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Women in History

Egyptian History

Cleopatra VII
Ptolemaic Dynasty

 

By 48 BC, Cleopatra had alarmed the more powerful court officials of Alexandria by some of her actions. For instance, her mercenaries killed the Roman governor of Syria's sons when they came to ask for her assistance for their father against the Parthians. A group of men led by Theodotus, the eunuch Pothinus and a half-Greek general, Achillas, overthrew her in favor of her younger brother. They believed him to be much easier to influence and they became his council of regency. Cleopatra is thought to have fled to Thebaid. Between 51 and 49 BC, Egypt was suffering from bad harvests and famine because of a drought which stopped the much needed Nile flooding. Ptolemy XIII signed a decree on October 27, 50 BC which banned any shipments of grain to anywhere but Alexandria. It is thought that this was to deprive Cleopatra and her supporters who were not in Alexandria. Regardless, she started an army from the Arab tribes which were east of Pelusium. During this time, she and her sister Arsinoe moved to Syria. They returned by way of Ascalon which may have been Cleopatra's temporary base.

In the meantime, Pompey had been defeated at Pharsalus in August of 48 BC. He headed for Alexandria hoping to find refuge with Ptolemy XIII, of whom Pompey was a senate-appointed guardian. Pompey did not realize how much his reputation had been destroyed by Pharsalus until it was too late. He was murdered as he stepped ashore on September 28, 48 BC. The young Ptolemy XIII stood on the dock and watched the whole scene. Four days later, Caesar arrived in Alexandria. He brought with him thirty-two hundred legionaries and eight hundred cavalry. He also brought twelve other soldiers who bore the insignia of the Roman government who carried a bundle of rods with an ax with a blade that projected out. This was considered a badge of authority that gave a clear hint of his intentions. There were riots that followed in Alexandria. Ptolemy XIII was gone to Pelusium and Caesar placed himself in the royal palace and started giving out orders. The eunuch, Pothinus, brought Ptolemy back to Alexandria. Cleopatra had no intentions of being left out of any deals that were going to be made. She had herself smuggled in through enemy lines rolled in a carpet. She was delivered to Caesar. Both Cleopatra and Ptolemy were invited to appear before Caesar the next morning. By this time, she and Caesar were already lovers and Ptolemy realized this right away. He stormed out screaming that he had been betrayed, trying to arouse the Alexandrian mob. He was soon captured by Caesar's guards and brought back to the palace. It is thought that Caesar had planned to make Cleopatra the sole ruler of Alexandria. He thought she would be a puppet for Rome.

 


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