Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator / Κλεοπάτρα 69 – 12 BCE
Cleopatra the Seventh, Queen of the Nile, Pharaoh of Egypt, and alleged reincarnation of the goddess Isis, was actually part Greek and the last ruler of the Macedonian dynasty. Cleopatra was considered a wise and just ruler by her people, but she was also notorious for using sex, power, and murder to achieve her goals. According to the Romans, Queen Cleopatra was a poisonous seductress whose lust for power had no limits. Oh yeah and she also slept around a lot with other famous historical dudes of the time.
Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator was descended from Ptolemy the First, one of the successors of Alexander the Great, who got to keep Egypt when Alexander died. Cleo’s father, King Ptolemy XII (the twelfth?!), was a crazy bastard. Ptolemy XII Auletes was a weak, self-indulgent drunkard. It’s also worth noting that he married his cousin and / or sister, and was the latest in a long line of incestuous rulers.
Evidence suggests that in 58 BCE, Cleopatra’s older sister, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, had her husband strangled, then murdered her mother, Cleopatra V, and seized the throne while their father was out of town. Then one of their other sisters, Berenice IV Epiphaneia, ordered the assassination of her sister, Cleopatra (#6), in order to seize the throne for herself. Upon their father’s belated return from Rome, Berenice was beheaded.
This was the household that Cleopatra (#7) grew up in.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising considering her circumstances, that she was a diva with daddy issues who always got her way, and kind of like that chick from ‘Species’, turned into a somewhat slutty man-eating succubus with a penchant for brutal murder.
After Ptolemy’s own (somewhat suspicious) death, the 18-year-old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII, inherited the throne together as co-rulers. They ruled Egypt from the port city of Alexandria for over a year, but she had no interest in being married to her bratty brother. (Who could blame her?) Ptolemy Jr. started to get jealous of all the attention his sis was getting, so his regent, Pothinus attempted to have her killed, as was apparently custom. Cleopatra managed to evade her would-be assassins, and fled into exile, where she raised her own army, sparking a full on civil war. As if this sibling rivalry weren’t complicated enough, her other other sister, Arsinoe IV, decided she wanted to be queen too.
Meanwhile in Rome (48 BCE), some dude called Julius Caesar and this other Roman guy named Pompey (the Great?) were at each other’s throats. Something about crossing a Rubicon? Anyway, long story short, Caesar got the upper hand and Pompey ran with his tail between his legs. Caesar’s legions pursued him to Egypt. When Pompey arrived on the Nile, he rowed out to meet with Ptolemy’s regent. Pompey’s wife, Cornelia, watched helplessly as her husband was greeted by several knives to the back. Maybe they thought that’s how Romans shook hands?
Turns out Pothinus had already calculated the potential advantage of siding with Caesar, and figured they’d be doing him a favor by taking out his nemesis for him. He also figured the Roman dictator could help end the civil war in Ptolemy’s favor. This plan backfired horribly. Upon arrival in Egypt, Caesar received the gift-wrapped severed head of his rival, Pompey, his son-in-law. According to Plutarch, JC was furious and took this as a cowardly insult to both he and the honor of his fallen frenemy.
Caesar stayed in Egypt, determined to end this family feud, and reestablish control over the region. One night, while he was attempting to figure out precisely how to go about that, Caesar received a delivery. The Egyptian servants bowed before Caesar with a carpet, gifted to him by Cleopatra. When the carpet was unraveled before Caesar, out rolled none other than
Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra, the drama queen herself.
You see, Caesar was a notorious lady’s man, so being the uh… resourceful woman she was, Cleopatra decided to use that to her advantage… She was 21, he was 52 – and married to his third wife. Regardless, Caesar was instantly captivated, but not just by her looks. Another possible factor was Caesar’s chronic debt and the fact that Cleopatra had more money than Oprah.
Nine months later, Cleopatra gave birth to Caesarion, which literally translates to ‘Little Caesar’.
Cleo’s siblings, Ptolemy XIII and Arsinoe IV, joined forces to take on their sister’s new arm candy, Caesar. Between the Siege of Alexandria and the Battle of the Nile, the library of Alexandria was partially torched, and thousands of Egyptians died in the cross-hairs, but the Roman Legionnaires were victorious. As Ptolemy’s army crumbled around him, he attempted to make a run for it, but he drowned when his golden armor caused him to sink into the river. Arsinoe was captured and Caesar reestablished Cleopatra as co-ruler with her other younger brother, Ptolemy XIV (because who needs original names?).
Cleopatra’s son with Julius, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, was never acknowledged as a legitimate heir, but ended up being Caesar’s only male child. In 46 BCE, JC’s suga momma, and their son (Lil’ Caesar), accompanied him back to Rome, where they met his wife, Calpurnia and stayed at his villa on the outskirts of the city. If that wasn’t enough, Caesar also commissioned a golden statue of Cleopatra in the temple of Venus.
Then Caesar had to go and get himself murdered by his bros in the Senate.
Cleopatra needed a new man. Enter: Marcus Antonius.
Marc Antony was a famous Roman general, a loyal supporter of Caesar to the end, who carried out the will in his absence, and championed for Cleopatra’s son as Caesar’s one true heir. Problem was, the Romans had no interest in being ruled by a scandalous skank from the tabloids. Antony was snubbed (much like the Lego Movie at the Oscars), without even a nomination to take Caesar’s place. Caesar’s great-nephew on the other hand, Gaius Octavian had the support of the people and one hell of a publicist. Octavian began a relentless smear campaign against Antony, which made Cleopatra and ‘Little Caesar’ a target. Marc Antony helped Cleopatra get back to Egypt to lay low.
Upon returning to Alexandria, her brother / husband / co-ruler, Ptolemy XIV ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from the historical record, conveniently opening up the position for Cleopatra’s son, Caesarion. Elsewhere, after pummeling Caesar’s enemies in Philippi, Marc Antony randomly decided to attack the Persians in Parthian, for no apparent reason. It was during this military excursion that Marc realized he was nearly broke…
In 41 BCE, at 28 years old, Cleopatra arrived in Tarsus, in style, aboard a luxurious ship adorned in extravagant excess. Instead of meeting Antony on his terms, she expected him to come crawling to her, which he reluctantly did. Marc and Cleo dined aboard her magnificent vessel, and (each with their own ulterior motives) toasted to the future.
One night of passion with Cleopatra convinced Marc Antony to give up his invasion, forget about his wife (Fulvia) back home, and come back with her to Alexandria. This home wrecker of a queen had Antony wrapped around her finger. She manipulated him for political gain at every opportunity and used him to orchestrate the assassination of her sister, Arsinoe, in the refuge of the Roman temple of Artemis, because she had to be the fairest of them all or something. (Man, what a bitch.)
Marc and Cleo’s turbulent love affair made Fifty Shades of Gray look tame. During his steamy romance novel of an encounter with the seductive Queen, Antony fathered twins: Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Meanwhile back in Rome, after the passing of his wife, Fulvia, Marc Antony made a truce with Octavian and agreed to marry his sister, Octavia.
Back in Egypt, King Herod of Judea (the dude from that one story from the Bible and stuff) was in town, so Cleopatra paid him a visit. She made some very suggestive suggestions towards Herod, but he reportedly rejected her advances. Enraged by his rejection, Cleopatra vowed revenge. Cleopatra convinced Marc Antony to give her a chunk of Herod’s territory in Jericho just because.
In 37 BCE, Antony married Cleopatra to the surprise and outrage of: his wife (Octavia), his brother-in-law (Octavian), and pretty much all of Rome. Marc Antony had ‘gone native’. Octavian used this scandal as an excuse to crush his opposition and take complete control of the entire Roman Empire himself. Knowing full well that she was the one who wore the pants in that relationship, he declared war on Cleopatra.
On September 2nd, 31 BCE, Antony’s fleet of 500 war ships engaged Octavian’s 250 boat armada at the Gulf of Actium. The Battle of Actium raged among a torrential sea, wooden vessels ramming up against one another as their armored crews clashed with spear and shield in hand. Octavian’s men may have been outnumbered, but their ships were smaller and easier to maneuver giving them the edge they needed to decimate Antony’s forces. Cleopatra ordered her squadron to retreat, leaving their navy behind for the slaughter.
Returning to Egypt, a complete and total failure, Marc Antony was a mess. After hearing rumors that Cleopatra had been captured and killed, he made the sound decision to fall on his sword, but after stabbing himself, he then heard that it was all bullshit and that she was actually in the other room. As he was bleeding out, Antony made his way to Cleopatra and died in her arms. Upon losing everything – the men she’d loved, her wealth, her country, and soon her life, Cleopatra chose to keep her dignity. Instead of being paraded around Rome for a public execution, Cleopatra took her own life, with a lethal snake bite from an Egyptian Cobra.
After her death, Caesarion was killed, the Roman Republic gave way to The Empire, Octavian took complete control of Alexandria, and changed his name to Augustus, becoming the first official Emperor of Rome. Shakespeare later wrote a play about Antony and Cleopatra, because he apparently had a thing for suicidal lovers. With the death of Cleopatra, the sun had set on an ancient civilization that had stood for over three thousand years. Egypt’s mysteries would lie dormant in the sand for centuries to come, well that is until some guy called Napoleon showed up…
Cleopatra may have been a malicious, manipulative, and murderous bitch, BUT we should consider that given her circumstances it’s really not all that surprising how she turned out. That was the world she’d been born into, kill or be killed, and ultimately she did what was necessary for her own survival and even if she failed, she never really gave up. In a world ruled by men, she was a very powerful woman at a time when that simple concept seemed like an impossibility and for that alone she’s certainly earned my respect.
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