Famous Rulers in History Cleopatra Part 4

About the famous Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, history of her reign and life, encounters with Caesar and Mark Antony.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Though Caesar had in 44 B.C. three times refused a crown the drunken Mark Antony, then consul, tried to put on his head, he did wear purple and allowed his head to be shown on coins. Romans in favor of a republic. Marcus Brutus among them, formed a conspiracy and murdered Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 B.C., with 23 stab wounds. In his will, read by Antony (who also gave the famous funeral oration immortalized by Shakespeare), Caesar left three fourths of his estate to his grandnephew and heir, Octavian; the rest he left to other relatives. There was no mention of Cleopatra or of her new son, Cesarion, whom Caesar was purported to have fathered.

Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where she built a fleet and ran the country. An able ruler, she handled administrative affairs as justly as she could, considering the circumstances. There still remains a decree, issued in 41 B.C., warning Alexandrian officials not to take illegal taxes from agricultural workers; in it, she said firmly that she was "extremely indignant."

Meanwhile, in Rome, after a massacre of many of the conspirators and suspected conspirators, three men rose to the ascendancy and formed a triumvirate: the delicate, brilliant Octavian; Lepidus; and Mark Antony, who, in the three-way split among them, was given the East. Rougher than Caesar, he was good-natured, sensual, a fine military man, handsome, with thick curly hair. His enemy Cicero called him "a kind of butcher or prizefighter." Though not an aristocrat, Antony identified himself with Dionysus and claimed to be a descendant of Hercules.

In 42 B.C., after the Battle of Philippi, in which the last republican forces led by Brutus and Cassius were defeated, Mark Antony called Cleopatra, with other Eastern rulers, to Tarsus. With her great sense of style, she sailed up the River Cydnus in a purple-sailed barge, silver oars beating time to flute music. Maidens dressed as sea nymphs and graces clustered around her as she lay, dressed as Venus, under a canopy, and the people of Tarsus flocked to the spectacle, as Antony waited in the deserted forum. It was perhaps the most deservedly famous and extravagant entrance in all history. The banquets she served Antony were equally extravagant. In a salon where mirrors reflected the light and incense burned, guests ate from jewel-inlaid gold plates and drank from gold goblets while they sat on embroidered couches; at the end of the banquets, they were given everything, including the couches, to take home. One night, the room was carpeted 18 in. deep in roses.

The luxury and elegance entranced Antony, whose idea of a good time had been to get drunk on wine and consort with prostitutes. Moreover, he had much to gain by an alliance with Egypt. So he and the Egyptian queen became lovers. At Cleopatra's urging, Antony had the last Ptolemy, Arsinoe, who had taken sanctuary in a temple, murdered in cold blood. During the winter of 42-41 B.C., Antony and Cleopatra lived in Alexandria, where they drank, gambled, and went to orgies, many planned by their club, "the Society of the Inimitable Livers." Antony dressed in a Greek tunic and fell in love with the city, while Cleopatra went along with all he wanted to do. When he dressed as a servant and roamed through the city knocking on doors and playing tricks on people, she swallowed her pride and accompanied him dressed as a slave.

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