.
- Cardboard Prison: Cleopatra's prison can't keep Obelix in or out any longer than he feels like it. (Then again, what prison can?)
- Credits Gag: In some editions of the album, the front cover listed all the things that had gone into making the book, including "14 litres of India ink", "1984 sheets of paper", "2 typewriters" and "366 pints of beer", as a spoof on Cleopatra touting itself as the greatest film ever made.
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Obelix divides the poisoned cake into three pieces- two little ones for Asterix and Getafix, and one large one for himself! ("You greedy pig!" mutters Asterix.) Since they need to get rid of the whole thing to make sure nobody else tries it, this works out fine for them.
- Exact Words: Obelix defines "three slices" as "two slices and I'll take what's left".
- Face Death with Dignity: Parodied; When Cleopatra thinks the Gauls are going to assassinate her, she launches into a big speech that they will see how a queen faces her fate until Asterix interrupts to explain what's going on.
- Funny Background Event: Cleopatra and Getafix are calmly discussing the poisoned cake, somehow not being drowned out by Asterix and Obelix having a shouting match over the appropriateness of eating leftover almonds in the presence of a queen.
- Historical In-Joke:
- Obelix destroying the Sphinx's nose explains why it has no nose nowadays.
- In the comic Edifis' scribe says he speaks all the living languages: Latin, Greek and Egyptian. Today all these ancient languages are dead.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: When the captain of the boat transporting new stones to the construction site shows up empty handed, and claims there are no more stones, Obelix proceeds to beat him [the captain] in the face repeatedly (apparently toning the force of the blows down enough to not be fatal). It doesn't take long before the captain confesses how Artifis has bribed him to toss the stones in the Nile.
- Lame Pun Reaction: After a particularly disastrous offensive by the Romans:Legionnary 1: We'll be an-Nile-lated!
Legionnary 2: One more pun like that and I desert!!
- Literal-Minded: When Cleopatra said that she would cover Edifis with gold, she meant it; after he completes his task, her servants pour gold over Edifis while he's kneeling in front of her throne, and even bring in more gold when part of Edifis is still sticking out of the initial pile.
- Meaningful Name:
- Artifis' henchman is named Krukhut ("Crew cut") in the English version, and has a shaven head when we first see him. This becomes an Ironic Name when he makes a vow never to shave his head again if the Gauls escape the pyramid in which he has abandoned them... and when they do escape, he keeps his vow, and has a full, thick head of hair by the end of the book.
- Edifis' assistant Otis keeps talking about a machine that would allow the lifting and lowering of people or merchandise. In real life, Otis is an elevator-manufacturing company.
- Out-of-Character Moment: After he and his crew have been forced to take jobs as galley slaves on Cleopatra's barge, the captain expresses an unusual determination to wreak revenge on the Gauls in his later book appearances (much like he did at the beginning of this one), he seeks to avoid them as much as possible.
- Painting the Medium: When characters are speaking the Egyptian language, their text balloons contain hieroglyphs. At one point, when Obelix tries to interrogate an Egyptian, his hieroglyphs are drawn in a very crude and childish manner to indicate his poor pronunciation.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Obelix tries to get some Magic Potion by disguising himself as an Egyptian worker. And the diguise consists of wearing an Egyptian cloth on his head. Getafix immediately sees through it and sends the Gaul away.
- Rapid Hair Growth: The henchman of the villain Artifis vows never to shave his head again until the pesky Gauls are killed. The rate at which his shaven skull becomes extremely hirsute then becomes a Running Gag.
- Reclining Reigner: Caesar lies on a reclined seat and eats chicken at the beginning.
- Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: In 50 B.C, even!
- The album cover is a parody of the movie poster to Cleopatra. Several scenes are also directly inspired by this film, including Cleopatra travelling on a large sphinx, pulled by slaves.
- In front of the pyramids Getafix tells Obelix: "20 centuries look down upon you." This is a reference to Napoléon Bonaparte's comment in 1797 to his soldiers during his campaign in Egypt when they were standing in front of the same monuments: "40 centuries are looking down upon you".
- When Asterix and Obelix confront Artifis after the collapse of his plan to frame them for attempting to poison Cleopatra, he is reading a newspaper called Pharaon-Soir in the original French (a reference to the evening paper France-Soir) and Daily Nile in English (a pun on Daily Mail). The front page has two comics on it; in the original French, they are entitled Chéri-Bibis and Isis de mon coeur, parodies of Chéri-Bibi and Juliette de mon coeur (the French title for Stan Drake's soap opera comic The Heart of Juliet Jones), while in English the first strip has been re-titled Ptarzan and the second replaced with Pnuts (the heads of Charlie Brown and Snoopy are just visible above the bottom of the frame).
- Skewed Priorities: At one point Edifis expresses concern that the current stress and pressures he's under will make him inedible by the time he's fed to the crocodiles, proclaiming that sacred crocodiles can't be fed just any old thing (Obelix naturally observes that this is crazy).
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: While Caesar is present from the beginning, and the one responsible for making the bet with Cleopatra, he sits back for most of the story while Artifis antagonizes Edifis and the Gauls. Only after Artifis is dealt with does Caesar find out about the Gauls helping Edifis, prompting him to actively try and sabotage the construction. He's by far a bigger threat to the heroes than Artifis was, forcing the Gauls to seek help from Cleopatra herself.
- Stinger: After the traditional banquet, there's a panel that shows Vitalstatistix berating Obelix for making menhirs shaped like obelisks.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Artifis offers a poisoned cake to Cleopatra in order to frame Asterix, Obelix and Getafix, by putting their names on the accompanying letter. The Animated Adaptation expands on the cake through a Villain Song.
- Vacation Episode: Asterix, Obelix and Getafix travel to Egypt.
- You Have Failed Me:
- Cleopatra warns Edifis that if he fails to complete the new palace in three months, he'll be fed to the crocodiles.
- The method Getafix uses to get the Gauls off of the poisoning charge gets the taste tester fired for "falsely" reporting a poisoning attempt. However, the tester doesn't mind losing his job - he hated the food served in Cleopatra's court, and now he never needs to eat it again.
- These Egyptians are crazy!