Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Written by Leanna Serras

Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt from approximately 51 BC to 30 BC. Initially ruling alongside her father and brothers, she ultimately rose as Egypt’s principal figure. To solidify this role, Cleopatra engaged in several affairs with affluent leaders garnering her political advantage. Renowned for her undeniable beauty and cunning nature, Cleopatra forever changed world history.

Rife with rivalry and contempt, Cleopatra’s ascension to the throne came at a price. Little is known about her mother, but she is believed to be either the sister or cousin of Ptolemy XII – Cleopatra’s father. After their father’s death, Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, ruled together for three years facing dire national hardships of famine, flooding and political strife. In accordance with incestuous tradition, Cleopatra married her brother but by 51 BC, all relations between the two ceased. Cleopatra removed her brother’s name from all official documentation and embossed coins with only her profile – a direct attack on traditional Ptolemaic rulership. Supporters of Ptolemy XIII removed Cleopatra from power in 48 BC, making her brother the sole monarch.

During Cleopatra’s exile, Ptolemy attempted to establish political sovereignty with Rome and Julius Caesar by murdering Pompey, Caesar’s political enemy. Unfortunately, for Ptolemy, Pompey had intricate ties to Caesar’s family and his murder was a grave miscalculation. Caesar overtook Egypt’s capital and became the moderator between Cleopatra and Ptolemy dispute of rulership. Anxious to exploit Caesar’s anger towards her brother, Cleopatra snuck into the palace to meet with him. Before long, she became his mistress and was appointed sole ruler in 47 BC after giving birth to their son, Ptolemy Caesar or Caesarion for short. Ptolemy VIII was drowned in the Nile River.

Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s affair was a Roman scandal due to Caesar’s preexisting marriage to Calpurnia Pisonis. Caesar assassination in 44 BC prompted Cleopatra to swiftly return to Egypt. During the Roman Civil War – initiated by Caesar’s death - many opponents of Cleopatra sought to invade Egypt who backed the Caesarian party, represented by Mark Antony. Egypt was safeguarded for the time being by a blossoming relationship between Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. He was so enamored with the ruler, that by 40 BC she had given birth to twins – Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II – and married according to tradition Egyptian rite.

Octavian, once a proponent of Marc Antony, waged war against Egypt in 33 BC. By 30 BC, Antony’s terrestrial stronghold had been abolished in the Sea Battle of Actium. He committed suicide by repeatedly stabbing himself as he thought Cleopatra had done as well. When he discovered that she was still alive, he was taken to her and passed away in her arms. Following Antony’s death, it is commonly believed that Cleopatra committed suicide by either enticing a cobra to bite her, or applying a toxic ointment. Egypt transitioned to Roman rule, never to be ruled by Egyptian pharaohs again.

The story of Cleopatra VII has often been romanticized as a tragic tale of love. Cleopatra’s legacy as the last ruling pharaoh of Egypt is one of notoriety and conquest. Nevertheless, Cleopatra’s unrelenting drive for power and rule, transformed her as one of history’s most recognizable figures.