Duane W. Roller

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online April 2014 | | DOI:

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Cleopatra (Kleopatra) VII is arguably the most famous woman from classical antiquity, and one of the most familiar personalities in human history. She is best known through the extensive art and literature that was generated after her death. The information from Greek and Roman sources about Cleopatra herself is surprisingly sparse and generally misinterpreted. She is familiar today largely through her representation by Shakespeare and in modern film, as a seductress who ruined the men in her life and destroyed her kingdom, an erroneous depiction that is in large part the result of extremely eloquent opponents and male-dominated historiography. More accurately, she was a capable administrator and military commander, a linguist who knew a dozen languages, and a published scholarly author. Yet she was also the last ruler of her kingdom, and her defeat by the Romans led to the destruction of her reputation. She ruled for twenty-one years, from 51 to 30 bce, and skillfully attempted to salvage her dying kingdom in the face of growing Roman power and involvement in the affairs of the eastern Mediterranean. Best remembered for her liaisons with Julius Caesar, and Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), she in fact carefully chose her partners in order to produce heirs who could carry on the kingdom. But her own plans became caught up in the ongoing civil war at Rome, beginning with the assassination of Caesar in 44 bce. Her original relations with Antonius were a matter of stabilizing her kingdom and creating a mutually beneficial relationship between Egypt and Rome, but the personal involvement between the two eventually hampered these plans, and allowed Octavian (the future emperor Augustus), in power in Rome, to marginalize Antonius (who was his brother-in-law) and to claim that he was being destroyed by an eastern seductress. Matters quickly moved out of control in the 30s bce, and eventually a Roman invasion of Greece was mounted. Cleopatra attempted to disassociate herself from Antonius in order to salvage her kingdom, but would not give it over to Octavian, and was driven to suicide in August of 30 bce at the age of thirty-nine. Her son Kaisarion ruled for a few weeks, but soon the Romans took over the kingdom. Although the Roman literary machine turned her into a dangerous monster who almost destroyed Rome, within Egypt she was honored for centuries.

Article.  6311 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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