Unbeknownst to many, Cleopatra VII Philopator was actually an ugly inbred descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a highly decorated Macedonian Greek general who served under Alexander the Great and eventually died in the year 283 BCE. As part of this, Ptolemy I Soter was the founding forefather of the most dysfunctional family dynasty in human history, many of the members of which suffered from morbid obesity and mental instability. In contrast to this, the slim and sane Princess Cleopatra VII Philopator was born in 69 BCE to King Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Philopator Philadelphos and his sister-wife Queen Cleopatra V Tryphaena, the mother of Cleopatra VII Philopator’s older sister, Princess Bernice IV Epiphaneia.
Queen Cleopatra V Tryphaena died shortly after the birth of Princess Cleopatra VII Philopator. Regardless, Cleopatra was born into a life of tremendous privilege and extravagant luxury. As a perfect example of this, by the time she was just twelve years old, Cleopatra had already visited four of the seven ancient wonders of the world, some of which belonged to her family. Plus, in Ptolemaic Egypt, society was organized by the Hellenistic ruling class layered on top of an existing native hierarchy. At the very top of this was the incestuous and murderous Ptolemies who acted as both Greek Kings and Egyptian Pharaohs. They were all extremely eager to kill each other off to get to the throne, living in constant fear of one another. Thus, Cleopatra was bred to be a histrionic, goal-driven killer.
Cleopatra was destined to be like the great female Pharoah, and woman warrior, Hatshepsut. Like everyone in her family, Cleopatra was groomed for greatness right from the start. Growing up, she studied at the Great Library of Alexandria, where she was taught by some of the finest resident philosophers in antiquity, such as Philostratus, among many others. As a polyglot, she could speak ten different languages, namely Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Troglodyte, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Median, Arabic, Parthian, and Syriac. Cleopatra was an all-around brilliant polymath who had access to well over a million different scrolls in total, and she knew exactly which ones to read and why. She would even go on to write many books on charms, cures, cosmetics, and much more.
The thing is that, in 58 BCE, Cleopatra had to accompany her father during his exile to Rome after a revolt allowed her sister Bernice to claim the throne. A few years later, Berenice was killed in 55 BCE when King Ptolemy XII returned to Egypt with Roman military assistance. Then, when he died in 51 BCE, Cleopatra ruled jointly with her brother Ptolemy XIII, to whom she was married. The problem was that Cleopatra began assuming sole power. This went against the rule of always having a co-regent to rule Egypt, and it infuriated Ptolemy XIII. Still, she single-handedly restored the Egyptian empire to the size it had been a thousand years earlier. This made the kingdom a global superpower once more.
As the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra wasted no time issuing royal decrees without her brother’s signature and minting coins bearing only her masculinized face. Unlike the pictures of Cleopatra as Isis, these were much closer to her true likeness, which was not pretty at all. Unlike other ancient rulers, in a brilliant political move, she even put her face on low-value coins. As such, the economy was centrally organized and strictly controlled with the main sources of revenue being generated by taxation. Thus, agriculture and trade taxes soon became the state’s primary sources of revenue. Cleopatra was a highly skilled economist who even strictly controlled the coinage to mitigate inflation. These were brilliant moves on her part and she reveled in the renaissance that she brought forth.
The great Pharoah Cleopatra did all this from her throne in Alexandria which had been a major Meditteranean port city since it was first established by Alexander the Great almost three centuries earlier. Her palace was beyond compare. She also owned the world-famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, which stood about 350 feet tall. It was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, and Cleopatra had it renovated to bring in more trade and to promote more travel. In line with this, Cleopatra fostered a cosmopolitan culture in Alexandria by allowing integration and not forcing assimilation. Of course, she did incentivize Hellenization through a number of different taxes.
However, King Ptolemy XIII eventually got fed up with Queen Cleopatra VII and ultimately banished her from Alexandria. The problem was that the Nile had been flooding at the lowest levels ever recorded, so Cleopatra used this as political propaganda. Egypt had long been a Roman client state, and Cleopatra’s father incurred large debts to the Republic. Then, after being defeated by Julius Caesar in Rome’s civil war, General Pompey sought refuge in Egypt but was executed by Cleopatra’s brother instead. Caesar then demanded repayment of Egypt’s outstanding debt of 6,000 talents. Cleopatra capitalized on this anger by seducing Caesar with her virginity. So, rather than annexing Egypt, Cleopatra convinced him to restore her to the throne. Then, Ptolemy XIII died in the Battle of the Nile in 47 BCE, and after being paraded as a prisoner of war, Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe IV was eventually exiled to Ephesus for her role in carrying out the rebel siege. At that point, Caesar declared Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIV joint rulers of Egypt.
In line with this, at midnight on December 28th of 47 BCE, Cleopatra stood within the moonlit rooftop shrine of Dendera Temple and assumed the power of Isis during a magical ceremony. Caesar even put up a statue of Cleopatra in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, the ancestress of the Julian house. This gave her divine authority as an avatar of the Mother Goddess in both the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In this way, Cleopatra became the maternal figure par excellence. It was the first time in centuries that the Pharoah personally conducted the rituals that gave Egypt its strength and thereby restored cosmic balance. Cleopatra the Great even paralleled her father by adopting the title “Nea Isis” similar to his “Neos Dionysus”. She then began wearing a red and white Egyptian crown in place of a Macedonian diadem, as well as a black robe.
Cleopatra knew that her deep-set eyes, hooked nose, rounded chin, and bowed lower lip made her ugly, so she was completely obsessed with her appearance. As part of this, she had an intense beautification regimen to undergo on a daily basis. Thus, Cleopatra’s hair was styled by Eiras and her wardrobe was designed by Charmion. She also regularly bathed in the milk of asses to keep her skin soft and supple. Cleopatra even had her own signature perfume. This all worked to transform the rather homely looking girl into the most exotic and erotic woman in the ancient world. She was the most glamorous person that ever lived. As such, the 52-year-old Julius Caesar maintained a sordid love affair with the 22-year-old Cleopatra, which ultimately produced their son Caesarion. In line with this, Cleopatra kept Caesar in Egypt for several weeks when Rome desperately needed him.
While he was there touring the temples, Caesar became fascinated with Egyptian culture. The thing was that when he finally returned to Rome, Caesar reformed the calendar, commissioned a census, made plans for a public library, and proposed several new infrastructure projects. Thus, under the guidance of her astronomer royal, Sosigenes, Rome’s lunar calendar was replaced by that of Egypt’s solar calendar, which was more accurate. In this way, Cleopatra helped bring about the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. She was a master strategist who became fabulously wealthy, in the process of running an empire herself. Cleopatra had a number of royal monopolies that directly benefited her. For instance, some of the industries flourishing in Egypt at that time included glass, wheat, linen, oils, papyrus, and unguents.
All of her subjects paid taxes to the crown on every namable salable product, so Cleopatra also benefited from all of the commerce outside of the royal monopolies as well. Therefore, her annual cash revenue was to the tune of 12,500 silver talents, with a single talent being equal to more than fifty pounds of silver. Whereas, the average wage of a priest was only about 15 talents a year by comparison. As such, the daring young Pharoah Cleopatra was able to use her considerable fortune to amass a vast army. She enlisted mainly Hellenic troops in the cavalry and heavy infantry units, with native Egyptians making up most of the light troops. She also fielded mercenaries. On top of that, her naval forces were absolutely immense. The super-sized ships in her fleet could carry nearly as many personnel as a modern aircraft carrier. That’s about 5,000 troops per warship, of which she had hundreds at her disposal.
Of course, sexuality was Cleopatra’s best weapon. More to the point, as a result of her sexual conquest of their leader, the Romans became outraged by the brazen theatricality of Cleopatra’s decadence and debauchery. They reviled the vixen monarch as a sort of succubus, rather than a living goddess. She was a powerful matriarch in a world full of patriarchs, and they didn’t like it one bit. This eventually led the Senate to assassinate Caesar on March 15th of 44 BCE, and within hours of his death, Cleopatra heard the news and tore at her hair and clothes in mourning. She then murdered her brother-husband, Ptolemy XIV, six months later with poison. In this way, she simultaneously destabilized Rome and stabilized Egypt in a powerful political maneuver that changed the course of history forever.
Her almost unprecedented character and charisma shook the very foundation of civilization itself. In the process of it all, Cleopatra’s reign brought Egypt two decades of prosperity to Egypt. She stabilized the economy, managed the vast bureaucracy, and curbed corruption by priests and officials. This was especially important because the powerful Egyptian priesthood owned large estates in the countryside which supported families and villages. Their immense temples also collected taxes and levies, acted as archives, arbitrated legal disputes, and worked closely with the royal government when it came to posting edicts and dealing with crises. So, in many ways, Cleopatra’s half-cousin the High Priest of Memphis, Pasherenptah III, held the keys to the kingdom.
Granted, the first few years of Cleopatra’s reign were wracked by a number of different incredibly serious internal issues, like widespread starvation and rampant diseases. Still, she proved herself to be a capable and energetic ruler who took measures to mend the relations between the various political groups across the kingdom. When drought hit early on in her reign, she opened the granaries to the public and passed a tax amnesty, all while preserving her kingdom’s stability and independence with no revolts during the rest of her time as the monarch. She knew exactly how to prevent rebellion, revolution, and regicide, with the full understanding that everyone’s lives were at stake, especially hers.
After Caesar’s death, Roman factions came demanding her aid. So, ultimately, Cleopatra had no choice but to support Octavian and Mark Antony in avenging Caesar, if only for the sake of their son Caesarion. In line with this, Cleopatra sought the affection and protection of Mark Antony, who became a Roman outlaw. She set out to meet him in Tarsus in a grand display of her glamor and opulence, complete with her flapper-style pearl necklace and gilded sandals with cork platform soles. After that he was hers and she bore him children although it would be the end for both of their lineages, even though they didn’t know it. Regardless, in the year 41 BCE, Cleopatra had her lover Mark Antony order his men to drag her half-sister the illustrious priestess Arsinoe out of the Temple of Artemis and murder her in cold blood. This was the biggest scandal in human history and it rocked Rome to the core.
In the end, Octavian declared Cleopatra to be an enemy of the state in 32 BCE. At that point she was thirty-seven years old and a mother of four. Regardless, on September 2nd of 31 BCE, the naval forces of Octavian met with those of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. Cleopatra, aboard her flagship, the Antonias, commanded 60 ships at the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, at the rear of the fleet, in a detrimental decision made by Antony’s officers in order to marginalize her during the battle. So, Cleopatra swiftly sailed through the area of major combat in a strategic withdrawal to the Peloponnese. Having seen this, Antony followed Cleopatra and boarded her ship, and the two escaped the danger together. They landed at Paraitonion in Egypt and went their separate ways. Cleopatra went to the harbor at Alexandria in a misleading attempt to portray the activities in Greece as a victory.
The next thing she did was honor Isis and Min in their joint temple at Koptos. That same day, although she was married to Mark Antony, Cleopatra had her son-husband Caesarion enter into the ranks of the ephebi which was recorded on a stele dated the 21st of September 31 BCE. In preparation for her impending death, Cleopatra was now grooming her co-regent to become the sole ruler of Egypt. She offered Octavian money and sent him lavish gifts, requesting that her children should inherit Egypt and that Mark Antony should be allowed to live in exile in Egypt. So, Octavian sent his diplomat Thyrsos to Cleopatra after she threatened to burn herself and vast amounts of her treasure within a tomb already under construction. After lengthy negotiations that ultimately produced no results, so Octavian set out to invade Egypt. On August 1st of 30 BCE, Antony’s naval fleet surrendered to Octavian, followed by Antony’s cavalry.
Cleopatra hid in her tomb with her close attendants and sent a message to Antony that she had committed suicide. In hopeless romantic despair, Mark Antony responded to this by killing himself. Having once held the fate of the Western world in her hands, Cleopatra was allowed to embalm and bury Mark Antony within his royal tomb before she was escorted to the palace. When she met with Octavian, Cleopatra told him bluntly, “I will not be led in a Triumph”. Octavian promised that he would keep her alive but offered no explanation about his future plans for her kingdom. Since Cleopatra refused to be paraded through the city like her sister Arsinoe, she killed herself in defiance at age 39. Her untimely demise on August 10th of 30 BCE was sudden and sensational, to say the least. The epically tragic event was one of the most significant moments in human history.
The Queen of queens used the “queen of poisons” to take her own life in a grand gesture. More surprisingly, even though Octavian was bitterly enraged by the outcome, he allowed Cleopatra’s remains to be buried in royal fashion next to Mark Antony in her own Egyptian tomb, in a complex next to the Temple of Isis on the Lochias promontory beside the sea. Like all the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, her mummification was not entirely traditional, but very extravagant nonetheless. She was venerated, if only briefly. The great goddess-queen Cleopatra was the penultimate Pharoah of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, with her son Caesarion being the final Pharoah, as Ptolemy XV. He was ultimately put to death on the orders of Octavian on August 29th of 30 BCE. Thus, after 275 years, the Ptolemaic dynasty finally came to an end.