|Cleopatra VII was born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria, which was then the capital of Egypt. Her father was Egypt's pharaoh, Ptolemy
XII, nicknamed Auletes ("Flute-Player") and her mother was probably Auletes's sister, Cleopatra V Tryphaena. It was
commonplace for members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to marry their siblings. The family was not truly Egyptian, but Macedonian.
They were descended from Ptolemy I, a general of Alexander the Great who became king of Egypt after Alexander's death in
323 B.C. When her father died in 51 B.C., Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII inherited the throne. Cleopatra was 17 or
18 when she became the queen of Egypt. She was far from beautiful, despite her glamorous image today. She is depicted on
ancient coins with a long hooked nose and masculine features. Yet she was clearly a very seductive woman. She had an
enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma. She was also highly intelligent. She spoke nine languages (she was the
first Ptolemy pharaoh who could actually speak Egyptian!) and proved to be a shrewd politician. In compliance with Egyptian
tradition, Cleopatra married her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 12 at the time. But it was a marriage of
convenience only, and Ptolemy was pharaoh in name only. For three years he remained in the background while Cleopatra
ruled alone. Ptolemy's advisors - led by a eunuch named Pothinus - resented Cleopatra's independence and conspired
against her. In 48 B.C. they stripped Cleopatra of her power and she was forced into exile in Syria.
Determined to regain her throne, Cleopatra amassed an army on Egypt's border. At this time Pompey, a Roman friend of
Cleopatra's father, was vying with Julius Caesar for control of the Roman Empire. After losing the battle of Pharsalos he sailed
to Alexandria, pursued by Caesar, to seek Ptolemy's protection. But Ptolemy's advisors thought it would be safer to side with
Caesar, and when Pompey arrived he was stabbed to death while the pharaoh watched.
Three days later Caesar reached Alexandria. Before he entered the city, Ptolemy's courtiers brought him a gift - Pompey's
head. But Pompey had once been Caesar's friend, and Caesar was appalled by his brutal murder. He marched into the city,
seized control of the palace, and began issuing orders. Both Ptolemy and Cleopatra were to dismiss their armies and meet
with Caesar, who would settle their dispute.
|Cleopatra VII, 32BC
|Elizabeth Taylor as
Cleopatra in 1963