April 26, 2012

Cleopatra Queen of Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra Queen
Cleopatra and the last of the Ptolemies

Egypt was bequeathed to Ptolemy XIPs daughter, Cleopatra VII, aged 17, with the injunction that she should marry the elder of her two brothers, Ptolemy XIII. He, with the aid of ever-scheming palace courtiers, this time Pothinus and Achillas, attempted to dispose of her, but she was warned in time and fled to safety in Syria. However, Cleopatra was soon back with an army at the gates of Egypt at Pelusium where a stand-off between her and her brother took place, neither side being willing to make a move.

Rome now entered the scene with Julius Caesar pursuing his defeated adversary Pompey after the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Pompey, seeking sanctuary with Ptolemy XIII, landed at Pelusium and was immediately assassinated by the conspirators Pothinus and Achillas, who were backing the Caesarian faction. When Caesar arrived at Alexandria, and was presented with Pompey's severed head, he had Pothinus executed (Achillas met his death later at the hands of Arsinoe, Cleopatra's younger sister). At Alexandria Caesar summoned the young king and queen before him. He favoured the queen, Cleopatra, as history and so many plays and novels recount. Ptolemy, with Achillas, unsuccessfully besieged the Romans on the Pharos island and Ptolemy was drowned in the attack.

In order to maintain the necessary dual rule on the throne, Cleopatra now married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV. She simultaneously became Caesar's mistress and bore him a son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion. Cleopatra is shown in a relief on the rear wall of the temple of Hathor at Dendera presenting the young boy to the gods. It is the only relief of her in Egypt. Although her beauty has been fabled in literature, Cleopatra was above all things a very clever, intelligent and political woman - she had to be to captivate two such men as Caesar and Antony in turn and endeavour to use them to maintain her kingdom. She was said to be the only one of the Ptolemies who could understand and speak Egyptian. Egypt was now simply a rich pawn in the great struggle for power after Caesar's death between Octavian, Caesar's heir, and Antony. It came to a head at Actium on the west coast of Greece on the afternoon of 2 September 31 BC. The sea battle swung first one way and then the other when, for some unaccountable reason - some say a mutiny, others say misunderstood orders - Antony broke off the engagement and sailed for the open sea after Cleopatra's ships and followed her to Egypt. Octavian was left master of the field.

The following year Octavian took the fight to Egypt and entered Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC. Cleopatra, as is well known, committed suicide rather than be an ornament in a Roman triumph. Antony fell on his sword, and Octavian had them buried together in the royal mausoleum in the Sema at Alexandria that Cleopatra had prepared.


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