Cleopatra VII (69 BC – 30 BC)
The famous queen and last pharaoh of Egypt was not an Egyptian. Cleopatra was of Macedonian Greek descent. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his empire was divided up by his generals. Ptolemy, a Macedonian, became the ruler of Egypt. He and and his descendants did not intermarry with the Egyptians so as to maintain their Greek heritage. They went so far as to refuse to learn the Egyptian language.
However, his descendant, Cleopatra, did learn it. She was a linguist, fluent in seven languages. In later years, she took the step to declare herself to be the reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis. This made her even more popular and well loved by the Egyptian people.
Though not a great natural beauty, Cleopatra was exotic in appearance, using her skills with make-up, perfumes, jewelry, and clothes. This, combined with her melodius voice, high intelligence, and lively personality, made it a pleasure to be in her company.
When Julius Caesar arrived in Egypt in 48 BC, he found Cleopatra and her ten-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII engaged in a civil war. Caesar had come to Egypt to chase down Pompey the Great whom he had just defeated at Pharsalus. When Ptolemy presented him with Pompey’s head in a jug, Caesar became angry. Pompey was a Roman nobleman and a widower of his daughter, not a person to be cut down by an Egyptian boy king.
When Cleopatra, who was in exile, learned of Caesar’s arrival, the story is told that she had herself smuggled into his quarters rolled up in a carpet. It is also said that she and Caesar consummated their relationship that night. After negotiation with Ptolemy’s supporters failed, Caesar supported Cleopatra in the civil war against her brother. After Ptolemy was defeated, he declared her queen of Egypt. Nine months later she gave birth to his son whom she named “Caesarion.”
Cleopatra was in Rome when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, living in his villa across the Tiber River. Her presence had created discontent among the Roman people who were concerned that Caesar would declare her his queen and rule Rome from Egypt or Greece. Surprisingly, she did not leave Rome immediately. She stayed for a short while to complete negotiations with Roman merchants and politicians.
Several years after the assassination, Cleopatra established a relationship with Mark Antony. Years later, in 31 BC, they were defeated by Octavian and Marcus Agrippa in the sea battle at Actium. When Octavian took Egypt in 30 BC, they both committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner by him.
It can be said of Cleopatra that she gained power through her relationship with one great Roman leader, Caesar, maintained it with another great Roman leader, Antony, and lost it because of a third and perhaps the greatest Roman leader, Octavian, who later became Caesar Augustus.