Cleopatra VII

Queen 51-30 BC.
    The last of the Macedonian rulers of Egypt, Cleopatra VII has been preserved in legend as a woman of formidable intellect and ambition who used her beauty and charm to advance Egypt's fortunes. In 51 BC, she became joint ruler with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes (who died in 51 BC) and then with her brother and husband, Ptolemy XIII. When he died in 47 BC, her younger brother (also her husband) Ptolemy XIV succeeded him.
    Rome, attracted by Egypt's wealth, had influenced Ptolemaic policy for some time; Pompey, an important figure in the East, involved himself in the internal and financial affairs of Ptolemy XII Auletes and when Auletes died, Pompey was appointed by the Roman Senate to act as the legal guardian of Cleopatra VII and her brother. Pompey's ambitions brought him into conflict with Julius *Caesar and, after defeat at the Battle of Pharsalia (47 BC), Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated by Egyptian courtiers.
    When *Caesar came to Alexandria, (48—47 BC) Cleopatra persuaded him to support her cause, hoping to strengthen her position and to regain her throne. Their son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, ruled jointly with Cleopatra from 36 BC.
    The queen's subsequent liaison with Mark *Antony was of longer duration; again, she hoped that he would help her to restore Egypt to its past glory by using Rome's powers to enhance the fortunes of her allies and clients. She hoped that her marriage to Mark *Antony would provide her with the opportunity to divide the eastern possessions between themselves.
    There were children from her associations with both *Caesar and *Antony. In 34 BC, Cleopatra and *Antony staged the great ceremony known as the Donations of Alexandria, at which some of the eastern provinces and anticipated conquests were assigned to Cleopatra and her children. Thus Cleopatra obtained Egypt, Cyprus, Libya and Coele Syria, while Alexander Helios received Armenia, Media and Parthia. Ptolemy was given Phoenicia, Syria and Cilicia, and Cleopatra Selene gained Cyrene. Mark *Antony had to justify to the Roman Senate this disposal of property. He did this by claiming that he was merely presenting Roman territory to Rome's clients.
    Mark *Antony was an astute man, and from 37 BC onwards his close association with Cleopatra brought him both money and supplies. *Augustus (Octavian) regarded *Antony (who had married his sister) and his Egyptian power-base as an eastern threat to Roman ascendancy. He waged a successful propoganda campaign against Mark *Antony and the Egyptian queen and persuaded the Roman Senate that *Antony had spent years in debauchery and drunkenness at Alexandria. Antony was denounced as an enemy of Rome and military action soon followed: *Augustus defeated him at the Battle of Actium in western Greece in the September of 31 BC. For some unknown reason, Cleopatra withdrew her squadron when the battle was raging and, followed by Mark *Antony, fled to Alexandria. Here they awaited *Augustus, who arrived ten months later. Alexandria was captured and *Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, the queen preferring death to the inevitable humiliation that submission to Rome would have brought. According to legend, she used a snake's bite to end her life on August 12, 30 BC. *Augustus could not allow her son Caesarion to live, but her children by Mark *Antony apparently survived and ruled Egypt nominally for eighteen days before *Augustus became pharaoh on August 31, 30 BC.
    Cleopatra was a remarkable woman and a formidable queen. She was reputedly the only *Ptolemaic ruler to learn to speak Egyptian (which endeared her to her native subjects) and was also fluent in several other languages. The coins which depict her likeness do not support the legend of her great beauty, but a marble bust in Berlin shows something of her character and physical charm.
BIBL. Bell, H.I. Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Oxford: 1956; Austin, M.M. The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest. Cambridge: 1981.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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