Cleopatra was the last person to rule ancient Egypt as a pharaoh. She is famed for her intellect and beauty, as well as her love affairs with Mark Antony and Julius Caesar (Weigall 16). Following the death of her father, she became the queen of Egypt in 51 BC. Cleopatra was born around 69 BC and got married when she was 18 years old in 51 BC. She married her brother as was the custom of the time and together they ruled Egypt (de Moura 712). Soon after the Roman empire was embroiled in a civil war, Julius Caesar visited Egypt and fell in love with Cleopatra. This study explores the life and rule of Cleopatra, her marriage, and the impact of her leadership in Egypt.
Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a royal family that ruled Egypt during the Hellenistic period of Ancient Egypt. She was an exceptional Egyptian leader because unlike her predecessors who never wanted to learn or speak Egyptian, she learned the Egyptian language and represented herself as the reincarnation of an Egyptian Goddess (Gillett 19). In the Roman Civil war, Cleopatra sided with Caesarean party because of her past encounter with Julius Caesar. She became Caesar’s mistress and gave birth to her firstborn son Ptolemy Caesar. Consequently, Caesar backed Cleopatra’s claim to the throne by canceling his plans to annex Egypt. Caesar met Cleopatra when she was only 21 years old, and he was 52. However, the two remained lovers during Caesar’s stay in Egypt between 48 BC and 47 BC. For some time, Cleopatra’s reign brought relative stability, peace, and prosperity to the region and in Egypt, a country that was bankrupt due to civil war. After Julius Caesar was assassinated, there was a great struggle of power between his adopted son, Octavian, and Mark Antony (Weigall 18). Moreover, Mark Antony began a relationship with Cleopatra despite being married to Octavian’s sister and bore three children.
The antagonism exacerbated into a civil war in 31 BC, and Mark Antony joined forces with Cleopatra and the Roman forces and fought Octavian on the west coast of Greece. However, Mark Antony and Cleopatra were defeated in battle and escaped back to Egypt (Silver 22). Cleopatra’s path to the throne was already blocked by many obstacles because the Egyptian law stated that a male such a son or a brother could consort the queen and rule. Moreover, the queen could not make solid decisions and had little to no power (Gillett 21). Consequently, after she got to the throne, Cleopatra ordered for her brother’s death after which her son became a puppet ruler. Cleopatra controlled her son although he appeared to be the one ruling. However, people knew what was going on although there was nothing they could do about it. As the first woman pharaoh, Cleopatra had gained substantial power (Silver 23).
Egyptians did not accept Cleopatra as their leader because she violated essential traditions, albeit legally. Women in the ancient times did not have so much power and rights to have any authority, especially to rule a country (Tomkinsa 14). Additionally, Cleopatra’s reign came at a time when the modern day equality between men and women was rare and the entire world believed that she was not fit to rule Egypt. By ruling Egypt, she went against her country’s laws and yet she became a popular and successful leader (de Moura 714). Cleopatra was an outstanding woman in that she was able to lure Julius Caesar into marriage which was mutually beneficial to both Egypt and the Roman Empire.
Cleopatra also faced another significant problem, which was the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire under the rule of Julius Caesar was keen on taking Egypt as part of its extensive empire because the farmland located along the Nile could provide sufficient food supply to the Roman army (Weigall 19). Consequently, the Roman Empire was strong for Cleopatra, and since she had no military muscle to fight Julius Caesar, she presented herself to him supposedly naked as a peace gift. Eventually, she succeeded to appease Caesar and Rome made peace with Egypt after Cleopatra married Caesar. The implications of the association were immense for both Egypt and Rome because they both had access to resources of precious metal and food supplies (Richards 46). Additionally, Egypt received significant protection from Roman soldiers and made them safe from enemy invasion. Moreover, Rome allowed Egypt to retain its culture and way of life as a result of Cleopatra’s intelligence.
Many scholars such as de Moura spoke about the mystique of Cleopatra’s allure and beauty, which was rare, and even appeared on the Egyptian coins (714). Cleopatra’s knowledge of the Egyptian language can be accepted as a historical fact because of her dealings with Arabs, Syrians, and the Hebrews. Additionally, Cleopatra had a vast knowledge of different foreign languages, which she used in foreign diplomacy and trade transactions. Cleopatra accomplished many things that are still remembered long after her death. Moreover, during her reign, many poets and writers wrote about her rule and love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Modern filmmakers and modern scholars have also accounted for her stories, which are inspirational especially to the women in contemporary society (Richards 48). Not everything written about Cleopatra is certain because there is great controversy over what exactly caused her death and the way it occurred. Some scholars and historians such as Silver argue that she poisoned herself with a cobra’s venom (25). Others believe that she used a mixture of hemlock and opium to poison herself painlessly.
Cleopatra is the most known pharaoh of ancient Egypt because she rose from an unpopular background and changed to become a great queen that the whole world admires. Moreover, she was the only woman to ever rule Egypt and the first and last of her kind. By marrying Julius Caesar, she was able to halt the Roman Empire’s conquest of Africa, and to this day, she is remembered for her deeds in life as the queen of Egypt. Arguably, Cleopatra was one of the greatest pharaohs and maybe even the greatest of all queens. She had a strong urge of understanding religion and the Egyptian religious context because she realized that religion was one of the bonds that united Egyptians and created a bond with the land regarding the people having a focal point in the temples of worship. Therefore, Cleopatra was aware that by controlling religion, she would easily control the Egyptian people with little opposition. Some scholars say that both Cleopatra and Mark Antony committed suicide after they were defeated in battle by their Brother Octavian.
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Silver, Carly. “Did Descendants of Cleopatra VII Survive and Produce the Legendary Queen Zenobia of Palmyra?” (2016). Pp 21-46
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