Cleopatra VII: The Life and Death of a Pharaoh
Cleopatra was born to Ptolemy XII (or Autles) and his sister Cleopatra Tryphaena in 69 B.C. She was one of six children-Cleopatra VI (who disappeared sometime between 58 B.C.- 55B.C.), Berenice IV, Ptolemy XIII, Ptolemy XIV, and Arsinöe IV.
Though born a member of Egyptian royalty, she was Greek and Macedonian by blood. She and her siblings were well learned from the library in Alexandria, despite custom that women should not be educated. She spoke nine languages, and was the only individual in her family who could speak Egyptian.
In 58 B.C., the Egyptians unfavorable opinion of Ptolemy XII became violent, and he fled to Rome with Arsinöe and Cleopatra VII, seeking shelter and assistance from Pompey, a member of Rome’s Triumvirate. During this interval, his daughter Berenice seized the throne. Extreme and Tyrannical, the Egyptians dislike her even more than they had her father. Very little opposition was met three years later when Ptolemy returned with the support of Pompey. Berenice was beheaded in 55 B.C., alone and abhorred.
Ptolemy ruled Egypt until his death in 51 B.C. He had given much thought as to who his successor might be, and believed that Cleopatra had the charm and intelligence needed to rule the country. However, a queen could not rule alone in ancient Egypt- she was named co-ruler with her then ten-year-old brother Ptolemy XII. Pompey was to supervise the entire matter.
Though he was regarded as primary ruler, Cleopatra was determined to have the upper hand. She removed her brother’s name from official documents and ordered that the coinage bear her profile. Pompey became concerned with her ambitiousness and convinced Ptolemy XIII to overthrow Cleopatra and take full control of the throne. Cleopatra fled to Syria in September of 48 B.C., in hopes of building an army strong enough to restore her throne.
Earlier in the year, Pompey had been fighting a civil war with Caesar after Rome’s ruling Triumvirate had come to an end. Pompey lost the war after Caesar won in Pharsalia and Greece. Theodotus, Achillas, and Ponthius, Ptolemy’s advisors, did not want him to be connected in any way to the loser of this war. When Pompey landed in Egypt, they immediately seized and beheaded him. His head was sent to Caesar, in an attempt to somehow solidify an alliance between him and Ptolemy. Caesar, upon receiving this “gift” became appalled and extremely angry. He and Pompey had their differences, but it was the death of Caesar’s daughter and Pompey’s wife Julia that had brought them closer together. Caesar, bitter and angry, stayed in Egypt to collect money Autles had owed him.
While Caesar was in Egypt, he saw the state of affairs the monarchy was in and decided that a unified Egypt would make an excellent ally. He summoned Cleopatra and her younger brother to the palace to reconcile them. Cleopatra, however, was anxious, because she would have to pass through Achillas’ army in order to reach the palace, which meant a certain death for her. After careful planning, she decided to have her loyal friend Apollodorus, a merchant from Sicily, wrap her in a beautiful Persian rug and deliver her to Caesar himself. He dressed as a servant and brought her into Caesar’s chambers. When the rug was unrolled, the Queen of Egypt tumbled out before him. Fascinated by her cleverness and awestruck with her boldness, Cleopatra soon became his newest lover.
Caesar backed Cleopatra’s claim to the throne and ordered a startled Ptolemy to make amends with his sister and rule Egypt jointly. Achillas realized that Caesar would never leave Egypt unless he were defeated and driven back to Rome. Acting on this thought, he sent 20,000 men to march upon Alexandria. When the Egyptian people saw that Caesar was not only trapped in the city, but also in the palace, they rioted fiercely against Roman soldiers. Caesar kept close watch on the remaining royal family.
Arsinöe, convinced Caesar...
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