Daughter of the Pharaoh
Cleopatra VII was born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria, which was then the capital of Egypt. Her father was Egypt's pharaoh, Ptolemy XII, nicknamed Auletes or "Flute-Player." Cleopatra's mother was probably Auletes's sister, Cleopatra V Tryphaena. (It was commonplace for members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to marry their siblings.)
There was another Cleopatra in the family - Cleopatra VII's elder sister, Cleopatra VI. Cleopatra VII also had an older sister named Berenice; a younger sister, Arsinoe; and two younger brothers, both called Ptolemy. The family was not truly Egyptian, but Macedonian. They were descended from Ptolemy I, a general of Alexander the Great who became king of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 B.C.
Ptolemy XII was a weak and cruel ruler, and in 58 B.C. the people of Alexandria rebelled and overthrew him. He fled to Rome while his eldest daughter, Berenice, took the throne. She married a cousin but soon had him strangled so that she could marry another man, Archelaus. At some point during Berenice's three-year reign Cleopatra VI died of unknown causes. In 55 B.C. Ptolemy XII reclaimed his throne with the help of the Roman general Pompey. Berenice was beheaded (her husband was executed, as well).
Cleopatra VII was now the pharaoh's oldest child. When her father died in 51 B.C., leaving his children in Pompey's care, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII inherited the throne.
Queen of Egypt
Cleopatra was 17 or 18 when she became the queen of Egypt. She was far from beautiful, despite her glamorous image today. She is depicted on ancient coins with a long hooked nose and masculine features. Yet she was clearly a very seductive woman. She had an enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma. She was also highly intelligent. She spoke nine languages (she was the first Ptolemy pharaoh who could actually speak Egyptian!) and proved to be a shrewd politician.
In compliance with Egyptian tradition Cleopatra married her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 12 at the time. But it was a marriage of convenience only, and Ptolemy was pharaoh in name only. For three years he remained in the background while Cleopatra ruled alone.
Ptolemy's advisors - led by a eunuch named Pothinus - resented Cleopatra's independence and conspired against her. In 48 B.C. they stripped Cleopatra of her power and she was forced into exile in Syria. Her sister Arsinoe went with her.
Cleopatra and Caesar
Determined to regain her throne, Cleopatra amassed an army on Egypt's border. At this time Pompey was vying with Julius Caesar for control of the Roman Empire. After losing the battle of Pharsalos he sailed to Alexandria, pursued by Caesar, to seek Ptolemy's protection. But Ptolemy's advisors thought it would be safer to side with Caesar, and when Pompey arrived he was stabbed to death while the pharaoh watched.
Three days later Caesar reached Alexandria. Before he entered the city, Ptolemy's courtiers brought him a gift - Pompey's head. But Pompey had once been Caesar's friend, and Caesar was appalled by his brutal murder. He marched into the city, seized control of the palace, and began issuing orders. Both Ptolemy and Cleopatra were to dismiss their armies and meet with Caesar, who would settle their dispute. But Cleopatra knew that if she entered Alexandria openly, Ptolemy's henchmen would kill her. So she had herself smuggled to Caesar inside an oriental rug. When the rug was unrolled, Cleopatra tumbled out. It is said that Caesar was bewitched by her charm, and became her lover that very night.
When Ptolemy saw Caesar and Cleopatra together the next day, he was furious. He stormed out of the palace, shouting that he had been betrayed. Caesar had Ptolemy arrested, but the pharaoh's army - led by the eunuch Pothinus and Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe - laid seige to the palace.
In hopes of appeasing the attackers Caesar released Ptolemy XIII, but the Alexandrian War continued for almost six months. It ended when Pothinus was killed in battle and Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile while trying to flee. Alexandria surrendered to Caesar, who captured Arsinoe and restored Cleopatra to her throne. Cleopatra then married her brother Ptolemy XIV, who was eleven or twelve years old.
Soon after their victory Cleopatra and Caesar enjoyed a leisurely two-month cruise on the Nile. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that they would have sailed all the way to Ethiopia if Caesar's troops had agreed to follow him. Cleopatra may have become pregnant at this time. She later gave birth to a son, Ptolemy XV, called Caesarion or "Little Caesar." It has been suggested that Caesar wasn't really Caesarion's father - despite his promiscuity, Caesar had only one other child - but Caesarion strongly resembled Caesar, and Caesar acknowledged Caesarion as his son.
After the cruise Caesar returned to Rome, leaving three legions in Egypt to protect Cleopatra. A year later he invited Cleopatra to visit him in Rome. She arrived in the autumn of 46 B.C., accompanied by Caesarion and her young brother/husband, Ptolemy XIV. In September Caesar celebrated his war triumphs by parading through the streets of Rome with his prisoners, including Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe. (Caesar spared Arsinoe's life, but later Mark Antony had her killed at Cleopatra's request.)
Cleopatra lived in Caesar's villa near Rome for almost two years. Caesar showered her with gifts and titles. He even had a statue of her erected in the temple of Venus Genetrix. His fellow Romans were scandalized by his extra-marital affair (Caesar was married to a woman named Calpurnia). It was rumored that Caesar intended to pass a law allowing him to marry Cleopatra and make their son his heir. It was also rumored that Caesar - who had accepted a lifetime dictatorship and sat on a golden throne in the Senate - intended to become the king of Rome.
On March 15, 44 B.C. a crowd of conspirators surrounded Caesar at a Senate meeting and stabbed him to death. Knowing that she too was in danger, Cleopatra quickly left Rome with her entourage. Before or immediately after their return to Egypt, Ptolemy XIV died, possibly poisoned at Cleopatra's command. Cleopatra then made Caesarion her co-regent.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Caesar's assassination caused anarchy and civil war in Rome. Eventually the empire was divided among three men: Caesar's great-nephew Octavian, who later became the emperor Augustus; Marcus Lepidus; and Marcus Antonius, better known today as Mark Antony.
In 42 B.C. Mark Antony summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus (in modern-day Turkey) to question her about whether she had assisted his enemies. Cleopatra arrived in style on a barge with a gilded stern, purple sails, and silver oars. The boat was sailed by her maids, who were dressed as sea nymphs. Cleopatra herself was dressed as Venus, the goddess of love. She reclined under a gold canopy, fanned by boys in Cupid costumes.
Antony, an unsophisticated, pleasure-loving man, was impressed by this blatant display of luxury, as Cleopatra had intended. Cleopatra entertained him on her barge that night, and the next night Antony invited her to supper, hoping to outdo her in magnificence. He failed, but joked about it in his good-natured, vulgar way. Cleopatra didn't seem to mind his tasteless sense of humor - in fact, she joined right in. Like Caesar before him, Antony was enthralled. Forgetting his responsibilities, he accompanied Cleopatra to Alexandria and spent the winter with her there.
The Greek writer Plutarch wrote of Cleopatra, "Plato admits four sorts of flattery, but she had a thousand. Were Antony serious or disposed to mirth, she had at any moment some new delight or charm to meet his wishes; at every turn she was upon him, and let him escape her neither by day nor by night. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him; and when he exercised in arms, she was there to see. At night she would go rambling with him to disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant-woman, for Antony also went in servant's disguise . . . However, the Alexandrians in general liked it all well enough, and joined good-humouredly and kindly in his frolic and play."
Finally, "rousing himself from sleep, and shaking off the fumes of wine," Antony said goodbye to Cleopatra and returned to his duties as a ruler of the Roman empire. Six months later Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. It was four years before she saw their father again. During that time Antony married Octavian's half-sister, Octavia. They had three children.
In 37 B.C., while on his way to invade Parthia, Antony enjoyed another rendezvous with Cleopatra. He hurried through his military campaign and raced back to Cleopatra. From then on Alexandria was his home, and Cleopatra was his life. He married her in 36 B.C. and she gave birth to another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Meanwhile, back in Rome, Octavia remained loyal to her bigamous husband. She decided to visit Antony, and when she reached Athens she received a letter from him saying that he would meet her there. However, Cleopatra was determined to keep Antony away from his other wife. She cried and fainted and starved herself and got her way. Antony cancelled his trip, and Octavia returned home without seeing her husband.
The Roman people were disgusted by the way Antony had treated Octavia. They were also angry to hear that Cleopatra and Antony were calling themselves gods (the New Isis and the New Dionysus). Worst of all, in 34 B.C. Antony made Alexander Helios the king of Armenia, Cleopatra Selene the queen of Cyrenaica and Crete, and Ptolemy Philadelphus the king of Syria. Caesarion was proclaimed the "King of Kings," and Cleopatra was the "Queen of Kings."
Outraged, Octavian convinced the Roman Senate to declare war on Egypt. In 31 B.C. Antony's forces fought the Romans in a sea battle off the coast of Actium, Greece. Cleopatra was there with sixty ships of her own. When she saw that Antony's cumbersome, badly-manned galleys were losing to the Romans' lighter, swifter boats, she fled the scene. Antony abandoned his men to follow her. Although it is possible that they had prearranged their retreat, the Romans saw it as proof that Antony was enslaved by his love of Cleopatra, unable to think or act on his own.
For three days Antony sat alone in the prow of Cleopatra's ship, refusing to see or speak to her. They returned to Egypt, where Antony lived alone for a time, brooding, while Cleopatra prepared for an invasion by Rome. When Antony received word that his forces had surrendered at Actium and his allies had gone over to Octavian, he left his solitary home and returned to Cleopatra to party away their final days.
Cleopatra began experimenting with poisons to learn which would cause the most painless death. She also built a mausoleum to which she moved all of her gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, ebony, ivory, and other treasure.
In 30 B.C. Octavian reached Alexandria. Mark Antony marched his army out of the city to meet the enemy. He stopped on high ground to watch what he expected would be a naval battle between his fleet and the Roman fleet. Instead he saw his fleet salute the Romans with their oars and join them. At this Antony's cavalry also deserted him. His infantry was soon defeated and Antony returned to the city, shouting that Cleopatra had betrayed him. Terrified that he would harm her, Cleopatra fled to the monument that housed her treasures and locked herself in, ordering her servants to tell Antony she was dead. Believing it, Antony cried out, "Now, Antony, why delay longer? Fate has snatched away your only reason for living."
He went to his room and opened his coat, exclaiming that he would soon be with Cleopatra. He ordered a servant named Eros to kill him, but Eros killed himself instead. "Well done, Eros," Antony said, "you show your master how to do what you didn't have the heart to do yourself." Antony stabbed himself in the stomach and passed out on a couch. When he woke up he begged his servants to put him out of his misery, but they ran away. At last Cleopatra's secretary came and told him Cleopatra wanted to see him.
Overjoyed to hear Cleopatra was alive, Antony had himself carried to her mausoleum. Cleopatra was afraid to open the door because of the approach of Octavian's army, but she and her two serving women let down ropes from a window and pulled him up. Distraught, Cleopatra laid Antony on her bed and beat her breasts, calling him her lord, husband and emperor. Antony told her not to pity him, but to remember his past happiness. Then he died.
The Death of Cleopatra
When Octavian and his men reached her monument Cleopatra refused to let them in. She negotiated with them through the barred door, demanding that her kingdom be given to her children. Octavian ordered one man to keep her talking while others set up ladders and climbed through the window. When Cleopatra saw the men she pulled out a dagger and tried to stab herself, but she was disarmed and taken prisoner. Her children were also taken prisoner and were treated well.
Octavian allowed Cleopatra to arrange Antony's funeral. She buried him with royal splendor. After the funeral she took to her bed, sick with grief. She wanted to kill herself, but Octavian kept her under close guard. One day he visited her and she flung herself at his feet, nearly naked, and told him she wanted to live. Octavian was lulled into a false sense of security.
Cleopatra was determined to die - perhaps because she had lost Mark Antony, perhaps because she knew Octavian intended to humiliate her, as her sister Arsinoe had been humiliated, by marching her through Rome in chains. With Octavian's permission she visited Antony's tomb. Then she returned to her mausoleum, took a bath, and ordered a feast. While the meal was being prepared a man arrived at her monument with a basket of figs. The guards checked the basket and found nothing suspicious, so they allowed the man to deliver it to Cleopatra.
After she had eaten, Cleopatra wrote a letter, sealed it, and sent it to Octavian. He opened it and found Cleopatra's plea that he would allow her to be buried in Antony's tomb. Alarmed, Octavian sent messengers to alert her guards that Cleopatra planned to commit suicide. But it was too late. They found the 39-year old queen dead on her golden bed, with her maid Iras dying at her feet. Her other maid, Charmion, was weakly adjusting Cleopatra's crown. "Was this well done of your lady, Charmion?" one of the guards demanded.
"Extremely well," said Charmion, "as became the descendent of so many kings." And she too fell over dead.
Two pricks were found on Cleopatra's arm, and it was believed that she had allowed herself to be bitten by an asp (a kind of poisonous snake) that was smuggled in with the figs. As she had wished, she was buried beside Antony.
Cleopatra was the last pharaoh; after her death Egypt became a Roman province. Because Caesarion was Julius Caesar's son and might pose a threat to Octavian's power, Octavian had the boy strangled by his tutor. Cleopatra's other children were sent to Rome to be raised by Octavia. Cleopatra Selene married King Juba II of Mauretania and had two children, Ptolemy and Drusilla. No one knows what happened to Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus. They may have been murdered at the order of King Herod I of Judea.
Another Biography of Cleopatra VII
Cleopatra VII Philopates ("glory to her father") was a very popular name among the Ptolemy Dynasty, but the seventh was the most famous, and a legend in her time. She wasn't an Egyptian. Her bloodlines were Macedonian, Persian, and Greek. Her father was Ptolemy XII Nothos ("the Bastard"), the illegitimate son of Ptolemy XI by one of his concubines. It is said that Ptolemy XI was forced to marry his own elderly stepmother, who was also his cousin. Scholars of Egyptology also believe that her mother was Cleopatra V, the wife and sister of Ptolemy XII, and she died during Cleopatra VII's birth, or soon afterwards, of complications of childbirth.
Cleopatra's ancestry is said to connect back to Alexander the Great, who ruled Egypt in 332 B.C., and founded the city of Alexandria. After Alexander's death on June 10, 323 B.C., his staff officer, Ptolemy, declared himself him in 3-4 B.C., and called himself "Soter I" (Soter menaing savior). Ptolemy I Soter had a strong hooked nose that genetic trait of his line. Ptolemy XII Auletes ("the flute") had Soter's large nose and was Cleo's father. After her mother's death, Ptolemy married his second (unknown) wife and she gave him two sons.
By 305 B.C. Ptolemy became ruler of Egypt and founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty of twelve kings, of the same name, and Cleopatra VII. In this time, wealthy Egyptians tried to gain a Greek education and the Greeks influenced their art and architecture (A. J. Spencer, Death in Egypt. London: Penguin Books, 1991, 25). The Ptolemies continued the old Egyptian ideals and built temples to their gods, and those of Egypt. After Anthony and Cleopatra's death in 30 B.C,, Egypt came under Roman rule and they constructed monuments with Roman Emperors as Pharaoh, as in Egypt rule.
Most historians seem to agree that Cleopatra, Queen of the Egypt, was born on January 13, 69 B.C. and died, by her own hand on August 12, 30/31 B.C. (at age 39), and is buried in the royal mausoleum at the Sema at Alexandria with Marc Anthony. She was said to have been found, after her suicide, wearing a flowing gossamer veil with her jewels and ladies (Charmion and Iras)and eunuch laying around her body (also dead). There are two popular opinions (1) that she used an asp to kill herself (2) that she poisoned herself. In either case she most likely did not suffer before her death. She lay on a bed of gold, when Octavian's men broke down the door. Octavian (Caesar's heir) had denounced Mark Anthony in the Senate and in 30 B.C. he declared war on Cleopatra. Anthony and Cleopatra spent the winter in Samos, Before Cleopatra's death, Octavian told Cleo she could survive if she killed Anthony. When Cleopatra refused, Octavian had plans to kill Anthony and imprison Cleo. She tried hunger strikes and suicide, which Octavian stopped. She managed to get a message to Mark Anthony (most likely part of the plan to entrap Anthony) about her impending suicide. When Anthony got the message, he was told she was dead. He then came to her prison hoping to find a way to see her one more time. As Anthony approached her prison, in the temple, Octavian's men were waiting and Anthony was mortally wounded. Mark Anthony then found out Cleopatra was still alive and had his men use pulleys and a rope to raise his dying body up to the window in Cleo's prison. Her ladies and her pulled Anthony into the room, where she was held, and he died in her arms. At that moment, much like in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," she killed herself.
She was a woman of great legends, and it is not clear if all these legends were true. However, we do know that she married her two half-brothers, as was the way of the Ptolemy empire. She married Ptolemy XIII (who was later drowned while running from Caesar's troops)and Ptolemy XIV, then eleven (11) years old (who was later poisoned) Both of Cleopatra's younger half brothers were born to her father's second wife.
Cleopatra's first meeting with Caesar was in order to get his help - to make her brother reconcile, with her, and allow her back into Egypt from her exile. This event was the famous Cleo in a rug ploy. After this meeting Caesar was so taken with this nubile young woman of twenty-one that he had her brother drowned in the Nile River, while he was in his battle armor. He was trying to escape Caesar's forces who were descending upon he and his men.
Since Cleopatra was the wife of a boy of twelve (12), Caesar knew that she was still a virgin and that intrigued him. Julius Caesar, at this meeting, was approximately 52 years old and without an heir. Cleo bewitched Julius Caesar with her youthful appearance and impressed him with her craftiness (she engineered the murder of both her sister and brother-husband). Cleopatra had already been the Queen of Lower Egypt since age seventeen (17). Caesar saw their union as a extremely powerful and sensual experience.
Her only real love seemed to have been Julius Caesar (48-44), who she felt was her match in power and ambition. In 45 B.C. Cleopatra lived openly with Julius Caesar in Rome, and her statue was in Rome's Temple of Venus.
She had one child by Julius Caesar, Ptolemy XV Caesarion was born around 44 B.C. Caesar was killed on the Ides of March. Cleo fled Rome and headed back to Egypt, then she killed her brother, Ptolemy XIV and put her son, Ptolemy XV on the Egyptian throne. Later on, when her son's life was threatened, Cleopatra sent him to India to study, as told to us by the histories of Plutarch.
Two years after Caesar's death she found Mark Anthony (40-30 B.C.) attractive and she took him as her lover and he sired three of her children, and left his first wife Fulvia in Rome.
HER CHILDREN BY MARK ANTHONY:
(1)Alexander Helios (B: 40 B.C.)... twin of Selene.
(2) Cleopatra Selene (B: 40 B.C.)...twin of Alexander Helios
(3) Ptolemy Philadelphus (B: 36 B.C.)commisioned the Pharos of Alexandria to be built.
Mark Anthony lead a sordid life. Mark Anthony married (1) Fulvia (he was her third husband). Fulvia's first husband was named Curio, a friend of Mark Anthony's, with whom he reputedly had a homosexual relationship. Fulvio died in 40 B.C. right before Mark decided to marry Cleopatra, and thus legitimize their children in 40 B.C.
Mark Anthony then married (3) Octavia (then a widow), sister of Octavian, Julius Caesar's heir. This marriage took place as Cleopatra was giving birth to his last child, Ptolemy Philedephus, in 36 B.C.
CLEOPATRA AS A MOTHER:
Cleo had Philostratus (a philosopher) and Nicolaus (a historian) as tutors to her four children.
Cleopatra was of swathy, dark complexion, taking after her grandmother, a Seleucid, with some Persian blood. She had luxurious copper hair (most likely made that color by the use of henna). She reign from 51-49 B.C. and 48-30 B.C. (Foreman, Laura, Cleopatra's Palace: In Search of a Legend. New York: Discovery Books, 1999).
Cleopatra continued to hire thinkers, poets, and scientists to her court and she continued her own education as well, studying philosophy and traveling to other lands. Above all, Cleopatra was clever, intelligent, and politically oriented. She understood and spoke Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.
WHAT BECAME OF HER CHILDREN?:
Cleopatra's three children, by Mark Anthony, were thought to have been raised by Mark Anthony's third wife, Octavia ( Leon, Vickie, Uppity Women of Ancient Times. New York: MJF Books, 1994, 88-89) Cleopatra of Cyrene or Selene (meaning "moon") ruled from 33-31 B.C. She was Anthony and Cleo's daughter. She ruled Armenia, Media, and Parthia with her twin brother, Alexander. Octavia, sister of Octavian, arranged a marriage for this Cleopatra with Juba, King of Numidia, who was considered a gifted ruler, and she was made Queen of Mauretania, on the site of present day Morocco. They reigned for nearly 50 years and had two children. Her brother, Alexander, was made co-ruler with her. Ptolemy Phoenica was made ruler of Cilicia and Syria
BIRTH: Also shown as Born Alexandria.
DEATH: Also shown as Died suicide.
DEATH: Also shown as Died 0030 BC