Week 7 – The Legacy of the Last Pharaoh

It feels a bit odd to be posting the weekly blog this early but since I have three classes ending Thursday there is definitely no time to waste, eh? Anyway, this week’s materials ended with the mentioning of Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of dynastic Egypt. The reading mentions a little bit about the tumultuous life of this female ruler, but there are many stories surrounding her rule that can be considered quite scandalous. Though her life ended in suicide in 30 BC, and with her death the transitioning of Egypt into a province of the Roman Empire, she was very successful in using her charm and wit to gain power among the other (male) figures in power at the time.

An important thing to mention is that Egypt did have female rulers, but it was necessary for them to have a male consort. The identity of Cleopatra’s mother is unknown, though she may have been the sister of her father. Similarly, when Cleopatra’s father died, she rose to power at the age of 18 and was forced to wed her 12 year old brother, a political situation that Cleopatra used to her advantage. She basically ignored him as co-ruler, which created much unrest and lead to her exile.

Cleopatra was not deterred. She used her wit and charm to become Julius Caesar’s lover, which gave her a political advantage and he returned her to her throne. At this point she married her youngest brother, who was 11 years of age, but had a son with Caesar named Cesarion (or Little Caesar). Caesar got stabbed though, and Cleopatra returned to Egypt. She later charmed yet another major figure, Marc Antony, which gave her political influence. This did not work out in their favor, however, for Marc Antony’s council did not approve of his affair and declared war on Egypt, and they were easily defeated. And so, the Roman Empire gained control of Egypt and Cleopatra died by the bite of an Egyptian cobra.

Sources:

Chapter 10: The Greco-Roman Period

http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/cleop7.html

2 thoughts on “Week 7 – The Legacy of the Last Pharaoh

  1. While there were many rulers over the years in ancient Egypt, none seem to have been as popularly retold as the story of Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra’s life story was what originally introduced me to the ancient Egyptian culture and ultimately piqued my interest.
    I think it is interesting that the female rulers aren’t as well studied as the men. There were many powerful women (mothers, sisters, aunts, etc.) who helped rule Egypt throughout ancient times; it makes me wonder who decided to leave them out of the written history. Maybe it is because the idea of lady rulers is somewhat modern, but I think it is unfair for the field to have studied men so extensively even when it was a female guardian who was doing the ruling.
    Cleopatra VII’s history is kind of rare, but that could very well be credited to how often she traveled abroad to places where literacy rates were higher. The Greeks and the Romans were very keen on keeping written records of everything, so it makes sense that Cleopatra VII who spent so much time in their company would appear more often.
    I once read a biography of Cleopatra VII where the author was dubious of certain information pertaining to the ruler. This was because of the Roman takeover of Egypt. The new rulers would obviously oppose positive stories or art regarding the recently ousted ruler.

  2. I have always found Cleopatra VII to be one of the most strategic pharaohs in Egyptian history. Although she was married to her brother in order to legitimize her rule, she made an ally and a lover out of Caesar and with his help, she regained her throne after a period of unrest in Egypt. It seems weird that a woman could not rule without a male consort, coming from a modern perspective where Queen Elizabeth II has been ruling for 60 years without a King by her side, but you can’t change history! That is how things were done back then, and they always seemed to work out in the end – except in Cleopatra’s case, because she committed suicide. As you said, there had been other female rulers besides Cleopatra, but they did not really leave a mark on Egypt like she did. Yes, she did lead Egypt into war, but before that, Egypt and Rome were enjoying a symbiotic relationship, learning from one another and intermingling between other cultures. That is, until Cleopatra decided to charm her way into Marc Antony’s heart in the hopes that he might help her out, which ultimately lead to war with Rome, and Egypt, being badly outmatched, was adopted as a province of Rome.

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