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Cleopatra VII was known for the love she had of her country, a love so great that would lead her to any means necessary for the good of it. She was born into a Macedonian family who had power and rule over Egypt. They were descended from Ptolemy I, a general of Alexander the Great who became king of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 BC. “The ptolemaic dynasty was interlocked in goodwill and bad with the other Hellenistic states that had been wrenched out of portions of Alexander’s empire” (Huzar, 187). In this paper I will discuss who she was, and the measures she would she would go to for the good of her country.
Cleopatra VII was born in 69 BC in Egypt. Her father was Egypt's pharaoh, Ptolemy XII, nicknamed Auletes or "Flute-Player." Cleopatra's mother was probably Auletes's sister, Cleopatra V Tryphaena. She had two older sisters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV. She also had a younger sister, Arsinole IV. There were also two younger brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. When their father died in 51 BC, he left the rule of the kingdom to Cleopatra VII and her younger brother Ptolemy XIV. She married him, a twelve-year-old. This was not out of love for him, but out of wanting to rule. In order for her to rule she must have a consort, either brother or son.
Cleopatra is one of the most talked about figures in ancient history. “She possessed many titles. Among them was Thea Neotera, the New Goddess, an echo of that great earlier Cleopatra Thea; and Philadelphus, lover of her brothers. Other titles include Philopator, lover of father, and Philopatris, lover of country. ” (Grant1, 198).
It was said by some that she was beautiful and irresistible. When portrayed on film she is a ravishing beauty. Others would argue that her beauty was internal rather than external; that her looks are not at all what attracted the great men of her time but her intellect and personality. She was an educated woman who could speak several languages, knew of geography, and could talk of politics. This was rare at the time, for not many women could. “Cleopatra formed a mighty plan to revive the great Ptolemaic Empire of the past by maintaining associations with two successive leaders, Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius, who both in turn became her lovers.” (Grant, 17).
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There were many conflicts over power between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. With the help of court official, Ptolemy was attempting to gain control for himself and push Cleopatra out. Cleopatra had upset the officials by some of her actions. The last straw seemed to be turning over the two murderers of the roman consuls to Pompey. The officials do not like this and want to hand power over to Ptolemy. In 48 BC, encouraged by his minister Pothinus, Ptolemy assumed control of the government and drove Cleopatra from the throne. Cleopatra flees, in fear of her life. This would not be the end though she would be back to reclaim her throne. She assembles troops to help her retain her position. She can not do this on her own, she would need the help of Julius Caesar.
With the help of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra did indeed reclaim her throne. Was this great love affair between the two, or were they both using each other to get what they needed? Cleopatra needed help with her kingdom and Caesar was in pursuit of Pompey. “However, pursuit of Pompey was by no means Caesar’s only reason for coming to Egypt. He also needed money. He maintained that the country owed him the sum of three and a half million pounds” (Grant2, 188). Apparently this was a debt that might or might not have been repaid. Caesar also said he was told by the previous Ptolemy king to make sure the joint heirs were carried out. Therefore he was there to settle things between Cleopatra and her brother. Caesar stays at the Alexandria palace. Cleopatra sets up a meeting with him, but has to be careful not to be seen so she is smuggled into the palace in a rug. Upon their first meeting Caesar is captivated by her knowledge and charm. “All this beauty, brain and drive were devoted to the revival of her control” (Grant2, 195). They are immediatley lovers and begin a rule together. Caesar helps restore Cleopatra to the throne and during this time Ptolemy somehow dies. She is once again forced to marry her younger brother.
During the Alexandria War parts of the library and warehouses were burned. Cleopatra’s sister escaped and was proclaimed queen by the Macedonians. Eventually Caesars forces established his control. “It is impossible to detect any occasion on which Caesar acted against his own interests because of infatuation with Cleopatra” (Grant 2, 196). Caesar probably did this more to gain power and money than for the love of Cleopatra. Ptolemy fled and is said to have drowned. Caesar and Cleopatra were not only lovers now but shared a family. They had a child together, Caesarian. Caesar recognized this child as his son and it is thought he would be recognized as the heir of his Empire. In 46 BC Cleopatra visited Rome with her newborn son to visit Caesar. She stayed in the city until the year Caesar was assassinated.
Now that Cleopatra has married her younger brother she must share power with him. She and this brother did no better sharing power with each other. In 44 BC after she returned to Egypt, she ordered the death of her brother. This may have been done so for two reasons: so that her own son could eventually become the sole heir to the Egyptian throne or so Cleopatra could be in complete control. She could chose Caesarian be her co-regent. In doing this she would be recognized as queen, but because her child was so young she would have to share power with no one. During the time she had spent in Rome with Caesar, Egypt had suffered greatly. She would now be hard at work restoring her great country. Though, with Caesar gone she is once again venerable. Knowing this she looked for someone new.
She eventually falls in love with Mark Antony, the next great figure of Rome. Her relationship with him may have very well started off like she and Caesars. “Cleopatra wanted to regain Judaea and such territories long lost to Egypt. She used her influence with Antony and the fact that he needed her help against Parthia” (Huzar, 167). Cleopatra needed Antony in order to revive the Ptolemaic kingdom, and Antony needed Egypt as a source of supplies and funds. Because Antony had eventually wanted to become the sole ruler of Rome, he hoped to get some form of aid from Cleopatra and her people. Was this a relationship of love, one of politics, or both?
Antony requested Cleopatra’s presence at Tarsus, and was immediately captivated by her. To impress Antony, Cleopatra arrived on a barge where she herself was dressed as Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Their relationship grew quickly from there. In 40 BC Cleopatra had his twins. Antony returned to Rome on business and eventually married Octavia, the sister of Octavian. This marriage seemed to be to gain power in Rome, and nothing more. Their marriage didn’t last long though, for three years later he left his wife and children to be with Cleopatra. In 37 BC, Antony and Cleopatra were married. “The conquest of Rome’s greatest remaining foes, the glory of the greatest triumph would leave Antony supreme in the empire, above any criticism” (Huzar, 168). He then appointed Cleopatra ruler of Egypt, Cyprus, Crete and Syria. Cleopatra birthed another child to Antony. They now had three children together, in addition to her eldest child, Caesarian. Antony not only left his wife to marry a foreigner, but openly claimed his children. This angered Octavian as well as the people of Rome. It was not right for a Roman man to prefer a foreign woman before his own race.
Together Antony and Cleopatra try to gain as much power and wealth as possible regardless of who or what they manipulated. They manipulated religious ideas to their advantage. They claimed they were gods. To the Greeks they were Dionysus and Aphrodite, and to the Egyptians Osiris and Isis. Their children were named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene to lay legitimate claim to Alexander’s Empire. Caesarian, the child of Caesar is proclaimed to be the king of kings. They put this child above the others because he was a direct descendant of Caesar who was still greatly loved by many of the people of Rome. “His potency was a propaganda tool for Antony: The symbol of unity of East and West, evidence that Caesar before him had united with the Egyptian queen, so that Antony was Caesars heir in policies” (Huzcar, 198). This is yet another example of the great lengths Cleopatra will go to achieve greatness for her country.
Cleopatra's liaison with Antony had set the stage for a final confrontation with their Roman enemies. In Alexandria, when Mark Antony and Cleopatra are divided, he is surrounded by the troops of Octavian. When he hears the rumor that Cleopatra has committed suicide, he kills himself by falling on the sword. Cleopatra surrenders to Octavian. With the information we have of Cleopatra, we could assume she tries to make him her lover. Does he deny her or did she truly love Antony and refused to live without him. Cleopatra poisons herself, or has herself bitten by a snake and dies. Her sons, Caesarian and Ptolemy XIV, are then murdered and the Ptolemaic dynasty has come to the final end. “It is possible that if the battle of Actium had gone in their favor the future might have seen a more equal partnership between Romans and Greeks. But the victory of Octavian sealed the Roman hegemony, although the Greek city-state system still went on its way – unimpaired and even augmented, from time to time, by new foundations.” (Grant1, 123).
While Cleopatra VII obviously used her female assets to win over two important men of Rome, it must be remembered she was a woman in a man’s world. She would have, and did , do anything to save Egypt from domination by Rome, who at the time had a very poor reputation. She married two of the leading Roman men to ensure the independence of her country. She made sure there was a great heir for her throne. Caesarian, being Caesar’s child, would be respected as a man and a king. She sold herself, and all for the love of her country. “Although her aims were nearly achieved in 37-34, when considerable portions of the Roman dominions were detached, on Antony’s orders, her lovers clash with Octavian came to a head”(Grant1, 197). Indeed, after Rome took over Egypt, the natives were treated as a huge community of slaves. She did everything she could to save her country. Her actual achievements had only importance for a short period of time — with the revival of Ptolemaic powers — but nothing proved to last. Her life story has inspired playwrights, and moviemakers, making her the one of the most famous personality of ancient Egypt. When I think of Cleopatra I invision a great woman, in a time where women had nothing. A woman who did everything in her power, from giving herself to selling out her children, to ensure a place her people could live and be free from slavery. This is person who should be remembered and celebrated for what she gave to her country, her self.