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How Cleopatra Ruled Egypt and Captivated 2 Powerful Roman Leaders

Cleopatra Facts First:

Known for: last Pharaoh of Egypt, last of the Ptolemy dynasty of Egyptian rulers; also known for her relationships to Julius Caesar and to Marc Antony

Dates: 69 BCE - August 30, 30 BCE
Occupation: Pharaoh of Egypt (ruler)
Also Known as: Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater; Cleopatra Philadelphus Philopator Philopatris Thea Neotera

Background, Family:

Cleopatra VII was the descendent of Macedonians who were established as rulers over Egypt when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 323 BCE.

  • Father: Ptolemy XII Auletes ( - 51 BCE, ruled 80 BCE - 51 BCE except for 58-55 BCE)
  • Mother: Cleopatra VI Tryphaina (co-ruler 58-55 BCE with their daughter, Berenice IV, sister of Cleopatra VII)
  • The Ptolemy dynasty was descended from the Greek Macedonian named Ptolemy Soter, whom Alexander the Great installed in Egypt, so much of Cleopatra's ancestry was Macedonian Greek. What about the origins of her mother, or her paternal grandmother? See: Was Cleopatra Black?

Marriages and Partners, Children

  • brother-husband and co-ruler: Ptolemy XIII (died fighting Caesar's forces)
  • brother-husband and co-ruler: Ptolemy XIV (established by Caesar as co-ruler with Cleopatra)
  • Julius Caesar (no formal or informal marriage; Cleopatra went to Rome with him in 46 BCE; Cleopatra returned to Egypt when he was assassinated in 44 BCE)
    • Ptolemy Caesarion (b. 46 BCE)
  • Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) (married 36 BCE; both Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves in 31 BCE on defeat by Octavian)
    • twins: Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene (born 40 BCE)
    • Ptolemy Philadelphus (born 36 BCE)

    Sources for Cleopatra's History

    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."

    Cleopatra Biography

    During Cleopatra's early years, her father tried to maintain his failing power in Egypt by bribing powerful Romans. Ptolemy XII was reportedly the son of a concubine instead of a royal wife.

    When Ptolemy XII went to Rome in 58 BCE, his wife, Cleopatra VI Tryphaina, and his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, assumed the rulership jointly. When he returned, apparently Cleopatra VI had died, and with the help of Roman forces, Ptolemy XII regained his throne and executed Berenice. Ptolemy then married his son, about 9 years old, to his remaining daughter, Cleopatra, who was by time about eighteen.

    Early Rule

    Cleopatra apparently attempted to rule alone, or at least not equally with her much-younger brother. In 48 BCE, Cleopatra was pushed out of power by ministers. At the same time, Pompey -- with whom Ptolemy XII had allied himself -- appeared in Egypt, chased by forces of Julius Caesar. Pompey was assassinated by Ptolemy XIII's supporters. A sister of Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII declared herself ruler as Arsinoe IV.

    Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

    Cleopatra, according to the stories, had herself delivered to Julius Caesar's presence in a rug and won his support. Ptolemy XIII died in a battle with Caesar, and Caesar restored Cleopatra to power in Egypt, along with her brother Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler.

    In 46 BCE, Cleopatra named her newborn son Ptolemy Caesarion, emphasizing that this was the son of Julius Caesar. Caesar never formally accepted paternity, but he did take Cleopatra to Rome that year, also taking her sister, Arsinoe, and displaying her in Rome as a war captive. That he was already married (to Calpurnia) yet Cleopatra claimed to be his wife added to a climate in Rome that ended with Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE.

    After Caesar's death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XIV died, probably assassinated by Cleopatra. She established her son as her co-ruler Ptolemy XV Caesarion.

    Cleopatra and Marc Antony

    When the next Roman military governor of the region, Marc Antony, demanded her presence -- along with that of other rulers who were controlled by Rome -- she arrived dramatically in 41 BCE, and managed to convince him of her innocence of charges about her support of Caesar's supporters in Rome, captivated his interest, and gained his support.

    Antony spent a winter in Alexandria with Cleopatra (41-40 BCE), and then left. Cleopatra bore twins to Antony. He, meanwhile, went to Athens and, his wife Fulvia having died in 40 BCE, agreed to marry Octavia, the sister of his rival Octavius. They had a daughter in 39 BCE. In 37 BCE Antony returned to Antioch, Cleopatra joined him, and they went through a sort of marriage ceremony in 36 BCE. That same year, another son was born to them, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

    Marc Antony formally restored to Egypt -- and Cleopatra -- territory which the Ptolemy's had lost control of, including Cyprus and part of what is now Lebanon. Cleopatra returned to Alexandria and Antony joined her in 34 BCE after military victory. He affirmed the joint rulership of Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, recognizing Caesarion as the son of Julius Caesar.

    Antony's relationship with Cleopatra -- his supposed marriage and their children, and his granting of territory to her -- was used by Octavian to raise Roman concerns over his loyalties. Antony was able to use Cleopatra's financial support to oppose Octavian in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), but missteps -- probably attributable to Cleopatra -- led to defeat.

    Cleopatra tried to get Octavian's support for her children's succession to power, but was unable to come to an agreement with him. In 30 BCE, Marc Antony killed himself, reportedly because he'd been told that Cleopatra had been killed, and when yet another attempt to keep power failed, Cleopatra killed herself.

    Egypt and Cleopatra's Children After Cleopatra's Death

    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 Mauretania.

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