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Cleopatra: Last Ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty


City of Alexandria, Egypt

Born towards the end of 70 BC or beginning of 69 BC, Cleopatra was of Macedonian heritage and reigned as an Egyptian queen, ruling an empire that included Egypt, Cyprus, part of modern-day Libya and other territories in the Middle East.

She was the first Ptolemaic queen with her head and name minted on coins, and grew up immersed in Egyptian education and culture. She was multilingual, and the first "Egyptian" queen to visit Athens.

Her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes conceived six children: Cleopatra Tryphaena, the eldest, Berenice IV (who had her husband Cybiosactus strangled after three days... and was later executed by her father's order on matters unrelated), Cleopatra, Arsinoe IV (who Cleopatra had assassinated), and two sons Ptolemy XIII, and XIV (also assassinated on her orders), both of whom shared the throne with her during various times. Her mother is unknown but may have been Cleopatra v Tryphaena.

During her reign, the Nile overflowed Egypt's banks every summer and receded every autumn leaving behind fertile mud. Alexandria's principle exports were papyrus, linen, scent, salt, oil — which was used for food, body care and lighting  — ivory, architectural and sculptural stones, emeralds, silver utensils, glass vases, along with various woolen goods.

Alexandria's Library and its Museum, founded by Ptolemy I Soter, featured fine gardens, fountains, restaurants and became research centers for the Mediterranean world... a place where scholars lived tax free.

Cleopatra first ascended the throne in 51 BC with her brother Ptolemy XIII as co-monarch. Some time between June and September of 49 BC, it's likely that she took refuge in Upper Egypt and finally outside of Egypt altogether. Later Papyrus attributes year 3 of her reign to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII, so that in retrospective, it would appear as if he were king since the death of their father, Ptolemy XII Auletes.

Following her return to Alexandria at 21 years old, an enamored Julius Caesar (52) took her political side against Ptolemy XIII, her half-brother and husband, who later lost his life escaping from a massacre on March 27 in 47 BC along Lake Mareotis. Unable to rule without a co-monarch, her surviving half-brother, Ptolemy XIV, was elevated to the position at about age 12.

In total, she bore three offsprings: Ptolemy Caesar (December 48 BC), twins Alexander and Cleopatra (autumn of 40 BC), and Ptolemy Philadelphus, (36 BC).

While various accusations have been made against her and at times taken as facts — notably that the predominant element in her character was sexuality — there's no evidence that she took any other lovers aside from Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.

Not one surviving portrait exists that can confidently be believed to represent her, but it's speculated that she had a dark complexion. Her makeup was probably elaborate, as was Egyptian custom. "Atimony and lampblack were applied to the eyebrows and eyelids with round-ended rods, ochre was applied to the lips with a brush, the nails and sole of the feet and palms of the hands were dyed with henna."

Her own beauty, so we are told, was not of that incomparable kind which instantly captivates the beholder. But the charm of her presence was irresistible, and there was an attractiveness in her person and talk, together with a peculiar force of character which pervaded her every word and action, and laid all who associated with her under its spell. It was a delight merely to hear the sound of her voice...

She lived until the age of 39, possibly poisoning herself after learning of Mark Antony's suicide and was found lying on a golden couch, dressed in royal robes.

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In the blog post "An Exhaustive Guide to Pearls: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know," you can read about how she attempted to feed Mark Antony pearls as part of the "most expensive meal ever."

Works cited:

  • Crawford, Amy. “Who Was Cleopatra?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 31 Mar. 2007.
    Jarus, Owen.
  • “Cleopatra: Facts & Biography.” LiveScience, Purch, 13 Mar. 2014. 

1 comment


  • Bill Nix

    Thank you fir this fascinating story of Cleopatras!
    I learned a great deal and it is leading me to more research about her. I can not believe the number of killings in this family!!


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