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Cleopatra VII

1st Century B.C.-1st Century B.C.
From: Egypt
Fields: Government and Politics
Key Words/Phrases: the last Pharaoh of Egypt
Cleopatra (circa 69-30 BC), ill-fated queen of Egypt (51-30 BC), celebrated for her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Cleopatra, or more precisely, Cleopatra VII, was the daughter of Ptolemy XI Auletes, king of Egypt. On her father's death in 51 BC Cleopatra, then about 17 years old, and her brother, Ptolemy XII, a child of about 12 years, succeeded jointly to the throne of Egypt with the provision that they should marry. In the third year of their reign Ptolemy, encouraged by his advisers, assumed sole control of the government and drove Cleopatra into exile. She promptly gathered an army in Syria but was unable to assert her claim until the arrival at Alexandria of Julius Caesar, who became her lover and espoused her cause. He was for a time hard pressed by the Egyptians but ultimately triumphed, and in 47 BC Ptolemy XII was killed. Caesar proclaimed Cleopatra queen of Egypt. Cleopatra was then forced by custom to marry her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, then about 11 years old. After settling their joint government on a secure basis, Cleopatra went to Rome, where she lived as Caesar's mistress. She gave birth to a son, Caesarion, later Ptolemy XIV; it is believed that Caesar was his father. After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, Cleopatra is said to have poisoned Ptolemy XIII. She then returned to Egypt and made Caesarion her coregent. Because Cleopatra hesitated to take sides in the civil war following Caesar's death, Mark Antony summoned her to meet him to explain her conduct. He fell in love with her and returned with her to Egypt. After living with her for some time, Antony was compelled to return to Rome, where he married Octavia, a sister of Caesar's heir Octavian, later Roman emperor as Augustus. After Antony's departure Cleopatra bore him twins. In 36 BC Antony went to the East as commander of an expedition against the Parthians. He sent for Cleopatra, who joined him at Antioch. They were married, and a third child was born. In 34 BC, after a successful campaign against the Parthians, he celebrated his triumph at Alexandria. He continued to reside in Egypt. In 32 BC, when Octavian declared war against Cleopatra and Antony, Antony divorced Octavia. Cleopatra insisted on taking part in the campaign. At the naval engagement at Actium in 31 BC, believing Antony's defeat to be inevitable, she withdrew her fleet from action, and she and Antony fled to Alexandria. On the approach of Octavian, Antony, deceived by a false report of the death of the queen, committed suicide. Hearing that Octavian intended to exhibit her in his triumph at Rome, Cleopatra killed herself, probably by poison, or, according to an old tradition, by the bite of an asp. Caesarion, the last member of the Ptolemy dynasty, was put to death by Octavian, and Egypt subsequently became a Roman province. Cleopatra's life has formed the basis for many literary works, the most notable of which are the plays Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare, All for Love by the English dramatist John Dryden, and Caesar and Cleopatra by the British playwright George Bernard Shaw. See also Ptolemaic Dynasty.

"Cleopatra" Microsoft® Encarta.
Copyright© 1995 Microsoft Corporation.


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