Cleopatra: Ruler of Egypt

Cleopatra was born in 69 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. She was the third daughter in the line to her father, King Ptolemy XII of Egypt. Cleopatra had two older sisters: Cleopatra VI and Berenice, as well as a younger sister Arsinoe VI. She also had

two younger brothers: Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. Cleopatra was a descendant of the Ptolemaic rulers. She “learned her political lessons by watching the humiliating efforts of her father to maintain himself on the throne of Egypt by buying the support of the powerful Romans” (Encyclopedia of World Biography on Cleopatra). Cleopatra’s older sister Cleopatra VI “might have died as a child and Berenice beheaded by her father” (Cleopatra VII). With the death of her two older sisters, Cleopatra was next in line to rule over Egypt. After the death of Ptolemy in 51 B.C. Cleopatra became ruler of Egypt.

Egyptian law required for a female pharaoh to have a consort throughout her reign. Cleopatra was forced to marry a brother or son in order to rule Egypt. By intermarrying the royalty kept the line blood pure. Since Cleopatra did not have a son she married her brother, “Ptolemy XII when he was twelve” (Cleopatra VII). Ptolemy was pharaoh in name only: “for the three years he remained in the background while Cleopatra ruled alone” (Cleopatra VII). Cleopatra’s marriage was of convenience only, she would have been able to manage Egypt without the help of his brother.

Cleopatra was a “brilliant [and] strong-willed Macedonian queen… [that] dreamed of a greater world empire” (Cleopatra VII). She spoke nine languages (excluding Latin) and was the “first Ptolemy [to] speak Egyptian” (Cleopatra). Astronomy, alchemy, cosmetics and perfumes were among the many interests Cleopatra had. Not only was she smart, but had an “enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma” (Cleopatra). Her charisma and intelligence had to make up for her lack of beauty. Despite the glamorous way she is depicted today, ancient descriptions of her say the contrary. “Ancient coins [show] her with a long hooked nose and masculine features” (Cleopatra). Despite her looks, she was able to conquer man with her seductive personality.

Cleopatra had gained the respect of many and her leadership skills earned her the admiration of many. Unfortunately, this not only brought her good reviews. Her brother Ptolemy was afraid that Cleopatra would take complete control of Egypt as she had done before. Influenced by his advisors Ptolemy “stripped Cleopatra of the power… and [forced] her into exile in Syria in 48 BC” (Cleopatra). Cleopatra was not alone in her exile; her youngest sister Arsinoe accompanied her.

Cleopatra being strong-willed would not stay in the exile for long. She was determined to take back the throne and rule Egypt again. She was determined to take Egypt by force and claim her throne, but “when Caesar arrived in Alexandria… she saw the opportunity to use him” (Encyclopedia of World Biography on Cleopatra). Cleopatra would meet Caesar in Alexandria to discuss and settle the dispute. But Cleopatra could not be seen entering Alexandria openly or she would be killed by Ptolemy’s henchmen. Cleopatra then “smuggled to Caesar inside an oriental rug… [and] tumbled out when the rug was unrolled” (Cleopatra). It is said that Caesar was enchanted by Cleopatra’s charisma and spared her life.

When Ptolemy saw Cleopatra and Caesar together he accused Cleopatra of betrayal. In an attempt to stop a mob from rising Caesar had Ptolemy arrested. Unfortunately, Caesar’s attempt was not enough and an army led by Pothinus and Arsinoe attacked Caesar and his army. Hoping to stop the attacks, “Caesar released Ptolemy XII, but the war continued for six months” (Cleopatra). During this time the relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar became very stable. By the time the war ended “Pothinus was killed in the battle and Ptolemy XII drowned in the Nile while trying to flee” (Cleopatra). Cleopatra’s sister, Arsinoe, escaped and sought refuge in Achillas, “where she was proclaimed the queen of Macedonian mob and army” (Cleopatra VII). With her brother out of the way Cleopatra reestablished herself as the pharaoh of Egypt. As part of the tradition Cleopatra married her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIV (that at the time was eleven or twelve), to be able to rule Egypt.

After the victory Cleopatra and Caesar enjoyed a “leisurely two month cruise on the Nile” (Cleopatra). Soon after returning from their travels Cleopatra gave birth to their first son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion (little Caesar) that was born on June 23, 47 B.C.” (Cleopatra VII). Caesarion was said to be taken out of his mother’s body by a cut. This is believed to be the origin of today’s medical term Cesarean. Caesarion was recognized by Caesar and taken along with Cleopatra to Rome. Upon their arrival Cleopatra called herself the “New Iris and had a statue made of gold placed by Caesar in the temple of Venus Genetrix” (Cleopatra VII). Caesar “showered [Cleopatra] with gifts and tittles” (Cleopatra) during their two year stay in Rome. Caesar called the attention of the citizens of Rome who were angered by his behavior. The citizens of Rome saw polygamy as a crime that was punishable by death. When Caesar brought Cleopatra to Rome and they found out about their relationship they were furious. Caesar had the intentions of changing the laws to allow him to have several laws. The citizens of Rome believed that Caesar had intentions of becoming king and when Congress found out they killed him in 44 B.C.

Cleopatra feared for her life and that of her son Ptolemy XV and returned to Alexandria. Cleopatra knew that the only person standing in the way now was Ptolemy XIV and had him assassinated. Caesarion, now four, was established as Cleopatra’s co-regent. When she went back to Alexandria she found “Egypt suffering from plagues and famine… the Nile neglected and as a consequence bad harvest” (Cleopatra VII). Cleopatra was in desperate need for help to keep Alexandria from collapsing. With her brother and husband dead there was no one else to ask for advice. The economic situation of Egypt was on the verge of collapsing and the danger of a war between Egypt and Rome worried Cleopatra.

After the death of Caesar a civil war broke out in Rome over power. The power struggle was between Octavian (Caesar’s nephew); Marcus Lepidus; and Marc Anthony. In 42 B.C. Marc Anthony called Cleopatra to question her about lending aid to his enemies, but Cleopatra saw this as an opportunity to conquer Marc Anthony’s heart and get the aid for Alexandria. Cleopatra had planned to conquer Marc Anthony the same way she conquered Caesar: with charisma and enchanting voice to make him forget the true reason he wanted to see her. Cleopatra knew the weaknesses that Marc Anthony had. Cleopatra had observed Anthony before approaching to find his weaknesses. Cleopatra noted that Marc Anthony had very “limited strategic and tactical abilities…blue blood [and] was very fond of drinking” (Cleopatra VII). She knew then what to use to her advantage and part of her strategy to conquer him. Even though Egypt was close to having an economic collapse, Cleopatra searched for the last resorts and to set up a show for Marc Anthony. “She sailed with silver oars, purple sails dressed as Aphrodite laying back on a gold bed, with her servants dressed as Nymphs paddling the boat” (Cleopatra VII). Marc Anthony was astounded by the show Cleopatra gave him and took her as on of his wives.

Cleopatra and Marc Anthony spent time together. It was rumored that Marc Anthony would do anything that Cleopatra asked him to do. Around 41-40 B.C. Cleopatra asked Marc Anthony to annihilate her sister, Arsione, which Anthony did without thinking twice. The actual reality was that Marc Anthony manipulated Cleopatra. Historians believed that Marc Anthony engaged in a relationship with Cleopatra because she was blue-blooded and believed that she could finance his army. It is not certain what happened in reality for all the ancient documents containing this information where burnt in a fire.

Anthony tried to fix the relationship with Rome by marrying Octavia (Octavian’s sister) together they had two daughters. Historians believe that if the daughters of Octavia had been boys the entire story would have changed. At that time having a boy meant having some one to pass the throne to; having none could mean the end of the blood line and the possibly the lost of the throne. While Marc Anthony spent time in Rome Cleopatra gave birth to non-identical twins, a boy and a girl that she named “Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios” (The Famous Queen Cleopatra).

To maintain both of his relationships Anthony traveled from Rome to Alexandria and back very often. A time Anthony left Cleopatra in 40 B.C. and returned home to see Octavia. It is unknown how long Marc Anthony left Cleopatra alone, but during that time Cleopatra gave birth to their third son, Philaderphos. When Marc Anthony returned home to Alexandria, after conquering Armenia, he was delighted to know that Cleopatra had given birth to another of his sons. His conquest of Armenia not only meant expansion but a substantial source of income. To celebrate his victory and the birth of his son, Anthony organized a political ceremony to give royal tittles to his sons and wife. Marc Anthony named Caesarion “King of Kings”; Cleopatra “Queen of Kings” (which was a higher rank than that of Caesarion); Selene was given the title of “Queen of Cyrenaica and Crete”. The other two boys Alexander Helios and Philadelphos were given the titles of “Great King of the Seleucid empire when it was at its highest” and “King of Syria and Asia Minor” respectively. “Cleopatra dreamed of becoming the Empress of the world and was very close to achieving these dreams” (Cleopatra VII) unfortunately the circumstances changed.

In 32-31 B.C. and after a polygamous relationship with Cleopatra and Octavia, Marc Anthony divorced Octavia. Marc Anthony’s actions “forced the Western part of the world to recognize his relationship with Cleopatra. He had already put her name and face on a Roman coin, the silver denary” (Cleopatra VII). After this the alliance between Anthony and the Roman alliance ended. Infuriated Octavian formally declared war against Cleopatra, but Marc Anthony was never mentioned in the declaration. The fear of a strong partnership between Alexandria and Marc Anthony drove Octavian to launch an attack on Greece. “Octavian’s army severely defeated Anthony in Actium…on September 2, 31 B.C.” (Cleopatra VII). After the defeat at Atrium, Octavian launched an attack on Alexandria. “Anthony half-heartedly defended Alexandria” (Cleopatra VII) which made it easy for Octavian to take control of it. As he saw his end come near Marc Anthony committed suicide by falling on his sword. After Anthony’s death Cleopatra was taken by Octavian. Her son Caesarion was strangled and the rest of Anthony’s children were raised by Octavia. Cleopatra was made a slave and was afraid that Octavian was going to humiliate her in front of the people she had once ruled over and decided to take her life. It is not certain the way she died but historical documents say that “two pricks were found on Cleopatra’s arm” (The Famous Queen Cleopatra). She died as she had wished, “for the Egyptian religion declared that death by snake bite would secure immortality” (The Famous Queen Cleopatra). After her death she was laid to rest beside Marc Anthony.

Cleopatra was a brilliant person and had a great devotion to her country. The way she was able to manipulate and convince others to do with no physical beauty say a lot about her personality. Unfortunately she only lived for a short period and was not able to exert her full potential.


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