A role of a person in the evolution of humanity cannot be overestimated. There are numerous names of outstanding people that are associated with various periods of history as they became the manifestation of that era and preconditioned the way society evolved. In ancient times, the influence and contribution of individuals were even more significant because of the prevalence of monarchial forms of government and the concentration of absolute power in the hands of one man. Traditionally, famous male rulers are studied by scientists to understand what factors impacted their decisions and actions, and the whole world. However, there was an example of a female ruler, who put herself on a record. Cleopatra, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, managed to effectively rule her country foster its development by combining outstanding diplomatic skills, charisma, and knowledge that transformed her into one of the most influential and well-known women of all times.
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The importance of Cleopatra’s rule and its unusual character can be explained by the context. Ancient Egypt was traditionally a powerful patriarchal state headed by male pharaohs who concentrated absolute power in their hands and were considered the embodiment of a god. It was one of the fundamental underpinnings of the system of government and guaranteed accession and stability. All outstanding women associated with Egypt were either pharaohs’ wives or co-rulers that were given power because of their marriage (Bowen, 2016). In such a way, Cleopatra’s ascension to the throne became an event that contradicted this tradition and should be considered an achievement of this individual who managed to attain success under the complicated circumstances. In the age of male dominance and women’s subordinate position, she became a ruler of a big state whose decisions impacted its further evolution and development. Cleopatra is often taken as one of the first queen regnant in recorded history (Bowen, 2016). These factors precondition the high level of interest to her person and explain her significance to Western Culture.
The ground for future achievements and the unusual life of Cleopatra was formed in her childhood. She was born in 69 BC in the family of Ptolemy XII, representative of the Ptolemaic pharaoh’s dynasty, which started to rule after the Macedonian invasion and conquer of the country. Her mother is unknown as there are no records or any information about her. In such a way, she was not ethnically Egyptian; she traced her origins to Ptolemy Soter, general of Alexander the Great, who was Macedonian (Cole & Symes, 2017). Cleopatra acquired outstanding education as was taught by Philostratos and spend much time in the Library of Alexandria (Cole & Symes, 2017). She was able to speak many languages and had information about multiple cultures peculiar to Egypt.
However, one of the most significant events that impacted her formation as an individual was Roman military moods and Romans’ desire to spread their impact. The Empire interfered with the policy of Egypt and affected its development directly. Ptolemy XII had to leave Egypt because of the critical damage to his popularity caused by the inability to resist Romans (Cole & Symes, 2017). Cleopatra had to accompany him in this exile and visited Athens and Rome. However, soon, he was restored with the help of the Roman Empire, and Ptolemy XII designated Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII as his heirs. It provided the woman with a legal opportunity to become the ruler of a state.
Ascension to the Throne
In 51 BC, Ptolemy XII died, and Cleopatra and her brother became the rulers of the state. The given information was hidden from the Roman Empire for a long time to ensure that new pharaohs would be able to protect the throne and gain enough power (Cole & Symes, 2017). There is an assumption that Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII contracted marriage to eliminate all possible uncertainties associated with their rights for rule and made their position stronger (Bowen, 2016). Regardless of the popularity of this theory, the given fact is often doubted as no direct records evidence this idea or refute it. Sibling marriage was not new to Egypt, and incestuous relations were not condemned. On the contrary, many previous pharaohs were born in such families, which were considered legal. Nevertheless, soon, Cleopatra rejected her brother as a co-ruler, and on 29 August 51 BC, she was proclaimed as the only ruler of Egypt.
Despite Cleopatra’s attempts to seize power, Ptolemy XIII did not step aside and managed to gather support. Being vulnerable, she had to escape to Syria and hire an army that would help Cleopatra to protect her claims. At the same time, the Civil war in Rome became an important event in the political life of Egypt as it impacted its domestic policy. Hoping to please Caesar, Ptolemy XIII assassinated Pompey, who retreated to the region after his defeat in the batter of Pharsalus; however, it did not help as Caesar punished killers of his opponent and provided his support to Cleopatra (Watterson, 2017). Being charmed by her diplomatic skills and charisma, he insisted on the observation of Ptolemy’s XII decree proclaiming the brother and sister as his heirs. It resulted in the growth of Ptolemy’s XIII dissatisfaction and rebellion that became extremely dangerous for Caesar, who had a limited number of forces in the region.
Nevertheless, with the help of fresh reinforcements, the consul of Rome defeated troops attacking him. It became a defining moment in Cleopatra’s life as Ptolemy XIII died trying to escape. For this reason, Caesar appointed 12-year-old Ptolemy XIV as her joint ruler through a sibling marriage to avoid possible problems associated with a sole-ruling female pharaoh (Watterson, 2017). In fact, for Cleopatra, it meant that she acquired the power she needed. She continued to live with Caesar as his woman, which means that her co-ruler did not limit her ambitions. Moreover, in accordance with the existing theories, Ptolemy XIV was poisoned by Cleopatra as he prevented her and Caesar’s son from becoming a ruler (Watterson, 2017).
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In such a way, her position critically depended on the Roman Dictator, who concentrated power in his hands and supported Cleopatra as the queen of Egypt. His assassination became a serious political hit for her as her ambitions and plans had to be reconsidered. She left Rome, where she lived at Caesar’s villa, and returned to Egypt trying to empower its positions and solve multiple problems that accumulated here (Watterson, 2017). Hunger caused by the absence of the overflowings of the Nile and financial issues affected the country and had to be managed (Cole & Symes, 2017). The role of Cleopatra as a ruler and her power are often doubted; however, she managed to reconstruct the financial system and provide people with the food they needed. She also devoted much attention to culture and architecture by trying to combine new elements or Roman and Greek styles.
At the same time, at the international level, her positions remained unstable. The war between the Second Triumvirate and Caesar’s assassins became a serious event that reconsidered the balance of power. Representatives of both camps asked for her support and military aid, but Cleopatra decided to send troops to Dolabella, a Caesarian loyalist (Cole & Symes, 2017). However, the army was trooped by Cassius, who was also supported by the governor of Cyprus (Cole & Symes, 2017). Responding to it, Cleopatra, with her fleet, moved to Greece to assist members of the Triumvirate in their campaign. Trying to show her loyalty, she had a personal meeting with Mark Antony, which became the last turning point in her life. They engaged in romantic relations, which became useful for the queen of Egypt (Watterson, 2017). Looking for a powerful partner to continue the dynasty and increase the influence of Egypt, Cleopatra correctly realized that Antony was one of the most powerful men in the state and benefited from these relations. Soon she was provided with territories in the Levant and other regions that were traditionally considered Roman provinces.
The empowerment of her personality, Antony’s transformation in an eastern ruler, and his attempts to join new lands to Egypt resulted in a new war with Octavian, who was afraid of the former ally. Cleopatra supported her lover, and they both tried to oppose Roman troops in the Battle of Actium (Watterson, 2017). It turned out a disaster for them and destroyed her hopes for the restoration of the power of Egypt (Tsoucalas & Sgantzos, 2019). She had to commit suicide because of Antony’s death and the absence of any hope for the improvement of the situation (Tsoucalas & Sgantzos, 2019). However, even her death was appreciated by peers who emphasized her courage and decision to avoid humiliation with honor.
Analyzing Cleopatra’s personality, it should be said that she contributed to the development of the western world and culture. First, she managed to become the first female sole-ruler in an extremely patriarchal society. It demonstrated the power of women and their ability to impact the global discourse. Being a queen of Egypt, she interfered with the Roman policy and was taken into account by all influential figures of that time. It was achieved due to her diplomatic skills and the ability to find allies that would help the state to evolve and preserve its importance at the international level.
Additionally, Cleopatra inspired multiple artists and philosophers who later formed the image of a beautiful, clever, and influential woman who could affect the future and change the course of history. Her relations with Caesar and Antony demonstrated that Cleopatra correctly realized the vulnerability of her position as a sole female ruler and tried to gather the support of outstanding leaders. Due to these relations, Egypt remained one of the most important forces in the East. At the same time, she stimulated the cultural exchange between the Western and Eastern worlds, which shaped people’s mentalities and their traditions.
Altogether, Cleopatra was an outstanding woman who managed to become a ruler in an extremely complex situation. She had to face multiple challenges and protect her state in terms of a chain of civil wars. Using her outstanding diplomatic skills and the ability to find powerful allies, she managed to make her positions stronger and became a real force in the political discourse of that time. As the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra managed to effectively rule her country foster its development by combining outstanding diplomatic skills, charisma, and knowledge that transformed her into one of the most influential and well-known women of all times.
Bowen, S. A. (2016). Finding strategic communication & diverse leadership in the ancient world: The case of Queen Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 3(1). Web
Cole, J., & Symes, C. (2017). Western civilizations, volume one (19th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Tsoucalas, G., & Sgantzos, M. (2019). The death of Cleopatra. In P. Wexler (Ed.), Toxicology in antiquity (pp. 83-92). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Watterson, B. (2017). Cleopatra: Fact and fiction. Gloucestershire, England: Amberley Publishing Limited.