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1. She was an intellectual
Her native language was Koine Greek and she was the first Ptolemaic ruler to become familiar with the Egyptian language. Cleopatra was well educated and studied math, logic, debating, and science. She spoke no less than nine languages, and possibly upwards of 12. Because of this, she was able to address commanders and leaders of different nations without a translator or mediator which gave her an advantage. Cleopatra was an author. She wrote a medicinal and pharmacological book called Cosmetics which included, amongst other things, remedies for male pattern baldness and dandruff.
Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 BC – August 12, 30 BC) was an Egyptian Queen and the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Cleopatra was a member of the Greek-speaking, Ptolemaic dynasty, who ruled Egypt from 300BC to 30 BC. Deposed from power by her brother, Cleopatra aligned herself with Julius Caesar to regain the throne. After Caesar’s murder, she became the lover to Mark Anthony. But, after Mark Anthony had been defeated by the forces of Octavian in the Roman Civil War, Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide, rather than fall into the hands of Octavius. Her death marked the end of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt – and Egypt became absorbed into the Roman Empire.
Cleopatra was born around 69 BC. Her father Ptolemy XII died (in 51 BC) when she was 18, leaving Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII as co-regents. As was the custom of the time, Cleopatra married her brother, and together they ruled Egypt. However, Ptolemy soon had Cleopatra exiled, leaving him in sole charge.
In 48 BC, the Roman Empire was embroiled in a civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. When Pompey fled to Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, he was murdered on the orders of Ptolemy. Ptolemy had hoped to curry favour with Caesar, but when Caesar arrived in Alexandria, he was enraged at the murder of a Roman consul by a foreign subject.
Taking advantage of Caesar’s displeasure with Ptolemy, Cleopatra sneaked into Caesar’s rooms and successfully endeared herself to Julius Caesar. With Caesar’s military strength and support siding with Cleopatra, her brother Ptolemy was overthrown and killed. It enabled Cleopatra to be reinstalled as Queen. In 47BC, Cleopatra gave birth to Caesarion, which means “little Caesar.” though Caesar never publicly declared him to be his son.
For a time Cleopatra’s reign brought relative stability to the region, bringing a degree of peace and prosperity to a country bankrupt by civil war. Although she was brought up to speak Greek like her family, she also made an effort to learn Egyptian and later only spoke only in the native tongue of her subjects.
In 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated and this led to a growing power struggle between Mark Anthony and Caesar’s adopted son Octavian.
Despite being married to Octavian’s sister (Octavia), Mark Anthony began a relationship with Cleopatra. Together Cleopatra and Mark Anthony had three children. In his pursuit of power, Octavian claimed that Mark Anthony would give away Rome to this Egyptian Queen, who seemed to have Mark Anthony under her spell. It was also seen as a family insult that Mark Anthony was married to his sister but, at the same time, having an affair with Cleopatra.
The antagonism between Mark Anthony and Octavius grew into civil war, and in 31BC, Cleopatra joined her Egyptian forces with the Roman forces of Mark Anthony and fought Octavian’s forces on the west coast of Greece.
Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were decisively beaten in battle and scarcely escaped back to Egypt. However, Octavian’s forces pursued the couple and captured Alexandria in 30BC. With no chance of escape, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra both took their own lives, committing suicide on 12 August 30BC. In one account of her death, Cleopatra committed suicide by persuading a cobra to bite her on the breast.
Octavian later had their son Caesarion strangled, ending the Cleopatra dynasty. Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, and Cleopatra proved to be the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
The Mystique of Cleopatra
Cleopatra has been immortalised by William Shakespeare’s play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, Jules Massenet’s opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor).
Many contemporary sources spoke of the mystique of Cleopatra’s beauty and allure. Her image was put on Egyptian coins, which was very rare for the historical period. Plutarch writing in the Life of Mark Antony wrote:
“For (as they say) it was not because her [Cleopatra’s] beauty in itself was so striking that it stunned the onlooker, but the inescapable impression produced by daily contact with her: the attractiveness in the persuasiveness of her talk, and the character that surrounded her conversation was stimulating. It was a pleasure to hear the sound of her voice, and she tuned her tongue like a many-stringed instrument expertly to whatever language she chose….”
She was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great’s death during the Hellenistic period. The Ptolemies, throughout their dynasty, spoke Greek and refused to speak Egyptian, which is the reason that Greek, as well as Egyptian languages, were used on official court documents such as the Rosetta Stone. By contrast, Cleopatra did learn to speak Egyptian and represented herself as the reincarnation of an Egyptian goddess, Isis.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Cleopatra”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net , Published: 1st Feb. 2011. Last updated 7th March 2017.
Cleopatra by Diane Stanley at Amazon
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Cleopatra and Caesar were both married during their affair
Cleopatra and Caesar's relationship wasn't simply notorious because of the two rulers' political status. It was also shocking because both parties were married throughout the liaison. As explained in an article by the Altes Museum, Cleopatra was married to her "rebellious brother" and co-regent Ptolemy XIII when she and Caesar first became involved. When Ptolemy XIII died in 47 BC, Cleopatra married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, to ensure that her reign was still legitimized. At this point, she had just become pregnant with Caesar's child. Caesar, meanwhile, was married to a woman named Calpurnia — his fourth wife. According to Egyptology scholar Jenny Hill in her essay "Cleopatra and Julius Caesar," Calpurnia was the daughter of an important Roman family. She was a meek, submissive, "proper" woman, in stark contrast to the bold Cleopatra.
In the biography Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoh, Prudence J. Jones writes that Cleopatra was not the general's only mistress. Unfortunately for Calpurnia, Caesar had multiple affairs with multiple women, and his status as a philanderer was known throughout Rome. Of course, Cleopatra held a special position among his many lovers: He was so enamored with her that he granted her a house across from his own.
Intriguing List of Cleopatra Facts
Cleopatra was bestowed the Egyptian throne at the tender age of 18, along with her brother Ptolemy XIII, who was about 10 years old.
Cleopatra was forced to leave Egypt because of her brother’s advisers, where she fled to Syria. She gained power by raising an army of mercenaries, returning to Egypt to claim the throne that was unceremoniously taken away from her.
Cleopatra sought Julius Caesar’s help to restore her rightful place as queen, where he plundered Alexandria with his army. The Romans stepped in to assist Caesar in his conquest, ultimately proving to be stronger than the opposing army, in a victorious battle.
Cleopatra bore a son that she named Ptolemy Caesar, where the people of Egypt called him Caesarion.
After the death of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra’s stronghold over the throne was reinforced because her son became co-regent.
Cleopatra played a major role in helping the triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus) overpower Caesar’s assassins, Cassius and Brutus. After she sent four Roman legions to assist the trio in their battle, she was called to the Cicilian city of Tarsus by Mark Antony to discuss about her role in helping them during the battles of Philippi, which they ultimately won.
When she finally met Mark Antony, it was said that she arrived in style, so to speak, dressed in the robes of Isis (the Greek goddess she associated herself with). Antony fell for her bewitching ways, leaving his third wife Fulvia and three kids in Rome, taking off with Cleopatra back to Egypt.
Cleopatra gave birth to twins while Antony returned to Rome. She named them Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.
Mark Antony had sworn to protect Cleopatra’s crown and secure her reign in Egypt, promising to remove her younger sister and rival Arsinoe, who was at the time in exile.
While history marks the infidelity of Mark Antony, it also clearly indicates how Cleopatra stayed by his side, even when he married Octavian’s half-sister Octavia, to keep the peace. He publicly turned down Octavia, who wanted to rejoin him post a major battle defeat in Parthia, where he promptly returned to Egypt and its queen.
Mark Antony declared Caesar’s son Caesarion as the rightful ruler, opposing Octavian’s wishes to make his adopted son, heir. Antony had segregated land between his children, including Cleopatra where he was later stripped of all his titles by the Roman Senate. War was thus an imminent scenario, as Octavian went forward into battle against Cleopatra.
Mark Antony killed himself after being misinformed about Cleopatra’s death. The miscommunication through informants about her well-being led him to take his own life using his sword. She committed suicide likewise by letting an asp bite her, after receiving news of Antony’s demise. Since her son was too young to either defend himself or take over the throne he was executed post his capture by Octavian.
Cleopatra was not as beautiful and striking as described by many writers and scholars, where she is depicted as a masculine-looking woman, with thin lips, a prominent chin, and a large nose upon ancient coins. Whether she was lovely or not, her reign as queen has been admired and respected, even to this day, where no woman has ever been able to come as close to being such a tactful, highly intellectually-driven ruler.
A Sensational Entrance
Cleopatra dramatically played on Mark Antony’s fascination for Greek culture and his love of luxury. She approached Tarsus by sailing up the Cydnus River in a magnificent boat with a golden prow, purple sails, and silver oars. As musicians played, Cleopatra reclined under a gold-embroidered canopy dressed as Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love. She was fanned by youths dressed as Eros and waited upon by girls dressed as sea nymphs, while servants wafted perfume toward the gaping crowds lining the river. As sound and smell embellished this visually suggestive tableau, the impression made by Cleopatra must have been truly extraordinary.
Antony was overwhelmed by the spectacle. The Greek historian Plutarch describes a scene in which the Roman was abandoned in the city square as his attendants joined citizens racing to the river for a first glimpse of the queen. Caught off guard, Antony decided to invite Cleopatra to a banquet. However, the Egyptian queen was in complete control of events, and instead Antony found himself accepting her invitation to a feast she’d already prepared. According to Athenaeus, quoting Socrates of Rhodes, gold and precious gems dominated the decor of the dining hall, which was also hung with expensive carpets of purple and gold. Cleopatra provided expensive couches for Antony and his entourage, and to the triumvir’s amazement, the queen told him with a smile that they were a gift. Antony tried to reciprocate but soon realized he could not compete with Cleopatra.
Cleopatra's younger sister was captured by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C., and sent to live in Ephesus at the temple of Artemis. Six years later, following Cleopatra’s meeting with Mark Antony, the queen persuaded him to have her executed.
According to Plutarch, the queen had been convinced that her conquest of Antony would be easier than her earlier seduction of Julius Caesar—she was now far more experienced in the ways of the world. At 28 she had the confidence, intelligence, and beauty of a mature woman. She was sure of winning over Antony through a combined assault of conspicuous consumption and generosity, proving both Egypt’s abundant resources and her famed seductive charms. By some accounts Cleopatra’s beauty would not have turned heads at first sight, but she was deeply charismatic and was noted for her sweetness of voice. Cleopatra also knew she had the advantage: Antony had seen her in Alexandria 14 years earlier and been captivated by her then. Now they fell wildly in love.
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."
What we know for certain is that 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 Mauritania.
Cleopatra: what is the real legacy of the last pharaoh?
For more than 2,000 years Cleopatra VII, final ruler of Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty, has been portrayed as a manipulative but tragic beauty. Yet, as Joann Fletcher reveals, such simplistic portrayals obscure her true legacy as a strong, politically astute monarch
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Published: July 24, 2020 at 5:15 pm
On 22 March 51 BC, huge crowds gathered along the Nile at Thebes (modern Luxor), awaiting the arrival of a procession like no other they had seen before. At the centre of the cavalcade was the Buchis bull alongside the newly crowned pharaoh, Cleopatra. The bull was an earthly embodiment of Egypt’s chief male deities, so the ancient rites allowed her to demonstrate her own status as Egypt’s living goddess Isis, whose mystical union with such sacred creatures was believed to sustain the land’s fertility.
Aged only 17, the young female pharaoh was the first monarch in living memory to actively participate in these ceremonies, hence the public reaction. For as the glamorous teenage monarch and the great bull were led in procession to the Nile, contemporary reports note that they were greeted by crowds “united in drunkenness and the noise was heard in heaven… as for the ruler, everyone was able to see her”. Cleopatra, “Lady of the Two Lands, the goddess… rowed him [the bull] in the barque of Amun” at the head of a great flotilla.
This dramatic moment was only one of many such events in a life still obscured by Roman propaganda, Elizabethan drama and Elizabeth Taylor. The woman so often depicted as nothing but a beautiful yet highly immoral Egyptian queen was actually very different: she was attractive as much for her character as her face, immoral only in the writings of her enemies, predominantly Greek by descent, and no mere queen but a pharaoh with full royal titles who ruled not only Egypt but lands far beyond the Nile.
Pharaonic family tree
These same lands that had once been part of Egypt’s ancient empire had been fought over by a succession of powers throughout the first millennium BC. The intermittent occupation of Egypt by Persia ended only when Macedonian king Alexander the Great liberated Egypt in 332 BC. He was then crowned pharaoh, and founded Egypt’s new capital, Alexandria, before travelling east to take over the rest of Persia’s empire.
After Alexander’s death aged just 32, his empire was carved up and his rumoured half-brother Ptolemy seized Egypt. Here he established a line of Greek pharaohs whose pattern of joint male-female rule, modelled on Greek gods Zeus and Hera and the twin Egyptian deities Osiris and Isis, lasted for over 200 years.
During this time wealthy Egypt grew ever more attractive to Rome, and the Ptolemies’ murderous exploits increasingly destabilised their country. This was the environment into which Cleopatra VII was born in 69 BC. Although the identity of her mother is still unknown, Cleopatra and her younger siblings were all hailed as gods from birth. When their father Ptolemy XII died in 51 BC, having left instructions that Cleopatra was to rule jointly with her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII, she suppressed the news to avoid sharing the throne with a co-ruler controlled by his Greek courtiers.
Having first secured her position in Alexandria, she travelled south to gain the support of her Egyptian subjects, participating in temple rites and speaking to them directly in their own language. For she was the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn Egyptian in addition to Greek and seven other languages – little wonder later Egyptian historians remembered her as the “virtuous scholar”.
She was also a determined leader. When her brother’s supporters ousted her in 49 BC, she prepared to retake her throne with a mercenary army. Hostilities were prevented only when Roman general Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria, seeking money the Ptolemies owed to Rome and ordering the two monarchs to appear before him. When young Ptolemy XIII declared Cleopatra a traitor and himself sole ruler, Caesar’s request for the outstanding debt so outraged his supporters that they besieged the palace.
Needing to put her case to Caesar, Cleopatra waited for nightfall before crossing enemy lines, according to legend rolling herself in a carpet or bedcover to be carried into the palace. Since ancient bed linen doubled as clothing, it seems more likely that she simply slipped into the palace wearing the voluminous robes fashionable at the time, drawn veil-like across the face.
So, rather than springing out of a carpet ‘Carry On’ style, she may simply have uncovered her face – which itself continues to divide opinion. Claims that she was no great beauty, based on coin portraits, ignore surviving portrait busts that support ancient sources claiming that “the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation… was something bewitching”.
It certainly affected Caesar, who restored her to the throne alongside her brother, Ptolemy XIII – much to the dismay of his faction, whose failed attempt to assassinate both Caesar and Cleopatra led to all-out war. Ptolemy drowned during the attack, so Cleopatra was reinstated alongside her remaining brother, 12-year-old Ptolemy XIV.
Later Arab sources claim she married Caesar, and soon she was pregnant, giving birth in June 47 BC. Though her son held the dynastic name Ptolemy, he was also known as Caesarion – Little Caesar – to acknowledge a father already planning legislation back in Rome to allow him more than one wife. He intended to gain an heir, though according to Roman law he already had one – his 17-year-old great-nephew Octavian.
Caesar then installed Cleopatra in his villa in Rome, where she had a real impact, both as a style icon – her appearance was widely copied – and politically: the presence of a foreign woman wielding absolute power as monarch outraged Caesar’s republican enemies. So did the life-sized gold statue of her that Caesar set up in his new temple to Venus in the Forum: no living individual had ever been portrayed in this way in Rome.
Rumours began to circulate that Caesar wanted to transfer government to Alexandria. When the senate awarded him a gold throne and powers for life, monarch in all but name, 60 senators conspired and stabbed him to death in March 44 BC, assuming that Rome would then return to their republican ideal.
Instead, the assassination had quite the opposite result. Cleopatra returned to Egypt, eliminating her brother and making young Caesarion her co-ruler. Caesar’s deputy, Mark Antony, acted swiftly to restore order, joining forces with Octavian. After defeating Caesar’s assassins, Antony began to reorganise Rome’s client kingdoms, and requested Cleopatra’s attendance at a summit meeting in Tarsus (now in Turkey).
She arrived aboard her golden ship of state, showing that she alone had the resources Antony needed to take sole control of the Roman world. He accepted her invitation to spend the winter with her in Egypt, where they toured the ancient sites, went hunting and sea fishing, and set up an exclusive dining club with ever-more lavish banquets.
By February 40 BC, Cleopatra was pregnant by Antony, and gave birth to twins, Alexander and Cleopatra. Needing to secure his alliance with Octavian, Antony sealed this with a diplomatic marriage to Octavian’s sister, who bore him a daughter. Yet throughout this time Cleopatra continued to send Antony intelligence reports detailing encroachment by Parthia (former Persia) on Rome’s eastern territories. Realising he could tackle this threat only with Cleopatra’s financial support, Antony proposed marriage, offering surely the greatest wedding present of all time – lands stretching from modern Turkey to Syria, Phoenicia, Lebanon, Crete, Judaea and the Arab lands of Jordan.
Having regained Egypt’s empire through this marriage, Cleopatra was soon pregnant again, giving birth to her fourth child, Ptolemy Philadelphus, in September 36 BC. Meanwhile, Antony marched on Parthia, eventually returning to Alexandria to present Cleopatra with all the spoils of war. He also listed the territories bestowed upon her and their three children in the name of Rome, and declared her eldest child, Caesarion, sole legitimate heir of Julius Caesar.
Octavian responded by claiming that Antony had shown “contempt of his country” by taking an “Egyptian wife” in a “filthy marriage”, but half the senate supported the couple and left Rome to join them. Unwilling to announce hostilities against a fellow Roman, Octavian falsely claimed his largely Roman opponents were “a diseased Egyptian rabble” led by Cleopatra’s hair-dressing girl. Then, claiming that Cleopatra wished to be “queen of Rome”, Octavian persuaded the remaining senate to name her alone as “enemy of the state” and declare war on the 37-year-old mother of four.
In the event the battleground was Greece, not Rome. Antony and Cleopatra moored their 500 warships in the bay at Actium on the Ionian coast, but their battle plans were betrayed to Octavian’s men, who blockaded the bay. Sending their army back to Egypt by land, the couple broke out with their ships on 2 September 31 BC. Octavian himself was absent, suffering from seasickness, as Antony engaged the enemy, allowing Cleopatra to lead their ships out into open sea and head south. Only then did they discover that their land forces had been bribed to switch sides.
More famous pharaohs
Once back in Egypt, Cleopatra transported her remaining fleet overland to the Red Sea to fight on a second front, until these ships were destroyed by the Arabs of Petra, who had long resented her takeover of their trade routes. During a year-long stalemate, she completed work on her tomb, in which she interred half her treasure, giving the other half to her 16-year-old son Caesarion who, together with her other three children, was sent south to safety.
Octavian’s forces invaded Egypt in late July 30 BC and, though Antony put up a brave defence, he soon had no choice but to return to the palace. Finding that Cleopatra had already retreated to her tomb, Antony attempted suicide she had him brought to her, and he died in her arms. Foiling her attempt to stab herself, Octavian’s men placed her under house arrest, adding the wealth from her tomb to the other half seized from Caesarion, who had been caught and executed.
Knowing that she was to be shipped back to Rome as a prisoner along with her treasure, Cleopatra instead planned her own final chapter. Having written to Octavian, requesting burial with Antony, she dismissed all of her staff except her hairdresser Eiras and wardrobe mistress Charmion, with whom she withdrew into her private quarters. There, as the ancient sources admit, “what really took place is known to no-one”.
The snake-draped image of Cleopatra familiar today is actually based on descriptions of the wax effigy of her that Octavian paraded around Rome, the snakes around its forearms symbolising the creature associated with Cleopatra’s alter ego, Isis. By taking the effigy literally, most sources suggested that a snake must have been smuggled in to her, though less-known accounts claim that Cleopatra “carried poison in a hollow hairpin about which she wound her hair”.
Such pins were part of her everyday hairstyle because the bound-up hair of a married woman was regarded as untouchable in Roman society, her coiffure would presumably have not been probed by the men guarding her. Cleopatra had also chosen to die in the company of Eiras, dismissed by Octavian as “Cleopatra’s hairdressing girl” incapable of any significant deed – yet she may have deprived him of his greatest triumph, supplying the hairpin with which Cleopatra broke her skin to absorb its fatal venom. When Octavian’s men found Cleopatra “upon a bed of gold in all her royal ornaments” they were unable to revive her. She was buried alongside Antony, while her vast treasure enabled Octavian to transform Rome – and to transform himself into its first emperor, taking the title Augustus.
Egypt was formally annexed by Rome on 31 August 30 BC, when 3,000 years of dynastic rule was brought to an end. Statues were toppled, images erased and documents destroyed. History was rewritten by the victor, as Octavian’s spin-doctor poets Horace, Virgil and Propertius cast him as the great hero who vanquished “the mad prostitute queen” and “her monstrous gods”. Crude images manufactured for the illiterate mob portrayed her naked atop a crocodile in a parody of ancient rites they could never understand.
In Rome’s version of events, the noble, masculine west had defeated the corrupt and feminised east – and the misogyny and racism present in such ‘fake news’ still distorts our modern world. Yet the evidence reveals that, despite being misrepresented for over 2,000 years, the real Cleopatra was a consummate politician, gifted scholar and inspirational leader – a true role model for our own times in which powerful women still generate hostility and are still far too rare.
Joann Fletcher is honorary visiting professor in archaeology at the University of York. Her books include Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008) and The Story of Egypt (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015)
23 and Cleo
23 and Me might be able to tell you about your Greek heritage, but without a body it will never be able to find the descendants of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. According to Ancient Origins, at least one of their children survived to adulthood and went on to have children of her own — Cleopatra Selene, who married King Juba of Mauretania. The couple had a boy and a girl, but only the boy's name was remembered. Called "Ptolemy" after all the kajillions of Ptolemys who came before him, the unfortunate young man was murdered by the emperor Caligula, evidently because he looked too awesome in a purple robe.
Whether Ptolemy had any children is not certain, and without more evidence it's also impossible to know if his unnamed sister had children. The list of possible descendants is a convoluted line of so-and-so might have begat so-and-so, finally filtering down to one person who loudly proclaimed descent from Cleopatra: the Syrian queen Zenobia, who conquered Egypt 200 years after Cleopatra's death. But it's just as likely that Zenobia's claim was pure propaganda — she was a conqueror and was probably looking for a way to strengthen her claim. Either way, it's kind of fun to imagine that out there somewhere there might be a bona fide but oblivious Cleopatra descendant living in a college dorm and working at The Old Spaghetti Factory. But we'll probably never know for sure.