Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last Egyptian pharaoh, was born in late 69 BC. As a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, she was a descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s generals that took control of Egypt. Although most Ptolemaic rulers spoke Greek for this reason, Cleopatra learned Egyptian and thought of herself as a reincarnation of an Egyptian Goddess.
Egyptian rule in Cleopatra’s era forbid women to rule the kingdom alone, so Cleopatra ruled jointly with her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, and then with each of her brothers, Ptolemy XIII, and Ptolemy XIV. She eventually married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, but promptly separated herself from his influence and governed Egypt as the sole monarch.
Cleopatra’s story is a colorful one, and has been depicted in a variety of popular formats, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra to Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1963 Oscar-winning film, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison. Much of the popularity surrounding Cleopatra is due to her audacity as a female ruler and her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
In 48 BC, during the Roman civil war and Cleopatra’s exile, Ptolemy ordered the death of Pompey, a Roman political leader. Although Ptolemy thought this would win him Caesar’s favor, Caesar became furious with Ptolemy. Cleopatra was eager to take advantage of this situation and snuck into Caesar’s palace. She quickly became Caesar’s mistress and they had a child, Ptolemy Caesar, or Caesarion in 47 BC. By doing this, Cleopatra caused Caesar to reinstate her rule as Egypt’s pharaoh instead of annexing Egypt and making it part of the Roman empire.
Following Caesar’s death, Mark Antony, a triumvir who succeeded Caesar, summoned Cleopatra. At their first meeting in 41BC, Cleopatra charmed Antony into spending the winter with her in Alexandria. During their relationship, Cleopatra gave birth to their twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Antony married Cleopatra and they had another child, Ptolemy Philadelphus. During this time, Cleopatra and co-ruled Egypt and Cyprus with her Caesarion; Alexander Helios ruled Armenia, Media, and Parthia; Cleopatra Selene II ruled Cyrenaica and Libia; and Ptolemy Philadelphus ruled Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia.
There are many stories about Cleopatra’s death, the most popular being that she induced a cobra to bite her, although it is possible that that she poisoned herself, or that Augustus killed her. Following her death and the Octavian invasion of Egypt, Caesarion ruled Egypt, but he was soon captured and killed. His death ended the entire line of Egyptian pharaohs.