Cleopatra did what any good political strategist did: she hid in a rolled-up rug destined for Caesar’s suite. Her plan? To use her charms to seduce him.
Doing the unexpected and using whatever she could to fortify her position as the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra of Egypt found a way to get bring Caesar to her side in 48 B.C. Cleopatra was no stranger to political persuasion and willing to do just about anything to protect her power.
Her trick was fearlessness and, of course, Caesar fell madly in love. The next morning, Cleopatra’s rule was restored and she had cleared the way for her brother’s removal from power so she and Caesar could rule together.
Photo credit: DeAgostini-Getty Images
In fact, Cleopatra was ruthless when it came to sibling rivalry.
After her elder brother Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile, she married her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, only to have him killed later when she bore a son. Cleopatra did the same to her younger sister Arsinoe, to prevent any future threat.
Perhaps that’s why forming an alliance with Caesar and wooing him to her bed seemed insignificant, despite the fact that Caesar was already married! Cleopatra and Caesar embarked on a small 9-week honeymoon on the Nile. Cleopatra brought a few hundred ships with her and impressed her people by introducing them to her lover.
When you step back for a second, Cleopatra seems both crazy and ruthless. But I also know that as a woman in a world of military men, it’s likely she had little choice she had if she wanted to maintain power. At the very least, it’s easy to see why Cleopatra’s strategy and political insight made her an effective politician.
Together, Cleopatra and Caesar made each other more powerful. Egyptians were inspired to love and appreciate the larger sense of destiny at work and Cleopatra certainly drove this advantage home. By the end of their romantic cruise, she was pregnant and bore a son, Caesarion. Always a trailblazer, it’s not a stretch to say Cleopatra of Egypt was the first female celebrity politician.
This was no doubt a very strategic move on Cleopatra’s part, dubbing her new son the rightful monarch to rule over Rome and Egypt. Caesar remained in Egypt for a time with Cleopatra giving her an opportunity to learn from him. He eventually returned to Rome but when he was murdered in 44 BC, Cleopatra returned to Egypt to rule with her 3-year-old son, Caesarian.
Needing to bolster her image, Cleopatra began to identify herself with the goddess Isis.
Isis was the sister-wife of Orisis and mother of Horus. Doing this helped Cleopatra to reinforce her rule as a Queen closely associated with the gods. Cleopatra saw herself as the “New Isis” in a move that would strengthen respect for her.
Of course, it is hardly surprising that Cleopatra set her sights on wooing Antony, a general in the Roman army and one of three rulers in Rome’s Triumvirate (Anthony, Brutus, and Cassias). Her alliance with him secured her political seat and furthered a new romantic interest that helped Antony to rebuild his armies.
Together, Cleopatra and Antony had three children and Antony donated long lost lands to her children, reaffirming Caesarion as the rightful heir of Caesar and bolstering Cleopatra’s economic security. Over this time period, Cleopatra also watched Antony battle for power in Rome with Octavia who had defeated Brutus and Cassias (the men behind Caesar’s death).
While Antony and Octavian ruled together, this would not last long as Octavian believed Antony was completely under Cleopatra’s power. Eventually, Octavian saw to it that Antony was stripped of his titles and powers in late 32 B.C. and declared war on him. Cleopatra and Anthony remained a couple for ten years until Octavian defeated Antony in the Battle of Actium. Cleopatra had sent ships that she withdrew and when Anthony heard that she had committed suicide, he threw himself on his own sword and died.
The rumor about Cleopatra was false, of course, which seems interesting given Cleopatra’s astute political strategy. Some historians suggest Cleopatra started this rumor to help bolster her reign and to distance herself from Antony. She was distraught, however, when she learned about Antony’s death. Unfortunately, she tried in vain to negotiate a future with the new Emperor, Octavian.
Octavian saw to it that Caesarion was killed, but spared Cleopatra’s other three children when he met with Cleopatra to decide her fate. Learning that Octavian wanted to parade her through the streets of Rome in a walk of shame, Cleopatra – with her extensive knowledge of poisons – committed suicide at the age of 39.
She would not be humiliated by Octavian and resolved to die on her own terms when she locked herself in her private chamber with two of her servant girls. As snakes were a symbol of royalty, history suggests she used a poisonous snake to deliver the deadly venom and to die in a dramatic way.
During Cleopatra’s reign, Egypt’s economy and country were the most closely controlled in history. The profitable monarchy controlled all of the farming and owned all of the lands. It’s almost unthinkable to consider the product taxes on Egypt’s primary industries – wheat, papyrus, glass, linen, oils, and unguents – and their resale value upwards of 300% profit!
Nothing went unnoticed or un-taxed, giving Cleopatra a personal wealth estimated to be over $95 billion. In today’s market, that is more than the combined incomes of Microsoft’s; Bill Gates and Facebook’s; Mark Zuckerberg! When compared to Queen Elizabeth II’s income, it is triple.
In many ways, Cleopatra took lovers and lived a grand lifestyle much like the indomitable Elizabeth Taylor who famously played Cleopatra in the movies. Being a powerful female seems to hold the same benefits and pitfalls as in modern times. Queen of Egypt, seductress, political figure, power monger, whatever you think, Cleopatra will forever be a larger than life presence in world and female history as much for what we factually know and for what can only be imagined about her!