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Legend ascribed much of her success to her beauty and sexuality, but the ancient sources emphasize her intelligence and charm rather than her physical beauty, which they claim was average. She was reputed to understand eight languages and to be the first of her dynasty to speak Egyptian, the language of her subjects.

Cleopatra’s life, it is complicated to piece together because what is known about her life comes from the work of Greco-Roman scholars, particularly Plutarch. Born in 70 or 69 B.C., Cleopatra was a daughter of Ptolemy XII (Auletes). Her mother was believed to be Cleopatra V Tryphaena, the king’s wife (and possibly his half-sister). In 51 B.C., upon the apparently natural death of Auletes, the Egyptian throne passed to 18-year-old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII.

Cleopatra VII is one of the most remarkable figures in ancient history. The last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, she struggled for two decades to preserve the independence of her kingdom and to restore the glory of her ancestors. Cleopatra’s dramatic life was intertwined with those of some of the most powerful Romans of her time, including Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and the future emperor Augustus. Her death in 30 b.c.e.brought to an end the history both of Egypt as an independent kingdom and of the successors of Alexander the Great. It also opened a two-millennia-long history of the queen as a potent symbol of female sexuality and power.

For his part, Caesar needed to fund his own return to power in Rome, and needed Egypt to repay the debts incurred by Auletes. After four months of war between Caesar’s outnumbered forces and those of Ptolemy XIII, Roman reinforcements arrived; Ptolemy was forced to flee Alexandria, and was believed to have drowned in the Nile River. Entering Alexandria as an unpopular conqueror, Caesar restored the throne to the equally unpopular Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy XIV (then 13 years old). Caesar remained in Egypt with Cleopatra for a time, and around 47 B.C. she gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar. He was believed to be Caesar’s child, and was known by the Egyptian people as Caesarion, or Little Caesar.

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Relief of Cleopatra as a goddess, c. 69–30 bce, Temple of Hathor, Dandarah, Egypt. Silvio Fiore/Superstock

Cleopatra realized that she needed Roman support, or, more specifically, Caesar’s support, if she was to regain her throne. Each was determined to use the other. Caesar sought money for repayment of the debts incurred by Cleopatra’s father, Auletes, as he struggled to retain his throne. Cleopatra was determined to keep her throne and, if possible, to restore the glories of the first Ptolemies and recover as much as possible of their dominions, which had included southern Syria and Palestine. Caesar and Cleopatra became lovers and spent the winter besieged in Alexandria. Roman reinforcements arrived the following spring, and Ptolemy XIII fled and drowned in the Nile. Cleopatra, now married to her brother Ptolemy XIV, was restored to her throne. In June 47 bce she gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar (known to the people of Alexandria as Caesarion, or “little Caesar”). Whether Caesar was the father of Caesarion, as his name implies, cannot now be known.

In 40 bce Cleopatra gave birth to twins, whom she named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Antony had already left Alexandria to return to Italy, where he was forced to conclude a temporary settlement with Octavian. As part of this settlement, he married Octavian’s sister, Octavia (Fulvia having died). Three years later Antony was convinced that he and Octavian could never come to terms. His marriage to Octavia now an irrelevance, he returned to the east and reunited with Cleopatra. Antony needed Cleopatra’s financial support for his postponed Parthian campaign; in return, Cleopatra requested the return of much of Egypt’s eastern empire, including large portions of Syria and Lebanon and even the rich balsam groves of Jericho.

Antony and Cleopatra spent the winter of 32–31 bce in Greece. The Roman Senate deprived Antony of his prospective consulate for the following year, and it then declared war against Cleopatra. The naval Battle of Actium, in which Octavian faced the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra on September 2, 31 bce, was a disaster for the Egyptians. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, and Cleopatra retired to her mausoleum as Antony went off to fight his last battle. Receiving the false news that Cleopatra had died, Antony fell on his sword. In a last excess of devotion, he had himself carried to Cleopatra’s retreat and there died, after bidding her to make her peace with Octavian.

On September 2, 31 B.C., Octavian’s forces soundly defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium. Cleopatra’s ships deserted the battle and fled to Egypt, and Antony soon managed to break away and follow her with a few ships. With Alexandria under attack from Octavian’s forces, Antony heard a rumour that Cleopatra had committed suicide. He fell on his sword, and died just as news arrived that the rumour had been false.

References:

Cleopatra | queen of Egypt

In-text: (“Cleopatra | Queen Of Egypt”)

Your Bibliography: “Cleopatra | Queen Of Egypt”. Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

Cleopatra, C.

Cleopatra – Ancient History – HISTORY.com

Cleopatra

Your Bibliography: Cleopatra, Coroner’s. “Cleopatra – Ancient History – HISTORY.Com”. HISTORY.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

Burstein., Stanley M. The reign of Cleopatra. West, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2001. Print.

 

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