Cleopatra VII Philopator (Late 69 BC – August 12, 30 BC) was the last pharaoh of Ancient
She was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of
Greek origin that ruled Egypt after
Macedonian Alexander's death during the Hellenistic period. The Ptolemies, throughout their dynasty, spoke Greek and refused to speak
Egyptian, which is the reason that Greek as well as Egyptian languages were used on official court documents such as the Rosetta Stone. By contrast, Cleopatra did learn to speak Egyptian and represented herself as the reincarnation of an Egyptian goddess, Isis.
Cleopatra originally ruled jointly with her father
Ptolemy XII Auletes and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she married as per Egyptian custom, but eventually she became sole ruler. As pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Julius
Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne. She later elevated her son with Caesar, Caesarion, to co-ruler in name.
After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, she aligned with Mark Antony in opposition to Caesar's legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (later known as
Augustus). With Antony, she bore the twins Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Her unions with her brothers produced no children. After losing the Battle of Actium to Octavian's forces, Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed suit, according to tradition killing herself by means of an asp bite on August 12, 30 BC. She was briefly outlived by Caesarion, who was declared pharaoh by his supporters, but he was soon killed on Octavian's orders. Egypt became the
Roman province of Aegyptus.
To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture. Her legacy survives in numerous works of art and the many dramatizations of her story in literature and other media, including William Shakespeare's tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, Jules Massenet's opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra. In most depictions, Cleopatra is put forward as a great beauty, and her successive conquests of the world's most powerful men are taken as proof of her aesthetic and sexual appeal. In his Pensées, philosopher Blaise Pascal contends, evidently speaking ironically because a large nose has symbolized dominance in different periods of history, that Cleopatra's classically beautiful profile changed world history: "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed."
In August 51 BC, relations between Cleopatra and Ptolemy completely broke down. Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy's name from official documents and her face appeared alone on coins, which went against Ptolemaic tradition of female rulers being subordinate to male co-rulers. In 50 BC Cleopatra came into a serious conflict with the Gabiniani, powerful Roman troops of Aulus Gabinius who had left them in Egypt to protect Ptolemy XII after his restoration to the throne in 55 BC. The Gabiniani killed the sons of the Roman governor of
Syria, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, when they came to ask for the assistance of the Gabiniani for their father against the
Parthians. Cleopatra handed the murderers over in chains to Bibulus, whereupon the Gabiniani turned into bitter enemies of the queen. This conflict was one of the main causes of Cleopatra's fall from power shortly afterward. The sole reign of Cleopatra was finally ended by a cabal of courtiers, led by the eunuch Pothinus. In connection with a half-Greek general, Achillas, and Theodotus of Chios he overthrew her in favor of her younger brother. Now Ptolemy XIII became sole ruler in circa 48 BC.
In 41 BC, Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled
Rome in the power vacuum following Caesar's death, sent his intimate friend Quintus Dellius to Egypt. Dellius had to summon Cleopatra to Tarsus to meet Antony and answer questions about her loyalty. During the Roman civil war she allegedly had paid much money to Cassius. It seems that in reality Antony wanted Cleopatra’s promise to support his intended war against the Parthians. Cleopatra arrived in great state, and so charmed Antony that he chose to spend the winter of 41 BC–40 BC with her in
On 25 December 40 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to twins fathered by Antony, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Four years later, Antony visited Alexandria again en route to make war with the Parthians. He renewed his relationship with Cleopatra, and from this point on, Alexandria was his home. He married Cleopatra according to the Egyptian rite (a letter quoted in Suetonius suggests this), although he was at the time married to Octavia Minor, sister of his fellow triumvir Octavian. He and Cleopatra had another child, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
At the Donations of Alexandria in late 34 BC, following Antony's conquest of
Armenia, Cleopatra and Caesarion were crowned co-rulers of Egypt and
Cyprus; Alexander Helios was crowned ruler of Armenia,
Media, and Parthia; Cleopatra Selene II was crowned ruler of Cyrenaica and
Libya; and Ptolemy Philadelphus was crowned ruler of
Phoenicia, Syria, and
Cilicia. Cleopatra was also given the title of "Queen of Kings" by Antonius. Her enemies in Rome feared that Cleopatra, "...was planning a war of revenge that was to array all the East against Rome, establish herself as empress of the world at Rome, cast justice from Capitolium, and inaugurate a new universal kingdom." Caesarion was not only elevated having coregency with Cleopatra, but also proclaimed with many titles, including god, son of god and king of kings, and was depicted as Horus. Egyptians thought Cleopatra was a reincarnation of the goddess Isis, as she called herself Nea Isis.