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Women in History

Egyptian History

Cleopatra VII
Ptolemaic Dynasty

  In the springtime of 51 BC, Ptolemy Auletes died and left his kingdom in his will to his eighteen year old daughter, Cleopatra, and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII who was twelve at the time. Cleopatra was born in 69 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. She had two older sisters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV as well as a younger sister, Arsinoe IV. There were two younger brothers as well, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. It is thought that Cleopatra VI may have died as a child and Auletes had Berenice beheaded. At Ptolemy Auletes' death, Pompey, a Roman leader, was left in charge of the children. During the two centuries that preceded Ptolemy Auletes death, the Ptolemies were allied with the Romans. The Ptolemies' strength was failing and the Roman Empire was rising. City after city was falling to the Roman power and the Ptolemies could do nothing but create a pact with them. During the later rule of the Ptolemies, the Romans gained more and more control over Egypt. Tributes had to be paid to the Romans to keep them away from Egypt. When Ptolemy Auletes died, the fall of the Dynasty appeared to be even closer.

According to Egyptian law, Cleopatra was forced to have a consort, who was either a brother or a son, no matter what age, throughout her reign. She was married to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII when he was twelve, however she soon dropped his name from any official documents regardless of the Ptolemaic insistence that the male presence be first among co-rulers. She also had her own portrait and name on coins of that time, ignoring her brother's. When Cleopatra became co-regent, her world was crumbling down around her. Cyprus, Coele-Syria and Cyrenaica were gone. There was anarchy abroad and famine at home. Cleopatra was a strong-willed Macedonian queen who was brilliant and dreamed of a greater world empire. She almost achieved it. Whether her way of getting it done was for her own desires or for the pursuit of power will never be known for certain. However, like many Hellenistic queens, she was passionate but not promiscuous. As far as we know, she had no other lovers other than Caesar and Antony. Many believe that she did what she felt was necessary to try to save Alexandria, whatever the price.

 


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