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Ancient History Quote of the Day: "I do not wish to be unfair to the 'graecula'. She is clever beyond words, no denying it… She seemed intent upon challenging my own undeserved reputation for caustic humour" (Cicero, 'Letters to Atticus' 15.15) #AHQOTD #Cleopatra #OTD
This is the great Roman statesman's assessment of #Cleopatra, Pharaoh of Egypt, when Cicero met her in Rome. Cleopatra died on this day, 12 August, in 30 BC. A formidable character driven by her ambition to secure Egypt.
Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes (the ‘Flute-player’). He became pharaoh of Egypt in 80 BC. His daughter, Berenice, was born in 76 BC, and Cleopatra in 70/69 BC. His sons, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, were born in 61 BC and 59 BC.

Image: Relief: Temple at Edfu.
Ptolemy Auletes is generally considered to have been weak and corrupt, and not at all as he is represented in the relief above. This coin represents him as typically Greek, following the style of presentation of Alexander the Great.

Image: Alexandrian Silver tetradrachma (69 BC)
In 58 BC Auletes had been forced to flee Egypt in a coup led by his daughter Berenice. Ptolemy stayed in Pompey’s villa in Rome. The Senate in 57 BC agreed that Rome’s interests were for Ptolemy to be returned as King to Egypt, with the country now being a mere client kingdom.
In 55 BC, with Pompey’s help, Ptolemy bribed (at a cost of 10,000 talents) the governor of Syria, Aulus Gabinius, to return him to Egypt. Declaring war on Berenice and Archelaus, King of Pontus, whom Berenice had married...
... Gabinius led Ptolemy back to Egypt, where he immediately had Berenice and her supporters executed. Cleopatra was now the eldest of the surviving children, although only 14 years old. She may also have met Mark Antony now, since he led the cavalry in the capture of Pelusium.
Supported by the presence of Roman soldiers in Egypt, Ptolemy XII Auletes reigned until spring of 51 BC. It seems that Cleopatra may have ruled jointly with him for a short period, and perhaps alone until she and her 10 y.o. brother Ptolemy XIII were declared co-rulers of Egypt.
Given she inherited an Egypt which was weak and dependent on Roman patrons, who were exploiting Egypt for financial and political advantages, it is unsurprising that her primary aim was to restore glory to Egypt by securing her political position.
This was to be done by aligning herself with the central power of Rome, which at this point suggested one man: Julius Caesar.

Image: 'Cleopatra Before Caesar' by Jean-Léon Gérôme, oil on canvas, 1866.
In the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, it is important to keep in mind that both of them were intelligent and determined politicians whose main aims were always to preserve themselves and their power.
Had Caesar felt that Cleopatra was not up to the task of helping Rome and preserving Rome’s (and his own) interests in Egypt and the East, no matter what he felt about her, he would have abandoned her and found someone else.
Their political union in 48 BC, including sailing down the Nile together in an important political statement for Cleopatra, demonstrating the support she had from Caesar, was also a 'love affair'. Shortly after Caesar left Cleopatra gave birth to her son, Caesarion.
Throughout his life Cleopatra made Caesarion a very important part of her plans. In 44 BC when he was three, and Ptolemy XIV had died, she made a point of sharing the throne with him.

Image: Tetradrachm showing Cleopatra as Venus and Caesarion as Eros.
The birth of Caesarion was a significant political moment, which Rome did not ignore. There was considerable argument as to whether the child had been legitimate and acknowledged by his father (Suetonius , 'Divine Julius' 52).
However, Caesar's assassination in 44 BC damaged Cleopatra's security, as her position within Egypt was still by no means secure. She still needed the support of an influential Roman, and her next consort was to be Mark Antony.

Image: Flavian era bust of Mark Antony
In the political division of the empire following the civil war between the Caesarians and the Liberators, Mark Antony had taken the eastern provinces, ostensibly to allow him to pursue Caesar's intended campaign against the Parthians.
Plutarch (Life of Antony 24) describes the scene: "He went across to Asia and took possession of the wealth there. Kings waited at his door. The wives of kings competed with one another with their gifts and using their beauty, allowed themselves to be seduced by him."
Plutarch is suggesting that Antony has been 'corrupted' by the luxuries of the East and that Cleopatra exploits this situation, as her love "removed and destroyed any useful or saving qualities which could have held out against it. In this way he was captured by her" (Antony 25).
Velleius Paterculus (2.82) goes further: "His love for Cleopatra now burning all the more and his vices greater; these vices were always fed by his love of power, by the luxury he liked and the flattery from those around him. Thus, he decided now to wage war on his own country."
However, both of these authors are seeking to mitigate Antony from blame by presenting Cleopatra as the foreign arch-seductress, turning the noble Roman from the true path...which is patently nonsense.
It is telling that the sources paint Octavia, Octavian's sister and Antony's wife, as the perfect woman - the personification of Roman femininity and a direct contrast to Cleopatra: "...Octavia, who had great dignity and commonsense to add to her beauty" (Plutarch, Antony 31).
Octavia is seen as a force that would "bring some stability and safety for their affairs and harmony for the world" (ibid.), while Cleopatra is a force for destruction.

Image: Bust of Octavia
A significant moment came with the Donations of Alexandria in 34 BC, when Antony conferred various Roman territories on to Cleopatra, and made certain political statements that seemed to suggest his "hatred of Rome": "He then placed on a platform made of silver...
...two thrones made of gold, one for himself and the other for Cleopatra. He added thrones also for the children. First he announced that Cleopatra was Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele Syria, and that Caesarion was to rule with her....
...Caesarion was considered to be a son of Julius Caesar, who had made Cleopatra pregnant. He said that his sons by Cleopatra were to be named Kings of Kings, and to Alexander he gave Armenia, Media and Parthia (once conquered); to Ptolemy he gave Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia"
While such declarations served to secure Cleopatra in Egypt, and restore Ptolemaic territories which her father had lost, the Donations of Alexandria were also the beginning of the end. Antony had crossed the pale and Octavian now used this event to stir popular resentment.
In this he was successful and, in the guise of the 'saviour of Rome', Octavian moved against Antony and Cleopatra. The involvement of the Egyptian Queen allowed Octavian to characterise the war as a foreign campaign, rather than a civil conflict.
Thus in the literature of the period, Cleopatra is little more than the devious and cunning Queen who controlled a weak Antony to do as she wanted: she is a "doomed, destructive monster" (Horace, Odes 1.37); she is the "Egyptian wife (the shame of it!)" (Virgil, Aeneid 8.688).
The sources give primacy to the Battle of Actium (2 September, 31 BC) which Velleius Paterculus (2.85) describes thus: "Then the day of the greatest battle arrived. Now Octavian Caesar and Antony led out their fleets to fight, one to save the world, the other to destroy it."
Written in the aftermath of the Octavian victory at Actium, this and other sources speak of the cowardice of Cleopatra: "Cleopatra was the first to flee. Antony preferred to join the fleeing queen rather than his fighting soldiers" (VP 2.85).
But this is surely character assassination designed to limit the 'unpleasantness' of a Civil War, and seeks to lay the blame on Cleopatra, rather than Antony and Octavian themselves.
Cleopatra and Antony returned to Egypt and the war limped on until 30 BC, when Antony committed suicide on August 1st. Plutarch (Antony 76) informs us that Cleopatra had sent messengers to him pretending that she was dead, in what is surely intended to read as a last betrayal.
However, Plutarch then goes on to record her grieving over his body: "she tore her robes over him, beat and scratched her breasts with her hands, covered her face with his blood; she called him master, husband, and emperor; she almost forgot her own troubles in her pity for his."
Octavian's arrival in Alexandria on August 10th resulted in Cleopatra's capture, as Octavian intended to parade her as a captive in triumph through the streets of Rome (Plutarch, Antony 78; Horace, Odes 1.37). However, Cleopatra had no intention of being taken as a trophy.
Indeed, Horace (Odes 1.37) gives her a stirring epitaph: "Determined to die, she became even more fierce; she had no intention, although no longer a queen, to be brought in ships to Rome, and led in a proud triumph, for she was not some obscure, ordinary woman."
She elected to commit suicide, but not until after Octavian had murdered Caesarion, her child with Julius Caesar, following the advice of Areius, who pointed out that "It is not a good thing to have many Caesars" (Plut. Ant. 81).
The brutal assassination of her son could have left Cleoptra in no doubt as to how she would be treated as a prisoner-of-war.
The well-known version of her suicide is that an asp was carried into her in a basket of figs, which she goaded into biting her (Plutarch, Antony 86). The scene is one that has been popular in artistic reception ever since.

Image: 'The Death of Cleopatra'; Reginald Arthur, 1892
It is telling that in many of these images, Cleopatra is given a hyper-sexualised quality, which in many ways has reinforced the common perception of her from the biased Roman sources.

Image: 'The Death of Cleopatra'; Guido Cagnacci, circa 1660–62.
Personally, I regard her as an ambitious and politically astute woman, whose reputation has suffered as she so utterly did not conform to the Roman concepts of 'femininity'.

Horace got it right when he dubbed her 'no obscure, ordinary woman'. #AHQOTD #Cleopatra
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