The Life of Cleopatra – The Egyptian Queen


Image via Cleopatra Egypt Tours

Lauren Kramer, Writer

Cleopatra’s full name is Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, which means Cleopatra the Father-Loving Goddess in Greek. Cleopatra was born in 69 BC in Egypt, but was not actually an Egyptian. Her family origins can be traced back to one of Alexander the Great’s Generals, and although she was not ethnically Egyptian, she still learned her country’s ancient customs and was the first of her line to learn the Egyptian language. 

It is believed that she was a product of inbreeding, with her family marrying their own cousins and siblings to keep the royal line as “pure” as possible. This was a very common practice in Egyptian royalty for generations. It is said that her parents were siblings, and she was one of five children born to this arrangement. Cleopatra had one older sister and older brother, and one younger sister and younger brother.

During the time she was growing up, Cleopatra actually had a very masculine face with a prominent chin and hooked nose. Instead of using her looks, she used tactics and intelligence to plan for her rise to power and the Egyptian throne. When her father died, Cleopatra married her first sibling husband, Ptolemy XIII, to try and gain more power to rise to the throne. Ptolemy XIII (XIII is thirteen in roman numerals) began to see her trying to claim the throne for her sole possession and ran Cleopatra out of Egypt. Cleopatra struck back with an Arab army at the same time as an attack from Julius Caesar. As a result, Caesar went back to Rome and Cleopatra was able to take her place back in Egypt after Ptolemy XIII drowned trying to escape the battle.

Since their partnership during the war against Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra and Julius Caesar had been having an affair. Cleopatra gave birth to their child, Caesarion, and decided to join Julius Caesar in Rome in 46 BC. Also following the war, she remarried her other brother, Ptolemy XIV (XIV is fourteen in roman numerals), to create another relationship so she could co-rule Egypt with him. It is believed after their union, she had him assassinated, but not before he joined her to visit Julius Caesar in Rome. Caesar also was currently married to someone else, and Cleopatra’s visit with their son caused public outrage in Rome. Julius Caesar was eventually assassinated and caused Cleopatra and Caesarion to head back to Egypt. 

When they arrived in Egypt, Cleopatra was able to succeed the throne with her son, Caesarion. In her more powerful position, she was able to assist Italy in the Roman Civil War by creating a large military force. She was unable to fight in the war herself, because she had fallen ill but was summoned by Antony of Rome, whose full name is Marcus Antonius, who doubted her loyalty. Antony became so enchanted by Cleopatra’s presence that he decided to move back to Alexandria with her.

The only person that was standing in her way to the throne after Ptolemy XIV’s death was her sister, Arsinoe IV. In 41 BC, Cleopatra ordered Antony to murder Arsinoe IV, so she could have a clear claim to the throne. After the assassination, she was finally able to put herself in a position of complete power and co-rule with her son Caesarion. Antony and Cleopatra had twins and were married four years later under Egyptian rites and rituals, and after their marriage they had a third child.

After some issues over Egyptian land with the ruler of Rome, war was declared against Cleopatra, which led to the battle called The Battle of Actium. The battle was a disaster for the Egyptians, and led Antony and Cleopatra to flee back to Egypt. Cleopatra retired inside of her mausoleum, and Antony went out to fight in his last battle. He was falsely told that Cleopatra was dead, and he fell on his own sword after hearing the news. He carried himself to Cleopatra’s mausoleum believing he could be closer to her that way, and discovered she was still safe and alive inside. While dying in her arms, he asked her to make peace with the ruler of Rome and took his last breath. 

There are many different stories about how Cleopatra committed suicide after Antony’s death. One belief says that she applied toxic ointment and drank a toxic mixture. The story historians believe is most accurate is that she killed herself by the means of an asp (A viper with an upturned snout), which is and was a symbol of divine royalty. Cleopatra had been queen for twenty-two years, and had been Antony’s partner for eleven of them. They were buried together as both of them had wished, and continue to be remembered through movies, books, and plays today.