69-30 B.C.

Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra was the legendary, last, and best-known ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. She was a fearless ruler and a skilled diplomat whose career coincided with the end of the Roman Republic*. During her reign, she increased Egypt’s territory and kept it free from direct rule by Rome. She accomplished this through the use of her charm, intelligence, and alliances with powerful men—first with Julius Caesar and later with Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony).

The daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, Cleopatra inherited the throne following her father’s death in 51 B.C. At first, she ruled Egypt alone, but later she shared the throne with her two younger brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. (Ptolemy XIII later drowned fleeing Caesar’s forces, and Cleopatra had Ptolemy XIV killed after Caesar’s death.)

Driven from the throne in 48 B.C., she was restored to it by Julius Caesar who was in Egypt in pursuit of his enemy Pompey. In 46 B.C., Cleopatra followed Caesar to Rome but returned to Egypt after his assassination in 44 B.C. Cleopatra sided with Marc Antony during the struggle for power that followed Caesar’s death. She remained Antony’s ally and provided money and supplies when he was fighting for Caesar’s heir, Octavian. Later, when Octavian declared war on her and Antony as enemies of the Roman state, she supplied ships to engage the Roman fleet at Actium. When Octavian’s general Marcus Agrippa won the sea battle of 31 B.C., Cleopatra asked for peace terms, but Octavian refused. With the prospect of being led as a captive in a triumph for Octavian in Rome, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing herself to be bitten by an asp, a poisonous snake. Her story is told by Plutarch in his Life of Antony. (See also Egypt; Rome, History of.)

* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials

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