Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cleopatra VII: Before Queen and Overview

Cleopatra-- the last queen of Egypt; the most famous queen in history; infamous for her relationship with Julius Caesar; known for her relationship with Mark Anthony; killed herself; "beautiful."
And often misunderstood.

First and foremost, if you observe carefully, her title "Cleopatra the seventh" is because her ancestors-- and daughter-- were also named Cleopatra. Yet, she is the only one referred to when the name "Cleopatra" is mentioned.

To note, here are some fun facts about this brilliant woman:-
She married both her brothers (very high degree of inbreeding among the Ptolemies, I'll come to that soon); not an Egyptian; not very pretty; rumoured to have a hooked nose (she might not have it because a hooked nose was also a symbol of authority in the Ptolemaic dynasty); a bit short and fat; killed her younger sister; and most importantly-- extremely intelligent. For example, she spoke nine languages; invented aroma therapy; a gynaecologist; wrote books; made her country rich when it was in debt; and the list goes on.

One of the most famous depictions of Cleopatra,
as portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor

In summary, Cleopatra was a politician, strategist, and warrior. More often than not, you will find historians writing about Cleopatra as a seductress, but please do not forget that this notion was written by male traditionalists, for unlike Hatshepsut, she ruled as a woman. The media also likes to modify Cleopatra into something she was not. Knowing that she had caught the eyes of the two most powerful men in the world during her time, many will assume that she is very pretty, or even portray her as a whore. I am here to debunk the myth about this "seductress" by telling what she did as an 18 year-old queen who became the sole ruler of the ancient world and held the fate of the western world in her hands.

Now take a look at some of the actresses who had played as Cleopatra:-

The very beautiful Vivien Leigh (I find her the prettiest Cleopatra; like every other movie, this one is not a historically accurate version)
It is a fact that Cleopatra was often carried away with her eyeliner and loves to dress as the Goddess Isis. This is the most famous version of Cleo, as played by Elizabeth Taylor
A movie produced by Hallmark, this is the version I enjoyed the most. Played by Leonor Varela, this movie is the one which introduced me to Cleopatra, and ultimately-- history :) 
This is played by Angelina Jolie and the movie will be released in 2013. A middle-aged woman acting as a 19 girl? This better be good. I'm slightly convinced because the producers claimed that they will emphasise more on Cleo's wits and not on the conventional, seductive interpretation
Now, back to her story:-

Queen Cleopatra
Although Cleopatra was the ruler of Egypt, she was not an Egyptian. She was Greek and her family name was Ptolemy. 

Egypt was the richest country in the world and her family had stayed in Egypt for only three hundred years. In 330 BC, the Greek civilization was conquering the world. The Greeks were led by one of the most famous generals in history, Alexander the Great, who claimed that Egypt was one of his greatest prize. About two hundred years before Cleopatra, Alexander conquered Egypt, declared himself King of Egypt, and founded the city Alexandria. The Alexandria of Egypt is the most famous Alexandria city albeit there were at least 20 other cities named Alexandria. This is because Alexander the Great founded a city named Alexandria in every country he conquered. 

After Alexander the Great died, it was one of his generals named Ptolemy who managed to grab Egypt. Except for Cleopatra, Ptolemy and his successors never bothered to learn the Egyptian language but continued the polytheistic beliefs. This includes marrying their own siblings. Not only did the Ptolemies married their siblings, most of the sons were named Ptolemy and most of their daughters, Cleopatra! The reason the Ptolemies married their sisters (and sometimes in different segments of their family hierarchy such as daughters and mothers) was that they thought it would retain the power within the family. Unfortunately, it meant family members killing one another and this includes our Cleopatra Thea.


Cleopatra's father is named Ptolemy, and he married his sister named Cleopatra. This makes Cleopatra's mother-- Cleopatra. Her mother disappeared around the time when our Cleo was born. Till this date, nobody knows what had happened to her because her story was no longer found in history books.

Okay, to make things easier, I'm going to call Cleopatra VII as Thea, because her full name is Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator.

The sculpture that mostly resembles
her real face
Thea's father was a rude and cruel drunkard. Before Thea, he had two other daughters named Cleopatra Tryphaena and Berenice. Her father didn't marry again after Thea's mother but had three other children who are her younger siblings. Their names are Arsinoe, Ptolemy, and Ptolemy. The whole family was very clever. They may have been cruel, incompetent rulers but they loved learning. During the power struggle within the family, every single one of Thea's family member died which had left Thea our Queen of Egypt.

Accession to the throne

During Thea's time, the Roman Empire was one of the most influential and powerful empire. Like every neighbouring country, Rome was also very interested in Egypt's wealth. Thea's father was afraid that the Romans would one day conquer Egypt and was even more fearful of a revolution by the Egyptians. This made him became sycophantic to the Romans and wanted the Romans' backing against the Egyptian people. This is because the Egyptians were very unhappy with Ptolemy's ruling and his very debauched character. In fact, the Egyptians' dissatisfaction culminated to Ptolemy running away to Rome and seeking for help.

While Thea's father was away, Thea's eldest sister declared herself Queen of Egypt. Her eldest sister (Cleopatra Tryphaena) then died very suddenly (hmmm?) and her second oldest sister (Berenice) was announced the new Queen of Egypt. During this time, the Romans had finally agreed to help Thea's father in return for money. Berenice's supporters were afraid of the Romans and thought that their new Queen should be married to strengthen her claim to the throne. She married twice and had both her husbands killed because she didn't like them. Her second husband was murdered by a Roman soldier named Mark Anthony while she and her supporters were executed by her father for treason.

Thea survived this civil war and political upheaval within the royal family. She was 12 when her father ran away from Egypt and 14 when he regained power. When Ptolemy got back from Rome, Ptolemy declared Cleopatra Thea as his heir.  

Situations weren't improving for Ptolemy. His debts to Rome were increasing and the Roman's backing didn't do much good for him. When Thea's father died, Thea married her younger brother Ptolemy and they both ruled as Egypt's King and Queen. In their joint reign, Thea had been particularly dominant in the ruling of Egypt. This drove Ptolemy angry, and his advisor had devised plans to blame Thea as a puppet for Rome. The Alexandrians were angry, and Thea took refuge.  
Note: In my next post, I will revert back to using the conventional name "Cleopatra" when mentioning her.


  1. wow thanx now you have helped me with my assignment :) yay

  2. OMG AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Just interested because of a conversation with a friend tonight about Egypt and questions arose....This was great in answering our questions. Thanks

  4. Just curious; you mention that Cleopatra wrote books. Is there any record of these books left? I can't seem to find any information anywhere else about Cleopatra's authorship.


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