Egypt: Tour Egypt Monthly: Queens of Egypt, part III - Celopatra

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Queens of Egypt, Part III

The Ptolemic Period recalls several queens in Egypt named Cleopatra; the most famous and influential in history was the seventh.

"Cleopatra I" was a Syrian princess who has married "Ptolemy V Epiphanes" (230 180 AD) as a political marriage to end conflicts between Egypt and Syria. Her dowry was Egypt giving up control over Coele-Syria, which was later the issue of a debate whether it was true ownership or just political control. After his death, she became regent for her son "Ptolemy VI Philometor". Her 4 years reign was fair and peaceful, keeping good relations with Syria and Rome, thus Egypt remained free of invasion.

After her death, "Ptolemy VI Philometor" ascended the throne and married his sister "Cleopatra II" in 175 BC. With further conflicts with Syria and riots against him by the Alexandrians, another diplomatic marriage took place between his daughter, "Cleopatra Thea", and the new Syrian king.

In 145 BC, "Ptolemy VIII" killed his nephew and usurped the throne. According to the Romans' advice, "Cleopatra II" married him to become co-regent on Egypt. In order to limit her authorities, "Ptolemy VIII" married their own daughter "Cleopatra III", who was as ambitious as her mother. Due to his brutality, riots out broke in Alexandria, and "Ptolemy VIII" fled to Cyprus with "Cleopatra III", leaving "Cleopatra II" to reign alone. They came back 3 years later, and "Cleopatra III" had to flee to Syria seeking shelter with her daughter "Cleopatra Thea". Despite their later conciliation and her return to Egypt, conspiracies did not end. With the death of "Ptolemy VIII" in 116 BC, "Cleopatra III" killed her mother in a mysterious way, ending the history of a queen who reigned solely as well as co-regent with 2 kings.

Cleopatra IV and V were daughters of "Cleopatra III". Their brother, "Ptolemy IX" became king of Egypt in 116 BC and married his sister "Cleopatra IV", both events against the will of his mother. He was forced to divorce her and marry his other sister "Cleopatra V" (Cleopatra Selene) in 115 BC. In 107 BC, with the aid of the Romans, "Cleopatra III" conspired against her son who fled to Cyprus. His brother "Ptolemy X Alexander" replaced him, and reigned jointly with his mother. In fact, "Cleopatra III" became the effective ruler of Egypt and Cyprus until her death in 101 BC.

Shortly before the death of "Ptolemy XII" (Flute Player) in 51 BC, he proclaimed his eldest surviving daughter "Cleopatra VII" (aged 18), and his eldest son "Ptolemy XIII" (aged 10) co-regents.

Cleopatra VII The Philopator

(Goddess Loving Her Father)

Give me my robe, put on my crown;
I have immortal longings in me.
Now, no more the juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip.
Yare, yare, good Iras; quick
Methinks, I hear Anthony call: I see him rouse himself
To praise my noble act; I hear him mock
The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men
To excuse their after-wrath.
Husband, I come:
Now to that name my courage prove my title!

I am fire and air; my other elements
I give to baser life.
Have you done?
Come then, and take the last warmth of my lips.

Farwell kind Charmian:
Iras, long farewell.
Have I the aspic in my lips? Dost fall?
If thou and nature can so gently part,
The stroke of death is a lover's pinch,
Which hurts, and is desir'd. Dost thou lie still?
If thus thou vanished, thou tell'st the world
It is not worth leave-taking.

William Shakespeare - Anthony and Cleopatra - Act V Scene II.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

"Cleopatra VII" was not as pretty as her charm and ambition, that made two Roman leaders - Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony - fall into deep love with her. Despite her political foresight, she had notably contributed to the fall of both, and her political career ending in absolute failure.

She became queen of Egypt as co-regent with her brothers "Ptolemy XIII" (51 - 47 BC) and "Ptolemy XIV" (47 44 BC), then with her son "Ptolemy XV Caesar" (44 - 30 BC) until her suicide, after her defeat by Octavius. Egypt then fell under Roman domination.

Cleopatra was that last sovereign of the Macedonian dynasty, and though with no Egyptian blood, she proclaimed herself as "Daughter of Ra", the "Sun God of Egypt". She dedicated her efforts to enforce her royal status as queen of Egypt, to restore the glories of Ptolemies and recover their dominions in southern Syria and Palestine, as well as to share in the central Roman authority. Shortly after the start of her reign, she was involved into the struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Cleopatra supported the later by a fleet of 50 ships and 500 men, which was not accepted by the Alexandrians.

She wasthus forced to flee to the eastern border of Egypt, where she was able to form an army of Bedouins to restore the throne from her brother. With Pompey's defeat, Julius Caesar considered Egypt as a Roman property. He arrived at Alexandria and called Cleopatra and Ptolemy to resolve their conflict according to their father's will.

To avoid the conspirators, Cleopatra was sneaked into the royal palace to meet Caesar, wrapped into a carpet. At first sight, Caesar fell in love with her, and hence granted her the throne. Ptolemy in rage accused them both of treason, and led the army from the east to siege the palace. Caesar sent for supplies from Rome, and to avoid a military combat, he burnt 110 Egyptian ships at the harbour and dockyards. The fire extended to the Great Library of Alexandria, and a huge amount of treasures and human heritage was lost.

"Ptolemy XIII" was killed in combat, and Caesar announced Cleopatra as queen, in co-regency with her younger brother "Ptolemy XIV" in 47 BC. She remained to be Caesar's mistress until her returned to Rome, and she bore him a child named "Caesarion".

In pursuit of declaration of her authority, as well as her son's right to inherit Caesar, Cleopatra went to Rome in 46 BC. Caesar built her a golden statue in the Temple of Venus, and declared his parenthood to her son. Her ambition and secret alliances raised much hostility against her by the senates. Upon Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, Cleopatra retired to Egypt, awaiting the outcome of the next round in the Roman political struggle. To enforce her son's rights against the Romans, she made him co-regent in the same year. Her temple at Dendra depicts Caesarion as pharaoh, while she was the goddess Hathor.

Cleopatra remained neutral during the struggle between Caesar's followers, the three triumvirs (Mark Anthony, Octavius and Lepidus) and the conspirators led by Brutus and Casius. With the latter's' defeat, Anthony was assigned to restore order in the eastern Roman provinces, while Octavius returned to Rome.

Anthony sent for Cleopatra to meet him in Asia Minor. She knew that a second chance has come to gain control over the most powerful man in Rome. Initially, Cleopatra ignored Anthony to heighten his expectations, until he sent for her again. She then set out to the meeting in a barge loaded with gifts, and in all signs of luxury and amusements. She refused to embark the ship, and insisted that he was the one to come for her. Captivated by her charm, Anthony cancelled his campaigns and followed Cleopatra to Alexandria, where he treated her not as a sovereign protected by the Roman Empire, but as an independent monarch.

Two years later, in 40 BC, Anthony returned to Rome to face Octavius. A settlement was concluded in which the Roman Empire was split among the three generals. Anthony's share was the eastern provinces, as far as Albania. Octavius retained the west, while Lepidus controlled North Africa. Anthony was also forced to marry "Octavia" - Octavius' sister - as a sign of loyalty, and to reign from Athens. This enraged Cleopatra, who in the meanwhile, gave birth to twins, "Alexander Hilius" (The Sun) and "Cleopatra Selene" (The Moon).

Three years later, Anthony became convinced that he could never come to terms with Octavius. He sent his wife Octavia back to Rome, headed to Asia Minor, and sent for Cleopatra to follow him. There, Anthony announced his legal marriage to Cleopatra and his parenthood to his children. This was not only an insult to Octavius and his sister, but also invalid according to the Roman law. Octavius was hence able to unite all Rome against Anthony.

Cleopatra by Michael Angelo

As a dowry for the marriage, Cleopatra persuaded Anthony to return to her the old Ptolemy Empire. She was granted Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Crete. She was also given the coasts of Palestine, but not the rest of the Herod's kingdom in Palestine. Another son was born, whom she named "Ptolemy Filadelphos" to commemorate the restoration of the empire of "Ptolemy II".

In 35 BC, Anthony was defeated in Parthia, and Octavia came from Rome with supplies for him against the wishes of her brother. One year later, Anthony returned to challenge Rome, when he celebrated his successful conquest of Armenia in Alexandria, in contrast to the Roman traditions. This seemed to signal the transfer of the capital from Rome to Alexandria.

In a further challenge to Octavius, Anthony and Cleopatra sat in a celebration at the Gymnasium with their three children and Caesarion. Anthony proclaimed himself as Caesar's son, though it was Octavius whom Caesar has previously adopted. Cleopatra was hailed as "Queen of the Queens" and Caesarion as "King of the Kings". "Alexander Helios" was awarded Armenia, Media and Parthia, his brother "Ptolemy Filadelphos" was awarded Syria, Phoenicia and all lands west to the Euphrates, while their sister "Cleopatra Selene" was given Cyrene. He also gave Cleopatra a new library of 200,000 books as a compensation to that burnt in 48 BC.

A Japanese Version of Cleopatra

In Rome, Octavius revealed Anthony's will to the senate and Roman people. This disclosed Anthony's bestowing of Roman possessions to a foreign woman, and his intentions to transfer the capital from Roman to Alexandria. The will also included Anthony's wish to be buried in Alexandria, even if he dies in Rome. With Anthony remaining to challenge Octavius by divorcing Octavia in 32 BC, the senate considered him a traitor, and deprived him his consulate. In turn, Octavius declared war against Cleopatra, not Anthony.

When war was finally declared against Cleopatra, the imprudence of her policy against Herod was revealed. Cleopatra had previously embroiled him with the King of Petra, and hence Anthony lost a potential ally. War started on shores of the Adriatic Sea where Anthony was heading to victory, but Cleopatra convinced him to proceed into a naval battle at Actium. Octavius succeeded to face the their combined forces, and the combat was resolved on 2 September 31.

Cleopatra and her Son, Caesarion

Though the details of the terrestrial combat were recorded in details, there has been much debate among historians as regards the naval one. It has not been confirmed whether Cleopatra suddenly withdrew her fleet and set course for Egypt in betrayal to Anthony, or it was a predetermined plan between them. Some historians believe that the shift from a terrestrial war to a naval war was only a covering for the withdrawal of Cleopatra's fleet. With the inevitable defeat, Anthony followed Cleopatra to Egypt. Cleopatra thought of a further confrontation in Spain.

With Octavius' forefront reaching the suburbs of Alexandria, Anthony succeeded in dispersing them on the first day. He was unable to gather his troops on the following day as his commanders deserted him and joined Octavius. He had no choice but to return to the city, where he heard the rumours of Cleopatra's death. In despair, Anthony committed suicide by his sword, but before his death words came from his lover that she was still alive. He was transferred to her in her mausoleum, in which she has gathered all her treasures and belongings. Anthony died in her arms as he always wished.

Octavius eventually entered the city without any resistance and ordered the capture of Cleopatra. Cleopatra refused to give up unless Octavius would promise to give the throne to one of her sons. Upon a brief meeting together, she realized his intentions to take her back to Rome as prisoner to adorn his parade of victory, so she decided to commit suicide. In her full royal costume and wearing the pharaohs' uraeus, she let the divine royal cobra sting her. On opening the doors of the mausoleum by force, Octavius and his men found her lying dead upon her golden bed with all her royal ornaments. They buried her with Anthony, as they both wished. Octavius formally brought Alexandria and Egypt under Roman rule, and in punishment he abolished the Alexandrian Senate and built his own city at the suburb of el-Raml.

With Octavius' defeating one of the most dreadful enemies of Rome (the other was Hannibal), Octavius was deified. The Roman Republic came to an end, and he was able to achieve the emperorship, which the Romans denied Caesar.