Cleopatra VII

Bust of Cleopatra VII, Berlin. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt and the last of the Macedonian dynasty, owes her fame in part as Julius Caesar’s lover and her later marriage to Mark Antony. She became queen on the death of her father, Ptolemy XII, in 51 BCE and ruled successively with her two brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, and her son Ptolemy XV Caesar. After the Roman armies of Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) defeated their combined forces, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Egypt fell under Roman domination. Cleopatra’s influence over Roman politics, combined with her romantic intrigues, have seen her heralded as a dangerous woman.

In 44 BCE, Cleopatra’s coruler, Ptolemy XIV, died. Cleopatra now ruled with her infant son, Ptolemy XV Caesar. In 40 BCE Cleopatra gave birth to twins with Mark Antony, whom she named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene.

Antony proclaimed Caesarion to be Caesar’s son—thus relegating Octavian, who had been adopted by Caesar as his son and heir, as illegitimate. Cleopatra was hailed as queen of kings, Caesarion as king of kings. The union of Mark Antony and Cleopatra had a tragic ending. The invasion of Egypt by Octavian in August 30 BC left Mark Antony with little refuge. Receiving the false news that Cleopatra had died, Antony fell on his sword. In a last excess of devotion, he had himself carried to Cleopatra’s retreat and there died, after bidding her to make her peace with Octavian. Cleopatra buried Antony and then committed suicide. Her method of suicide is unknown, though contemporary classical writers came to believe that she had killed herself by a bite from an asp. The site of their tombs is unknown, although speculated to be southwest of Alexandria.

Recommended Reading

Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Joyce Tyldesley, Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt (London: Basic Books, 2010)

Margaret M. Miller, Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited (Oakland: University of California Press, 2011)

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