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Cleopatra – The Real Cleopatra

Cleopatra was an ancient queen who employed beauty and political acumen to advance Egyptian interests during times of tension with Rome. Her life story…

Cleopatra was an ancient queen who employed beauty and political acumen to advance Egyptian interests during times of tension with Rome. Her life story — including her intimate relations with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and fighting Rome that she ultimately lost — have made her one of the most iconic figures from classical antiquity; yet, in spite of all that art and literature have been produced about her, little is actually known about Cleopatra herself or details regarding her reign.

This article takes an in-depth look at Cleopatra as she was really lived, exploring her family roots, her rise to power and its subsequent decline and complex and mysterious end. Additionally, we will consider how Cleopatra’s myths have evolved through time as well as any misinterpretations of Roman sources that might skew our knowledge about her.

Cleopatra was born to the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled from Alexandria. Although her pharaohs had practiced Egyptian religious rituals, this kingdom was predominantly Greek in culture; therefore Cleopatra spoke Koine Greek and learned her father’s craft (he was an artist and bronze sculptor), amongst many other subjects such as learning different languages from an early age and being educated as she gained military command. Cleopatra could speak up to 12 different tongues!

Cleopatra led her nation through a prosperous period under her rule, using trade with Arab states and her political acumen to position it as an economic power in the Mediterranean basin. She proved herself adept at playing politics like men did, often making strategic alliances out of romantic ones between herself, Caesar and Antony as part of her relationship strategy.

Political alliances brought her to Rome in 46 BCE. There, she met with Caesar, seeking his mediation in her dispute with her brother. When Caesar arrived, she dressed to impress and persuaded her servant to dress her in fine clothing before wrapping herself in an oriental carpet or, according to Plutarch’s account, bedclothes sack and present herself to Caesar for viewing.

Cleopatra and Arsinoe had both been exiled from Egypt at this point and were seeking to regain the throne. It became clear that they had both fallen out of favor with their brother, making their relationship one of love and politics rather than family loyalty.

As soon as Octavian entered Egypt, Cleopatra tried to reason with him, but he insisted on using her as a war trophy and displayed her publicly at victory celebrations. She may have felt relief upon dying shortly afterwards, yet it seems unlikely he rejoiced at her unjust treatment; more likely than not he felt some mix of sorrow and sympathy for her as she paraded by.

Cleopatra remains a powerful figure even decades after her tragic end, with myths surrounding her still strong even today. Generally regarded as an archetype of beauty and dangerous femme fatale in Europe; she is remembered differently in Africa and Islamic tradition – often as an educator, cultural figure, or symbol of female empowerment.