The orient was the theatre that saw many women rise to power and sit on the thrones of vast kingdoms. Most of them earned their fame by certain feats and were feared by their enemies, but none of them is still remembered like Cleopatra.

   Born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria, which was then the capital of Egypt, Cleopatra was very ambitious and smart since her childhood. Her father was Egypt's pharaoh, Ptolemy XII, while her mother was most probably Ptolemy’s sister, Cleopatra V Tryphaena. (It was commonplace for members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to marry their siblings.) The family was not truly Egyptian, but of Macedonian origin, who descended from Ptolemy I, a general of Alexander the Great who became king of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 B.C.

   Cleopatra, or Cleopatra VII was not the first to carry that name, as her name shows. Besides her mother, there was another Cleopatra in the family -- Cleopatra VII's elder sister, Cleopatra VI. Cleopatra VII also had an older sister named Berenice; a younger sister, Arsinoe; and two younger brothers, both called Ptolemy. As fate would have it, Cleopatra ascended to the throne following a series of events and coincidences.

   Her father was a weak and cruel ruler, and in 58 B.C. he lost his crown when the people of Alexandria rebelled and overthrew him. His eldest daughter, Berenice, took the throne while he fled to Rome. She married a cousin but soon had him strangled so that she could marry another man, Archelaus. At some point during Berenice's three-year reign Cleopatra VI died of unknown causes. In 55 B.C. Ptolemy XII reclaimed his throne with the help of the Roman general Pompey. Berenice was beheaded together with her husband.

   Suddenly, our heroine found herself the Crown Princess of Egypt, as she became the eldest living child of the king. When her father died in 51 B.C., leaving his children to Pompey's care, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII inherited the throne.  

Queen of Egypt

   At the age of 17 or 18 Cleopatra became the queen of Egypt. Whether she was beautiful of not, has been a matter of controversy until now. Some Egyptologists say that she was stunning; while others claim that she was far from beautiful, despite her glamorous image today. On ancient coins She is depicted with a long hooked nose and masculine features. However, she was clearly a very seductive woman who mastered the art of flirting and temptation. She had an enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma and proved to be a shrewd politician. Above that, she was highly intelligent and spoke nine languages. In fact she was the first Ptolemy pharaoh who could actually speak Egyptian!

   Cleopatra had to comply with Ptolemaic traditions, and in fact had no choice but to marry her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 12 at the time. However, it was merely a marriage of convenience, and Cleopatra was so ambitious that she had very little, if any, regard to such considerations as family ties. She was determined to rule alone, leaving Ptolemy in the background, as a pharaoh in name only, for three years. But the kid’s advisors - led by a eunuch named Pothinus - resented Cleopatra's independence and conspired against her. In 48 B.C. they stripped Cleopatra of her power and she was forced into exile in Syria. Her sister Arsinoe went with her.

   Cleopatra started to amass an army in Syria to recover her throne. At this time Pompey was vying with Julius Caesar for control of the Roman Empire. When his armies were defeated in the battle of Pharsalos, he sailed to Alexandria, pursued by Caesar, to seek Ptolemy's protection. But the pharaoh’s advisors thought it would be safer to side with Caesar, and when Pompey arrived he was stabbed to death while Ptolemy watched.

   Before Caesar entered Alexandria three days later, Ptolemy's courtiers brought him a gift - Pompey's head. But Pompey had once been Caesar's friend, and Caesar was appalled by his brutal murder. He marched into the city, seized control of the palace, and assumed power. He ordered both, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, to dismiss their armies and meet with Caesar, who would settle their dispute. But Cleopatra too smart to enter Alexandria openly- she was positive Ptolemy's men would kill her. So she had herself smuggled to Caesar inside an oriental rug. When the rug was unrolled, Cleopatra tumbled out. It is said that Caesar was bewitched by her charm, and became her lover that very night.

   Next day Ptolemy came to the palace only to be stunned when he saw Caesar and Cleopatra together. He stormed out, shouting that he had been betrayed. Caesar had him arrested, but the pharaoh's army, led by the eunuch Pothinus and Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe, laid siege to the palace. Hoping of appeasing the attackers, Caesar released Ptolemy XIII, but the Alexandrian War continued for almost six months. It ended when Pothinus was killed in battle and Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile while trying to flee. Alexandria surrendered to Caesar, who captured Arsinoe and restored Cleopatra to her throne. Cleopatra then married her brother Ptolemy XIV, who was 11 or 12 years old.

   The two lovers celebrated their victory with a leisurely two-month cruise on the Nile. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that they would have sailed all the way to Ethiopia if Caesar's troops had agreed to follow him. Cleopatra became pregnant at this time, and later gave birth to a son, Ptolemy XV, called Caesarion or "Little Caesar." Some historians suggest that Caesar wasn't really Caesarion's father, for despite his promiscuity, Caesar had only one other child. But Caesarion strongly resembled Caesar, and Caesar acknowledged him as his son.

   Eventually, Caesar returned to Rome, leaving three legions in Egypt to protect Cleopatra. A year later he invited her to visit him in Rome. She arrived there accompanied by Caesarion and her young brother/husband, Ptolemy XIV. One month after her arrival, Caesar celebrated his war triumphs by parading through the streets of Rome with his prisoners, including Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe. (Caesar spared Arsinoe's life, but later Mark Antony had her beheaded at Cleopatra's request.)

   During her two years stay in Rome, Caesar showered her with gifts and titles, and even had a statue of her erected in the temple of Venus. Romans were scandalized by his open affair (He was married to a woman named Calpurnia). Rumours circulated through the capital that Caesar intended to pass a law allowing him to marry Cleopatra and make their son his heir. On March 15, 44 B.C. a number of conspirators surrounded Caesar at a Senate meeting and stabbed him to death. Knowing that she too was in danger, Cleopatra quickly left Rome with her entourage. Before or immediately after their return to Egypt, Ptolemy XIV died, possibly poisoned at Cleopatra's command. Cleopatra then made Caesarion her co-regent.

   In wake of Caesar’s death, and after a period of chaos and civil war, a three-man council was elected. Among its members were two men who would play an essential role in the life – and death – of Cleopatra. They were Octavian, who later became the emperor Augustus, and Marcus Antonius, better known today as Mark Antony.

   In 42 B.C. Mark Antony summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus port (in modern-day Turkey) to question her. She arrived in style on a barge with a gilded stern, purple sails, and silver oars. The boat was sailed by her maids, who were dressed as sea nymphs. Cleopatra herself was dressed as Venus, the goddess of love. She reclined under a gold canopy, fanned by boys in Cupid costumes. The man was simple and even vulgar. He was captivated by her charms, and spent the night with her on her barge, sealing his fate. He followed her to Alexandria where he spent the winter.

   Finally, Antony said goodbye to Cleopatra and returned to his duties as a ruler of the Roman Empire. Six months later Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. It was four years before she met their father again. During that time Antony married Octavian's half-sister, Octavia, but his heart remained in Egypt.

   In 37 B.C., while on his way to invade Parthia, Antony enjoyed another rendezvous with Cleopatra. He hurried through his military campaign and raced back to Cleopatra. From then on Alexandria was his home, and Cleopatra was his life. He married her in 36 B.C. and she gave birth to another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

   The Roman people were angry to hear that Cleopatra and Antony were calling themselves gods (the New Isis and the New Dionysus). Worst of all, in 34 B.C. Antony made Alexander Helios the king of Armenia, Cleopatra Selene the queen of Cyrenaica and Crete, and Ptolemy Philadelphus the king of Syria. Caesarion was proclaimed the "King of Kings," and Cleopatra was the "Queen of Kings."

   Outraged, Octavian convinced the Roman Senate to declare war on Egypt, and in 31 B.C. Antony's forces lost sea battle off the coast of Actium, Greece, and fled with Cleopatra to Egypt. He tried to fight Octavian in another major sea-land battle off Alexandria, but lost again, and committed suicide believing that Cleopatra had already taken her life.

   In fact, she was stopped by Octavian’s men from stabbing herself to death, and was taken prisoner together with her children. They were all treated well. But she was determined to die; perhaps because she knew Octavian intended to humiliate her, as her sister Arsinoe had been humiliated, by marching her through Rome in chains. With Octavian's permission she visited Antony's tomb. Then she returned, took a bath, and ordered a feast. While the meal was being prepared a man arrived with a basket of figs. The guards checked the basket and found nothing suspicious, so they allowed the man to deliver it to Cleopatra.

   After she had eaten, Cleopatra wrote a letter, sealed it, and sent it to Octavian. He opened it and found Cleopatra's plea that he would allow her to be buried in Antony's tomb. Alarmed, Octavian sent messengers to alert her guards that Cleopatra planned to commit suicide. But it was too late. They found the 39-year old queen dead on her golden bed.

   Two pricks were found on Cleopatra's arm, and it was believed that she had allowed herself to be bitten by an asp that was smuggled in with the figs. As she had wished, she was buried beside Antony.

   Cleopatra was the last pharaoh; after her death Egypt became a Roman province. Because Caesarion was Julius Caesar's son and might pose a threat to Octavian's power, Octavian had the boy strangled by his tutor. Cleopatra's other children were sent to Rome to be raised by Octavia. Cleopatra Selene married King Juba II of Mauretania. No one knows what happened to her other two children.



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