The Last Queen

Cleopatra is one of the most revered Pharaoh's of all time, but how much do we know of the Egyptian Queen and her ill-fated reign. 

Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae, by Frederick Arthur Bridgman

Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae, by Frederick Arthur Bridgman

Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII) was the last Pharaoh of Egypt to rule in their own right, but she did not descend from the Egyptian line, she was a direct descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, who was a General in Alexander the Great's Macedon army. Ptolemy became ruler of Egypt several years after Alexander's death and founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt (305 BC - 30 BC). Cleopatra was born in 69 BC in Alexandria, Egypt.

Cleopatra's father (Ptolemy XII Auletes) ruled Egypt in a precarious time when his kingdom was falling to invading forces. When Cleopatra was young her father took her to Rome to gain military assistance for Ptolemy to take back and protect Alexandria. While they were out of the country, Cleopatra's older sister (Cleopatra VI Tryphaena) seized the throne. Tryphaena had been cultivating power for some time and seized her opportunity.

Tryphaena's reign lasted less than a year as she died under suspicious circumstances, which led to Cleopatra's other sister (Berenice IV) of Egypt taking over and opposing her father, although most suspect that it was Berenice that killed Tryphaena.

When Ptolemy returned to Egypt in 55 BC he took back Egypt with his Roman support and removed Berenice from power. He had Berenice arrested and executed. This led 14 year old Cleopatra to become deputy ruler of Egypt under her father. Ptolemy died in 51 BC naming a then 18 year old Cleopatra, and her 10 year old brother (Ptolemy XIII) joint rulers of Egypt.

Cleopatra and Caesar, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Cleopatra and Caesar, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Cleopatra and her Brother (to whom she was married to), had a bitter relationship, with constant debate arising for the dominant rule.  The Roman Legion who had stayed in Rome to protect Ptolemy (called the Gabiniani), soon were at odds with Cleopatra, especially after the Gabiniani murdered the sons of the Syrian Roman Governor. Cleopatra wasted no time in handing the culprits over to the Roman Governor for punishment, this led the Gabiniani to declare war upon Cleopatra. Cleopatra's brother used this to his advantage, and in 48 BC, aided by his regent and guardians, removed Cleopatra from power to become the sole ruler of the kingdom. Cleopatra tried to mount resistance amongst in the people in Lower Egypt, but she soon had to flee with her only remaining sister (Arsinoe).

When Roman Emperor Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC, the young Ptolemy presented Caesar with the decapitated head of Pompey (Roman politician and Caesar's main political enemy), thinking it would build an alliance between Egypt and Rome. What Ptolemy didn’t know was that Pompey was a widower to Caesar's only daughter despite being political enemies. Caesar swiftly let his fury be known by seizing the Egyptian capital until the rightful ruler could be determined (considering Cleopatra was still in exile).

Cleopatra used this to her advantage and sneaked herself into Caesar's quarters rolled up in a rug, it wasn’t long before she became Caesar's mistress and gave birth to Caesar's son (Ptolemy Caesar) nine months after their first meeting. It was no surprise that Caesar backed Cleopatra's claim to the throne, although Caesar refused to acknowledge their son as his heir, naming his grandnephew Octavian instead.

At the time Ptolemy had raised his army and laid siege to Alexandria surrounding the Roman forces, but Caesar's forces won out in the Battle of the Nile, which claimed the life of Ptolemy. With Ptolemy dead, Caesar restored Cleopatra to the throne, ruling alongside her young brother(Ptolemy XIV). Caesar went back to Rome not long after but left several Legions of Roman soldiers in Alexandria to assist Cleopatra.

The Roman's got their first glimpse of Caesar's Egyptian mistress in 46 BC when Cleopatra, her brother, and her son traveled to Rome. It was only a few years later that Caesar met his fateful end when he was ambushed by 60 assassins in the Roman Senate and stabbed to death, a plot led by conspirators Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus. With news of Caesar's death, Cleopatra and her family went back to Egypt. Not long after returning to Egypt, Cleopatra's brother Ptolemy XIV died (possibly killed by Cleopatra), and Cleopatra's son (Ptolemy Caesar) became co-ruler.

Death of Cleopatra, by Juan Luna

Death of Cleopatra, by Juan Luna

After the assassination of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius went out east to raise armies to take back Rome (considering public opinion had swayed against them for murdering Caesar). They raised a massive army but were constantly resisted by Caesarian forces (led by Octavian and Roman General Mark Antony) in what developed as the Roman Civil War.

Cleopatra sided with the Caesarian's in the conflict, and made allegiances with the Caesarian commander in the East (Publius Cornelius Dolabella), that was until Dolabella was surrounded by Cassius's forces and committed suicide.

Cleopatra was eager to help the Caesarian's in their conflict, but at the same time Cassius had designs on conquering Egypt. Cassius' was unable to mount an invasion of Egypt but used his forces to block Cleopatra's ability to join up with Caesarian forces. The blockade didn’t dissuade Cleopatra as her fleet made to Greece before a violent storm caused great damage to fleet, all the while she became quite ill, and she had to return back to Egypt.

Following Caesar's death in Rome in 43 AD, it was a relatively leaderless state until the Second Triumvirate was created, establishing Mark Antony, Octavian, and Marcus Lepidus (Roman nobleman and military commander) as joint leaders of Rome.

In 41 BC Antony ordered Cleopatra to Rome to answer questions about loyalties in the Roman conflict. It wasn’t long before Cleopatra worked her charm on Antony, and soon after Antony went to spend some time with Cleopatra in Egypt. At this time Cleopatra convinced Antony to execute her only remaining sibling who was in exile (Arsinoe), leaving only her son as true successor. By 40 BC Cleopatra had given Antony two children, although Antony was back in Rome.

Cleopatra and Octavian, by Louis Gauffier 

Cleopatra and Octavian, by Louis Gauffier 

In 36 BC, Antony went back to visit Cleopatra, and while there he married Cleopatra, had another child with Cleopatra, and settled in Alexandria. By 34 BC Antony had made further conquests in the East, and Antony and Cleopatra gave rule of certain Roman provinces to each of their children, mainly the provinces of Cyprus, Armenia, Media (North Iran), Parthia (North East Iran), Cilicia (South East Turkey), Libya, and Phoenicia (Lebanon).

The Roman's were wary of the power that Cleopatra was assuming throughout the Roman Empire with assistance of Antony, and the relationship between Octavian and Antony and become quite sour, which led Octavian to convince the Roman senate to take action against Antony, Cleopatra and the Egyptian kingdom.

In 31 BC, the Roman forces led by Octavian met with Antony's and Cleopatra's forces at Actium in Greece, a battle which involved over 750 warships doing battle. As the battle raged throughout the night, Octavian finally got the upper hand and had convincingly defeated Antony's forces, but not before Antony and Cleopatra could abandon their respective fleet's and escape. The remaining crew of the ships left behind surrendered to Octavian, and Antony's ground forces deserted not long after.

A year later Octavian arrived at Alexandria to inflict further defeats upon Antony and Cleopatra, and Alexandria fell to the Romans, at the time Cleopatra had locked herself away in her own mausoleum.

A messenger arrived to inform Antony that Cleopatra was dead and he proceeded to commit suicide by stabbing himself with his sword, but he didn’t die instantly. Another messenger arrived soon after to advise Antony that Cleopatra was in fact alive. Antony was carried to Cleopatra where he died in her arms.

When Octavian arrived Cleopatra tried to charm him, but when they didn’t work she committed suicide rather than subject to his rule, she is suspected to have killed herself with the bite of an Egyptian Asp.

It wasn’t long after Cleopatra's death that her son (Ptolemy Caesar)  was named Pharaoh by the Egyptians. Octavian swiftly killed him leaving himself as Julius Caesar's only heir. He swiftly annexed Egypt into the Roman Empire which ended the final dynasty of the Egyptian Empire and the line of the Egyptian Pharaoh's.

Several years later Octavian was giving the title Augustus by the Roman Senate and declared the first Emperor of the Roman Empire.