Historical Investigation

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Historical Investigation – Cleopatra

Amid the splendor of mighty pyramids and mystic sphinxes a baby girl was born. She would be remembered throughout history as Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Cleopatra came to the throne at ripe age of 17 years of age, this would not only have an impact on her homeland of Egypt, but a far wider and dramatic effect on the Roman Empire as well.

Historical Context

Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great's death during the Hellenistic period. Cleopatra was regent during the time of the Roman Civil between the Caesarian party led by Mark Antony and Octavian and their opponents the assassins of Caesar took place. During this time period the Roman Empire conquered large areas and established military bases. Cassius also wanted to invade Egypt to seize the reassures of that country and to punish Cleopatra. At this time Egypt was also considered an easy target, as it did not have strong land forces, there was famine and an epidemic disease with symptoms similar to the plague. Egypt was economically crumbling.

Cleopatra gained the throne in a time when Rome was conquering city after city. Rome was slowly approaching their invasion on Egypt and its hierarchy was falling to pieces, politically Egypt was loosing its influence on the world. Towards the end of Cleopatra’s Reign around 30BC during the Roman Civil war, there was pressure on the economy from the war and due to this the economy was rapidly dissipating, resulting in Egypt being in strife.

Background

Cleopatra (born Cleopatra VII Philopator) was born 69 B.C.E in Alexandria, Egypt (Figure 1) and was the last ruler of Egypt from the house of the Ptolemy, a family that had ruled Egypt for over 100 years. Cleopatra was the third daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, a family that could be traced back to the Macedonian House of Lagid Ptolemeis, who took the throne after the death of Alexander the Great. Her mother was Cleopatra VI.

Figure 1.

Nicolaus of Damascus, a Syrian historian reported that Cleopatra had three sisters and two younger brothers. Both of her brothers ruled Egypt with Cleopatra before their early deaths, Ptolemy XIII drowning during a fight with Caesar and Cleopatra killing Ptolemy XIV herself. Cleopatra learned her political lessons from her father and much like those that ruled before Ptolemy XII, their court was plagued with violence and corruption.

Growing up in this environment, part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, she grew up to be ruthless, cunning and was able to govern at a very early age. She was also the only one of her line to speak the native Egyptian language along with nine others including Greek fluently, which ensured her popularity among Alexandrians. When Ptolemy XII Auletes died, he willed the throne to two of his children, Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII. Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII Philopator co-ruled together for a while. The minister of Cleopatra’s 10-year-old brother found him much easier to control than her, and as a result, Cleopatra was exiled from Egypt in 48 B.C.E.

Significance

Cleopatra is of great historical significant for a variety of reasons. She was one of the few female pharaohs to rule in ancient Egyptian history, she achieved this through utilizing her charm and shrewdness to lure important men into forming political alliances with her, which resulted in marriages and children with two of the most significant men of that time period, Caesar and Antony.

When Caesar arrived in Alexandria after the Battle of Pharsalus, she ceased the opportunity to use him to help her regain the throne through Julius anger towards Ptolemy. Once she had fumbled across this idea she had herself smuggled into his palace to meet with him in a rug. Cleopatra and Caesar’s relationship grew due to their mutual longing for power and money, Caesar wanted the riches found in Cleopatra’s court,...
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