Cleopatra 69-30 BC
Cleopatra is often portrayed as a beautiful Egyptian women who used her own political shrewdness and sexual allure to secure and recover her family’s lost empire. She actually almost succeeded by manipulating two of Rome’s greatest sons, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.
Aa a young women, she co-inherited the Egyptian throne with her younger brother Ptolemy XIII. She didn’t plan on sharing power and for a short while became sole ruler in Egypt. Eventually she was overthrown and exiled by her brother.
While she was in exile, Julius Caesar arrived in Egypt in pursuit of Pompey The Great (who was killed by the Egyptians). It is here that Caesar got caught up in the affairs of the Egyptians. Not long after, Cleopatra seduced him and he willingly restored Cleopatra to the throne by defeating all her enemies (Cleopatra first smuggled herself before Caesar rolled up in a laundry bag, not a carpet, according to historian Simon Sebag Montefiore). The two were inseparable and Cleopatra in time had a son with Caesar. Just before Caesar’s death(assassination) in Rome, it was rumored that he was going to make himself ‘king’ and Cleopatra his queen. Unfortunately, a cruel twist of fate intervened and Cleopatra found herself fleeing Rome.
Back in Egypt, Cleopatra worked hard at re-establishing her authority, however before long another man entered the scene.
Mark Anthony, like Caesar before him, got caught up in Cleopatra’s web. She was going to use Anthony to help her restore the splendor of her royal dynasty. Things may have worked out with it wasn’t for Octavian (the future Emperor of Rome, Augustus). Octavian defeat Anthony in the famous Battle of Actium, and rather than live a life vanquished, Anthony committed suicide. Whether or not Cleopatra truly loved Anthony, she too, followed him into the afterlife, rather than kneel before Octavian.
In the end, I guess you have to admire Cleopatra, because she gambled everything on her bid for empire. But it wasn’t enough. Cleopatra killed herself by arousing a cobra to bite her.
The Death of Cleopatra by Reginald Arthur 1892.
Photo Credit: The header image of Cleopatra is Elizabeth Taylor’s famous portrayal of the last pharaoh-queen of Egypt in the 1963 film ‘Cleopatra’. This is the image I see in my mind’s eye when I think of Cleopatra. Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
Categories: Women's history