Cleopatra: History and Biography
Cleopatra was an ancient queen of Egypt. She was the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (332 BCE- 30 BCE). She was born in 69 B.C. to 68 B.C. Her full name was Cleopatra VII Philopator. Cleopatra is one of the most popular females to ever rule Egypt. She had multiple professions, including being a diplomat, health author, translator, and a navy commander. She was a direct descendant of Ptolemy I, a military man from Macedonia and a very good friend of Alexander the Great. Cleopatra was the first pharaoh from the Ptolemaic line to study the Egyptian language. Her original language was Koine Greek. Apart from those languages, she could speak multiple more, including, Ethiopian, Arabic, Latin, Parthian, Hebrew, and a few others.
Birth and Early Life
Cleopatra’s mother was presumed to be the wife of Ptolemey II – that is Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. Cleopatra learned Greek artworks from her childhood teacher ( Philostratus). In her youthful days, it is presumed that she studied at Alexandria’s library and the Museum.
Ascendance to the throne
An Egyptian revolution in 58 BC caused the exile of Cleopatra’s father Ptolemy XII. It was one of his own daughters (elder sister of Berenice) who rose up against him and seized the throne. Berenice rose to leadership when her sister (Cleopatra VI) was poisoned to death. Cleopatra VII had followed her father to Rome on his exile. They had military support from Rome and went back to Egypt in 55 BC. Ptolemy XII killed Berenice and took back the throne. When her father died in 51 BC, Cleopatra VII succeeded him.
It has been said that Cleopatra faced a lot of challenges when she ascended the throne. There were reports of drought-related famine. As at that time, the water of the Nile River was at dangerously low. Initially, economic conditions in the empire were deplorable because Cleopatra inherited huge Roman debts from her father. However, her reign went on to bring about peace and a significant amount of prosperity in the country.
Fall Out Between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII
After their father’s death, it was Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII (her sibling) who co-ruled Egypt. A misunderstanding later broke out between the two and it led to bloodshed in Egypt; a civil war began. When Pompey (a Roman military ruler) ran to Egypt after losing a battle against the mighty Julius Caesar, Ptolemy XIII used that as a great opportunity to kill Pompey. Julius Caesar went to Alexandria in a desperate search for his escaped enemy. His aim was to kill him upon capture but his rival was already killed by the time he arrived in Alexandria.
In Alexandria, Julius Caesar tried to mediate between Cleopatra and her feuding younger brother Ptolemy XIII. However, the military advisers of Ptolemy XIII believed Julius Caesar was biased in resolving the conflict; they believed he was on the side of Cleopatra.
Ptolemy XIII and his men, who were now controlled by Cleopatra’s younger sister (Arsinoe IV), then attacked both Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. The outcome was unexpected – Ptolemy XIII died during one of their battles close to the Nile River. Cleopatra’s sister was banished; Julius Caesar became a head who shared the powers of Egypt between Cleopatra and one of her brothers (Ptolemy XIV); they ruled Egypt together.
Relationship with Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar went into a romantic relationship with Cleopatra which brought forth a son (Ptolemey XV or Caesarion). In 46 BC, the royal lovers (Caesar and Cleopatra) went back to Rome with Cleopatra as a queen. They stayed together in Julius Caesar’s mansion until Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. Cleopatra wanted to install her son (Caesarion), as the successor to Caesar. This failed to materialize because Caesar had a nephew called Octavian(Augustus). Octavian had greater legitimacy to Rome’s throne than Caesarion. Stuck with this disappointment, Cleopatra killed her brother Ptolemey XIV. She did this so she could rule Egypt with her son Caesarion.
Cleopatra’s Relationship with Mark Antony
Between 43-42 BC, Cleopatra joined hands with Mark Antony, Octavian and Marcus Lepidus (the three men were known as the Second Triumvirate). In a liberating attempt to avenge the assassination of Julius Caesar, they fought against the men of Marcus Junius and Cassius Longinus. Cleopatra and her side emerged victoriously. She entered into a relationship with Mark Antony and they gave birth to about 3 children – Cleopatra Selene II, Ptolemy Philadelphus, and Alexander Helios. Mark Antony relied on Cleopatra’s military expertise to invade empires in Parthia and Armenia. Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s offspring were vested with powers to rule over some territories conquered by Antony.
When Mark Antony divorced Octavian’s sister and married Cleopatra, a war broke out between the former friends. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. Unfortunately, Cleopatra and Mark Antony were defeated by Octavian’s army- the Agrippa. Antony killed himself. Octavian then planned to bring Cleopatra along to Rome for his victorious procession; Cleopatra didn’t want to go that far so she poisoned herself. There are other myths that she was bitten to death by a snake. Cleopatra died at age thirty-nine. Her burial tomb hasn’t been specifically located, but there are claims it’s in Egypt.
Her children, three in number were taken to Rome after her death. Cleopatra was succeeded by Ptolemy XV (Caesarion). When Cleopatra gave up the ghost, the Egyptian empire crumbled under the strength of the Roman Empire; Egypt was now administered by Rome. The death of Cleopatra became a turning point for Egypt in what many would call, the finish line of the Hellenistic era (323 BCE – 31 BCE).
Several centuries after her passing, Cleopatra’s influence on modern art cannot be overlooked. Her life has fed generations with a rich literature. Cleopatra has been the theme of post-Middle Age works in painting, poetry, sculptures, and drama. Famous among such drama include “Antony and Cleopatra” (1608) by William Shakespeare. Hollywood also produced a movie on Cleopatra (1963). There are numerous Cleopatra statues in Egyptian and Roman museums. Her face has also been shown on minted coins.