Cleopatra is one of the most popular queens of ancient Egypt, a name
used to mark public squares, commercial organizations and healthcare
institutions. A royal of her time she believed herself to be a divine
being and was associated with deities Isis and Aphrodite. She was
depicted in Hollywood by Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Claudette
Colbert haunting public imagination with an extravagant and
breath-taking queen. Whether such sensationalist portrayals represented
the truth or not, Egyptologist Joann Fletcher and author of Cleopatra
the Great said that the queen was a "mistress of disguise" and that's a
most colorful statement that allows for believing in an array of
characteristics and images of Cleopatra.
As for putting a real face to the grand ruler, only recently did the
discovery of a coin with her portrait go on display at Newcastle
University in England, in February of 2007 to be exact. The coin dates
back to 32 BC and shows a queen with a large nose, a pointed chin and
narrow harsh lips. In Plutarch's Life of Antony reference was made to
her charisma and strong presence as "irresistible" and "bewitching." He
depicted her as a tragic heroine especially with her decision to end her
life after Octavian defeated her Antony on August 12, 30 BC.
Prior to that haunting scene of her death that dominates the story of
Cleopatra was a popular queen among her people; an ethnically Greek
queen descendant of Alexander the Great. Unlike Egypt's Alexandria-
based rulers she set her mind to learning the Egyptian language. In a
papyrus that dates back to 35 BC she was referred to as Philopatris
which means 'she who loves her country.
As it was custom she was to rule with her brother and husband Ptolemy
XIII who drove her out of the royal palace after she attempted to rule
without him. She then made her way to Syria and returned with an army of
her own and stayed in wait outside the capital. Julius Caesar's arrival
in Alexandria in 48 BC made him a liaison between the two royals. He
wanted Egypt to continue being a peaceful and stable ally to Rome.
Ptolemy XIII was against that motion for peace with his queen. She on
the other hand gambled on pleading to Caesar for help. She was carried
by her servant Apollodoros wrapped in a carpet and delivered to Caesar's
company in secret. She did win him over and he helped her regain the
throne. A civil war ensued and Ptolemy's rebellion against the armistice
ended with his drowning in the Nile which left Cleopatra as the sole
ruler of Egypt. Cleopatra went on to bear Caesar a son but custom
dictated that she marry her remaining brother. With Caesar assassinated
in 44 BC she ordered Ptolemy XIV killed to secure her son's place on the
throne and also got rid of her rebellious sister Arsinoe. Although
sources confirm her love for Antony and giving him three children she
hoped that by securing such an alliance that she would keep Octavian
(Julius Caesar's successor) at bay.
Her goal as a sovereign ruler was for Egypt to keep its independence
from the Roman Empire. She empowered her kingdom economically by trading
with the nations of Arabia and India making Egypt a world power and the
richest nation on the Mediterranean and the last standing against the
expansion of the Roman Empire until 30 BC.