Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fun Facts about Cleopatra

Fun Facts about Cleopatra

Cleopatra is often portrayed as a beautiful, exotic Egyptian ruler. However, pictures of her depicted on coins from her time show that by modern standards, she may not have been a beauty at all. What she may have lacked in good looks, she made up for with intelligence, charm and conviction and she has certainly left a legacy. Cleopatra was born in 69 BC, the daughter of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V of Egypt. She was not actually Egyptian in heritage. She was Macedonian Greek and a descendant of Ptolemy I who became king of Egypt after Alexander the Great's death Cleopatra succeeded her father to become the Pharaoh of the Ptolemic Dynasty in 51 BC. She was a co-ruler of Egypt for twenty-one years, until her death. Because we know so little about her, she has fascinated us for ages. Artists, art historians and archaeologists all have been drawn into her legacy. She is portrayed in many different mediums, from song to writing to paintings, stone and metal.

Before her death, Cleopatra had four children from two different fathers. Her personal life was quite complex. Her son, Ptolemy Caesar was fathered by Julius Caesar and her other children, Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II and Ptolemy Philadelphus were fathered by Mark Antony. In 51 BC Cleopatra married her brother. Three years later she became Julius Caesar's lover and the next year her brother died in the Alexandrian War. Cleopatra then married another one of her brothers and eventually had him killed. This made her four year old son her co-ruler. Finally in 41 BC she became Mark Antony's lover. Her family life, a bit of a modern day soap opera definitely plays a role in our continuing fascination with her. Her life was marred by death, betrayal, incest and war and some of the most powerful men in history loved her.

It is easy to get bogged down in the sordid details of Cleopatra's personal life but she had a great impact on history and politics. After all, she was the last pharaoh of Egypt. During the first twenty years of Cleopatra's rule, the Roman Empire continuously threatened to conquer Egypt. Because of her connections to Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, she was able to keep the Romans at bay and Egypt remained independent for those twenty years. Octavian, who would later become Augustus, controlled Rome with Mark Antony. Antony was married to Octavian's wife but soon after Antony became involved with Cleopatra, he no longer had feelings for his wife. This was a cause of jealousy and anger between the two men which played a part in the conflict that ensued between Egypt and Rome. Finally, Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium and took over Egypt. Part Cleopatra was so distraught over this failure that she committed suicide. We can never be sure exactly how she managed to take her own life but what we do know is that it involved a poisonous snake, the asp. We also do not know where she was buried.

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