30 Beautiful Facts about Queen Cleopatra

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1Cleopatra's Inbred Ancestry

Cleopatra's Inbred Ancestry

Due to inbreeding amongst the Ptolemies, Cleopatra had only two pairs of great-grandparents. One of those pairs was the son and daughter of the other.

2. In the 1963 ‘Cleopatra’ movie, the young queen of Egypt had a Chinese servant named Lotus. The character of Lotus, like many elements from the film, is a modern fabrication, but it is possible that a Chinese person could have been present in Cleopatra’s exceptionally diverse court. Ptolemaic maritime trade with Asia is well documented and Ptolemaic propaganda boasted about the various people represented in the royal court, and in the diversity of the nations that paid homage to them.

3. The Great Pyramids of Giza were already close to 2,500 years old when Cleopatra was ruling Egypt. We are living closer to Cleopatra’s time than she was to the Pyramid’s building. During her rule, pyramids were already a big tourist attraction, as were the Valley of Kings and the Talking Colossi of Memnon. Even back then, the tourist industry in Egypt was thriving enough to support tour guides and package tours up the Nile.

4. Cleopatra is depicted with bangs in modern movies and media, but this hairstyle is not attested to in ancient depictions of her. Her most iconic hairstyle from an archaeological and historical perspective is known as the “melon coiffure.” This hairstyle derives its name from its appearance, as braids or rows of hair are pulled back from the forehead into a bun that resembles the ridges on a melon’s gourd. Usually, in statuary and coin portraits of the queen, we also see corkscrew curls behind and/or in front of the ears and around the forehead.

5. According to modern Historian Dr. Bettany Hughes, “Cleopatra was a poet and a philosopher. She was incredibly good at math and she wasn’t that much of a looker. But when we think of her, we only think of big breasted seductress bathing in milk.” She was also fluent in multiple languages and she was the first Ptolemaic ruler that could speak Egyptian.

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6Caesar-Cleopatra Relationship

Caesar-Cleopatra Relationship

Julius Caesar and Cleopatra were in a relationship and political alliance despite her marriage to her brother because Egypt allowed polygamy. Julius Caesar needed Cleopatra’s money, and Cleopatra needed the help of Caesar’s army to take control of Egypt from her husband/brother Ptolemy XIII.

7. Cleopatra’s husband/brother Ptolemy XIII died in the Battle of Nile in 47 B.C at the age of 15 fighting Caesar and Cleopatra’s forces.

8. After the death of her husband, Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra maintained a private affair with Caesar that produced a son, Caesarion. He was Julius Caesar’s only son. Even though Cleopatra swears he is Caesar’s son, Caesar never officially acknowledged him.

9. After the death of her husband/brother, Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIV were married and declared joint rulers of Egypt. He was about 12 years old when he acceded to the throne.

10. After Caesar was assassinated in March of 44 B.C., Cleopatra stayed in Rome for more than a month, in the vain hope of having her son Caesarion being recognized as Caesar’s heir. Caesar’s will however named his grandnephew Octavian (Augustus) as his primary heir. Cleopatra decided to flee to Egypt around the time Octavian arrived in Italy.

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11Ptolemy XIV’s Death

Ptolemy XIV’s Death

After Caesar’s assassination and a few months after her arrival in Egypt, Cleopatra poisoned her brother/husband/co-ruler Ptolemy XIV with aconite. Ptolemy XIV died at the age of 15.

12. After Cleopatra killed her second husband, she named her eldest son Caesarion (from her relationship with Caesar) as her co-ruler renaming him Ptolemy XV. He was the last sovereign member of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.

13. After Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony (Antonius) and Augustus (Octavian) joined forces with a third man named Lepidus to find and punish the conspirators who had killed Caesar. This war was known as Liberators’ Civil War and this group of three men was known as the triumvirate. After winning the war, they divided the empire between them: Augustus got the west, Mark Antony got the east and Lepidus got North Africa. Cleopatra helped them in war with her forces and in the process managed to clear her name with them.

14. Cleopatra often used clever stagecraft to woo potential allies. For example, when she met Mark Antony, she arrived on a golden barge made up to look like the goddess Aphrodite. Antony, who considered himself the embodiment of Dionysus (Aphrodite’s lover), was instantly enchanted.

15. Cleopatra’s fame as a beautiful seductive mistress was entirely made by Octavian (Augustus) as a way of explaining how this foreign queen managed to seduce two of Rome’s most powerful men. While being described as a beauty, she was best known for her intelligence and charm. Even Roman authors tend to not actually refer to Cleopatra as beautiful. Plutarch even says she is not as beautiful as Mark Antony’s Wife Octavia. What Roman authors do tend to say about Cleopatra is that she is power hungry, sexually promiscuous, and foreign to Rome.

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16Cleopatra's Children with Antony

Cleopatra's Children with Antony

After Mark Antony won the Liberators’ Civil War, Cleopatra developed a personal relationship with him after wooing him. Her relationship with Mark Antony eventually produced three children: the twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphus.

17. Cleopatra and Mark Antony formed their own drinking club in 41 B.C. and were known to take part in elaborate games and contests and walked the streets of Alexandria in disguise, pranking the residents.

18. Cleopatra’s twins with Mark Antony were born in 40 B.C., around the same time when Mark Antony’s third wife died. Mark Antony then married Octavian's (Augustus) sister Octavia in the same year and she became his fourth wife. Mark Antony married Cleopatra in 34 B.C., six years after their twins were born. Cleopatra was his fifth wife.

19. Augustus (Octavian) riled up the Roman public’s sentiment against Mark Antony for his empowerment of Cleopatra, who was a foreign queen, and his neglect of his virtuous Roman wife Octavia. This made Mark Antony wary of him and on top of this, Mark Antony’s disastrous Parthian campaign in 36 B.C. made him afraid of the risks involved in returning to Rome. In 34 B.C., emboldened by the adoration of Mark Antony, Cleopatra declared herself the Queen of Kings during a royal event in his presence. Antony and Cleopatra may have been wed during this ceremony.

20. In 2010, a papyrus document featuring Cleopatra’s handwriting went on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. The document refers to a tax break for a friend of her husband Mark Antony. Cleopatra signed it with a Greek word meaning “make it happen.”

21War of Propaganda

War of Propaganda

Mark Antony’s marriage to Cleopatra greatly angered Octavian (Augustus) as Mark was still married to Octavian’s sister Octavia. Mark Antony’s wrongful public claim that Caesarion was the true heir to Caesar instead of Octavian, also angered him. In a heated war of propaganda between them that would last for years, litany of gossip and accusations were made against Cleopatra that have shaped popular perceptions about her. Among other things, she was accused of brainwashing Mark Antony with witchcraft and sorcery.

22. In 32 B.C., Mark Antony and Cleopatra traveled to Athens, where she persuaded Antony to officially divorce his wife Octavia. This event was an important spark that led to Rome declaring war on Cleopatra (though not on Mark Antony). Mark Antony however naturally allied with Cleopatra during this war. In 31 B.C. the naval forces of Octavian met those of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium.

23. As Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s forces started facing defeat in the Battle of Actium at the hands of Octavian, the two escaped the battle. By 31 B.C., they were in Alexandria when Octavian’s forces were coming for them. Cleopatra hid in her tomb with her close attendants and sent a message to Antony that she had committed suicide. In despair, Antony responded to this by stabbing himself in the stomach and taking his own life at the age of 53. Cleopatra committed suicide 10 days later inside her tomb. She was 39 when she died.

24. After Cleopatra’s death, her son with Ceaser, Caesarion (Ptolemy XV) reigned for a mere 18 days until he was executed on the orders of Octavian (Augustus) after Caesarion came to Alexandria under the false pretense that Octavian would allow him to be a king. He died at the age of 17.

25. Cleopatra and her son Caesarion’s death marked the end of the Egyptian empire as they were the Last Ruling Pharaohs of Egypt. After their death, Octavian established Egypt as a Roman Province. Mark Antony’s three children with Cleopatra were spared and sent to Rome. In 27 B.C. Octavian was renamed Caesar Augustus (“the revered”) and he later amassed enough constitutional powers to establish himself as the first Roman emperor.

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