Early life of Cleopatra

gigatos | December 27, 2021


The early years of Cleopatra VII (r. 51 B.C.-10 or 12 August 30 B.C.), queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt, began with her birth in early 69 B.C., daughter of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes and an unknown mother, and lasted until her accession to the throne in March 51 B.C. During her childhood Cleopatra grew up in the palace of Alexandria in Egypt and received a fundamentally Hellenistic Greek education from her tutor, Philostratus. In adulthood she was well versed in several languages, including Egyptian, Ethiopic, Troglodyte, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Median, Parthian and Latin, in addition to her native Koine Greek.

Cleopatra”s father was a client ruler of the Roman Republic. When the Romans seized Cyprus and forced Ptolemy XII”s brother, Ptolemy of Cyprus, to commit suicide rather than go into exile, Ptolemy XII became unpopular with the Egyptian population for remaining silent and not reacting to what had happened. He and much of the royal family (apparently including Cleopatra) were exiled from Egypt during a revolt that allowed Cleopatra”s older sister, Berenice IV, to seize the throne in 58 BC; Berenice ruled briefly alongside her mother, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. Ptolemy XII and the rest of his family, after their stay in various countries finally moved to Roman Italy. In the hills of Albanos (outside Rome), they stayed at the villa of their Roman protector, the triumvir Pompey the Great. When Ptolemy XII ordered the assassination of Berenice IV”s diplomats in Rome, seeking to win Roman favor, he and his family left the hostile environment of the city and settled in Ephesus.

Pompey persuaded Aulus Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria, to invade Egypt and restore Ptolemy XII to power. In the spring of 55 BC the invasion forces arrived. The then young officer Mark Antony prevented Ptolemy XII from massacring the inhabitants of Pelusium for their rebellion and rescued the body of Archelaus (Berenice”s husband) after he was killed in battle. Although Antony said years later that this was when he fell in love with Cleopatra, their relationship did not begin until 41 B.C. Ptolemy XII made Cleopatra his regent and co-ruler in 52 B.C., naming her and her son Ptolemy XIII joint successors in his will. Ptolemy XII died on March 22, 51 BC, the date of Cleopatra”s first known act as queen: the restoration of the sacred bull Bukhis at Hermonthis. It is possible that she married her brother, Ptolemy XIII, but it is not clear whether they were married before open hostilities began between them.

Cleopatra was born in early 69 BC from the union of the reigning pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty Ptolemy XII Auletes and an unknown mother, possibly the wife of Ptolemy XII Cleopatra VI Tryphena (also known as Cleopatra V), mother of Cleopatra”s older sister Berenice IV Epiphenna. Ptolemy XII received the appellation “Auletes” (the flute player) due to his adoption of the title “New Dionysus” and for his flute playing during the Dionysias. He had the reputation of being an aloof monarch who enjoyed a life of luxury while causing dynastic problems with the expulsion of Cleopatra VI from the court in late 69 BC. (His three younger children (Cleopatra”s sister Arsínoe IV and brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV) were born during his wife”s prolonged absence, which lasted more than a decade.

Cleopatra”s childhood tutor was Philostratus, from whom she learned the arts of oratory and Greek philosophy. During her youth, she presumably studied at the Museion (which included the Library of Alexandria) and wrote works on Greek medicine that may have been inspired by her father”s royal court physicians. The historical records available to her preserved by the 3rd century BC native Egyptian historian Manetho were examples of the powerful and inspiring female predecessors of royalty (some of whom lived long before the Ptolemaic dynasty, such as Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut, or Nefertiti.

The Ptolemaic pharaohs were crowned by the high priest of Ptah in Memphis, Egypt, but resided in the multicultural and largely Greek city of Alexandria, established by Alexander the Great of Macedon. They spoke Greek and ruled Egypt as Hellenistic Greek monarchs, refusing to learn the native Egyptian language. By adulthood Cleopatra was well versed in several languages, including Egyptian, Ethiopic, Troglodyte, Hebrew (or Aramaic), Arabic, Syriac (perhaps Syriac), Medo, Parthian, and Latin, although her Roman contemporaries might have preferred to speak to her in her native Koine Greek. Although Cleopatra could read and write Greek, Egyptian, and Latin, it is unclear whether she could do so in the other languages she spoke. Her knowledge of all these languages also reflected Cleopatra”s desire to restore the territories of North Africa and West Asia that once belonged to the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

Although Egyptians were the dominant ethnic group in Egypt, large minorities of Greeks, Jews, Celts and Germanics, Syrians, Nubians and others inhabited Egypt during his reign and long before. Greeks and Jews were mainly concentrated in the multicultural cities of Alexandria, the ancient colony of Naucratis and Ptolemaida Hermia (near Thebes in Upper Egypt). Greeks, Jews and Egyptians in these cities were legally segregated, lived in different quarters and were forbidden to intermarry. The native Egyptian priesthood received a number of privileges and became extremely wealthy under their Ptolemaic patrons, often becoming the target of revolts by native Egyptians. Although there were laws against intermarriage in the Greek city-states (polis) of Egypt, intermarriage was permitted elsewhere in Egypt; Cleopatra had an Egyptian half-cousin, Pasherienptah III, the High Priest of Ptah in Memphis. Early in her reign Cleopatra sought the support and loyalty of the Egyptian priesthood, despite attempts by her rival brother and former co-ruler Ptolemy XIII to undermine this relationship.

Roman interventionism in Egypt predated Cleopatra”s reign.In 168 B.C., after Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Ptolemaic Egypt, he accepted the demands of the Roman Senate to withdraw and return to Seleucid territory rather than confront the Roman Republic.When Ptolemy IX Latirius died in late 81 B.C., he was succeeded by his daughter Berenice III.When Ptolemy IX Latirius died in late 81 B.C., he was succeeded by his daughter Berenice III, He was succeeded by his daughter Berenice III. With growing opposition in the royal court against the idea of a reigning female monarch, Berenice III agreed to joint rule and marriage with her cousin (and stepson) Ptolemy XI Alexander II. This arrangement was arranged by the dictator Sulla, the first Roman figure with power to intervene directly in the dynastic affairs of the kingdoms east of the Roman Republic.

Ptolemy XI had his step-wife killed shortly after their marriage in 80 BC, but was killed shortly thereafter in the resulting revolt over the assassination. Ptolemy XI, and perhaps his uncle Ptolemy IX or his father Ptolemy X Alexander I bequeathed the Ptolemaic Kingdom to Rome as collateral for loans, thus providing the Romans with a legal basis for taking control of Egypt, their client state, Instead, the Romans preferred to divide the Ptolemaic kingdom among the illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX, awarding Cyprus to Ptolemy of Cyprus and Egypt to Ptolemy XII Auletes.

In 65 B.C. the Roman censor Marcus Licinius Crassus made the case before the Roman Senate that Ptolemaic Egypt should be annexed (perhaps based on the earlier will drawn up in return for loans), but his proposed law was thwarted by the rhetoric of Cicero. This annexation proposal was followed by a failed one by the tribune Publius Servilius Rulus in 63 B.C. Ptolemy XII responded to the threat of Roman annexation by offering generous gifts to powerful Roman statesmen and military commanders, such as Pompey the Great (during the campaign against Mithridium Mithridates). Ptolemy XII responded to the threat of Roman annexation of Egypt by offering generous gifts to powerful Roman statesmen and military commanders, such as Pompey the Great (during his campaign against Mithridates VI of Pontus in the Third Mithridatic War) and Julius Caesar after he was appointed consul in 59 BC.

After Crassus, Pompey and Caesar established the alliance of the First Triumvirate in 60 BC, they awarded Ptolemy XII the title of “friend and ally of the Roman people” for his efforts in financing Pompey”s eastern campaigns and the Roman conquests of the West Asian territories that had belonged to the Seleucid Empire; the title cost 6000 talents, almost the entire annual tax revenue of Ptolemaic Egypt. This profligate behavior of Ptolemy XII bankrupted him and he was forced to borrow from the Roman banker Gaius Rabirius Postumius. His increase in taxes to pay these outlays angered the poor and provoked farmers” strikes.

In the year 58 B.C., after the Roman senator Publius Clodius Pulchus accused Ptolemy of Cyprus, brother of Ptolemy XII, of aiding pirates who harmed the navigation of Roman ships, the Roman Republic annexed Cyprus and expelled Ptolemy from Cyprus, who decided to commit suicide rather than go into exile in Paphos as a priest of Apollo. Ptolemy XII publicly kept silent about his brother”s death, a decision that, together with the cession of traditional Ptolemaic territory to the Romans, damaged his credibility among citizens who were already outraged by his economic policies. Whether by force or voluntary action, Ptolemy XII left Egypt in exile to Rhodes, the headquarters of Cato, who warned him of his mistake in becoming so entangled in Roman politics and abandoning his kingdom. He then traveled to Athens, where he erected a monument in honor of his father (Ptolemy IX) and his half-sister (Berenice III) and finally to the villa of the triumvir Pompey in the Albanos hills near Palestrina, Italy, where he spent almost a year outside Rome, apparently accompanied by his daughter Cleopatra, then about 11 years old.

The events that took place in Egypt at that time are not clear. It is believed that Ptolemy XII”s wife, Cleopatra V (or VI) Tryphaena, ruled alongside her daughter, Berenice IV, before being ousted by the latter and dying at an uncertain date. Berenice IV sent an emissary to Rome to defend her rule and oppose the reinstatement of her father Ptolemy XII, but Ptolemy used his assassins to kill the emissary (an incident covered up by his powerful Roman supporters). When Caesar failed to win a popular election as Governor General of Egypt, he settled in Gaul for a five-year term and allowed his rival Pompey to settle the issue of the Egyptian throne. The Roman Senate denied Ptolemy XII an armed escort and provisions for the return to Egypt, so he then decided to leave Rome in late 57 BC for the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

To bolster her legitimacy in the eyes of her subjects, Berenice IV married Archelaus (however, the Romans (especially Ptolemy XII”s desperate financiers, such as Rabirius Postumus) were determined to restore Ptolemy to the throne. Pompey persuaded the Roman governor of Syria, Aulus Gabinius, to invade Egypt and restore Ptolemy, offering him 10,000 talents for the mission. Although this put him in conflict with Roman law, Gabinius invaded Egypt in the spring of 55 B.C. through Hasmonean Judea; Hyrcanus II had Antipater of Idumea, the father of Herod I the Great, provide supplies for the Roman-led army. Under Gabinius” command was the then young cavalry officer Mark Antony, who distinguished himself by preventing Ptolemy XII from massacring the inhabitants of Pelusium and by rescuing Archelaus” body after the latter was killed in another battle (thus assuring him a royal burial). Cleopatra, aged 14, reportedly accompanied the Roman expedition to Egypt; years later, Mark Antony said he had fallen in love with her at the time, although their relationship did not begin until 41 B.C., when the triumvir Antony summoned Cleopatra to his headquarters in Tarsus to answer for her alleged support of Gaius Cassius Longinus in the third civil war of the Roman Republic of 43-42 BC.

Gabinius was tried (and acquitted) in Rome for abusing his authority, but a second trial (for accepting bribes) sentenced him to seven years in exile, from which he was revoked in 48 B.C. by Julius Caesar. Crassus replaced him as governor of Syria, extending his provincial command to Egypt until he was killed by the Parthians at the battle of Carras in 53 B.C. C. Ptolemy XII had his rival daughter Berenice and her wealthy followers executed, confiscating their property and allowing the Gabiniani, Gabinius” Roman garrison made up largely of Germanic and Gallic tribesmen, to harass the populace in the streets of Alexandria. He appointed his former Roman financier, Rabirius Postumus, as his finance officer. Postumus was unable to collect all of Ptolemy XII”s debt because of the latter”s death and transferred it to his successors, Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII. Within a year, Postumus was placed under protective custody and returned to Rome when his life was threatened for stripping Egypt of its resources.

During the last four years of his reign, Ptolemy XII (who died of natural causes) appointed Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII as his heirs, oversaw major construction projects such as the completion of the Temple of Edfu and the establishment of the Temple of Dendera, and stabilized an economy that depended heavily on trade with East Africa and India. A copy of her will was sent to Pompey for safekeeping in Rome, and the original was kept in Alexandria for safekeeping. According to an inscription in the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, Cleopatra was appointed regent to Ptolemy XII on May 31, 52 BC.

Ptolemy XII died sometime before March 22, 51 BC, when Cleopatra, in her first act as queen, began her journey to Hermontis, near Thebes, because of the discovery of a new Bukhis, a sacred bull worshipped as an intermediary of the god Montu in Ancient Egyptian religion. The Roman Senate was not informed of Ptolemy”s death until June 30 or August 1, 51 B.C.; the news may have been suppressed by Cleopatra until she could secure the throne.

Cleopatra had probably married her brother, Ptolemy XIII, according to custom, The incestuous Ptolemaic practice of sibling marriage was introduced by Ptolemy II and his sister Arsinoe II, an ancient Egyptian practice that was abhorred by their Greek contemporaries. However, at the time of Cleopatra”s reign, it was considered a normal arrangement among Ptolemaic rulers.

On August 29, 51 B.C., official Egyptian documents began to list Cleopatra as sole ruler, evidence that she had rejected her brother Ptolemy XIII as co-ruler.


  1. Primeros años de Cleopatra
  2. Early life of Cleopatra
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