Cleopatra ~ Life of a Queen

Queen AND THE Goddess of Egypt

Much of what we know about Cleopatra was written after her death when it was politically expedient to portray her as a threat to Rome and its stability. Thus, some of what we know about Cleopatra may have been exaggerated or misrepresented by those sources. Cassius Dio, one of the ancient sources that tell her story, summarizes her story as "She captivated the two greatest Romans of her day, and because of the third she destroyed herself."

Early Years

During Cleopatra's early years, her father tried to maintain his failing power in Egypt by bribing powerful Romans. Ptolemy XII was reportedly the son of a concubine instead of a royal wife.

When Ptolemy XII went to Rome in 58 BCE, his wife, Cleopatra VI Tryphaina, and his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, assumed the rulership jointly. When he returned, apparently Cleopatra VI had died, and with the help of Roman forces, Ptolemy XII regained his throne and executed Berenice. Ptolemy then married his son, about 9 years old, to his remaining daughter, Cleopatra, who was by time about eighteen.

Early Rule

Cleopatra apparently attempted to rule alone, or at least not equally with her much-younger brother. In 48 BCE, Cleopatra was pushed out of power by ministers. At the same time, Pompey -- with whom Ptolemy XII had allied himself -- appeared in Egypt, chased by forces of Julius Caesar. Pompey was assassinated by Ptolemy XIII's supporters. A sister of Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII declared herself ruler as Arsinoe IV.

Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

Cleopatra, according to the stories, had herself delivered to Julius Caesar's presence in a rug and won his support. Ptolemy XIII died in a battle with Caesar, and Caesar restored Cleopatra to power in Egypt, along with her brother Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler.

In 46 BCE, Cleopatra named her newborn son Ptolemy Caesarion, emphasizing that this was the son of Julius Caesar. Caesar never formally accepted paternity, but he did take Cleopatra to Rome that year, also taking her sister, Arsinoe, and displaying her in Rome as a war captive. That he was already married (to Calpurnia) yet Cleopatra claimed to be his wife added to a climate in Rome that ended with Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE.

After Caesar's death, 
Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XIV died, probably assassinated by Cleopatra. She established her son as her co-ruler Ptolemy XV Caesarion.

When the next Roman military governor of the region, Marc Antony, demanded her presence -- along with that of other rulers who were controlled by Rome -- she arrived dramatically in 41 BCE, and managed to convince him of her innocence of charges about her support of Caesar's supporters in Rome, captivated his interest, and gained his support.

Antony spent a winter in Alexandria with Cleopatra (41-40 BCE), and then left. Cleopatra bore twins to Antony. He, meanwhile, went to Athens and, his wife Fulvia having died in 40 BCE, agreed to marry Octavia, the sister of his rival Octavius. They had a daughter in 39 BCE. In 37 BCE Antony returned to Antioch, Cleopatra joined him, and they went through a sort of marriage ceremony in 36 BCE. 

That same year, another son was born to them, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Marc Antony formally restored to Egypt -- and Cleopatra -- territory which the Ptolemy's had lost control of, including Cyprus and part of what is now Lebanon. Cleopatra returned to Alexandria and Antony joined her in 34 BCE after military victory. He affirmed the joint rulership of Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, recognizing Caesarion as the son of Julius Caesar.

Antony's relationship with Cleopatra -- his supposed marriage and their children, and his granting of territory to her -- was used by Octavian to raise Roman concerns over his loyalties. Antony was able to use Cleopatra's financial support to oppose Octavian in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), but missteps -- probably attributable to Cleopatra -- led to defeat.

Cleopatra tried to get Octavian's support for her children's succession to power, but was unable to come to an agreement with him. In 30 BCE, Marc Antony killed himself, reportedly because he'd been told that Cleopatra had been killed, and when yet another attempt to keep power failed, Cleopatra killed herself.

Egypt and Cleopatra's Children After Cleopatra's Death

Egypt became a province of Rome, ending the rule of the Ptolemies. Cleopatra's children were taken to Rome. Caligula later executed Ptolemy Caesarion, and Cleopatra's other sons simply disappear from history and are assumed to have died. Cleopatra's daughter, Cleopatra Selene, married Juba, king of Numidia and Mauretania.

To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture. Her legacy survives in numerous works of art and the many dramatizations of her story in literature and other media, including William Shakespeare's tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, Jules Massenet's opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra.

Interesting Facts About Queen Cleopatra

1) Cleopatra’s full name was Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator.

2) Cleopatra was born in 69 BC, to Ptolemy XII and his wife, Cleopatra V of Egypt.

3) She became the Pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty after succeeded Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos (Auletes). She reigned for 21 years, from 51 BC to 30 BC.

4) Cleopatra died in 30 BC, when she was only 39 years old. She committed suicide and used an asp (an Egyptian cobra snake) for the purpose.

5) Cleopatra VII was the last Queen and the last Pharaoh of Egypt. Following her death, Egypt became a Roman province.

6) Cleopatra had four children, namely Caesarion aka Ptolemy Caesar (son of Julius Caesar) and Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II and Ptolemy Philadelphus (children of Mark Antony).

7) Whether she was physically beautiful is subject to debate. Coins of the time depict a woman with a hooked nose and masculine features. 

8) Cleopatra was a very intelligent woman, with oodles of charisma and amazing powers of persuasion.

9) Cleopatra was not an Egyptian. Rather, she was a Macedonian Greek who descended from Ptolemy I, a Greek general of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy I became the king of Egypt following the death of Alexander.

10) In the entire 300-year old Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was the only Pharaoh who could speak Egyptian. Infact, she was the master of nine languages.

11) Cleopatra was one of the seven women named Cleopatra in the dynasty. This is why she was officially known as Cleopatra VII.

12) Cleopatra was the mistress, and probably the wife, of Julius Caesar. She was married to Mark Antony, apart from a few of her own brothers.

13) She had a eunuch friend named Mardian whom she befriended when she was a little girl. Mardian learnt to read and write at her palace and they both remained friends for a lifetime.

14) After the death of Caesar, she and Mark Antony fell in love and got married.

15) Mark Antony committed suicide on the battlefield after being misinformed about the death of Cleopatra

16) Shattered after hearing the news of the death of Mark Antony, she committed suicide by making an asp, an Egyptian cobra, bite her in the breast. One of the most famous love stories (Antony and Cleopatra, thus ended tragically. She was then only 39

17) She believed she was the daughter of Egyptian goddess Isis and the bite of an asp would take her to the gods

18) She had three sisters; two older and one younger. The eldest was named after her mother Cleopatra V Tryphaena, which means pleasure seeker. Hence, there were two Cleopatras in the family. They were distinguished by their middle names

19) She married her 12 year old brother Ptolemy XIII, when she was 18. They ruled together for 4 years before he was drowned.

20) Her legendary first meetings with Julius Caaesar and Mark Antony are still talked about. She staged various major attractions to impress them, such as her romantic royal barge tours along the Nile River.

Plutarch attempted to explain why some men found her attractive: "... the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation... was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another, so that there were few of the nations that she needed an interpreter... "

 In most depictions, Cleopatra is put forward as a great beauty, and her successive conquests of the world's most powerful men are taken as proof of her aesthetic and sexual appeal. In his Pensées, philosopher Blaise Pascal contends that Cleopatra's classically beautiful profile changed world history: 

"Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed."


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