Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (69 – August 30, 31 BC)
16″ x 20″ oil on canvas
More fascinating than even the movies could portray, Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt. Known for her beauty, sweet voice and heroic struggle to maintain Egypt’s independence from Rome, her audacity is the stuff of legends.
In an attempt to solidify his dynasty and maintain his power against Rome, Ptolemy XII married his seventeen-year-old daughter, Cleopatra, to her nine-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII. Upon the death of Ptolemy XII, eighteen-year old Cleopatra became co-ruler of Egypt, with her young brother/husband.
The powerful Roman Empire was ready to annex Egypt. To stop Rome from advancing on Egypt, Cleopatra knew she needed to gain the favor of Julius Caesar. Legend has it that she wrapped her scantily clad self in a rug and had herself delivered to Caesar in Rome. It must have succeeded as she delivered a child a year later and named him Ptolemy Caesar, nicknamed “Caesarian.”
That Caesar was already married (to Calpurnia), yet Cleopatra claimed to be his wife, added to a climate in Rome that ended with Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC.
After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt, where her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XIII died, possibly assassinated by Cleopatra. She established her son Ptolemy XIV as her co-ruler.
Marc Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled Rome after Caesars death, then demanded her presence, along with that of other rulers who were controlled by Rome. She arrived dramatically as an unconquered queen in full regalia.
Mark Antony was captivated and pledged his support to Cleopatra. Antony spent the winter in Alexandria with Cleopatra. Cleopatra bore twins to Antony.
In 36 BC Cleopatra joined Antony in Alexandria, and they went through a sort of marriage ceremony. That same year, another son was born to them, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Marc Antony formally restored to Egypt, and Cleopatra, territory which the Ptolemy’s had lost in wars with Rome, including Cyprus and part of what is now Lebanon. In 34 BC Antony affirmed the joint rulership of Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, recognizing Caesarion as the son of Julius Caesar.
Antony’s marriage to Cleopatra, their children, and his granting of territory to her, was used to raise concerns over his loyalty to Rome. Antony was able to use Cleopatra’s financial support in the Battle of Actium (31 BC), but missteps eventually led to his defeat.
Cleopatra attempted unsuccessfully to get Roman support for her children’s succession to power. In 30 BC, Marc Antony killed himself, reportedly because he’d been told that Cleopatra had been killed, in another attempt to keep power. Learning of Antony’s death, Cleopatra killed herself.
Egypt became a province of Rome, ending the rule of the Ptolemies. Cleopatra’s children were taken to Rome. Caligula later executed Ptolemy Caesarion, and Cleopatra’s other sons simply disappear from history. Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene, married Juba, king of Numidia and Mauretania.
Fearless, reckless, seductive Cleopatra remains a romantic figure; Egypt’s last Pharoah. Wouldn’t you have loved to meet her?