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The bust (left) is of Cleopatra c. 50 B.C.(British Museum)

Cleopatra VII


Cleopatra VII Philopates ("glory to her father") was a very popular name among the Ptolemy Dynasty, but the seventh was the most famous, and a legend in her time. She wasn't an Egyptian. Her bloodlines were Macedonian, Persian, and Greek. Her father was Ptolemy XII Nothos ("the Bastard"), the illegitimate son of Ptolemy XI by one of his concubines. It is said that Ptolemy XI was forced to marry his own elderly stepmother, who was also his cousin. Scholars of Egyptology also believe that her mother was Cleopatra V, the wife and sister of Ptolemy XII, and she died during Cleopatra VII's birth, or soon afterwards, of complications of childbirth.

Cleopatra's ancestry is said to connect back to Alexander the Great, who ruled Egypt in 332 B.C., and founded the city of Alexandria. After Alexander's death on June 10, 323 B.C., his staff officer, Ptolemy, declared himself him in 3-4 B.C., and called himself "Soter I" (Soter menaing savior). Ptolemy I Soter had a strong hooked nose that genetic trait of his line. Ptolemy XII Auletes ("the flute") had Soter's large nose and was Cleo's father. After her mother's death, Ptolemy married his second (unknown) wife and she gave him two sons.

By 305 B.C. Ptolemy became ruler of Egypt and founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty of twelve kings, of the same name, and Cleopatra VII. In this time, wealthy Egyptians tried to gain a Greek education and the Greeks influenced their art and architecture (A. J. Spencer, Death in Egypt. London: Penguin Books, 1991, 25). The Ptolemies continued the old Egyptian ideals and built temples to their gods, and those of Egypt. After Anthony and Cleopatra's death in 30 B.C,, Egypt came under Roman rule and they constructed monuments with Roman Emperors as Pharaoh, as in Egypt rule.


Most historians seem to agree that Cleopatra, Queen of the Egypt, was born on January 13, 69 B.C. and died, by her own hand on August 12, 30/31 B.C. (at age 39), and is buried in the royal mausoleum at the Sema at Alexandria with Marc Anthony. She was said to have been found, after her suicide, wearing a flowing gossamer veil with her jewels and ladies (Charmion and Iras)and eunuch laying around her body (also dead). There are two popular opinions (1) that she used an asp to kill herself (2) that she poisoned herself. In either case she most likely did not suffer before her death. She lay on a bed of gold, when Octavian's men broke down the door. Octavian (Caesar's heir) had denounced Mark Anthony in the Senate and in 30 B.C. he declared war on Cleopatra. Anthony and Cleopatra spent the winter in Samos, Before Cleopatra's death, Octavian told Cleo she could survive if she killed Anthony. When Cleopatra refused, Octavian had plans to kill Anthony and imprison Cleo. She tried hunger strikes and suicide, which Octavian stopped. She managed to get a message to Mark Anthony (most likely part of the plan to entrap Anthony) about her impending suicide. When Anthony got the message, he was told she was dead. He then came to her prison hoping to find a way to see her one more time. As Anthony approached her prison, in the temple, Octavian's men were waiting and Anthony was mortally wounded. Mark Anthony then found out Cleopatra was still alive and had his men use pulleys and a rope to raise his dying body up to the window in Cleo's prison. Her ladies and her pulled Anthony into the room, where she was held, and he died in her arms. At that moment, much like in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," she killed herself.

She was a woman of great legends, and it is not clear if all these legends were true. However, we do know that she married her two half-brothers, as was the way of the Ptolemy empire. She married Ptolemy XIII (who was later drowned while running from Caesar's troops)and Ptolemy XIV, then eleven (11) years old (who was later poisoned) Both of Cleopatra's younger half brothers were born to her father's second wife.


Cleopatra's first meeting with Caesar was in order to get his help - to make her brother reconcile, with her, and allow her back into Egypt from her exile. This event was the famous Cleo in a rug ploy. After this meeting Caesar was so taken with this nubile young woman of twenty-one that he had her brother drowned in the Nile River, while he was in his battle armor. He was trying to escape Caesar's forces who were descending upon he and his men.

Since Cleopatra was the wife of a boy of twelve (12), Caesar knew that she was still a virgin and that intrigued him. Julius Caesar, at this meeting, was approximately 52 years old and without an heir. Cleo bewitched Julius Caesar with her youthful appearance and impressed him with her craftiness (she engineered the murder of both her sister and brother-husband). Cleopatra had already been the Queen of Lower Egypt since age seventeen (17). Caesar saw their union as a extremely powerful and sensual experience.

Her only real love seemed to have been Julius Caesar (48-44), who she felt was her match in power and ambition. In 45 B.C. Cleopatra lived openly with Julius Caesar in Rome, and her statue was in Rome's Temple of Venus.

She had one child by Julius Caesar, Ptolemy XV Caesarion was born around 44 B.C. Caesar was killed on the Ides of March. Cleo fled Rome and headed back to Egypt, then she killed her brother, Ptolemy XIV and put her son, Ptolemy XV on the Egyptian throne. Later on, when her son's life was threatened, Cleopatra sent him to India to study, as told to us by the histories of Plutarch.


Two years after Caesar's death she found Mark Anthony (40-30 B.C.) attractive and she took him as her lover and he sired three of her children, and left his first wife Fulvia in Rome.


(1)Alexander Helios (B: 40 B.C.)... twin of Selene.

(2) Cleopatra Selene (B: 40 B.C.)...twin of Alexander Helios

(3) Ptolemy Philadelphus (B: 36 B.C.)commisioned the Pharos of Alexandria to be built.

Mark Anthony lead a sordid life. Mark Anthony married (1) Fulvia (he was her third husband). Fulvia's first husband was named Curio, a friend of Mark Anthony's, with whom he reputedly had a homosexual relationship. Fulvio died in 40 B.C. right before Mark decided to marry Cleopatra, and thus legitimize their children in 40 B.C.

Mark Anthony then married (3) Octavia (then a widow), sister of Octavian, Julius Caesar's heir. This marriage took place as Cleopatra was giving birth to his last child, Ptolemy Philedephus, in 36 B.C.


Cleo had Philostratus (a philosopher) and Nicolaus (a historian) as tutors to her four children.

Cleopatra was of swathy, dark complexion, taking after her grandmother, a Seleucid, with some Persian blood. She had luxurious copper hair (most likely made that color by the use of henna). She reign from 51-49 B.C. and 48-30 B.C. (Foreman, Laura, Cleopatra's Palace: In Search of a Legend. New York: Discovery Books, 1999).

Cleopatra continued to hire thinkers, poets, and scientists to her court and she continued her own education as well, studying philosophy and traveling to other lands. Above all, Cleopatra was clever, intelligent, and politically oriented. She understood and spoke Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.


Cleopatra's three children, by Mark Anthony, were thought to have been raised by Mark Anthony's third wife, Octavia ( Leon, Vickie, Uppity Women of Ancient Times. New York: MJF Books, 1994, 88-89) Cleopatra of Cyrene or Selene (meaning "moon") ruled from 33-31 B.C. She was Anthony and Cleo's daughter. She ruled Armenia, Media, and Parthia with her twin brother, Alexander. Octavia, sister of Octavian, arranged a marriage for this Cleopatra with Juba, King of Numidia, who was considered a gifted ruler, and she was made Queen of Mauretania, on the site of present day Morocco. They reigned for nearly 50 years and had two children. Her brother, Alexander, was made co-ruler with her. Ptolemy Phoenica was made ruler of Cilicia and Syria (Jackson, Guilda M., Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1998).


Hollywood and Cleopatra


This page is updated and designed by Maggie Sypniewski, BFA
Last updated on March 9, 2007