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Cleopatra VII: The Iconic Queen Who Shaped Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra VII The life of the Egyptian queen Philopator is still a topic of discussion. Despite her unattractive appearance, Cleopatra was able to catch the attention of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two powerful Roman generals. Many books and movies have referenced this love triangle; filmmakers create movies, and authors talk about the femme fatale character in their writing.

Childhood and Adolescence

On November 2, 69 BC, Cleopatra was born, falling under the sign of Scorpio. Although her actual birthplace is still unknown, it is widely believed that she was born in Alexandria, the ancient world’s cultural hub. The queen was Greek in origin and descended from the Ptolemaic dynasty, which was established by Ptolemy I, the successor to Alexander the Great, despite popular assumption to the contrary.

Rarely anything is known about Cleopatra’s early years. However, given that the future monarch was able to reason, think philosophically, play a variety of instruments, and speak eight foreign languages, it is reasonable to assume that she studied music and read books from the Alexandrian library.

This is unexpected because the Greeks did not value children’s education at the period, particularly for girls. Her half-sister Berenice, for instance, had a very different personality; she enjoyed entertainment but was also somewhat stupid and lethargic. Cleopatra had to watch as her father was driven from the nation in 58–55 BC, and his daughter Berenice came to hold all the power (there is a belief that Cleopatra was born of a concubine because Berenice was the only legitimate daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, according to the ancient Greek historian Strabo).

Later, the Egyptian monarch was reinstated to his throne by the Romans, led by Aulus Gabinius. But since he was unable to exercise his authority wisely, repression, civil unrest, and heinous killings proliferated beneath him. Ptolemy thus turned into a puppet under the command of the Roman emperors. Naturally, Cleopatra was deeply affected by these experiences; years later, the young woman remembered her father’s careless leadership, whom she perceived as a person whose errors should be learned from.

Egypt’s Rule

Berenice, the heiress, was beheaded after Ptolemy XII Auletes restored what was properly his. Following the king’s demise, Cleopatra married her 9-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII in line with custom, which demanded that the divine blood of royal families be preserved. At the age of 18, she took over as ruler of Egypt. Formally, it’s true that she couldn’t hold all the authority because girls were expected to play supporting roles in the past. The name of her ascension to the throne, Thea Philopator, means “goddess who loves her father.”

Even though 96% of Egypt is desert, the Romans nevertheless had a strong desire to conquer it. But the valleys were known for their extraordinary productivity, and this laid the foundation for the Nile civilization. Egypt was claimed by the Roman Empire, one of the strongest empires at the time of Cleopatra, and they also controlled parts of Egypt’s periphery, however they did not subjugate the nation. As a result, Ta-kemet, as the Egyptians termed their nation, became a dependent state due to its financial problems.

Due to a two-year crop failure brought on by insufficient Nile flooding, Cleopatra faced hardships in the early years of her reign. In addition, internal conflicts between brothers and sisters started as a struggle for the throne. At first, the queen deposed her husband and took control of the nation on her own. However, as he grew older, Ptolemy XIII refused to submit to his relative’s despotism and, with the help of his teacher Pothinus, who served as the de facto ruler, launched an uprising against Cleopatra. The populace were informed that the girl wished to depose her husband and had become disenchanted with the ruling triad of Pothinus, Theodatus, and Achilles.

The queen managed to escape and made it to Syria. Her desire was to return to full control in the Middle East, where she was an unwanted guest. At about the same period, the ancient Roman commander and dictator Gaius Julius Caesar traveled to Alexandria to meet his sworn adversary Gnaeus Pompey, who had fled to Egypt after losing the civil war at the Battle of Pharsalus. But as Pompey had already been slain when the emperor arrived in the Nile Valley, Julius was unable to personally settle the score with his opponent.

Due to bad weather making the lengthy travel unfeasible, Caesar was forced to remain in Alexandria. As a result, the Roman emperor took advantage of the chance to exact 10 million denarii, or Ptolemy XII Auletes’s outstanding obligations, from his successor. Thus, in an attempt to gain an advantage for himself and the Romans, Julius intervened in the dispute between Ptolemy’s allies and Cleopatra.

In exchange, the queen had to gain Caesar’s confidence. Thus, according to a lovely tradition, the cunning girl broke into the Alexandrian palace covertly, wrapped herself in a carpet (or a sleeping bag), and gave her obedient slave instructions to bring a substantial present for the commander. Enchanted by the youthful Cleopatra’s beauty, Julius decided to side with her.

However, it is important to remember that the commander arrived in Egypt with a meager army consisting of 3,200 infantry and 800 horses. Ptolemy XIII capitalized on this situation. Julius had to risk his life by hiding in the royal section because the society favored the monarch. Caesar returned to Egypt in the winter and routed the army of Ptolemy XIII’s allies, who perished in the Nile.

Following her husband’s passing, Cleopatra once more took the throne and governed alongside the youthful Ptolemy XIV.

Appearance

The aspirational girl was able to witness the most stunning and remarkable women in action thanks to movies. For this reason, a lot of people think that Cleopatra was a deadly beauty who could entice men with a single glance. However, the Egyptian queen’s beauty was actually rather mediocre, unlike what the public believes.

It’s unclear exactly what Cleopatra looked like. However, we may infer that the queen had a broad nose and a narrow chin from a few statues, the bust from Cherchell in Algeria (some people believe this bust is of Cleopatra’s daughter Selene II), and the visage that appears on coinage. However, she was able to win over men as devoted fans thanks to her feminine appeal and brilliance.

Private life

There are still stories being told about Cleopatra’s private life. Rumor has it that she was exceedingly amorous. As kings and queens had multiple concubines and lovers, promiscuous relationships between a man and a woman were very common in ancient Rome and Egypt.

Historians of antiquity claim that insane people risked their lives to sleep in the same bed as the Nile siren; following a night spent with Cleopatra, their heads were turned into prizes and put on display at the palace.

It was obvious that the queen was a harsh person. She experimented poisons on convicts, for instance, and observed their deaths to see how the lethal concoction affected their bodies.

Caesar Julius

The romantic traditions about the relationship between Julius Caesar, the Roman general, and the Egyptian queen still abound. Yes, that really was love at first sight. The emperor overlooked Servilia, his mistress, in favor of the 21-year-old Cleopatra.

With 400 ships, Cleopatra and Caesar embarked on a leisurely journey down the Nile following their victory over Ptolemy XIII.

According to Cleopatra, she gave birth to a son named Ptolemy (Caesarion) on June 23, 47 BC. Whether Caesar was Caesarion’s father is unknown for sure. Despite the claims of certain aristocratic Romans to the contrary, Julius did not formally acknowledge the boy and did not mention him in his testament. Furthermore, the actual date of the child’s birth is unknown because many sources give different dates for both before and after Julius’s passing.

With a sizable entourage, the Egyptian queen, her brother, and son arrived in Rome. Because of her haughtiness, Cleopatra was despised and referred to as the queen without a given name (“I hate the queen!” Cicero wrote in his manuscript).

Those close to Caesar were certain that the dictator intended to usurp the throne and establish Alexandria as Rome’s capital. Because of their disapproval of this arrangement as well as other factors, the Romans formed a conspiracy against Julius. March 15, 44 BC was Caesar’s death date.

Mark Antony

The Romans went into civil war following Julius’s death, and Cleopatra chose not to become involved. Rome’s eastern region was proclaimed to be under Mark Antony’s control.

The commander was ready to charge the queen with being part of a plot to assassinate Caesar, but Cleopatra used her feminine guile to act knowing Mark’s amorousness and vanity. Dressed like Aphrodite, she landed on a gilded ship laden of treasures and won over the leader of the ancient Roman army. This marked the start of a roughly ten-year romance. The lovers had twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, around 40 BC. Ptolemy Philadelphus, the third child, was born in the fall of 36 BC.

After divorcing his fourth wife, Octavia, in 32 BC, Mark Antony made his marriage to the Egyptian queen lawful, but the relationship was void by Roman law.

Demise

It is hard to reconstruct Cleopatra’s death precisely because there are so many myths around it. Plutarch’s account of the events is the widely recognized version.

The rightful heir to the Roman throne, Octavian Augustus, came to Rome in the spring. The locals gave the young man a hearty welcome, but Mark Antony was backed by the active army and Caesar’s supporters. Soon after, there was the Mutina War, from which Octavian won.

False reports of the queen’s demise were spread to Mark Antony as Augustus advanced toward Alexandria. Mark threw himself on his own sword because he could not bear such a catastrophe. At that point, the Egyptian seductress’s wounded lover was transported to the tomb, where Cleopatra and her ladies shut themselves.

Beside the queen, Mark passed away. Though she wanted to show off by stabbing herself, she started negotiating with Octavian’s subject. The Nile siren made failed attempts to use her charms to soften Augustus in an attempt to restore the state. Following Antony’s demise, Cleopatra experienced despondency, self-starvation, and inactivity. The widow was told by Cornelius Dolabella that she would be banished to Rome to celebrate Octavian’s victory.

It was customary in ancient Rome for Augustus to carry Cleopatra, shackled like a slave, behind the triumphal chariot as a symbol of his victory over Egypt. However, the queen was able to escape shame when a snake concealed itself in a pot of figs that she had ordered delivered to the palace; the woman died quietly and quickly from the snake’s fatal bite. However, as the snake was never discovered on the property, there is no proof for this story.

A far more plausible explanation is that the 39-year-old Cleopatra’s death was caused by poison, which she carried in a hollow hairpin, given that both of the queen’s attendants perished along with their mistress.

Octavian was forced to make due without the noble hostage during the triumphal procession, since her statue was carried in place of the queen. The children that Mark Antony had with Cleopatra marched in the parade; Octavian’s sister, his ex-wife, was later given custody of them. Following her suicide, Cleopatra had her eldest son—whose father was thought to be Caesar—executed.

Though the exact location of Cleopatra’s mummy is still unclear, it is most likely that the queen is buried beneath the temple necropolis close to Taposiris Magna (modern Abusir), together with her lover Mark Antony.

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