Famous Rulers in History Cleopatra Part 1

About the famous Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, history and personal life of the leader.


Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Vital Statistics: She was the seventh Cleopatra in the 300-year Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt, and her death marked the end of that dynasty. Born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria to Ptolemy XII and either his first wife or his second (history does not record which), Cleopatra VII was, like other Egyptian royalty, considered divine; in her case, a descendant of the goddess Isis. Her rule of Egypt began in 51 B.C. She was then 17, and, as was the custom, married her brother (Ptolemy XIII), who became coregent, Ousted from Egypt barely two years later, she was restored to the throne by her lover Julius Caesar after the Battle of Alexandria (47 B.C.), in which her enemy brother-husband was drowned. She took as husband her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, in a union which, like the first, was probably unconsummated. Julius Caesar and she were lovers from the time they met until his death in 44 B.C.; they had one child, Cesarion (46 B.C.). Two years after Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra became the mistress of Mark Antony, one of the triumvirate then ruling the Roman Empire. They had three children: twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene (40 B.C.) and a younger son, Ptolemy Philadelphus (36 B.C.). She and Antony were together until their deaths, both by suicide, in 30 B.C. in Alexandria.

Stage and screen portrayals notwithstanding, Cleopatra was not breathtakingly beautiful, but merely good-looking. Her appeal lay in her sensual, vital sophistication and her intellect; she was a woman of style, wit, and perception. What we know of her appearance comes from written descriptions and from coins which show her head. These tell us that she wore her hair (color unknown) in a bun and had a long neck and delicate features, marked by a long Semitic nose and a determined chin. She was probably fineboned and short in stature.

Personal Life: Cleopatra is painted as the serpent of the Nile, a femme fatale, the "harlot queen of incestuous Canopus" (Propertius); she is pictured reclining under a canopy of gold on a barge, silver oars beating in time to the sound of flutes. It must be remembered that most of what we know of her comes to us from Latin writers. Some of these were contemporaries of hers (Vergil, for example), fearful of domination of Rome by the East; and the rest, writing 100 years later (such as Plutarch), wanted to present the Romans of her time in the best light. Moreover, she has been romanticized by writers like William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, who were taken with the story of a woman who had the power to captivate two such powerful men as the genius Caesar and the bull-like Mark Antony. In truth, she was a pawn in a power struggle, holder of the wealth of Egypt, ruler of a strategically situated military base from which Rome could move against the East. She was a captive queen of a captive country, and if she used her sexuality to increase her power, it was only one weapon in an arsenal in which her excellent mind was probably supreme.

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