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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Cleopatra - Last of pharaoh of Egypt

Last of the pharaohs - Cleopatra
During the time of the Roman Empire, Egypt was ruled by pharaohs of Ancient Greek origin. This came about because of Alexander the Great during the Hellenistic period. This was some three hundred years plus before the time Queen Cleopatra came to the throne of Egypt. In western culture she is iconic because European bards and story tellers revere her. She was meant to be a great beauty of a woman, though some historians try to say this is an over inflated thing.

I think Cleopatra must have been a lady of great virtue, combined with the attentions of her very best servants. This was so she could present herself as an iconic queen before high dignitaries from other lands. Rome’s Julius Caesar fell to her spell and the power he could fuse with an alliance to the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt. Later, Mark Anthony would follow in Caesar’s footsteps and the greatest of all Greek tragedies would ensue.


All of the Ptolemaic pharaohs spoke Greek and not Egyptian – they were a ruling class above the common Egyptians – similar to the way the Norman kings of England spoke French while the common Anglo-Saxon spoke English. However, Cleopatra also spoke Egyptian as well as her first language of Greek. Many of the historical scrolls of her time are in both the languages.

What I have mentioned above are the parts that stimulate the interest of the western culture – the rank and file of us average plebs. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, but more a general view. This is because Cleopatra was caught up in a game of super power political intrigue that rocked the foundations of history, until this day and will continue long after us readers are gone. Her echo is in eternity as the last Egyptian pharaoh.

Her real title is Queen Cleopatra VII and she lived from 69 BC until 30 BC and was between thirty eight and thirty nine when she died. To her Egyptian people, she tried to present herself as a reincarnation of the Goddess, Isis.

 Her first taste of power came when she ruled with her father Ptolemy XII. After she would co-rule with her brothers; Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV and would be married to them as was Egyptian custom.

She was forced to flee to Syria in 51 BC, when her younger brother Ptolemy XIII acquired the aid of a regent eunuch, Porthinus to usurp her and become sole ruler. In Syria, Cleopatra was able to raise forces to combat her younger brother Ptolemy XIII and the eunuch Porthinus. A civil war ensued putting Egypt into confusion. Rome was unable to intervene because of her own internal strife.

Julius Caesar had returned to Rome prior to Cleopatra’s plight. He had brought his victorious army back from Gaul into Italy. He was attempting to usurp Rome of its corrupt Senators – wanting to bring them under the rule of a dictator. This dictator was to be himself, but the senators fled Rome and began a war of civil resistance led by a man called Pompey. Julius Caesar managed to route the resisters and chased them into Greece. Many surrendered, but Pompey fled to Egypt – one of the furthest corners of the Roman Empire in 48 BC.

At this time, Egypt was under the rule of the adolescent teenager Ptolemy XIII and the eunuch Porthinus and had been trying to defeat Cleopatra for three years. They received the fugitive Pompey from the Roman Republic but knew Julius Caesar and his forces would follow with ambitions of taking Pompey back to Rome. To avoid upsetting the new Roman Empire that Julius Caesar was fashioning they decided to kill Pompey and present his head to Caesar upon arrival in the port of Alexandria in Egypt.

This was a terrible error of judgement on the part of Porthinus (regent eunuch). The action did not please Julius Caesar as Porthinus had advised Ptolemy XIII it would. It disgusted the Roman general and it resulted in the execution of the eunuch regent Porthinus.

Cleopatra was able to return to the Egyptian court and make a dramatic entry before Julius Caesar. The joint rule status was resumed under proclamation of Caesar’s Rome. In quick time Cleopatra was able to win over the Roman General, Julius Caesar – forming an alliance of love. She fell pregnant with his child and gave birth in 47 BC. Cleopatra was twenty one years of age while Julius Caesar was fifty two.

Young Ptolemy would not accept this new twist of fate and tried to raise an army of rebellion. Fighting broke out in Alexandria. Many buildings were destroyed including the revered library of Alexandria. The forces loyal to Cleopatra and Rome’s small highly trained army were able to inflict a defeat upon Ptolemy XIII. He drowned in the Nile when his forces retreated across the river. It is probable that the young pharaoh was killed by foul means, though no one knows for sure.

Cleopatra then became joint ruler of Egypt with her very young brother Ptolemy XIV and gave birth to a baby son called Caesarion by Julius Caesar. The name Caesarion meant ‘Little Caesar’ and the pharaoh queen had an heir to Egypt and Rome, once Julius Caesar proclaimed himself Emperor. This, of course, did not happen and the wheels of fate took a new turn.

Cleopatra’s youngest brother Ptolemy XIV did not live for long and vanished from the records. He died when Julius Caesar went back in Rome or at least just after Caesar’s famous assassination by a league of Senators led by Brutus and Cassius. From this, all manner of political dilemma and intrigue came about in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar had named his nephew Octavianus as his successor but hey had to defeat the supporters of the old Republic led by Brutus and Cassius. Octavianus would become Augustus (First Emperor of Rome)

After a time, this was done, but it caused all sorts of divisions. One of Octavianus’ supporters, Lepidus went to rule Spain and North Africa, while Mark Anthony, who was married to Octavia Minor (Octavianus’ sister) went to Egypt to rule this part of the Roman Empire. Once in Egypt, he also fell under the spell of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, just as his leader Julius Caesar had done.

Mark Anthony had Cleopatra’s half-sister Arsinoe, executed on temple steps in Rome so she could not pose a threat to the pharaoh queen. Arsinoe had been captured previously during Ptolemy XIII failed attempt to battle Julius Caesar’s forces in Alexandria. She had been brought back to Rome when the late Julius Caesar returned in triumph from Egypt shortly before his assassination.


For much of the time Cleopatra and Mark Anthony attained a celebrity lifestyle. He divorced his Roman wife (Octavia Minor) whom he had fathered four children by. One – the youngest daughter (Antonia Minor) would marry the son (Germanicus) of Livia Drusilla and give birth to the future fourth Emperor Claudius.

Mark Anthony and Cleopatra upset the Julian/Claudia families who ruled Rome and began to use withholding of grain exports to threaten Rome. When this information was passed down to the population of Rome, a strong feeling of anger was festered towards Cleopatra who had bewitched the popular Mark Anthony. Combined with other things, Rome’s Octavianus (Augustus) was able to get the senate to agree on war with Egypt. The first major conflict was at sea when Roman galleys clashed at the Battle of Actium. This resulted in defeat for Mark Anthony and he returned to Alexandria and committed suicide before the impending arrival of Octavianus (Augustus) Roman army.

Cleopatra followed him by committing suicide also – allowing the bite of an asp – a deadly venomous snake. Her eldest son, Caesarion by Julius Caesar was also killed. Her children by Mark Anthony were taken back to Rome and groomed to marry rulers of client kingdoms of the Empire. This was not a bad fate compared to that of young Caesarion who had claim of pharaoh and Emperor and threatened Emperor Augustus’ rule. Some historians think that Cleopatra was alive when Augustus entered the pharaoh queens palace and that the first emperor of Rome had her killed. This is possible, though it also has to be said that Rome liked to take its powerful enemies back to Rome and paraded before the mob then publicly garroted in ceremony. If so, would Cleopatra prefer to take her own life?

With Cleopatra, the rule of the ancient pharaohs died out and the nation was annexed for Roman rule.
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