Cleopatra VII held great power during her reign as queen of the ancient Egyptians, and she had one of the most well-known influences in ancient Egyptian history.
A woman of power, a symbol of wisdom and charm, she will always be identified as one of Egypt’s greatest female icons. Continue reading all about the last queen of Egypt.
Who Was Cleopatra VII?
Queen Cleopatra was a well-known woman in the history of ancient Egypt and was considered one of the most remarkable Egyptian queens who reigned. Cleopatra VII was said to be a remarkably intelligent, determined, and strategic leader who exerted an impact on the history of ancient Egyptians, being a fascinating queen.
Cleopatra VII came from the city of Alexandria, Egypt. She was born around 70–69 BCE and died around 30 BCE, she was the daughter of King Ptolemy XII Auletes. Cleopatra’s sisters were Arsinoe IV, and Berenice IV, and her brothers were Ptolemy XIII, Ptolemy XIV. There was not much known about the mother of Cleopatra VII, but she might have been the daughter of Ptolemy XII with his first wife, Cleopatra V.
She was widely and famously known for her involvement with two prominent leaders of Rome: Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She was also distinguished for her unknown death that caused a bunch of speculations, beliefs, and portrayals. Unknown whether it was death through a snake bite or a suicide.
It is difficult to patch Cleopatra’s early life records together because there were no concrete details containing the truth behind Cleopatra’s early life. This is one of the most common gaps in Egyptian history that is often encountered in royalties until historical records surface and narrate their lives further some years or decades later.
Some accounts containing the history of Cleopatra indicated that Cleopatra VII received a high level of education and that she was extremely intelligent.
Cleopatra VII might have learned 7–8 languages according to historical accounts. In fact, despite being mostly Greek, Cleopatra was the only official who had learned and spoken the Egyptian language (During the Ptolemaic Period, the official language used by Egyptians was Greek.). The languages Cleopatra VII learned were Syriac, Koine Greek, Troglodyte, Parthian, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Egyptian.
Both men and women were given proper education in royal families, considering that women might have to rule alongside their male counterparts. Moreover, Cleopatra VII was not only academically wise, but she was also clever with regard to politics and the affairs of the dynasty.
Reports stated that Cleopatra VII was also one of the most effective diplomats and administrators. By combining her inherent wisdom way beyond her years with the academic prowess that she carries, she developed into a highly capable and intellectual woman who is goal-driven and aspires to rule her land one day.
What Did Cleopatra Look Like?
Cleopatra was pictured to have a hooked nose and a strong jawline. Her appearance on Egyptian coins contradicted the “feminine” portrayals of her that were often seen in plays and films. Cleopatra’s image on ancient Egyptian coins was rather masculine to place emphasis on her power as the ruler of Egypt.
You could say that Cleopatra being portrayed as an elegant woman was a myth. In some portrayals, Cleopatra was always described to have divine beauty, but there was no concrete evidence of this. Her beauty is often revered to be magnanimous, though not within physical limits, but of charm.
Her exceptional intellect, being able to speak multiple languages, and being the light of any party or discussion she engages herself in. While a lot of resources mentioned her lack of physical beauty as portrayed in various history books, her overall demeanor and aura completely make up for it.
When Princess Cleopatra turned 18, alongside her brother, Ptolemy XIII, she took over the throne soon after the death of their father. During that time, Ptolemy XIII was only 10 years old, this is how Queen Cleopatra VII was the one who was dominant in their partnership.
The young king, Ptolemy XIII, had three aides at the royal court with the names Pothinus, Theodotus, and Achillas. The three aides saw Ptolemy XIII as someone who they could easily influence as he was still young. Ever since the beginning of Queen Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII’s reign, the aides of Ptolemy XIII had always been against Cleopatra. These aides successfully influenced Ptolemy XIII, and Queen Cleopatra VII was completely driven out of the Egyptian borders by her brother and partner in leadership.
To be the sole leader of ancient Egyptians, while Queen Cleopatra VII was in Syria, she established and led an army that would serve as her force to beat her rival. Around 48 BCE, she returned to Egypt to face her brother in a civil war.
With the help of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra VII regained her position as Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Ptolemy XIII opposed the ceasefire issued by Julius Caesar, so he continued to rebel against it. With the occurring civil war, Ptolemy XIII eventually died (It was highly supposed that he died from drowning in the Nile River while fleeing from the troops of Cleopatra), making Cleopatra VII the sole ruler of Egypt.
– Julius Caesar’s Arrival
Meanwhile, around the summer of 48 BC, there was chaos between two leaders, Julius Caesar and Pompey, which affected the entirety of Rome. Pompey, defeated by Caesar, took shelter in Egypt.
However, under Ptolemy XIII’s orders, he was immediately put to death. As a result of wanting to pursue his rival, Julius Caesar followed Pompey’s whereabouts in Egypt, and there was where Julius Caesar and Cleopatra met.
When Caesar arrived in Alexandria, the head of Pompey was presented to him by Ptolemy XIII. What Ptolemy XII did to Julius Caesar’s long-term rival ended all the possibilities of founding an association between him and Ptolemy XIII. Consequently, Julius Caesar decided to side with the faction of Cleopatra.
Julius Caesar found himself in a conflict within a royal Egyptian family. He resided at the royal residence in Alexandria and decided to summon the quarreling siblings Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII to settle for peace, but the forces of Ptolemy XIII got in the way of Cleopatra VII’s return.
Cleopatra VII’s first attempt to face her brother was a failure, but for the second time, she figured out that she would need the support of Julius Caesar to succeed. She thought of a way to sneak herself inside the royal palace where Julius Caesar resided.
Cleopatra thought of the best thing she could do was to get help through her trusted servants. Convincing the servant Apollodos to help her infiltrate the palace, she had herself wrapped inside a cloth (According to some derivations, it was most presumably a sack that was used to store bedclothes).
The servant then presented the cloth to the Roman general. When Cleopatra rolled out of the cloth, dressed in the finest embellishments, she then begged Julius Caesar for help, as her pleading won over the Roman general.
– The Birth of Caesarion
With Julius Caesar, Cleopatra VII bore a child, and they called him Ptolemy XV (also known by his nickname Caesarion, “little Caesar”). Julius Caesar completely acknowledged Cleopatra’s son and played the role of his father.
Nonetheless, as Caesar was already married to Calpurnia, he did get married to Cleopatra VII, and he did not formally acknowledge Caesarion as the heir to his succession (The Roman laws during that period were extremely against bigamy.).
Meanwhile, Cleopatra VII was ordered to marry her other sibling, Ptolemy XIV. Cleopatra and Caesar’s relationship created quite a fuss in Rome because both of them were already married to other people. Around 44 BC, unfortunately, Julius Caesar was assassinated. With her powerful ally gone, Cleopatra VII decided to have Ptolemy XIV killed to avoid instances that might interfere with her son’s succession to the throne.
Cleopatra had a hope that Caesar might have made Caesarion his heir, but that was not the case. The one whom Caesar made his heir was his adopted son and grand-nephew, Octavian.
– Mark Antony and Cleopatra
Who was Mark Antony?
Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius in Latin) was a politician from Rome who played a significant role in the Roman Republic change. He was born in 83 BCE and died in 30 BCE. According to some portrayals, Mark Antony was described to be absurdly handsome and muscular.
He was said to have a thick neck and a thick layer of curls. Responsible for eastern provinces, he found himself away from Rome.
Mark Antony arrived in Egypt, and there was where he met Cleopatra VII. Mark Antony first knew of Cleopatra when Cleopatra was still in the arms of Caesar as his young mistress, still naïve when it came to affairs. Cleopatra VII then became deeply involved with him was someone who was much different from when he first met her.
Cleopatra VII wanted to get Mark Antony’s favor, so she decided to impress Mark Antony by flaunting her riches to the Romans and, of course, herself. Cleopatra and her charms once again succeeded.
Despite being leaders who were often viewed as “intimidating,” Cleopatra and Mark Antony had a “playful” relationship as they enjoyed each other’s company. It was a wonderful waltz of competition, with one trying to overcome the other in terms of accomplishment and wisdom.
– Cleopatra’s Children
Cleopatra VII had four children in total: one with Julius Caesar and three with Mark Antony. Certainly, the most known child of Cleopatra was Caesarion. Mark Antony and Cleopatra had twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and their youngest was Ptolemy Philadelphos II.
Cleopatra Selene grew up and became a princess in the city of Alexandria. She finished her Greek education and was raised like a powerful princess. Having both her parents were both ambitious, when Selene turned six years old, they made her the queen of Cyrenaica (a country neighboring Egypt).
Cleopatra Selene’s twin brother, Alexander Helios, was named after Alexander the Great. Though the twins were born in 40 BC, they only knew their father around 37 BC because their father, Mark Antony, left Egypt to return to his duties in Rome.
Three years after, Mark Antony returned to Egypt, and his love affair with Cleopatra VII was rekindled. After a year, Cleopatra and Mark Antony had their youngest son, Ptolemy Philadelphos II.
Cleopatra children with Mark Antony received their own respective territories from the ceremony of Donations of Alexandria.
How Did Cleopatra Die?
Cleopatra VII and her servants, namely, Iras and Charmion, shut themselves in a mausoleum and committed suicide. An asp, most commonly known as a poisonous Egyptian snake, hidden in a fig basket arrived, and the queen held the snake up and let its teeth sink into her skin and let the venom kill her.
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how Queen Cleopatra VII killed herself. Cleopatra and her servants’ deaths remained doubtful because there was no evidence of a snake bite on their bodies. Hence, whether their suicide was by a snake bite or by poison remains a topic of debate to this day.
– Other Theories of Cleopatra’s Death:
Roman sources detailing Cleopatra’s involvement in testing several poisons revealed that the queen tested poisons on convicted criminals to find out which poison caused the most tolerable death in case she decided to commit suicide. After all, she has easy access to most, if not all, available poisons in her era. Hence, this can help her decide which one should she use to take her own life.
Some stories also portrayed that Queen Cleopatra VII died dramatically, asserting that she committed suicide after the death of her beloved, Mark Antony. Cleopatra wished to be buried together with Mark Antony’s body. Though the queen sent a message of burial request to Octavian, their bodies remained undiscovered. Another speculation is that Octavian had something to do with her death.
Cleopatra’s death is one of the most discussed deaths in literary books. Whether she died from a snake bite or took poison herself, there is something poetic about her death and her life as a whole. Filled with ambition, beauty, and exhilarating moments of romance and power, Cleopatra lived a dangerous but exciting life of her own that is calculated, strategic, and critical.
After Cleopatra’s Death
Soon after the death of Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, the kingdom of Egypt came to an end, as it ended up becoming a province of the Roman Empire.
Before committing suicide, Caesarion was sent away by Cleopatra for security reasons. After the queen ended her life, Octavian plotted a scheme to get Caesarion killed.
Octavian sent his messengers to Caesarion, claiming that Octavian would spare his life and become Rome’s king, just like how Queen Cleopatra had been. The tutor of Caesarion advised him to obey Octavian’s words. Sadly, Octavian’s scheme succeeded, and the 17-year-old boy was killed by Octavian’s soldiers when he was on his way back to Alexandria.
After the suicidal death of their parents, Selene, Alexander, and young Ptolemy were all taken and captured by Octavian. The children experienced being paraded covered in chains in several streets of Rome.
What Did Cleopatra Accomplish?
Cleopatra VII provided great stability to her kingdom, having one of the most influential politicians, she was able to win both external and internal battles. She also aimed to become an inspiration for art, culture, and literature to this very day.
At an early age, Cleopatra learned oratory, followed by succeeding in studying rhetoric and philosophy. She always spoke intelligently, with a soft voice, proper gestures, and the correct posture.
Many generations of Egyptian queens used the name Cleopatra, but out of all Cleopatras, the one remarkable one was Cleopatra VII. In fact, when the name Cleopatra is being discussed, the only one who is remembered is Cleopatra VII, because her character overshadowed her predecessors.
Undoubtedly, Cleopatra is widely known for being the last pharaoh of Egypt before it underwent its annexation; her death was the mark of the annexation of Egypt. Throughout Cleopatra’s reign, she managed to command great power that exerted a great influence on politicians of both Rome and Egypt. She managed to have affiliations with powerful figures (Julius Caesar and Mark Antony), which resulted in an enormous aid for Egypt.
Many illustrations, plays, and films were based on her, making her one of the most popular icons from ancient Egypt. In addition to Cleopatra’s accomplishments, she learned various languages.
What Happened to Cleopatra’s Children?
When the children of Cleopatra were captured, there was a kind woman called Octavia (Octavian’s sister) who took a liking to Selene, she asked her brother Octavian to free Selene. Selene was then saved by Octavia, who took her inside her home.
Given that Octavia was Mark Antony’s ex-wife, she was said to be the stepmother of Selene. Selene lived in Octavia’s house for five years and was treated like Octavia’s own daughter. When Selene reached the age of fifteen, she got married to Juba of Numidia, a North African prince. Juba was also taken in and raised by Octavian’s family.
Interestingly, Octavian seemed very fond of Selene and Juba, such that he gave them a dowry. He returned part of his kingdom, which was the kingdom of Mauretania, back to Juba and Selene. They left the Octavians to start a new life in their new kingdom in Africa as newlyweds.
There were some speculations that Cleopatra Selene’s two brothers were taken by Octavia as well.
In contrast with what Cleopatra Selene had been through after her parents died, her twin brother Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphos II’s later lives are still unknown. There was relatively little historical data that can give us a glimpse of their lives.
Roman historians declared that Cleopatra and Antony were buried together as per Cleopatra’s final wish in her letter.
Unfortunately, her lost tomb remains undiscovered and debated. Some scholars and experts indicated that there is only a very slim chance of discovering the lost tomb of the queen. They said that the lost tomb of Cleopatra could be in Taposiris Magna, but some studies questioned this assumption and postulated that Queen Cleopatra’s tomb could now be underwater.
Numerous experts, archaeologists, and scholars are still trying to determine the exact location of Cleopatra’s tomb. Unfortunately, until now, nobody has succeeded in their exploration.
Queen Cleopatra VII was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt, but sadly, research indicates that none of the 15 Ptolemaic rulers were buried.
Queen Cleopatra VII was portrayed as a beautiful, powerful, and mysterious ruler. Her life story was an illustration of a dominant leader, a protective mother, a loving wife, and a woman who was fighting for everything to gain power and security.
Here are some remarkable points regarding how Cleopatra VII reigned and achieved authority:
- Cleopatra VII was portrayed as a beautiful and powerful woman.
- Her accomplishment in life was being the last pharaoh in ancient Egyptian history.
- She encountered many ups and downs in pursuing her ambition and plans to secure her children.
- The queen had an interesting love story that eventually ended.
- Her death brought damage to the lives of her children.
- Her tomb as the last Egyptian pharaoh remains lost and undiscovered.
Being a queen and dominant ruler was difficult, but Queen Cleopatra VII proved that nothing was impossible if you wanted to gain power, especially if that power would benefit yourself, your family, your beloved, and, most importantly, your children.