The Life of Cleopatra

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Several queens of Egypt in the Ptolemaic line of rule, which started around 323 B.C. by Ptolemy I Soter (a general of Alexander the Great), were named Cleopatra. The one most people are familiar with, and the center of movies such as 1963's Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor (the highest grossing film that year) is the daughter of Ptolemy XIII. Her full name is Cleopatra VII Philopator and she was born in January of 69 B.C.

Cleopatra assumed the throne at the age of seventeen, ruling jointly with her father (Ptolemy XII Auletes) and then with her two brothers. She holds the distinction of being the last Ptolemaic (and Hellenistic) ruler of Egypt's empire. She is also the empire's only Hellenistic ruler who took the time to learn the Egyptian language.

Statue of Cleopatra

Around 48 B.C. Cleopatra lost her royal authority to her brother. Deprived of royal privilages she withdrew into Syria and made preparations to recover her rights by force of arms. When Julius Caesar followed Pompey into Egypt she induced Caesar to undertake a war on her behalf.

In Rome the Queen lived openly with Caesar as his mistress and was restored to her throne. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., aware of her unpopularity, she returned to Egypt. It is believed Caesar's only known son, Caesarion, was produced through his liaison with the queen.

Map of the Egyptian Empire

Map of Alexander the Great's Empire

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After the assassination of Caesar Mark Antony, a Roman politician and general, helped form what is called Rome's Second Triumvirate with Octavian and Marcus Lepidus. This three-man dictatorship soon defeated, at the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C., those who had Caesar murdered. The three men divided the responsibilities of rule amongst themselves, with Antony assigned the empire's eastern provinces which included the client state of Egypt. Cleopatra soon became Antony's mistress and the couple eventually had three children. The Triumvirate broke apart in 33 B.C. Rome's Senate declared Antony a traitor and proclaimed a war against the Queen. In 31 B.C. Antony and Cleopatra's forces were defeated by Octavian at the battle of Actium. The couple soon fled to Egypt where Antony committed suicide.

Unable to ingratiate herself with Octavian (who assumed the title Augustus and became Rome's first emperor), Cleopatra committed suicide in August of 30 B.C. The Roman empire which Egypt succumbed to became the backdrop against which the savior of the world, Jesus Christ, would be born as a flesh and blood human in the fall of 5 B.C. It was a Roman appointed King named Herod the Great who ordered the death of all children two years old or younger in an attempt to kill baby Jesus.

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