THE DEATH OF CLEOPATRA
Do you want to unravel the mysteries surrounding Cleopatra's death? You want to understand how Cleopatra's reign and love affairs indirectly led to her death? Or perhaps you simply want to know who is Cleopatra?
We are here to shed light on this emblematic character and solve the enigmas surrounding her tragic disappearance.
Cleopatra established herself as the last queen of Egypt. Her ascension to the throne was complex and occurred at a time when the ancient world was under fire and blood. During her reign, Egypt regained its former glory, but the death of Cleopatra marked the beginning of a period of decline for Egypt.
In this article, we will discuss everything we need to know to fully understand the causes and consequences of Cleopatra's mysterious death:
- The emblematic figure that is Cleopatra
- How her reign brought Egypt to a decline
- The mysterious death of Cleopatra (and the events that preceded it)
After this article you will know all about the last regent of ancient Egypt and her tragic end, but also about the political intrigues of the first century BC.
Let us dive together into the life of the most famous woman of antiquity.
1) The youth of Cleopatra
Of all the Cleopatra's who have existed, one of them truly marked the ancient world: Cleopatra VII. As the meaning of her name indicates (in ancient Egyptian, "Cleopatra" meant "new goddess who loves her homeland") her reign was eventful but allowed Egypt to recover some of its past glory.
A queen of great intelligence, she did everything possible, alliances, weddings, and manipulation to achieve her ends. In order to understand her death, we need to understand who queen Cleopatra was.
A) The queen of Egypt
From the beginning of her life, everything points to a grandiose destiny for Cleopatra VII. She is one of the legitimate heirs of the great Ptolemaic empire created by one of the companions of Alexander the Great.
She is therefore just as much a part of Greek and Egyptian culture. Her dynasty has ruled Egypt for more than 300 years, during which time the country has developed greatly before entering into more or less troubled times.
Above all, it is the beauty of Cleopatra VII that makes her pass through the ages to us. She fascinated the painters of the "European Renaissance Period", as can be seen from the colossal number of works depicting her.
Cleopatra is made to reign by her different characteristics innate or acquired during her life:
- Her extraordinary intelligence makes her a woman of great distinction. She has mastered many notions in politics and has a real gift for convincing and persuading her peers.
- Cleopatra's great beauty makes her one of the most beautiful women of her time. Moreover, according to her legend, she possesses an unparalleled charm and easily seduces men.
- Her extraordinary education makes her, most certainly, the most cultivated woman of antiquity. Her erudition is recognised throughout the ancient world and is widely envied. In particular, she was taught by the great Greek philosopher Philostratos in the great library of Alexandria.
- Her mastery of languages makes her a brilliant speaker. She can speak a very large number of languages: Latin, Median, Parthian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Greek. In addition, she is the only one in her dynasty to have learned Egyptian. Indeed, because the dynasty of Cleopatra descended from one of the Greek generals of Alexander the Great, the official language of Cleopatra's family was the Greek.
B) The childhood of Cleopatra
Nevertheless, Cleopatra's childhood does not remain a fairy tale. Egypt was becoming more and more powerful, but one of its neighbours was also gaining in importance: Rome. A real war of influence begins between the two nations. Rome was a republic that dreamed of great battles and conquests, while ancient Egypt was more interested in dominating thanks to its rich culture and its commercial activities.
Unfortunately, the pen was not always stronger than the sword, and faced with Rome's military superiority, Egypt abandoned its intention to oppose Rome head-on. Ptolemy XII (Cleopatra's father) was forced to pay astronomical sums of money to Rome. Yet, the appetite of the Romans could not be satisfied and they annexed Cyprus, which had been under Egyptian rule until then.
Unlike Rome, the country of the Nile was no longer the conquering empire before the reign of Cleopatra and used only its army to repel its possible aggressors.
These political quarrels weakened Egypt. As a consequence, Ptolemy XII was rejected by his people and paradoxically had to go into exile in Rome, his enemy of yesterday. It was by accompanying her father to Rome that Cleopatra would complete her education, what would allow her to become the great Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.
When, a year later, she returned to Egypt with her father to regain control of Egypt, she would no longer be the young princess Cleopatra, but a young woman with a strong character.
2) The beginning of the reign of Cleopatra
Cleopatra had all the assets to become an undisputed sovereign who would reign over Egypt for a long time. A long period at the head of the kingdom of the Nile seems destined for her.
However, we all know that Cleopatra's life came to an astonishing end surprisingly quickly (which is why you are reading this article!). To understand her death, we must then understand what her reign was like.
A) Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII
Cleopatra's reign begins with the death of her father, inheriting his claims to the throne of Egypt. The kingdom of Egypt was then greatly weakened by the political quarrels that had plagued it since her father's accession to the Egyptian throne.
According to the Ptolemaic tradition (allowing marriages between brothers and sisters), she married her brother Ptolemy XIII. Nevertheless, a growing struggle for control of Egypt began to emerge within the royal couple.
Tensions between Cleopatra and her brothers and sisters have always been present, but it was really the latter's desire to reign alone that ignited the powder keg.
Cleopatra fears the growing influence of her brother and his desire to reign alone, so she decides to try to discredit him with rumors and political intrigue.
Unfortunately for Cleopatra, her brother, because he is a man, is supported by the majority of the powerful. Under threat of being locked up in the jails of Alexandria, Cleopatra has to flee to Syria to protect herself.
B) Cleopatra and Caesar
In Syria, it was at this time that Cleopatra met Julius Caesar, then consul of Rome. It was also at this time that her first romance took place, a romance which would allow her to regain control of Egypt. Julius Caesar saw the quarrel between Cleopatra and her brother as an opportunity to expand the Roman republic.
He decides to help the queen recover her throne. The consul then leaves for Egypt with Cleopatra and returns to Alexandria.
Unfortunately, Ptolemy XIII intended to continue reigning without his sister, so he decided to lay siege to the city. Cleopatra and Caesar are trapped within the walls of Alexandria, so it is quite natural that they end up falling under each other's spell.
Finally, Caesar's legions come to free him, Cleopatra's brother and husband mysteriously drowns, and she ascends to the throne of Egypt.
Cleopatra, of great ambition, was ready to do anything to ascend the throne of Egypt. She sought to sweep away all obstacles in her path, including her brothers and sisters.
Nevertheless, it was after Caesar's death and her meeting with Mark Antony that Cleopatra began to reign unquestionably over Egypt. Indeed, Mark Antony became consul of the second Roman Triumvirate and obtained the post of governor of the "Eastern lands" (i.e. Egypt).
It is then a real love at first sight and a strong political mutual comprehension between Cleopatra and the newly appointed consul. Both shared the same ambition, to restore Egypt to its former glory.
Numerous wars and political alliances allowed Egypt to become once again the great empire it was in the time of Alexander the Great. Its borders were greatly enlarged, its army became more powerful and its economy began to prosper again.
Indeed, Cleopatra made many men, especially Romans, turn their heads. Even the great Caesar, the "winner of the Gauls", could not resist her charm.
However, against all expectations, this last romance, which contributed to restoring Egypt's reputation, led to the death of Cleopatra...
3) The suicide of Cleopatra
Egypt is now in a phase of prosperity during the reign of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The kingdom is extensive, rich, and powerful. With all these assets, Egypt became a threat to Rome and especially to the ambitious Octavian, consul and other member of the Roman Triumvirate. Against a backdrop of jealousy and war of influence, this is how the second Roman civil war began, pitting Octavian and his legions against Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
This civil war remained undecided for a long time. It was finally at the famous battle of Actium that the fate of Egypt and Cleopatra was decided. This battle was so wide-ranging that it takes place on both land and sea and lasts for hours.
The men of each side fall by the thousands, the ships collide in great fracas. It is after hours of merciless fighting that Octavian finally gets a clear advantage (especially on the sea). Mark Antony and Cleopatra are forced to flee to Egypt.
The battle of Actium is a naval battle of colossal dimensions. More than 750 galleys of all sizes face each other!
Accidentally, a storm separates Mark Antony and Cleopatra. When Mark Antony arrives weeks after his beloved in Egypt, a rumour circulates: Cleopatra has committed suicide. Mark Antony, having lost everything, collapses, and decides that nothing can hold him in this world any longer. He throws himself on his sword and dies to join the one he loves.
Yet, Cleopatra's death was just a rumour. When she learns of her lover's suicide, she is plunged into inconsolable sadness. Her great love is dead and has taken all her joy and happiness with him. And, as if that were not enough, Octavian's fleet approaches Alexandria to deliver the coup de grace to the queen of Egypt. Cleopatra refuses to bend her knee before her enemies and would rather die standing than live on her knees.
Octavian's spies are on the prowl and Cleopatra must therefore develop a complex plan to take her own life without them stopping her. She therefore asks one of her faithful servants to bring her a basket of figs in which these servants will have hidden the most poisonous snake she can find.
Many sources agree today that the snake she found was the aptly named "royal cobra". Her handmaiden executes herself and when Cleopatra plunges her hand into the basket, she is bitten and dies.
With the disappearance of Cleopatra dies the Egyptians' aspiration to recreate the vast kingdom to which they once belonged. From now on, Egypt will never again be so prosperous and independent.
It was against a backdrop of political war and a tragic love story that the most famous woman of antiquity died.
The story of Cleopatra's death!
You can now better understand the death of the last of Egypt's pharaohs Cleopatra and the reasons for her suicide. In the end, it was a love story and the violence of a civil war that finally got the better of the famous sovereign.
Thanks to your reading, not only does Cleopatra's death no longer hold any secrets for you, but all the events leading up to her death appear clear. The romantic tragedy worthy of Romeo and Juliet that led to her death is no longer a mystery.
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