Famous Rulers in History Cleopatra Part 2

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


Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


The culture of Alexandria then was civilized but degenerate, in a state of moral decay in which the arts and sciences flourished but the peasants often starved. The Ptolemies were Greeks, not Egyptians, who for three centuries considered Egypt a large captured state to be milked as dry as possible. To appease the Egyptians, they followed some of the customs of the pharaohs, such as incestuous marriage, but the ruling class was Greek in its legal system, language, and administration. By the time Cleopatra was born, Egypt was a network of royal monopolies (banks; production of food, oil, textiles, salt, beer), with royal profits of from 70% to 300%. Farmers, told what to plant and how much they would get for their produce (still true in modern Egypt), were leaving the land in droves; waterways had been abandoned; and the currency had been devalued (coins once gold were now copper). Unlike most countries subject to Rome, Egypt was not a Roman province, because the question of choosing a Roman governor was too touchy and because a senatorial faction was against colonial expansion.

Alexandria, the capital, where Cleopatra was born and lived, was a beautiful, sophisticated city. In the harbor stood the marble Pharos, a magnificent lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world. The royal palace sat on a promontory overlooking the sea, its colonnaded marble buildings set in gardens cooled by fountains and sea winds; on the grounds was the Mouseion, a center of culture, where Cleopatra was educated in astronomy, philosophy, history, literature, and languages.

Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII Auletes (the Flute Player) was a weak drunk, whose one saving grace was a love of music. In his frantic attempts to placate with bribes the three dominant Romans (Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey) in the degenerating Roman Republic, he spent so much Egyptian money that a general rebellion broke out and he was exiled. Cleopatra was then 11, living in a court that was a hotbed of intrigue (at which she early became adept). Three years later Egypt was invaded through the intervention of Pompey, and Ptolemy XII was restored to the throne.

Rise to Power: Cleopatra became coregent with her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII, whom she married according to Egyptian custom and the last will and testament of her father.

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