Cleopatra: Becoming a Female Ruler of Egypt

Egyptian and Greek Culture, How Did They Coexist?

Macedonian Greeks found livelihoods in Egypt and were encouraged to settled there, even going as far as to marry Egyptians. Egyptian to Greek marriages were not allowed in other Greek cities. Nonetheless, the Greeks were the ones with protective rights of education, law, and citizenship. The mixed families may give their children and themselves an Egyptian name for personal use and a Greek name for professional life (Tyldesley 20). Since the Ptolemaic Dynasty was Greek in origin, and incest was practiced to maintain a royal bloodline, the rulers were also ethnically Greek. Interestingly, the Ptolemaic rulers merged in with Egyptian culture and customs (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”). For example, these rulers would practice incest. Incest was an Egyptian practice, not a Greek one (Roller 36).

The main reason the Ptolemaic rulers tried to blend in with Egyptian culture was to nurture native Egyptian loyalty. They would build temples dedicated to Egyptian gods, and even merged Greek and Egyptian gods together. The rulers fell into line with the previous Egyptian pharaohs. The Ptolemy family was viewed as divine by the royal subjects. However, Greek influence was seen in the artwork and sculptures (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”). Near the beginning of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, the native Egyptians welcomed the new pharaohs; these leaders had removed the heavy grip of the Persians. The Ptolemies actively encouraged unity between the native Egyptians and the Greeks (Redford).

Rome depended on Egypt for grain, so it had an interest in the nation. It was in the best interest of Rome for the Ptolemaic Kingdom to remain strong. Therefore, the Ptolemies had a very important alliance with Rome (“Ancient Egypt”). However, when Ptolemy XIII broke the trust of the Roman empire by killing Pompey, that is when Rome came to exact revenge on the nation the Ptolemies were ruling (“Cleopatra”).

How Cleopatra and Her Brother Lost the Throne

There was an eight year difference between Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII; Cleopatra was 18 and Ptolemy XIII was 10 when the throne was given to both of them. Having already ruled with her father, Cleopatra was not keen on co-ruling with her brother, and began to usurp his authority. She would only mention her name in official documents, and she made political decisions that went against what her brother and advisors wanted. Specifically, she handed over those who murdered Marcus Calpurnius Bilbulus’ sons, a Roman governor. As a result, a band of political leaders rose up against her, and she fled to Syria. She attempted to obtain man-power to help her take the throne back, but to no success. For now, the Ptolemaic Kingdom was being solely ruled by Ptolemy XIII (“Cleopatra”).

Ptolemy XIII made a fatal mistake in 48 BC, though, when the Roman general and leader Pompey was murdered under Ptolemy XIII’s watch. Some historians say Ptolemy ordered the assassination of Pompey since, at the time, Pompey was on the anti-Caesar side of the Roman civil war. Ptolemy may have thought this act would be a sign of loyalty and friendship with Caesar. However, Julius Caesar was not pleased for a variety of reasons. Although Pompey was an enemy of Caesar at the time, he was still a respected Roman leader and was the husband of Julia, Caesar’s late daughter. Also, the way Pompey was murdered was shocking and shameful for a Roman man (Tyldesley 51). Out of revenge, Julius Caesar came to Alexandria, and Ptolemy XIII fled. Ptolemy is thought to have drowned in the Nile on his way (“Cleopatra”).

How Cleopatra (and Her Other Brother) Regained the Throne

Cleopatra caught word of what happened, and she was told Caesar was rather fond of royal women, having already had many affairs (Roller 61). With a boost of confidence, she went and snuck in to meet with Caesar. According to the ancient historian Plutarch, she rolled herself up in a “bed-sack” and had a friend bring her into the palace. When she got to Caesar, he was so impressed by her boldness that he was captivated by her (49:1-3).


After this meeting, Caesar restored Cleopatra and her other younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, to the throne. Shortly after, approximately nine months, Cleopatra gave birth to a son. This son was supposedly the illegitimate son of Julius Caesar and he was named “Caesarion,” or in other words, little Caesar (Plutarch 49:3-10).

Cleopatra would visit Julius Caesar in Rome with hopes to secure a future for her son and herself. She tried to convince Caesar to claim Caesarion as his heir. However, Caesar refused and named Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew, as heir instead. A few years later, Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Cleopatra most likely wanted to ensure her son a throne, so after Caesar’s assassination, it is believed she poisoned her younger, co-regent brother Ptolemy XIV. This resulted in her co-ruling with her son until the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”).

Next blog post in the series: Cleopatra: a Biased Stance in the Roman Civil War


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