Cleopatra VII was the last person to rule Egypt as an Egyptian pharaoh. After her death Egypt became a Roman province. She was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty (a royal family which ruled Egypt during the Hellinistic Period-323 BC to 146 BC) of Ancient Egypt. She is therefore considered to be a descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s generals who had seized control over Egypt after Alexander’s death. Cleopatra learned Egyptian unlike other Ptolemies who spoke Greece and refused Egyptian and represented herself as the reincarnation of an Egyptian Goddess.
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Cleopatra VII ruled originally with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes (commonly name as Auletes and who ruled Egypt from 80 to 58 BC) and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. Later she became a sole ruler. As pharaoh, she kept good relations with Julius Caesar (Roman General who played a critical role in the transformation from Roman Republic to Roman Empire) that solidified her grip on the throne.
After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, she aligned with Mark Antony in opposition to Caesar’s legal heir and she bore the twins Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Mark Antony was defeated by Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) and hence Egypt became the Roman province of Aegyptus.
Though Cleopatra was an Egyptian pharaoh but she basically belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty which was Hellenistic. Cleopatra’s mother language was Greek but still was the first ruler of the dynasty to learn Egyptian. She also adopted Egyptian beliefs and deities. Her patron deity was Isis (a Goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs) and thus was considered the re-incarnation and embodiment of the goddess. Her death marked the end of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Hellenistic period and the beginning of the Roman era in the eastern Mediterranean.
The above picture displays the bust of Cleopatra VII who is depicted as a great beauty and her legacy still survives in various works of art and dramas. William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Jules Massenet’s opera, Cléopâtre are some examples of dramatizations inspired by Cleopatra’s life.
REIGN —– 51 BC TO 12 August 30 BC
SUCCESSOR —– None (Egypt was annexed by Rome)
SPOUSE —– Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator
Julius Caesar (not legally wed)
FATHER —– Ptolemy XII Auletes
MOTHER —– Cleopatra V of Egypt
BORN —– 69 BC
DIED —– 12th August 30 BC (aged 39)
BURIAL —— Burial was done in Alexandria, Egypt
Cleopatra in the Roman Civil War
In the Roman civil war between the Caesarean party which was led by Mark Antony and Octavian and party led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus who assassinated Julius Caesar. Cleopatra sided with the Caesarean party because of her past. Brutus and Cassius together and sailed to the East of the Roman Empire and conquered large areas and established their military bases.
Now Cassius wanted to invade Egypt to seize the treasures of that country and to take the revenge from the queen as she refused his request to send him supplies punish the queen for her refusal of Cassius’ request to send him supplies and her support for Dolabella (a Roman General). At that time in Egypt there was famine and an epidemic which became an important reason why Cassius thought that Egypt could easily be conquered. But still he could not execute the invasion of Egypt because at the end of 43 BC Brutus called him back to Smyrna (an ancient city located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia now located in Turkey). Cassius tried to blockade Cleopatra’s way to the Caesareans. Nevertheless Cleopatra sailed with her military from Alexandria to the west along the Libyan coast to join the Caesarean leaders but she was forced to return to Egypt because her ships were damaged by a violent storm and she became ill.
Relationship with Julius Caesar
Cleopatra became Caesar’s mistress, and nine months after their first meeting, in 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to their son, Ptolemy Caesar, nicknamed Caesorian , which means “little Caesar”.
At this point Caesar cancelled his plans to annex Egypt, instead backing Cleopatra’s claim to the throne. After a war lasting six months between the party of Ptolemy XIII and the Roman army of Caesar, Ptolemy XIII was drowned in the Nile (longest river of the world situated in Egypt) and Caesar restored Cleopatra to her throne and assigned her younger brother Ptolemy IV as her new co-rule.
Although Cleopatra was 21 years old when they met and Caesar was 52, they became lovers during Caesar’s stay in Egypt between 48 BC and 47 BC. Cleopatra claimed Caesar was the father of her son and wanted his son to be the heir of Julius Caesar but instead of making his son caesorian, his heir, he chose his grandnephew Octavian.
But Caesar even erected a golden statue of Cleopatra represented as Isis in the temple of Venus Genetrix (the mythical ancestress of Caesar’s family), which was situated at the Forum Julium (a forum built by Julius Caesar in Rome). Caesar was assassinated on 15 March, 44 BC. At that time Cleopatra was in Rome along with her outrages. After Caesar’s assassination Cleopatra returned to Egypt with her relatives.
After the death of Ptolemy XIV who was allegedly poisoned by his elder sister, Cleopatra made her son Caesorian, her successor and gave her an epithet (an epithet as a descriptive word or phrase given to someone) Theos Philopator Philometor which means Father and mother loving God.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Coin of Antony and Cleopatra
In 41 BC, Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs (name historians give to the official political alliance of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavians, later known as Augustus) who ruled Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Dellius had to summon Cleopatra to Tarsus (a historical city in south eastern Turkey) to meet there Antony and answer questions about her loyalty. During the Roman civil war she allegedly paid much money to Cassius due to which Antony lost his trust on Dellius. Actually it seemed that in reality Antony wanted Cleopatra’s promise to support his war against the Parthians (citizens of Parthia – a region of North eastern Iran).
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Cleopatra had Antony order the death of her sister Arsinoe to safeguard herself and her son, Caesarion. Arsinoe at that time was living at the temples of Artemis in Ephesus (Artemis is one of the religious Greek deities which is situated in Ephesus which is an ancient Greek city).
On 25 December 40 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to twins fathered by Antony, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Four years later, Antony visited Alexandria again on route to make war with the Parthians.
Donations of Alexandria was a religious-political statement by Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony in which they distributed lands of Rome and Parthia amongst Cleopatra’s children and granted them many titles especially for Caesarian who was the son of Julius Caesar. Donations of Alexandria was announced in late 34 BC, followed by Antony’s conquest of Armenia (a client state of roman and Persian Empires stretching from Caspian to Mediterranean sea), Cleopatra and Caesarian were crowned co-rulers of Egypt and Cyprus. Cleopatra Selene II was crowned ruler of Cyrenaica and Libya and Ptolemy Philadelphus was crowned ruler of Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. Donations of Alexandria were also a main reason for The Final war of the Roman Republic. Cleopatra was also given the title of “Queen of Kings” by Antonio. Her enemies in Rome feared that Cleopatra “was planning a war of revenge that was between the whole of East against the Rome and establish herself as empress of the world at Rome and inaugurate a new universal kingdom.” Caesarian was given co-regency with Cleopatra and was also given many titles such as god, son of god and king of kings. Egyptians thought Cleopatra to be a reincarnation of goddess Isis, as she called herself (NEA Isis).
Relations between Antony and Octavian finally broke down in 33 BC, and Octavian declared a war against Egypt. In 31 BC Antony’s forces faced the Romans in a naval action off the coast of Actium. Cleopatra was present with an army of her own. But Octavians invaded Egypt in the Battle of Actium and thus Antony and Cleopatra lost this war and thus the Roman Empire took over the Egypt. As he approached Alexandria, Antony’s armies deserted to Octavian on August 1, 30 BC.
This picture above shows the death of Cleopatra which was drawn by Guido Cagnacci in 1658.
There have been many stories about the death of Cleopatra VII such as according to the ancient sources; particularly the Roman ones think that Cleopatra killed herself by inducing an Egyptian cobra to bite her. The oldest source is Strabo who was a Greek historian, geographer and a philosopher says that there are two stories:
That she applied a toxic ointment
That she was bitten by an asp.
Other authors have questioned these historical accounts, stating that it is possible that Augustus had her killed.
In 2010, the German historian Christophe Schaefer challenged all other theories, declaring that the queen had actually been poisoned and died from drinking a mixture of poisons. After studying historic texts and consulting with toxicologists, the historian concluded that the asp could not have caused a slow and pain free death, since the asp (Egyptian cobra) venom paralyses parts of the body, starting with the eyes, before causing death. Schaefer and his toxicologist Dietrich Mebs decided Cleopatra used a mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium.
Plutarch, writing about 130 years after the event has also mentioned the asp to be the major reason for Cleopatra’s death. He reports that Octavian succeeded in capturing Cleopatra in her Mausoleum after the death of Antony. He ordered his freedman Epaphroditus to guard her to prevent her from committing suicide because he allegedly wanted to present her in his triumph. But Cleopatra still was able to suicide by provoking the asp (cobra) to bite her on her arm.
Suetonius, writing about the same time as Plutarch, also says Cleopatra died from an asp bite.
Shakespeare also gave his own theory on the death of Cleopatra which gives us the image of Cleopatra clutching the snake to her breast. Before him, it was generally agreed that she was bitten on the arm.
The site of their Mausoleum (a monument) is uncertain, though it is thought by the Egyptian Antiquities Service, to be in or near the temple of Taposiris Magna south west of Alexandria. Cleopatra’s son by Caesar, Caesarian, was proclaimed pharaoh by the Egyptians, after Alexandria fell to Octavian. Caesarean was captured and killed by Octavians.
Why the women in world history were not given due importance?
By taking the example of Cleopatra VII, the reasons why women were not given importance are:
Cleopatra being the mother was more concerned about her children. She always tried her children to get throne unlike Julius Caesar who chose his grandnephew. Women are more directed towards their own children rather than caring about their kingdom.
Cleopatra was not much concerned for her empire or the kingdom and was more aligned towards her family.
Donations of Alexandria is the most important example which clearly explains that Cleopatra cared only about her family. She could have given those empires to some more educated or strong and a better person which could have helped her and Antony in the battle against Octavians.
Well these were the main reasons why I think women were not given due importance in history.
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