Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII Philoptor: 51 BCE - 30 BCE) was the Ptolemaic Dynasty's last ruler after she committed suicide. Cleopatra was the Ptomley ruler, but she was also connected romantically to two of the most Romans in history, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. After reigniting the Roman Civil Wars, she committed suicide when she was 20 years old to avoid being paraded around Rome by Octavian as a trophy. While it is well known that Cleopatra committed suicide, there has been a great deal of debate about how she killed herself.
Cleopatra indeed played a pivotal role in the last phase of the Roman Civil Wars. Still, in the final analysis, she was as much a “player” with her own agency as Mark Antony or Octavian. Perhaps one of the more fascinating and controversial aspects of Cleopatra’s life is her death. After Cleopatra’s and Mark Antony’s forces lost to Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, the pair had few options. Mark Antony took his life in true Roman fashion by stabbing himself with his gladius, while Cleopatra was said to have either died from the bite of a venomous snake or some other type of poison. An examination of the classical sources combined with more recent studies indicates that Cleopatra more than likely did die from a venomous snake bite.
After the Macedonian general and conqueror Alexander III “the Great” died in 323 BC, his generals divided the spoils of the former Achaemenid Persian Empire. While the generals, known as the <i>Diadochi</i>, were fighting for control of Greece and Anatolia, Ptolemy I (ruled 305-282 BC) quietly became the king of Egypt. After he defeated another Macedonian general named Perdiccas for possession of Alexander’s body and control of Egypt, he was no longer threatened by his kinsmen and was able to start a new dynasty in Egypt comprised entirely of Macedonian Greeks. <ref> Bowman, Alan K. <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520205316/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0520205316&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=3652d49207aeab2b3aaed7a4b330fb4 Egypt after the Pharaohs: 332 BC-AD 642 from Alexander to the Arab Conquest].</i> (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996), p. 22</ref>
“In a campaign directed against Egypt, he conquered the greater part of the country and spent some time besieging Alexandria. When the rest sought refuge with the Romans, Popilius was sent to Antiochus and bade him keep his hands off Egypt, for the brothers, comprehending Antiochus's designs, had become reconciled. When the latter was for putting off his reply, Popilius drew a circle about him with his staff and demanded that he deliberate and answer standing where he was. Antiochus then, in fear, raised the siege.” <ref> Cassius Dio. <i> Roman History.</i> Translated by Earnest Cary. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1954), XX, 9, 25</ref>
==Why did Cleopatra rule Egypt? ====[[File: Dendera_Cesarion.jpg| 300px|left|thumbnail|Relief from the Temple of Dendera in Egypt Depicting Cleopatra VII and Caesarion/Ptolemy XV Offering to the Egyptian Goddess Hathor]]
The Cleopatra in question here was actually the seventh member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty to take the name. Cleopatra came to power when her long-ruling but mostly ineffective father Ptolemy XII (ruled 80-51 BC) declared before he died that he desired his oldest daughter, Cleopatra VII, and oldest son, Ptolemy XIII, to co-rule as king and queen. The rule would require that the offspring marry, a practice initiated by the second Ptolemaic king, Ptolemy II (reigned 284-246 BC), and continued until the end of the dynasty. <ref> Bowman, p. 24</ref> When Ptolemy XII died, Cleopatra VII was sixteen, and Ptolemy XIII was only twelve, which meant that there was bound to be plenty of court intrigue.
At that point, Cleopatra was clearly more of an Egyptian than a Macedonian ruler. The idea of a woman ruling alone was rare in ancient Egypt, but not totally unheard of, with at least three known examples before Cleopatra, the best one being Hatshepsut (ruled ca, 1478-1458 BC). Hatshepsut adopted the titulary of kingship in texts and was shown with the accouterments of kingship in artistic depictions, leaving no doubt to modern scholars that she was, in fact, a “king” in the pharaonic sense. <ref> Robins, Gay. <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0674954696/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0674954696&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=6b94f30f49ec6e295d5ca206d6b8ce3b Women in Ancient Egypt].</i> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 46</ref>
There is no evidence to suggest that Cleopatra consciously followed Hatshepsut’s example, or if she even knew about her illustrious predecessor. Still, there is little doubt that she also assumed all of the prerogatives of an ancient Egyptian king, much like Hatshepsut. One of the first things she did was give her full support to Caesar and Rome, which she believed would be bolstered when she gave birth to his son, Ptolemy XV/Caesarion, on July 23, 47 BC. <ref> Chauveau, p. 25</ref>
Cleopatra's plan may have had of ruling over Rome and Egypt at Caesar’s side was dashed when he was assassinated on the Senate floor in 44 BC. His assassination led to the Second Triumvirate's formation by Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus and another round of the Civil Wars. After the trio achieved victory over Brutus, they divided their spoils with Mark Antony gaining control of the allied eastern kingdoms, which included Ptolemaic Egypt. Mark Antony and Cleopatra soon found themselves as natural allies and later as lovers: she wanted to restore the Ptolemaic Egyptian Empire and he wanted to reorganize the east into Roman provinces. <ref> Chauveau, p. 26</ref>
Eventually, Octavian made his own move to conquer all Roman territory by declaring war on Cleopatra. Mark Antony loyally went to war
for his ally and lover but was soundly defeated by the upstart Octavian at the Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 BC. Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony fled to Alexandria, but eleventh months later, Octavian and the Roman army came calling. <ref> Chauveau, p. 28</ref>
According to the ancient sources, when Octavian’s entry into Alexandria was imminent, Mark Antony followed Roman tradition by falling on his gladius sword. There is little controversy surrounding the accounts because that is what a distinguished Roman officer such as Mark Antony would have been expected to do. There is no evidence to suggest he did otherwise.
Cleopatra’s death, though, has been a bit more controversial, largely due to the oldest classical account. The first century AD Roman historian Plutarch and Cassius Dio were the last two classical historians to mention Cleopatra’s death, which they claimed was the result of a snake bite. Still, the earliest reference was made by the first century BC Greek geographer Strabo. The account gives two possibilities for Cleopatra’s death:
“Augustus Caesar honored this place because it was here that he conquered in battle those who came out against him with Antony; and when he had taken the city at the first onset, he forced Antony to put himself to death and Cleopatra came into his power alive; but a little later she too put herself to death secretly, while in prison, by the bite of an asp or (for two accounts are given) by applying a poisonous ointment; and the result was that the empire of the sons of Lagus, which had endured for many years, was dissolved.” <ref> Strabo. <i>Geography.</i> Translated by Horace Leonard Jones. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001), Book XVII, 1, 10</ref>
Because of this knowledge, she would have known that the <i>uraeus</i>, a cobra often depicted on crowns in Egyptian statuary, was a sign of kingship. During the Ptolemaic Period, the double <i>ureaus</i> became particularly popular in statuary and reliefs. <ref> Griffiths, J. Gwyn. “The Death of Cleopatra VII.” <i>Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.</i> 47 (1961) p. 118</ref> Due to these factors, Griffiths argued in his article that Cleopatra probably wore a crown with the double <i>uraeus</i> and that when she committed suicide she did so with two cobras that were brought to her in a basket containing figs, as Plutarch mentioned in his account. <ref> Griffiths, p. 118</ref>
[[Category:Wikis]][[Category:Roman History]][[Category:Ancient Egyptian History]]