How was Cleopatra connected with the Roman Empire?

Cleopatra is one of the most well-known figures in history, but her connection to the Roman Empire is still a bit hazy to some. She was seen as cunning, charming and beautiful, an overly captivating individual. 

Cleopatra VII was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her story is one of success, battle, love and tragedy. She ruled as co-regent of ancient Egypt for three decades, a status that deserved to be remembered, especially being a woman at that time. Unlike other ancient rulers however, a certain fascination is what has carried Cleopatra through history. Recorded in ancient texts, written into exciting tales and her face decorated onto walls, paintings, vases and statues, Cleopatra’s legacy survives in ancient and modern works of art. Her romantic liaisons and military alliances, as well as her supposed exotic beauty and charming powers, have earned her an enduring place in history and popular myth. We shouldn’t forget however, that Cleopatra had a long and successful reign before she met either of her Roman men. She was a powerful queen and a much stronger monarch than any of the latter Ptolemaic Dynasty.

Cleopatra’s Reign

By the age of 14, Cleopatra became co-regent and deputy of her father, the king. Following her father’s passing, Cleopatra was next to take the throne at the tender age of 18 in 51 B.C. Due to traditional customs, Cleopatra was to marry her brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was then only ten years old and become joint ruler with Cleopatra. However, Cleopatra did not like sharing the throne with her husband/brother, and soon began to rule out his name in official documents. After attempting to take sole possession of the throne, Ptolemy XIII ran her out of Egypt, which ended in the famous civil war between them. Whilst in Syria, Cleopatra raised an army of mercenaries and returned the following year to face her brother’s forces. To help her win the war against her brother Cleopatra would smuggle herself into the royal palace to plead her case to Caesar who was a guest to Ptolemy VIII after he allowed Ceasar’s rival, Pompey, to be murdered. The secret meetings worked in her favour as Ceasar brought a Roman army to Alexandria, outnumbering Ptolemy’s XIII forces. Together Ceasar and Cleopatra were conquerors!

Ceasar returned the throne to Cleopatra and her youngest brother Ptolemy XIV (then only 13 years old). It is believed that Cleopatra and Ceasar lived together for a while, having an affair. In around 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Caesar. The family moved briefly to Rome, but when Ceasar was murdered in 44 BC, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where her youngest brother died soon after. And so, little Ptolemy Caesar at 3 years old became co-regent of Egypt with his mother.

Cleopatra’s influence on Rome

With her infant son as co-regent, Cleopatra’s power over Egypt was more secure than ever. Still, this was not to be the last of Cleopatra’s interactions with Rome. With unreliable flooding of the Nile resulting in failing crops, and conflict raging in Rome, the two regions were again brought together in their troubles. This all came to a head when Ceasar’s conspirators continued to wage war against his legacy led by the assassins themselves Brutus and Cassius (both Roman senators). Those who remained loyal to Caesar, general Mark Antony and Caesar’s successor Octavian, sought Egypt’s support. Cleopatra sided with the latter and met with Mark Antony many times. According to the story recorded by Plutarch, Cleopatra seduced Antony with her wit and beauty, completely winning him over. Whether this is true or not, we can’t be sure, but the two did begin a long-lasting love affair which ultimately resulted in their deaths.

Antony failed to show his loyalty to Octavian when he rejected Octavian’s half-sister, Octavia, declaring Ptolemy Caesar the rightful ruler of Rome. This mess concluded in the Battle of Actium where Octavian’s forces soundly defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC. After losing the battle Antony heard rumours that Cleopatra had committed suicide, the news causing him to fall on his sword and die just as news arrived that the rumour was false. After burying Antony, Cleopatra locked herself in her chambers and joined her lover in death. Her cause of death is unknown, but Plutarch and other writers proposed the story that she used to a poisonous snake, a symbol of divine royalty, to commit suicide at age 39.

Cleopatra’s Legacy

As you can see Cleopatra had many ties to Rome, both helping them and causing them trouble during her reign in Egypt. With the love affairs, the scandals and the children which resulted along with her dramatic death, it is no wonder that Cleopatra remains a dominant figure in popular culture. As a woman fighting in a man’s world, she has gained more respect in further years, before being mentioned only for her beauty and seduction of men. But in more recent year’s scholars seem to recognise her cleverness and ambition that saw her through many confrontations with powerful men and gained her many successes. She even took the matter of her death into her own hands.

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