(b. 69 B.C.-d. 30 B.C.)
After the removal of Persian rule in 332 B.C., the Ptolemaic Dynasty would begin its rule in Egypt which would last over 300 years, ending with the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C.. At one time Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the great powers of the world and expanded its rule without difficulties, but the inclusion of the Roman Empire into the Ptolemy dynasty’s affairs led to a decline in territories held, yet it was able to preserve the wealth and status of Egypt. By the time of Cleopatra’s rise to power, the state of Egypt was crumbling around her due to outside pressures from Rome, loss of lands, and famine at home. This last Pharaoh of Egypt used her beauty, cunning, sexuality and powers of persuasion to entice two of the world’s most powerful men to keep her once powerful empire free of complete Roman control. Besides dealing with problems abroad, Cleopatra VII had to overcome an Egyptian society that did not accept females as sole rulers without male guidance.
Although the name Cleopatra has been used by many Egyptian Queens, Cleopatra VII, by far is the most remembered overshadowing her predecessors with her political savvy, beauty and romantic life. Cleopatra VII was born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt to King Ptolemy XII Auletes. The identity of her mother is a mystery, but some have speculated that it may have been one of the King’s concubines or possibly his sister, Cleopatra V Tryphaena.
In 51 B.C., Cleopatra’s father Ptolemy XII died and in his will he left the kingdom to Cleopatra VII and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII. Cleopatra, only eighteen at the age of her ascension had to wed her brother and co-ruler due to Egyptian law, which called for any female ruler to have a consort who was either a brother or son. Ptolemy XII was only twelve at the time and Cleopatra took full advantage of the age difference and situation she had been thrust into. Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy XIII name from all administrative documents and she had her own portrait and name placed on legal tender, ignoring her brother’s claim of co-regent. For three years, Cleopatra ruled alone until her brother’s advisors led by Pothinus began conspiring against her. In 48 B.C. they removed Cleopatra from power and she was forced into exile in Syria along with her younger sister Arsinone IV. Cleopatra would not give up her throne easily and she began amassing an army on Egypt’s border.
Cleopatra devised a plan to meet Julius Caesar on her own terms seeking a political alliance and a return to the throne. She had herself wrapped inside a rolled rug which was smuggled into Alexandria and delivered to Caesar. When the rug was opened, Cleopatra rolled out and immediately charmed Caesar. Within that same evening, Cleopatra seduced Caesar, who was married, and became his lover, but more importantly linked herself with the Roman Empire. Caesar returned Cleopatra to her throne, and she then married her youngest brother Ptolemy XIV who was only eleven years of age. Around this time Cleopatra became pregnant by Caesar and she gave birth to a son, Ptolemy XV also called Caesarion or Little Caesar. In 44 B.C., Caesar was stabbed to death at a Senate gathering, and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt.
In 42 B.C., Cleopatra would meet Mark Antony, part of a triumvirate now in control of the Roman Empire. Once again Cleopatra would use her charm and cunning to integrate herself with a powerful man who was part of a powerful empire. Their relationship quickly turned romantic and Antony would spend the winter in Alexandria at Cleopatra’s side. Outraged by Antony’s extra-marital affairs, the Roman Senate declared war on Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra’s forces were no match against the Romans and they were soundly defeated. Antony would commit suicide by stabbing himself and soon after Cleopatra committed suicide by being bitten by an asp, an Egyptian cobra. She was thirty nine years old at the time of her death and was buried beside Antony.
Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh of Egypt and there have been some controversies in regards to her life. Although most evidence points to her ethnicity as being Greek, there are those who believe she was from black African descent, even though there is little proof of that. Questions have also risen about her beauty, which has been possibly exaggerated by Hollywood motion pictures. Debate has also arisen over her decisions to have relationships with Caesar and Antony, which have provoked a question over whether she was an immoral seductress who used love and sex as a political tool or was she truly a heroine who found happiness with two men that happened to be powerful and linked to Egypt’s survival and independence. Historically, Cleopatra will be remembered as a woman who seized any opportunity that was placed in front of her. She was an aggressive woman who ignored her brother’s claim to power and the submissive role women were supposed to play in politics. Cleopatra used any means necessary to accomplish her goals and to protect her beloved state of Egypt. Although her use of seduction in regards to her relationships with Cesar and Antony have become legendary to mainstream society, one must not forget the social and political limitations she hurdled to maintain her position as Pharaoh of Egypt.
Anonymous. “Cleopatra: Last of the Pharaohs.” (No Date) <http://users.bigpond.Net.au/gary_fletcher/Cleopatra.html#Top>
(18 December 2005).
This website provides some basic background information on Cleopatra VII. Although the information is somewhat limited, there is a brief but informative synopsis of her life beginning with her birth, her rule of Egypt, her relationships with Caesar and Antony, and her death. There are portraits of Cleopatra as well as a picture of a statue of Caesar. This site was last updated in June of 2005, and it is a good starting point for a student looking for basic information on Cleopatra.
Bois, Danuta. “Cleopatra VII.” Distinguished Women of the Past and
Present. (No Date) <http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/>
(18 December 2005).
This website created by Bois a cell biologist with no academic credentials in women’s studies, aims to discover and provide information about accomplished women who we learned little or nothing about. The site involves women from all countries and eras, and the subjects can be found by profession or alphabetically. This site is one large link page and connects the researcher to other web sites for a listed individual. The Cleopatra VII page provides basic biographical information that should be used as a starting point for future research on the Egyptian Queen.
Charveau, Michel. Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.
This secondary source attempts to eliminate many of the myths surrounding Cleopatra VII. Although this work is only ninety pages, it does provide a view into Cleopatra’s Greek origins and her relationships with both Caesar and Marc Antony. This source provides some solid background information and can help any researcher trying to dissect facts and myths such as her ethnicity, beauty, and political ambitions.
Charveau, Michel. Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Charveau, also the author of Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth written in the same year presents a picture of Egypt during the twenty year reign of Cleopatra VII. He focuses on numerous aspects of Egyptian society such as the role of religion, the institution of slavery, and the impact of Cleopatra’s relationship with Rome and how it applied to Egyptian social order. This work provides a genealogical table of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and maps of Egypt. Although this source does not provide much biographical information on Cleopatra, it would satisfy a researcher interested in her impact on Egyptian society.
Cinderella. “Cleopatra: Daughter of the Pharaoh.” Royalty.nu: The World of Royalty. (1998) <http://www.royalty.nu/Africa/Egypt/Cleopatra.html>
(18 December 2005).
Written by Cinderella, a history lover who will not give her real name, this site provides a very detailed biography of Cleopatra VII as well as numerous links to other sources of information. The author breaks down these links into sections such as; books, plays, movies and documentaries about Cleopatra. This site also has pages devoted to the History of Egypt as a well as Caesar. Although the author’s privacy can lead to initial skepticism, this site is well organized and provides biographical information that would help a student researching Cleopatra.
Friends of Macedonia. “Cleopatra VII: The Last of the Great Macedonian Monarchs.” My Macedonia.net. (2001) <http://www.mymacedonia.net/cleopatra/cleopatra.htm>
(18 December 2005).
This site was created by the friends of Macedonia to showcase the Macedonian culture. There is information on the history, language, and religion of the Macedonian people. The portion of the site dedicated to Cleopatra VII provides a thorough biography which provides all the basic information on the seductress of Rome. This site also has a link titled “Pictures of Cleopatra” which shows five different sculptures of her head and facial features.
Grant, Michael. Cleopatra. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Grant was a professor at both Edinburgh University and Queens University at Belfast. His work on Cleopatra tends to focus on her relationships with Caser and Antony. Grant believes Cleopatra is unjustly criticized as being a seductress of Rome and should be admired for doing anything necessary for Egypt. He depicts Cleopatra as a ruler who was at the mercy of the Roman Empire which led to her romantic involvement with both men. This secondary source provides solid information for any researcher investigating the romantic life of Cleopatra.
James, Joan. “Suzie Manley’s Famous Egyptians: Cleopatra VII.” Suzie Manley’s Egypt: Stories of Egyptian Mystery and Magic. (No Date) <http://www.suziemanley.com/famous_egyptians/cleopatra_7.htm>
(18 December 2005).
This site created by Joan James is titled after an interactive character that goes on adventures in Egypt. This site enables you to read along with these adventures of mystery and magic. Although this site offers everything from Egyptian vacations to interactive learning, it does provide biographies of famous Egyptians including Cleopatra. The biography of Cleopatra is similar to most found on the web, it contains basic background information, but the best part of the Cleopatra link is a portrait painted by Winfred Brunton.
Lahanas, Michael. “Cleopatra VII: Thea Neotera,” Michael Lahanas. (2004)
(18 December 2005).
Lahanas, a physicist, created this website to showcase his Greek heritage along with Greek historical figures and topics that interest him. Although this site contains references to scientific topics particularity in the field of physics there are some historical links. The Cleopatra site provides basic information on the Egyptian Queen and also provides links to some unconventional Cleopatra websites which deal with topics such as her beauty and costume wear. One plus of this site is the lists of resources Lahanas makes available. He lists literature, films, television specials, and art which showcase Cleopatra. This site doesn’t provide any unique information on Cleopatra besides the lists of resources.
Lindsay, Jack. Cleopatra. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1970.
Lindsay, a historian and author of over one hundred books, provides a biography that concentrates on the goals, desires and achievements of Cleopatra. The author describes Cleopatra as the quintessential woman who used her charm to induce both Caesar and Antony. This secondary source investigates her Mediterranean heritage and refutes the idea that she came from black African decent. This work is an excellent resource for biographical information on Cleopatra, and it has a vast amount of information and avoids focusing too much on one aspect of her life.
Sypniewski, Maggie. “Cleopatra VII.” Ancient Egypt. (2001) <http://www.angelfire.com/mi3/eric260b/cleo.html>
(3 January 2008).
This site provides a historical background of ancient Egypt with pages dedicated to specific topics such as Cleopatra. The Cleopatra page has a bust of her from 50 B.C., and a biography is also provided. This biography contains information on her ancestors as well as the children she gave birth to. There is also a link to a web page dedicated to Cleopatra and Hollywood, which provides photographs of the actresses who portrayed Cleopatra. I would recommend this site for anyone interested in ancient Egypt.
“The Lost World of Cleopatra.” Current Events. January 1999, 1-5.
This article explains the discovery of Cleopatra’s sunken palace off the coast of Alexandria by a team of explorers headed by Frank Goddio a member of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology. This article also gives a brief description of Cleopatra and discusses such topics as her Greek heritage, her relationships with Caesar and Marc Antony, and her death. The article ends with Goddio explaining his desire of setting up an underwater museum highlighting Cleopatra’s reign.
Volkman, Hans. Cleopatra: A Study in Politics and Propaganda. Translated by T.J. Cerdoux. London: Elek Books Limited, 1953.
Volkman, a former professor at the University of Cologne focuses on Cleopatra’s relationships with Caesar and Marc Antony, and how they affected her Egyptian Kingdom. Cleopatra is portrayed as a cunning ruler who realized that her country’s survival depended on the personal relationships she formed with the male rulers of Rome. Egypt is described as a country that had a legitimate fear with the shadow of Rome hovering over it. This secondary source provides important information on the political aspect of Cleopatra’s reign and would be valuable to any researcher investigating her relationship with Caesar and Antony.
Walker, Susan. “Cleopatra: From History to Myth.” History Today. April 2001, 6-8.
This article focuses on the reign of Cleopatra as Queen of Egypt and the historical significance of her rule. It also provides biographical information as well as the negative depiction of Cleopatra in Rome as a cunning seductress. The article also contains a picture of a bronze etching portraying her as a Hellenistic Greek Queen.
Weigell, Arthur. The Life and Times of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924.
Weigell, the former Inspector General of Antiquities for the government of Egypt provides an impartial view on Cleopatra offering both the good and the bad of the former Queen of Egypt. The author shows Cleopatra as both a politician and a person who at times could be brilliant and charming, but also cunning and ruthless. Like most books on Cleopatra, her relationships with Caesar and Marc Antony are highlighted. This secondary source provides numerous maps and portraits, but offers no bibliography. Although Weigell was an expert in the study of Egypt, the lack of a bibliography calls for caution in regards to this work.
Original by Jonathan Grochowski in 2005
Last Revision: 3 January 2008
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