The Real Cleopatra

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Cleopatra

Cleopatra knew what she wanted, and how to get it. Her legendary status as one of the most notorious leaders in ancient history is well deserved.

Cleopatra was not Roman. She was not Egyptian, either. And she definitely was not Elizabeth Taylor. Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, and the last Greek ruler of Egypt. The Ptolemaic dynasty began with Ptolemy, a general under Alexander the Great appointed governor of the region after the death of the legendary conqueror. Ptolemy took his new job and ran with it, eventually declaring himself King of Egypt. The Egyptians eventually yielded to the fact that this new dynasty would succeed the great line of Pharoahs (more than likely, the Egyptians were accepting because the Ptolemies embraced the Egyptian culture). Obviously, pomp and self-centered ambition were a family trait.

Not renowned for her physical attributes, the things that made her irresistible to her male counterparts were her ambition, her charm, and her intellect. These qualities were what helped to influence the change of tides from Roman Republic to Roman Empire. These qualities also facilitated the end of the independence of Egypt. Cleopatra fought to protect her beloved Egypt through strategic sexual conquests that she hoped would ensure the presence of her bloodline on the throne of Egypt for generations, as well as keep Egypt independent. Though not a Roman woman, Cleopatra’s foothold in Roman history is undeniable. She is a fascinating subject to study in the realm of women’s history, as well as Roman history, because she encapsulates the cunning and ruthlessness of the legendary military leaders, and does not follow the traditional role of a woman of her time. Though she was a concubine, she was not a sexual slave. Though she was a wife, she was certainly not subservient. She was strong, intellectual, and characteristically masculine in her transactions.

Unlike many women of her day, Cleopatra was an avid intellectual. She knew many languages, including Latin and Egyptian, and scarcely needed a translator in her diplomatic dealings. She was also cunning in her plans to keep her beloved Egypt for herself and maybe even her fellow Egyptians, and out of the hands of the ever-growing Roman Republic. Though exiled by her co-ruler brother, Ptolemy XIII (due to her underhanded deceptions in trying to force him off the joint throne), she had a grand plan, and it’s execution coincided perfectly with the arrival of the legendary Julius Caesar to Egypt.

In order to make nice with Caesar, Cleopatra had herself rolled in a carpet, and presented as an offering to him. This seductive and attention getting move was brilliant in captivating the heart of the General. Within a year of this fated meeting, Cleopatra had given birth to Caesar’s son, Caesarion, as well as found a way to rid Egypt and herself of the pesky burden that was her brother, and set into motion her plan to hold on to Egypt. Cleopatra, who just as her Roman lover considered himself derived from the Roman goddess Venus, considered herself the Egyptian Goddess Isis in human form. This hubris was not unusual for rulers of the age, and probably contributed to her brazen ambition.

Following the birth of their son, Caesar took Cleopatra and Caesarion to live with him in Rome. Living in Rome was probably not easy for Cleopatra, as the Roman citizens grew to dislike her immensely, most likely compounded by the placing of a statue of herself in the temple of Venus. Consequently, a chain of events began that would alter the course of Roman history forever. For on the Ides of March, 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated.