An Historical Analysis of the Queen of Egypt 

         Egypt is significant in the Hellenistic world from the period of 48 B.C. to 30 B.C. partly because of the profound influence of its queen.  Born in 69 B.C., Cleopatra marked a turning point in Egyptian history and in the history of women overall.  A member of the royal family of Ptolemies, Cleopatra disregarded the former king’s will that she reign Egypt with her brother, Ptolemy XIV, and she eventually took the throne to her own hands.  As a determined queen, she proved to be no less of a ruler than the Ptolemaic kings that proceeded her.  She became the queen of Egypt, in 51 B.C., with the help of Julius Caesar.  Through her involvement with Caesar and Mark Antony, she bore four children and was a dedicated mother, not only to her children but to all Egyptians, and she used her relationships with powerful leaders to benefit Egypt.   Her contributions to her country and her prowess as a ruler have made her a motherly figure, determined to do all for the sake of Egypt as well as to promote her independence in a male-dominated world.  And, with her great intelligence and political savvy,  Cleopatra shaped her personal life to benefit the interests of her country.

         Even though Cleopatra’s royal background explains her becoming a leader, she had to strive to earn the throne for her own self.   She belonged to the Ptolemaic dynasty and was the daughter of King Ptolemy XI, who was also known as the Piper or the Flute-Player (Desmond 14).  While the Ptolemaic dynasty was very powerful, King Ptolemy was rather weak, having to bribe the senate to remain on his throne.  In order to do this, he spent a great deal of time in Rome and therefore was not a significant  father figure in Cleopatra’s life (Desmond 14).  However, this did not affect her strength and determination to become a ruler, especially after her acquaintance with Caesar, who while romantically involved with her, was also a father figure to Cleopatra.  She was  very intelligent, much like the former kings of the Ptolemaic empire, lacking her father’s weak qualities (Bradford 13).  Because of her father’s weakness and his decision for her to rule Egypt jointly with her brother, Cleopatra had to struggle to become a queen in her own right.
          While the contemporary accounts of Cleopatra’s physical characteristics are not accurate, her extraordinary charm, beauty, and knowledge are agreed upon by several historians. Although known as an Egyptian, a people either Semitic or African, who usually had dark features, Cleopatra was actually of Greek descent and probably had lighter features, like most Macedonian women.  Her masculine features, reproduced on coins during her lifetime (i.e., coins of her and Antony made from 36-34 B.C., which depict her facial features as similarly masculine to Antony’s), defined her as charming rather than simply beautiful.  Her facial characteristics were classically Greek, which gave her the royal look of a true queen.  Cleopatra’s intelligence was brilliant in comparison to that of her ancestors.  None of her royal predecessors had knowledge of the Egyptian language, but simply spoke Macedonian; Cleopatra was the first of her line who had learned the language of her country.  In addition to this, she had learned several other languages from her tutors and was fluent in Latin (Bradford 11-13).    

        Cleopatra’s accompishments in the Hellenistic time period were compared with the role of women in that historical time.  Even though men were more typically educated than women according to the Hellenic tradition, scholars believe that Cleopatra’s intelligence had to be partially the result of an instructor.  Women were also given some education in ancient Egypt but not in institutions that were as prestigious as those of men.  Therefore, even though Cleopatra “would undoubtedly have had qualified teachers who assured her education,” she may not have been as well educated as her brother Ptolemy, yet it was her charm and way of presenting herself that made her one of a kind in her dynasty (Chauveau 9-10).    
         Perhaps through Cleopatra’s achievements, there were also some improvements in women’s roles in society.  In the Hellenistic era, at some point, marriage had turned into a partnership, each person having his or her own responsibilities (Arthur 93).  Unlike earlier women in history, a woman in Hellenistic Egypt had the right to have her dowry returned if the marriage was broken up.  Surprisingly, this was the case even if she betrayed her husband.  

        In addition to being property owners, women also obtained positions in the workforce with responsibilities close to those of men:  “Women were granted citizenship as a reward for outstanding service of one kind or another” (92-93).  These facts concerning the independence of women in ancient Egypt are similar to those of Cleopatra as a powerful ruler and to her personal relations with Caesar and Antony.  These accomplishments of women and Cleopatra’s powerfulness as a woman leader in the same historical period lead to the assumption that perhaps Cleopatra was a model for women.  Not only did she have the freedom to live her life as she wished, but she bedded one Roman after the other. Even though she did die because of her affair with Mark Antony, she did her best as a dedicated mother to support her children and her country through her relationships.
        Cleopatra’s knowledge and beauty appealed to two Roman rulers, Caesar and Antony.  In 48 B.C., Caesar arrived in Egypt with the intention of collecting money that King Ptolemy once owed him and of reconciling the rivalry of leadership over Egypt between Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy. With Caesar’s support Cleopatra became eligible to have the throne for herself.  Even though Caesar could have made Egypt part of the Roman Empire, his affection for Cleopatra caused him to grant her the position of a queen instead.  In addition to a lover, she was able to find a father figure in Caesar that her own father had failed to be (Desmond 14).  Caesar was very powerful in that he was a great warrior and a challenger with nothing to stand in his way.  One historian portrays these qualities by describing Caesar before his acquaintance with Cleopatra: “However, he had charm.  He was soon to meet another exponent of this quality, and one who in her own way was every whit as ruthless and ambitious as Caesar himself” (Bradford 67).  Caesar had managed to persuade Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy to go to battle, where, Caesar knew, he would die, and Cleopatra would remain to rule over Egypt.  After the death of Ptolemy, the Ptolemaic tradition of the royal marriage between a brother and a sister was broken, and Caesar was accepted as Cleopatra’s husband.  Because there was some controversy about the queen of Egypt marrying a Roman, Cleopatra had  arranged for Caesar to be accepted as a divine being by having the spirit of Amon, the king of Gods, enter into him.  Similarly she was identified as the Goddess of motherhood, Isis (Desmond 23-25).  Shortly after, in 47 B.C., Cleopatra bore a child by Caesar, whom she named Caesarian, but who was also known as Ptolemy XIV.  Because Cleopatra had a difficult time giving birth, Caesar was afraid that the doctors would have to perform a Caesarian section -- the same operation that was performed on his deceased mother during his birth.  Fortunately everything went well; however, ironically, Caesarian did inherit Caesar’s illness of epilepsy (Desmond 26-27).  With the birth of her son, Cleopatra hoped he would be able to rule Egypt one day along with Rome, having a Roman emperor as his father.  However, shortly after Caesarian’s birth, Caesar had to return to Rome and was assassinated in 44 B.C., while Cleopatra and her son were also in Rome (Bradford 105).

        After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt with her dreams of a wonderful future for herself and her son ruined:  “East and West would be united, and she would be Caesar’s Queen-Empress” (Bradford 95).  Shortly after, Mark Antony jointly ruled Rome with Lepidus and Octavian.  However, upon Cleopatra’s invitation, Antony arrived in Alexandria during the winter of 41 - 40 B.C. (Chauveau 44).  Antony was seen to have betrayed Rome since he would not return to join Octavian and Lepidus in their battles.  Like Caesar, he had fallen in love with Cleopatra, leaving Rome behind, and remaining with her, disregarding his wife in Rome.  As a result of her union with Antony, Cleopatra had twins in 40 B.C., whom she named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, Sun and Moon.  However, Cleopatra was unhappy because at the same time, Antony had returned to Rome and married Octavian’s sister, Octavia, in order to reestablish his relationship with Octavian and his ties to Rome (Desmond 67).

        Antony’s departure left Cleopatra hopeless once again, now as a single mother of three children.  It would be three years, from 40 to 37 B.C. until Antony was reunited with Cleopatra and his children (Chauveau 48).  During this interval, Cleopatra ruled Egypt and remained a mother, yet relied on Caesarian for support.  Leaving Helios and Selene to the nurses, she was mainly a true mother to Caesarian.  This was in an effort to find comfort in Caesarian with her sweet memories of Caesar rather than focusing on her disappointment in Antony.  She hoped that the future of her son would be brighter by having Antony as her husband, however, because he was gone she decided to train Caesarian to be the ruler of Egypt. This liability on Caesarian was overwhelming for him at the age of nine. 

         In 32 B.C., Cleopatra chose to reunite with Antony.  Consequently, she left for Syria with her twins, leaving Caesarian behind.  On his part, Antony left Octavia and married Cleopatra.  However, there was also seen to be a political reason behind this.  Cleopatra wished to obtain the goal she shared with Caesar.  She chose to reunite with Antony so that she or her children would still be able to have a part in ruling Rome (Desmond 68-71).  In the autumn of 36 B.C., Cleopatra had another child, whom she named Ptolemy Philadelphus (Desmond 74). 

        As seen from her relation with her son Caesarian, throughout her life Cleopatra tried to do what was best for her children: 
She fought like a tigress for her child by Caesar, and her children by Antony.  A large part of her life may be seen as a struggle to try to ensure that her children should inherit her empire and her throne.  Nothing should be allowed to stand in her way if their interests were threatened (Bradford 16).  
Her accomplishments are best seen through the ceremony, in the fall of 34 B.C., of Antony declaring her four children as kings of the lands he had conquered.  Cleopatra was recognized as Queen of Kings and Caesarian as King of Kings.  Alexander Helios was to rule Armenia in addition to several other lands, Ptolemy Philadelphos, the greater part of Asia along with several other countries, and Cleopatra Selene, Cyrenaica with a part of Crete (Chauveau 59).  Cleopatra initially did reach her goal as a result of her determination for her children to follow in her footsteps.  However, her children’s destinies changed along with the tragic end of her life.

        Cleopatra’s strength was truly seen in that she chose an honorable death over survival as a captive.  Antony’s relations with Octavian  had become hostile, and they were in rivalry against one another.  Antony lost the war against Octavian in August of 30 B.C.  Because of Antony’s weakness, his army had left him behind to join forces with Octavian, and Antony had thought that Cleopatra betrayed him as well.  In her despair Cleopatra sent a false message to Antony that she had killed herself, and Antony decided to do the same.  As a result of this and her realization that Octavian was now to rule, Cleopatra decided to join her loved one by ending her life similarly (Bradford 258).  When Octavian promised to spare her children, she did not believe it.  She did not want to be ridiculed on the streets of Egypt as one of Octavian’s slaves.  After planning to send Caesarian to Meroitic, she died as a queen (Chaeveau 72).  However,  Octavian had already killed Caesarian and Alexander Helios while giving assurance to their desperate mother that her children would rule Egypt (Chauveau 110).  Even Cleopatra’s death had dignity:  there was nothing she could do about her children, and she remained a queen forever and not a prisoner of Octavian.
         In her leadership of Egypt and as a mother, Cleopatra identified fully with the Goddess Isis.  Even after her death, she remained a ruler that Egypt would never have again.  Octavian’s strength could not compare with Cleopatra’s to die as a ruler.  While romantically involved with Caesar and Antony, she used her relationships to benefit Egypt and her children, so they might have a positive future.  Her intention was to expand the Egyptian boundaries with her children as rulers.  She did not fail to fulfill her dreams, but with her charm, possessed both of the Roman rulers.  As Isis was seen as central goddess of the time period, who united humanity, so Cleopatra was an important figure in the history of women because of her identity with Isis: a dedicated mother to Egypt and to her children and a powerful Queen (Arthur 95).

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