Queen of the Nile

Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleoptra"




One of the most fascinating women in history was Cleopatra VII, daughter of Isis and King Ptolomy the XII of Egypt.  She has been portrayed as the Queen of Egypt in so many films, books and plays, and she is noted for her great intelligence as well as beauty.  Hollywood has often distorted many of the facts surrounding this remarkable woman and the history behind it.  

Cleopatra had many interests including astronomy, alchemy, cosmetics and perfume and spoke as many as 9 languages.  Being of Greek heritage and culture, it is often argued if she in fact had dark features like black hair and dark brown eyes, or blonde hair and blue eyes.  One thing that is sure, is she was from the Ptolemy line set on the throne of Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the Great .  Her father named Cleopatra and his eldest son Ptolemy joint rulers.  Even though incest marriages were forbidden and a punishable crime, the royal family often inter-married to keep the blood line pure (this proved to create many gentic problems over the genrations).  So Cleopatra came to the throne in 51 BC and was married to her 10-year-old brother.  Shortly after, the young boy king had Cleopatra driven into exile in Syria.

In 48 BC, Caesar came to Egypt to pursue his former friend and now rival Pompey.  Cleopatra heard that Julius Caesar was in the palace in Alexandria, she had one of her servants deliver her to Caeasr in a rug rolled up and offered as a gift that had to be opened in front of him.  Caesar was said to be instantly captivated by Cleopatra's charm.   Soon they were lovers and sooner still the boy king Ptolemy XIII was in battle with Caesar and his troops which were outnumbered 5 to 1.  Despite great odds, the Romans won the battle and Ptolemy XIII was killed in battle (Hollywod depicts it as him being thrown from a chariot and his head hitting a rock in the water).  Caesar then made Cleopatra's younger brother Ptolemy XIV joint ruler with her.

During this battle the Egyptian ships were set afire in the harbor.  The fire soon spread and the Library of Alexandria, containing as many as a million books, scrolls and manuscripts.  More than half were destroyed.  This was the largest collection of knowledge in the ancient world.  The library was comissioned by Ptolemy I after Alexander the Great had a vision and hoped to collect every single book known and ultimately have them translated into Greek.  The library contained such works from ancient authors such as, Aristotle and Sophocles, as well as many others and others.  Ptolemy XIII is killed in the battle.

It is said that Cleopatra and Caesar conceived a child near the Temple of Dendur.  When the child was born, she named it Ptolemy Caesar, and soon it was known as Caesarion, meaning little Caesar (Ceasarian means "from Caesar" and is said that Caesar had to be cut from his mother's body, and is now a medical term).  When Caesar returned to Rome, she followed him with their baby and lived in Caesar's villa, where he visited her constantly, often feasting and making love until the early morning hours.  Caesar was assassinated by members of the senate in Rome who thought he was losing interest in the republic and spending too much time in Egypt.  Cleopatra returned to Egypt and Ptolemy XIV died soon after, perhaps from poison by Cleopatra.  She then names her son Caesarion co-ruler.

Civil war followed Caesar's assassination, dividing the Roman Empire. Mark Antony, as ruler of the eastern empire, summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus in Asia Minor to answer charges that she had aided his enemies . The queen arrived, dressed as Venus,on a magnificent river barge. She enticed Antony with a feast filled with women and entertainment. Like Casear, he was fascinated by her and followed her to Alexandria.   After a festive winter, Antony returned to Rome and married a widow named Octavia, sister of Octavian to keep the peace with him.  Nonetheless, Atonny still loved Cleopatra, which by whom he had now twins. When Antony went to an expedition against the Parthians, he sent for Cleopatra and publically married her, dennouncing his false marriage in Rome and claiming the children as his own.

A furious Octavian declared war on Cleopatra.  Antony and Cleopatra had hundreds of ships built but Octavian blockaded them off the west coast of Greece.  What came next was the famous battle of Actium in 31 BC.  Cleopatra slipped through the blockade and Antony followed her, but his fleet surrendered.

The following year Octavian reached Alexandria and defeated Antony again. Cleopatra took refuge in the mausoleum she had had built for herself. Antony, informed that Cleopatra was dead, stabbed himself. Soon another messenger arrived, saying Cleopatra still lived. Antony insisted on being carried to her and died in her arms. Later Cleopatra committed suicide tradition says by the bite of a poisonous snake called an asp, though many historians suggest it was probaly a cobra, which would give her instant mortality and make her a goddess.  In any case, she remains one of the most mysterious, glamorus and intriguing rulers and woman of all time, achiving her success of an immortal goddess.