Cleopatra, known as “Egypt’s greatest queen,” is the subject of myth and legend, to this day.
She was a respected female ruler in an age where it was rare to see a female occupy a throne, no less use it skillfully.
She was shrewd, intelligent, ambitious, and regarded as a great beauty, though according to Plutarch “her beauty was not in itself altogether incomparable, or such as to strike those who saw her.”
It was more her wit and charm that won people over and “she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone. Being brilliant to look upon and listen to, with the power to subjugate everyone..”
She is said to have been able to speak nine languages; her intelligence was captivating:
“The message is clear: Cleopatra’s allure had little to do with her physical appearance and a lot to do with her intellect, character, and apparently, the tone of her voice.”
“Through her wit, charm, and daring she captivated not only two of the most powerful men of the ancient world, but the collective imagination of the entire world for all centuries that followed.”
She’s been portrayed in hundreds of works of art, literature, film, and music including Shakespeare’s famous Antony and Cleopatra and the movie Cleopatra in which actress Elizabeth Taylor starred.
Born in 69 BC, she was groomed from a young age for power. She came from a family of rulers, but unlike the rest of her family, who spoke only Greek, Cleopatra learned the native Egyptian tongue as well.
To solidify her image, she associated herself with Isis, the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom. The name “Isis” means throne and the goddess was a representation of the pharaoh’s power.
When her father died in 51 BC, Cleopatra was set to rule jointly with her 10 year old brother Ptolemy, to whom she was officially married. Cleopatra was 18 and had no intention of sharing authority, however.
In 50 BC, Cleopatra came into conflict with the Roman troops who were in Egypt to protect her father after he took the throne, and they became her enemies, forcing her to flee in exile.
She assembled an army from abroad, meanwhile her brother Ptolemy ruled Egypt and got into disagreement with Caesar, who seized the capital.
Seeing an opportunity in this, Cleopatra smuggled herself into Caesar’s palace and became his mistress. Legend has it that she arrived in his chambers rolled into a carpet and made a bold and daring entrance.
Whatever actually happened, it worked, and soon Caesar supported her claims to the throne, decided not to annex Egypt, and got rid of Ptolemy.
Soon Cleopatra had a son, whom she claimed was Caesar’s and named him Ptolemy Caesar. She wanted him to be named the heir of the Roman empire, but Caesar appointed his grandnephew, Octavian, instead.
After Caesar was assassinated on March 15th 44 BC, Cleopatra became involved with another powerful Roman, Mark Antony.
There is evidence that this relationship was more than simply an attempt to increase her power – it is likely that she and Mark Antony were truly in love.
She soon had twins with him, and would later go on to have a third child with him.
Her demise came at just 39 years old, when Octavian invaded Egypt and held her hostage. Hearing rumors that she was dead, Mark Antony killed himself with a sword.
Cleopatra was not yet dead, but when she heard that she would be moved to Rome and disgraced publicly, she chose death rather than shame. Legend has it that she committed suicide using a poisonous snake and died in all her finery, as the proud and powerful ruler that she was.
Seen by the world as a dangerous seductress, she certainly left an unforgettable legacy as one of the most powerful women to ever live.