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The Story of Cleopatra- the Queen of Egypt

Posted in Ancient Egypt  by antiques

cleopatra-egyptCleopatra (epithet Netjeret-mer-it-es) was actually the last of seven Ptolomaic queens of the same name.
Cleopatra VII (ruled 51-30 BC) was illustrious, intelligent and politically astute, and was reputedly the only Ptolomaic ruler to have actually learnt the Egyptian language. Cleopatra VII first shared a co-regency with her father Ptolomy XII (ruled 80-51 BC). Pharaoh Ptolemy XII died in March 51 BC making the 18 year old Cleopatra and her 12 year old brother Ptolemy XIII joint monarchs. These first three years of their reign was difficult due to economic difficulties, famine, deficient floods of Nile and political conflicts. Relations between the sovereigns completely broke down and her brother Ptolomy XIII actually ousted her from power for a time in the year 48 BC. Cleopatra tried to raise a rebellion, but in the end had little choice but to flee.

Cleopatra’s links with Rome were first forged through Pompey, who had been appointed as her guardian on the death of her father. Defeated by Caesar at Pharsalia in 48 BC, Pompey had fled to Egypt where he was subsequently assassinated under the orders of Cleopatra’s brother Ptolomy XIII. Ptolemy is thought to have ordered the death as a way of pleasing Julius Caesar and becoming an ally of Rome, to which Egypt was in debt. This was a catastrophic miscalculation on Ptolemy’s part. When Caesar arrived in Egypt two days later, Ptolemy presented him with Pompey’s severed, pickled head. Caesar was enraged. This was probably due to the fact that, although political enemies, Pompey had been a Consul of Rome and was the widower of Caesar’s only daughter Julia, who had died in childbirth with their son. Ptolemy XIII was drowned in the Nile and Caesar restored Cleopatra to the throne, this time with her second brother Ptolomy XIV as co-ruler.
Cleopatra and Julius Caesar
In 47 BC, Cleopatra had a son, Ptolomy Caesarion, whom she claimed to be fathered by Julius Caesar. Although Caesar refused to make the boy his heir, against Cleopatra’s wishes, naming his grand-nephew Octavian instead. Cleopatra and Caesarion visited Caesar in Rome in 46 BC, but had returned to Egypt after his assassination. Upon her return, she then proceeded to have her own brother/husband “disposed” of, possibly poisoned, and then instated her son Caesarion as her new co-regent.
The death of Julius Caesar on the 15th March 44 BC was followed by civil war in the Roman Empire. His assassins, led by Brutus and Cassius, were defeated by Mark Anthony and Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son and heir. In the settlement that followed, Mark Anthony took the Eastern section of the Roman Empire, and Octavian took the West.
Cleopatra and Mark Anthony
Various political manoeuvres then led Cleopatra to be summoned to a meeting with Mark Anthony at Tarsus. He spent the winter at Alexandria, after which Cleopatra bore him twins. On 25th December 40 BC she gave birth to a boy and a girl who were named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene (II) respectively.

Four years later, in 37 BC, Antony visited Alexandria again while on route to make war with the Parthians. He renewed his relationship with Cleopatra, and from this point on Alexandria would be his home. He married Cleopatra according to the Egyptian rite (a letter quoted in Suetonius suggests this), although he was at the time married to Octavia Minor, the sister of Octavian. He and Cleopatra had another child, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
In 34 BC, under the “Donations of Alexandria”, Mark Anthony divided various parts of the Eastern Roman Empire between Cleopatra and her children, legitimating his actions to the Senate by telling them that he was simply installing “client rulers” to these areas. Octavian, the brother of Mark Anthony’s Roman wife had set his sights on the supreme power of the Roman Empire. Mark Anthony’s behaviour with Cleopatra offered Octavian the perfect opportunity to initiate a propaganda campaign against his brother-in-law and Cleopatra, until finally in 32 BC, Rome declared war on her.
The might of Rome versus Cleopatra
In 33 BC Octavian managed to defeat Mark Anthony at the naval battle of Actium. For some unknown reason, Cleopatra’s fleet had unexpectedly withdrawn from the battle. Octavian then pursued both Mark Anthony and Cleopatra into Egypt, but finally on 10th August 30 BC, realising that “all was in effect lost”, and mistakenly thinking that Cleopatra was already dead, Mark Anthony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed suit a few days later, preferring death to the humiliation of a Roman triumph. Caesarion, Cleopatra’s son by Caesar, was proclaimed pharaoh by Egyptians, but Octavian had him captured and executed. On 30th August 30 BC, he proclaimed himself “Pharaoh of Egypt”. After a culture that had spanned thousands of years, Egypt was conquered and inaugurated as a province into the Eastern Roman Empire.

Cleopatra’s legendary notoriety - how did she become so famous?
As Queen of a wealthy nation, Cleopatra was a ruler at a pivotal time in ancient history. During her reign, she promoted herself relentlessly, making public displays of her power, her image as pharaoh and goddess, and her links with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. In addition, she personally led significant rituals and was identified with Isis, the most important Egyptian goddess of the day. In doing so, Cleopatra inspired great affection and loyalty among her people.
After she died, Cleopatra’s Roman enemy Octavian spread tales about her, unintentionally spinning her story into a legend. Even before her death, Cleopatra’s story had taken on mythic proportions. Since then, each passing era has put its own imprint on her legend. The legend grew through the writings of Plutarch, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and through the many film versions of her story.
A strong and capable ruler
When she came to power at just 18 years of age, Cleopatra was highly educated, spoke several languages and was mature beyond her years. Her abilities were evident early on as she helped Egypt survive a severe drought and launched lucrative economic reforms. Yet her position was precarious. Her father had left the country in civil turmoil, and Cleopatra faced the constant threat of assassination by siblings who also wanted to rule. In addition, the Roman Empire was emerging on Egypt’s doorstep and were attracted to Egypt’s vast wealth and agricultural resources.

Cleopatra’s famous alliances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were as political as they were personal. Through them, Cleopatra shrewdly secured her throne and preserved Egypt’s status as an independent nation for more than 20 years, despite the increasing power of Rome.
Egyptian-style statues and images of Cleopatra generally depict her wearing the unusual triple uraeus. - Inspired by

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