Queen Cleopatra, the fabled queen of the Nile, was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt.
Cleopatra's legacy survives in numerous works of art, both ancient and modern, and many dramatizations of incidents from her life in literature and other media. She was described in various works of Roman historiography and Latin poetry, the latter producing a generally polemic and negative view of the queen that pervaded later Medieval and Renaissance literature. In the visual arts, ancient depictions of Cleopatra include Roman and Ptolemaic coinage, statues, busts, reliefs, cameo glass, cameo carvings, and paintings.
She is regarded as one of the greatest seductresses ever.
Here are some fascinating facts about her:
1. Cleopatra Was Not Egyptian
Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, Egypt to the Macedonian Greek dynasty in 69BC and was a descendant of its founder, Ptolemy I Soter. It is often argued that she shared Persian ancestry. This is because the Ptolemies were forbidden to marry Egyptians at her time.
Despite not being ethnically Egyptian, Cleopatra embraced many of her country’s ancient customs and was the first member of the Ptolemaic line to learn the Egyptian language.
2. She Was A Product Of Incest
Like many royal houses, members of the Ptolemaic dynasty often married within the family to preserve the purity of their bloodline. More than a dozen of Cleopatra’s ancestors tied the knot with cousins or siblings, and it’s likely that her own parents were brother and sister. In keeping along with this custom, Cleopatra eventually married both of her adolescent brothers, each of whom served as her ceremonial spouse and co-regent at different times during her reign.
3. She Led A Fleet At A Naval Battle
Under the tutelage of Philostratus, she was well versed in the Greek art of oration, philosophy, and medicine. During her adult years, she would go on to become a naval commander.
4. Her Beauty Was Not Her Biggest Asset
She possessed some manly features but her wit, charm, and intellect made her more attractive. So witty was she that she was rolled out of a carpet when she appeared before Julius Caeser the Great.
Roman propaganda portrayed Cleopatra as a debauched temptress who used her sex appeal as a political weapon.
Ancient writer Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra’s beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was instead her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” that made her so desirable.
5. Cleopatra Played A Part In The Death Of Her Three Siblings
Power grabs and murder plots were as much a Ptolemaic tradition as family marriage, and Cleopatra and her brothers and sisters were no different. Her first sibling-husband, Ptolemy XIII, ran her out of Egypt after she tried to take sole possession of the throne, and the pair later faced off in a civil war. Cleopatra regained the upper hand by teaming up with Julius Caesar, and Ptolemy drowned in the Nile River after being defeated in battle. Following the war, Cleopatra remarried to her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but she is believed to have had him murdered in a bid to make her son her co-ruler. In 41 B.C., she also engineered the execution of her sister, Arsinoe, who she considered a rival to the throne.
6. She Knew How To Make An Entrance
Cleopatra believed herself to be a living goddess, and she often used clever stagecraft to woo potential allies and reinforce her divine status. A famous example of her flair for the dramatic came in 48 B.C. when Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria during her feud with her brother Ptolemy XIII. Knowing Ptolemy’s forces would thwart her attempts to meet with the Roman general, Cleopatra had herself wrapped in a carpet—some sources say it was a linen sack—and smuggled into his personal quarters. Caesar was dazzled by the sight of the young queen in her royal garb, and the two soon became allies and lovers.
Cleopatra later employed a similar bit of theater in her 41 B.C. encounter with Mark Antony. When summoned to meet the Roman Triumvir in Tarsus, she is said to have arrived on a golden barge adorned with purple sails and rowed by oars made of silver. Cleopatra had been made up to look like the goddess Aphrodite, and she sat beneath a gilded canopy while attendants dressed as cupids fanned her and burned sweet-smelling incense. Antony—who considered himself the embodiment of the Greek god Dionysus—was instantly enchanted.
7. Had A Relationship With Caesar, Had A Relationship With Antony
Her romantic relationship with Caesar produced a son, Caesarion (Ptolemy XV). However, Caeser refused to acknowledge him until his death.
Cleopatra was forced to flee Rome after Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman senate in 44 B.C., but by then she had made her mark on the city.
Cleopatra became intimate with Antony and would go on to have three children for him: Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Cleopatra first began her legendary love affair with the Roman general Mark Antony in 41 B.C. Their relationship had a political component—Cleopatra needed Antony to protect her crown and maintain Egypt’s independence, while Antony needed access to Egypt’s riches and resources—but they were also famously fond of each other’s company.
8. She May Not Have Died From An Asp Bite, But Allegedly Committed Suicide
Cleopatra and Antony famously took their own lives in 30 B.C., after Octavian’s forces pursued them to Alexandria. While Antony is said to have fatally stabbed himself in the stomach, Cleopatra’s method of suicide is less certain. Legend has it that she died by enticing an “asp”—most likely a viper or Egyptian cobra—to bite her arm, but the ancient chronicler Plutarch admits that “what really took place is known to no one.” He says Cleopatra was also known to conceal a deadly poison in one of her hair combs, and the historian Strabo notes that she may have applied a fatal “ointment.” With this in mind, many scholars now suspect she used a pin dipped in some form of potent toxin—snake venom or otherwise.
Header image credit: The Guardian Nigeria
With information from History.com and the Guardian Nigeria