Queen Cleopatra: History and Major Facts
Cleopatra was an ancient queen of Egypt. She was the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (332 BCE- 30 BC). She was born either in 69 B.C. or 68 B.C. Her full name was Cleopatra VII Philopator, which means “Cleopatra the Father-Loving Goddess”.
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 descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a military man from Macedonia and a very good friend of Alexander the Great.
Queen 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.
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Birth and Early Life
Cleopatra’s mother was presumed to be the wife of Ptolemey II – that is Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. Growing up, she 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.
How Cleopatra ascended 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.
Following the palace coup, the young Cleopatra followed her father to Rome on his exile. There, they were able to secure 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 succeeded him, crowning herself Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, which means “goddess who loves her father”.
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 levels. 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.
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Fallout 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, resulting in a bloody political turmoil that spiraled into a civil war.
When Pompey (aka Pompey the Great), a Roman politician and military general, ran to Egypt after losing a power struggle with the mighty Roman general and politician 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.
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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 further consolidated his power in Rome and shared the powers of Egypt between Cleopatra and one of her brothers, Ptolemy XIV.
Relationship with Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar went into a romantic relationship with Queen Cleopatra which brought forth a son called Caesarion (also called Ptolemey XV).
In 46 BC, the power couple, Caesar and Cleopatra, went back to Rome, with Cleopatra almost acting as queen. They stayed together in Julius Caesar’s mansion until Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.
There were rumors that Cleopatra wanted to install her son (Caesarion), as the successor to Caesar. This failed to materialize because Caesar had a nephew called Octavian (later Emperor Augustus).
Being the adopted son and successor of the deceased Roman dictator, Octavian managed to pose himself as having 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.
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Cleopatra’s Relationship with Mark Antony
Between 43-42 BC, Cleopatra joined hands with Mark Antony, Octavian and Marcus Lepidus – the three men best known for forming 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 victorious. She entered into a relationship with Mark Antony and they gave birth to 3 children – Cleopatra Selene II, Ptolemy Philadelphus, and Alexander Helios.
Almost similar to the power-hungry ideas that Caesar had, Mark Antony sought to get his hands on the vast wealth of the Ptolemies. The Roman general and politician relied on Cleopatra’s military expertise to invade empires in Parthia and Armenia.
It was even said that Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s offspring were vested with powers to rule over some territories conquered by Antony.
Death of Queen Cleopatra
When Mark Antony divorced Octavian’s sister and married Cleopatra, a war broke out between the former political allies.
To further consolidate his grip on power in Rome and beyond, Octavian declared war on Cleopatra and her allies.
Ultimately, Cleopatra and Mark Antony were defeated by Octavian’s army. Antony killed himself.
Octavian then planned to bring Cleopatra along to Rome for his victory procession – a move that would have been beyond humiliating for Cleopatra. Therefore, the Egyptian queen poisoned herself.
There are other myths that say she was bitten to death by a snake.
What we know for a fact is that Cleopatra died around the age of thirty-nine.
Her burial tomb hasn’t been specifically located, but there are claims it’s in Egypt.
What happened to Cleopatra’s children?
Cleopatra had four known children: Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar (known as Caesarion, meaning “Little Caesar”, fathered by Julius Caesar), and three children with Mark Antony – Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Following her death, some of her children taken to Rome, where they were paraded in Octavian’s victory procession.
The deceased queen’s daughter, Selene, went on to become queen in her own right through her marriage to an Numibian (modern-day Mauretania and Sudan) ruler.
Not much is known about the fate of Cleopatra’s two sons – Philadelphus and Helios. It’s said that they, unlike Selene, did not have a distinguished career after Cleopatra’s death. Besides, it was not as if Rome’s new emperor Augustus would have allowed them to considering the fact that they were seen as big threats to Augustus’ position.
Who succeeded Cleopatra?
On paper, Cleopatra was succeeded by Ptolemy XV (Caesarion). In reality, the Egyptian empire crumbled under the strength of the Roman Empire; and Egypt was now administered by Rome under the leadership of its newly crowned emperor – Augustus.
Basically, the death of Cleopatra became a turning point for Egypt in what many would call, the finish line of the Hellenistic era (323 BC – 31 BC).
As Cleopatra’s death resulted in Rome’s annexation of Egypt, historians like to view the Egyptian queen as the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Several centuries after her passing, Cleopatra’s influence on modern art still remains palpable, often times arousing a lot of debates.
The Ptolemaic queen’s life has fed generations with a rich literature. She 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 renowned English playwright William Shakespeare. Hollywood also produced a movie on Cleopatra in 1963.
Furthermore, there are numerous Cleopatra artworks in Egyptian and Roman museums. One of the most famous artworks of the Egyptian queen is the bas relief of her and her son Caesarion at the Temple of Dendera. Also, it was not uncommon for the female pharaoh’s face to be shown on minted coins.
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Here’s what you need to know:
- Cleopatra’s family roots goes all the way back to Ptolemy I Soter, a famous Macedonian general and close friend of Alexander the Great.
- As it was common among ancient monarchs, Cleopatra married her two brothers. She also co-ruled with them.
- Growing up, she received very sound education. She was not just fluent in her native language Koine Greek but also the Egyptian language. She could also speak Latin, Ethiopian, Hebrew, and Parthian, among others. As queen, she was a big promoter of art and literature.
- The fact that she was romantically involved with Caesar and Mark Antony, two very influential generals and statesmen of Rome, meant that she wielded considerable influence on the political scene in Rome.
- With Cleopatra dead, Roman general Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) annexed Egypt and made the kingdom a province of the Rome. The Egyptian queen, along with her lover Mark Antony, was defeated by Octavian’s forces at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.
- At just 18 years old, Cleopatra became co-ruler of Egypt, first with her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, and then later with her younger siblings, including Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator and Ptolemy XIV Philopator. She also briefly ruled with her son Ptolemy XV Caesarion.
- During Caesar’s Civil War, Cleopatra and her co-ruler Ptolemy XII had a big fallout, with her brother supporting Caesar’s biggest rival, Roman general and statesman Pompey the Great. A defeat at the hands of Caesar forced Pompey to flee to Egypt, where he was betrayed and killed by Ptolemy XIII.
- Queen Cleopatra’s death in 31 BC effectively brought an end of Ptolemaic Egypt, as control of the kingdom moved into the hands of the Roman Empire.
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