Ancient Egypt and Us

Cleopatra the last Egyptian ruler of Ancient Egypt

The first three years of the joint reign of Ptolemy 13 (51-47BC) and his half sister Cleopatra 7 (51-30BC) were fraught with domestic calamities. Cleopatra was married to her young half brother but had no intentions of sharing power. A court conspiracy, however, removed Cleopatra (right, Altes Museum, Berlin) from power thus making Ptolemy the sole ruler c50BC. Two years later her attempted a counter coup in the east Delta at Pelusium failed and she was forced to flee to Syria. While Cleopatra was in exile, Pompey was defeated by Julius Caesar at Pharsalus in Greece in 48 BC, and he fled to Alexandria to seek the support of the young Ptolemy 13 to fight on against Caesar.

On September 28th, 48BC, Pompey arrived in Egypt and was murdered by one of his former officers, who was now working for Ptolemy. It is believed that Ptolemy 13 had ordered the death to win favor with the new strong-man of Rome, Julius Caesar, hoping in the process to clear his debts. Caesar followed Pompey to Egypt; when he arrived in Egypt Ptolemy 13 presented him with Pompey's severed head. Caesar was saddened and then enraged that Pompey, a Consul of Rome, had been so treacherously treated. His forces moved into the royal palace where he began arbitration between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. Cleopatra, now twenty, hurriedly returned to the royal palace hidden in a Persian carpet. Caesar at fifty-two years of age was charmed by the bright witty and entertaining Queen and she became his mistress.

There then followed a seven month processional Nile, cruise consisting of a flotilla of four hundred ships. Cleopatra gave birth to their son the next year and named him Caesarion meaning ‘little caesar’. Caesar now supported Cleopatra's claim to the throne and after a brief conflict, Ptolemy 13 was drowned during the Battle of the Nile. Cleopatra and Caesarion visited Julius Caser in Rome between 47 BC and 44 BC where she dwelt at Caesar’s country residence outside the city. Following Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March 44 BC she returned to Egypt. Cleopatra made Caesarion her co-regent and successor. On the outside wall at the rear of the temple of Hathor at Dendera, there is a unique relief (right) which shows Cleopatra 7 and her young son Caesarion making offerings, both are shown as the same height.

Mark Antony, the chief deputy to Julius Caesar was given Rome’s eastern provinces to govern and in 42BC summoned Cleopatra to travel to Tarsus (south east Turkey) to examine her loyalty. Cleopatra now twenty-six, so charmed Antony that he wintered with her in 41/40BC in Alexandria, she later gave birth to his twins.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

In 37 BC, Antony again visited Alexandria on the way to the Parthian war. He then settled in Alexandria and ‘married’ Cleopatra in 35BC, according to Egyptian custom. In 34BC, Antony made a fatal error of political judgment which was to seal his fate. He appointed Cleopatra to became co-ruler of the Roman eastern provinces and even produced coins (right) with both their heads. The Roman Senate considered these events to be treasonable and a threat to the Republic. Octavian easily convinced the Senate to revoke Antony’s power and he was recalled to Rome and war was declared on Cleopatra and Egypt. In 31BC, Antony's fleet accompanied by that of Cleopatra, was narrowly defeated off the coast of Actium (western Greece).Octavian then invaded Egypt.

As his legions approached Alexandria, in August 30BC, to engage the combined armies of Antony and Cleopatra, Antony's army deserted to Octavian. Cleopatra, at the age of thirty nine, poisoned herself by the bite of an asp. Caesarion now seventeen was captured and executed at Alexandria, Octavian is quoted as saying "Two Caesars are one too many." So died Ptolemy the 15th, the last to bear the dynastic name. This ended not just the Hellenistic line of Egyptian kings, but the line of all ancient Egyptian kings.