Cleopatra was the second to last pharaoh of Egypt. Her son was pharaoh briefly after her death, but Egypt became part of the Roman Empire when he was killed just a few days later. Cleopatra is famous for her reign, her love life and her tragic death. She was one of the most powerful women in Egyptian history.
Early Life of Cleopatra
Statue of Cleopatra
Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 69 BCE. Her father was Ptolemy XII Auletes. Her mother was likely Cleopatra V Tryphaena, Auletes’ wife. When she was a girl, she traveled to Rome with her father. While they were gone, Cleopatra’s mother took the throne, but died mysteriously soon after.
Cleopatra’s sister Berenice IV may have poisoned her in order to take the throne. She took her place as ruler of Egypt for about three years. Cleopatra returned with her father, who brought a Roman force with him to retake the throne and have Berenice, his daughter, beheaded. Cleopatra was 14 and appointed joint regent. This was the beginning of her power in Egypt.
The Reign of Pharaoh Cleopatra
When Cleopatra’s father died, he made her and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII rulers of Egypt. She was 18 and he 10 years old. The two married, but they did not get along. Cleopatra decided to rule Egypt on her own and later shared the position with another brother and then her son. Altogether, she reigned for 21 years until her death. It was a dramatic reign filled with conflict and family drama.
as depicted on a Greek Coin
The Relationships of Cleopatra
Cleopatra is known for her many relationships, particularly with Roman men of power.
She had an affair with Julius Caesar and claimed her son Caesarion was his child. This worked to her advantage in her war against her siblings and returned her to power.
Caesar and Cleopatra, painting by Pietro Berrettini
After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra met with Marc Antony and began another of her famous love affairs. Antony helped her arrange the execution of her sister Arsinoe. The pair was married, even though Antony already had a wife. He and Cleopatra had three children together.
It was Cleopatra’s union with Marc Antony that would lead to her death. In supporting her husband, she became an enemy of Octavian, the first emperor of the Roman Empire.
The Death of Cleopatra
Cleopatra died as dramatically as she lived. Her husband committed suicide after he was defeated at the Battle of Actium. When she learned of his death, and with Octavian in Alexandria, Cleopatra either poisoned herself or allowed a venomous asp to bite her on the arm.
There are many stories about her suicide, but the earliest stories say she was responsible for her own death. However, there is some speculation that she was poisoned or otherwise murdered by Octavian.
Statue of Cleopatra with her snake