Saturday, January 18, 2014

Women of History, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners ~ Alexandre Cabanel

I recently came to the realization that in all the years I've had my blog and written about powerful women, I've never written about my own personal idol, Queen Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra was born in Alexandria in 69 B.C.E. Daughter to Ptolemy XII, her family came from a long line of royalty stretching all the way back to Alexander the Great. The identity of her mother is somewhat unknown. Some speculate that it was Cleopatra V but others say it was an Egyptian concubine which would make Cleopatra part Egyptian. Her family was Greek in origin and came to Egypt from Macedonia many years earlier.

Cleopatra has been portrayed as a seductress and evil Queen throughout history although much of what was written about her was by the Romans who did not like her. The Egyptian people loved Cleopatra. She was the first of her royal line to learn to speak Egyptian, she is said to have spoken nine different languages. She was said to have been extremely smart and charming with a sweet voice. It is also known that Cleopatra wrote a book on cosmetics and had a cosmetics factory built near the Dead Sea. Cleopatra adopted the Egyptian religion and portrayed herself as the Goddess Isis something which also was not done in her family. She made herself Egyptian so that she could gain the love of the Egyptian people.

Her father's rule is said to have been disastrous. Ptolemy XII was known to be a self indulgent man out to secure his own kingship by forming an alliance with Rome. The people of Egypt were said to rise up in a rebellion against the pharaoh which resulted in him being exiled to Rome for a period of time. Cleopatra would have been about 14 at this point. Ptolemy XII ruled until 51 B.C.E at which time Cleopatra, now 18, assumed the role of queen along side her 10 year old brother, Ptolemy XIII. Cleopatra tried to rule Egypt as a sole female leader and erased her brothers name from records and had only her face imprinted on coins. She fell greatly out of favor for this as a woman was not allowed to rule alone. She had no other choice but to flee Egypt. During the time in which she was in exile, Rome was experiencing a civil war in which Julius Caesar was involved. Caesars political enemy, Pompey, was then murdered by Cleopatra's brother to try and win favor of Caesar for Egypt. This enraged Caesar so he seized the Egyptian capital and tried to fix the rival between the Egyptian royal siblings.

This is where Cleopatra's story really comes to life. The story of Cleopatra and Caesar begins with Cleopatra being secretly delivered to Caesar in a rolled up rug. She is rolled out of the rug in Caesars presence and precedes to seduce him with her beauty and charm. So the story goes. Although this story is just that, a story. We do know that when Caesar did meet with the queen he was indeed infatuated with her beauty, charm and sweet-natured way. The two became lovers and formed an alliance. It was soon thereafter that Ptolemy XIII was murdered and Cleopatra ruled alongside her younger brother Ptolemy XIV as co-ruler. Nine months later Cleopatra gave birth to her son Caesarian who she declared to be the son of Caesar and the rightful heir to the Egyptian throne.

Soon after this Caesar was assassinated in Rome. Cleopatra was worried about her security in Egypt so she forged an alliance with general Mark Antony, her future lover. It is said that she arrived in Rome on a beautiful boat filled with the sweet smell of roses and that she herself was a thing of divine beauty. Upon meeting the two became lovers and eventually had two children together. For the first couple of years of their love affair, Antony stayed in Rome most of the time and ruled alongside Octavian, Caesars heir. Although after a period of time trouble between the two Roman rulers ensued and Antony moved permanently to Alexandria and married Cleopatra in an Egyptian rite. The couple were said to have had one more child together.

The life and reign of Cleopatra came to an end when Mark Antony was defeated by Octavian's army during the battle at Actium. There is one last love story to the life of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. When Antony was defeated, Octavian intended to take over rule of Egypt. The two lovers would not have this. Cleopatra is said to have sent a message to Antony in secret that she was dead. Upon hearing this Mark Antony, overcome by grief, takes his own life with his own sword. Cleopatra did not want to become a prisoner of Octavian so she committed suicide with the bite of a poisonous snake. There are some who speculate that she may have used poison instead of the poisonous snake.

Cleopatra was 39 when she died and was the last recorded pharaoh of Egypt. Her story will live on forever as it has for the last two thousand years.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for teaching me about Cleopatra! It was a very interesting post, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this magnificent woman.


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