Cleopatra VII; the last in a dynasty of Macedonian rulers, a general under Alexander the Great, a lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, but how she maintained her rule is not so glamorous.Cleopatra is often depicted as a beautiful, powerful woman who ruled over Egypt earning her an enduring place in history and popular myth. The nature of her ascendance and maintenance of the throneareoften overlooked in popular fiction. Digging deeper into the legend of Cleopatra, beneath her renowned beauty was a ruthless killer. Committed to being the omnipotent power in Egypt, Cleopatra oversaw the deaths of all three of her siblings following her father’s death.
It was sibling rivalry and the emerging power of Rome that split loyalties after the death of Ptolemy XIII (Cleopatra’s father), 51BC. Following tradition, 18 year old Cleopatra was to be married to her 10-year-old brother; Ptolemy XIII and they were to co-rule over Egypt. It soon became clear that Cleopatra had no intention of sharing power; shedropped her brother’s names from official documents and their faces from the coins. Cleopatra went against the tradition of female rulers being subservient to their male co-rulers and put increasing strain on the crown.
These existing tensions were heightened when the issue of Rome emerged. The Roman Empire was expanding across the Middle East and a foothold had already been established within Egypt. The ruling dynasty had to choose between resisting Rome and risk going to war, or forming an alliance with Rome and potentially provoke an internal rebellion. Cleopatra’s intentions were clear early on; she sought to befriend Rome and make them a powerful ally of Egypt but her brother Ptolemy, and sister Arsinoe disagreed.
With increased lack of co-operation, and due to her increasing status as queen, Ptolemy exiled his sister from Alexandria in hope of forming solidarity within Egypt. Cleopatra’s thirst for power however,turned her eyes to the manipulation of Rome. Using her petite size and beauty, she managed to roll herself into a bed sack that was carried to Julius Caesar in his visit to Alexandria. Cleopatra knew it was important to get to Caesar before her brother. Desperate to return to power, young Cleopatra seduced the Roman emperor, winning his favour and his military muscle.
Ptolemy learnt this news and in reaction, troops loyal to Ptolemy and Arsinoe attacked the palace Caesar was staying in. After a narrow escape, Caesar still pledged to see Cleopatra returned to the throne. Calling in troops from Syria, Ptolemy was pursued and eventually drowned in the Nile, weighed down by his heavy gold armour. Cleopatra’s first rival had been eliminated.
Arsinoe, who had been declared ruler during the rebellion against Rome,was soon taken prisoner at the hand of her sister and Rome. She was taken to Rome in chains, and in tradition paraded around the capital alongside other prisoners, ultimately to be strangled. As a vulnerable young girl,she was spared the humiliation of murder. As punishment, she was exiled from Egypt and became a political exile under the protection of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, Turkey. She remained under the watchful eye of Romebut, in Cleopatra’s eyes, she remained a threat.
Returned to the throne by the dynastic solution dictated by Caesar, Cleopatra was forced to continue tradition and married her youngest brother. Shortly after this restoration Caesar was stabbed to death and Cleopatra had her co-ruler murdered. But Cleopatra’s power was still not stable with her little sister still alive and in the power of Rome.
When Mark Anthony became the senator of Ephesus,Cleopatra saw an opportunity. His lavish lifestyle, and love of war had left him broke and looking to Cleopatra for aid. Suddenly, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra proved invaluable allies. He needed her resources and she needed security. In return for money to pay his war debt, Mark Anthony had Arsinoe murdered in the holy temple of Artemis. No more descendants were alive to challenge Cleopatra’s rule.
Through being a ruthless politician, a beautiful queen, and alustful seductress, Cleopatra managed to secure her position as one of the most successful and powerful queens in history. Her rule was scattered with internal and external battles, but she managed to keep Egypt independent for 20 years by securing a relationship with Rome. By murdering her siblings, the Ptolemaic dynasty ended with Cleopatra as the last queen of Egypt, and a legend in history.