Julius Caesar and Cleopatra

Two characters as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra
Two characters, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra

Cleopatra’s legacy lives on as the heroine of literary figure Shakespeare’s tragedy and one of the most famous historical Egyptian monarchs today through the stories of her beauty, deceit, power, and most of all, her bold affair with Rome’s most famous general, Gaius Julius Caesar. 

The graceful daughter of Egypt and Egyptian Pharoah, Cleopatra’s patrimony includes the Macedonian-Greek-Ptolemaic Dynasty, one of the most potent Egyptian dynasties that ruled since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.

The ancient Egyptians’ empress of Egypt, Cyrene, and Cyprus celebrated Cleopatra for her passionate nature, intellect, beauty, and determination to advance her Ptolemaic legacy. 

On the other hand, Julius Caesar was a masterful military general of Rome – powerful and ruthless. He conquered Gaul and initiated the end of the Roman Republic.

The dictator of the Roman Empire expertly expanded the realm of Roman influence and consequently had eyes on Egypt with a plan to add the illustrious empire to Rome’s ever-expanding conquests. 

The relationships between Cleopatra VII, Julius Caesar, and later- Mark Antony were opulent love affairs. The liaisons of these three influential figureheads of two of the most powerful empires of the time were ripe with power struggles that would forever change the course of Egyptian and Roman history.  

What ethnicity was Cleopatra?

Cleopatra’s lineage belonged to Macedonian descent. She had little, if any, Egyptian blood.

Why was Julius Caesar assassinated?

Caesar was assassinated, with 23 stabs, by the Roman senators who claimed that Caesar’s unprecedented concentration of power during his dictatorship undermined the Roman Republic. 

How did Cleopatra and Julius Caesar meet?

Cleopatra had herself wrapped inside a rolled rug to get to Caesar unseen. Cleopatra gracefully rolled out and immediately charmed Caesar when the carpet was opened, much like the birth of Venus herself. 

How did the String of Fate Interweave between Egypt and Rome?

A statue depicting Roman and Egyptian culture
A statue depicting Roman and Egyptian culture

The Ptolemaic dynasty began their 300 years of rule over Egypt after removing the Persian rule in 332 B.C. In the end, it died out with the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the great powers of the ancient world, with its rule expanding vast regions without difficulties. 

However, the Roman Empire’s inclusion into the Ptolemy dynasty’s affairs eventually led to a decline in Egypt’s territories. Nevertheless, Egypt could still preserve its wealth and status despite losing its territories. 

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But, by the time Cleopatra rose to power, Egypt was starting to crumble around her because of pressures exuded from Rome, massive losses of lands, as well as the famine that plagued the empire.

As a result, Cleopatra, using her wit, beauty, and power of enticement, convinced two of the world’s most potent Roman men to keep her once-powerful empire out of complete grips from Roman control. 

Aside from dealing with foreign problems, Cleopatra VII also had to overcome the problem of being the sole female ruler in an Egyptian society that did not accept female rulers without male guidance.  

Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra’s father, had opened the door to the Romans. When Ptolemy XI died in 80 B.C., Ptolemy XII and his younger brother were the only male heirs.

Consequently, the Egyptian empire crowned Ptolemy XII as the ruler in 76 B.C. Soon after, however, Rome raised the question of his legitimacy, with anti-Senate Roman politicians claiming that they had a will written by Ptolemy XI. They claimed that the Will bequeathed Egypt to the Romans. 

Fear in King Ptolemy XII concerned his loss of the throne and an end to his dynasty. To save his empire, Ptolemy took a considerable risk and struck a deal with the Romans. He proposed that Caesar and Pompey recognize Ptolemy as Egypt’s legal ruler for 6,000 Egyptian talents.

For that time, this amount was enormous, but the king was desperate to retail in kingship.  

At the same time, Ptolemy also turned a blind eye to Rome’s ceaseless pursuit of Egyptian territories. When Rome annexed the Egyptian territory of Cyprus the following year, King Ptolemy did nothing.

This outraged the Egyptian people, and inevitably, they banished the Pharaoh. Left behind in his stead were his wife and eldest daughter.

Later, however, the Roman Senate helped Ptolemy regain his throne. Despite his restoration to power, though, the damage was already done. Comparatively weak because of civil unrest, Egypt was ripe for Rome to conquer. Moreover, to further complicate matters, Ptolemy XII made the Roman Senate executors of his Will. 

According to the Will, drafted by the Senate on behalf of Ptolemy, his eldest surviving daughter- Cleopatra, and his eldest son, were the co-regents of Egypt. Furthermore, Ptolemy also had his hands dirty and extensive bribery, leaving Egypt in financial straits. Indeed, Rome’s conquest of Egypt looked sure manifest. 

The Rise of Cleopatra as Egypt’s Pharaoh

A-white-bust-of-Cleopatra-VII
A white bust of Cleopatra VII

In 51 BC, Cleopatra, 18, stepped foot onto the very messy political scene as co-regent of Egypt, alongside her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was 10 years old. The Egyptian tradition at that time required Cleopatra to marry her sibling. Thus, Ptolemy XIII was also her husband. 

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Like her father, Cleopatra was not interested in sharing her empire and sought absolute power in Egypt. Soon, in pursuit of this mission, she set about eliminating her brother’s name from official documents. 

But, as aforementioned, Egypt faced crucial economic failures when Cleopatra rose to power. Not only that, but famine had also ravaged the lands and led to Egypt drowning in crippling debt. Again, like her father, she realized that to save the empire, she also needed Rome’s help in leading Egypt back to prosperity. 

But, unlike her father, Cleopatra decided that Rome’s interference in Egypt’s affairs would only happen on her terms this time. 

Similarly, on the flip side, Cleopatra’s brother-husband, Ptolemy XIII, was also coaxed by court advisors to seize absolute power over Egypt’s throne. Consequently, in 48 BC, Ptolemy XIII proclaimed himself the sole ruler of Egypt and banished Cleopatra from Roman City Alexandria

With the battle line drawn between the two siblings/spouses, Egypt’s future looked even more uncertain. Consequently, Cleopatra hatched a plan to gain Caesar’s ear alone and powerless. 

While the Egyptian royal court was going through the turmoil mentioned above, Caesar celebrated his victory over Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus. Caesar and his troops were already in Alexandria, pursuing his adversary Pompey as the stars would align. Having been defeated, Pompey was hoping for assistance from Ptolemy XIII. 

However, to bear fruit from Cleopatra’s plan, she had to enter Alexandria unseen and talk to Caesar before he reached her brother. Nonetheless, despite the simple nature of the plan, it was easier said than done.

Cleopatra and Caesar

A depiction of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in a movie
A depiction of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in a movie

Caesar was Ptolemy XIII’s honored guest and was staying at his palace. Cleopatra had herself wrapped inside a rolled rug to get to him unseen. Her servants then smuggled her into Alexandria and delivered the rug to Caesar. Cleopatra gracefully rolled out and immediately charmed Caesar when the carpet was opened, much like the birth of Venus herself. 

According to the Greek historian Plutarch’s description of Cleopatra’s mission, he elucidates- “Cleopatra landed at the palace when it was already getting dark; it was impossible to escape notice otherwise.

She stretched herself at full length inside a bed-sack, while her servant, Apollodorus, tied the bed-sack up with a cord and carried it indoors to Caesar.”

30 years her senior, Caesar was instantly captivated by the Egyptian Queen. After succumbing to her devious charms, he reconciled Cleopatra with her brother based on a common share of the royal power. Cleopatra ultimately gained the military support she needed to rule Egypt.

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But that was not the end of the affair. Indeed, absolute chaos followed after Cleopatra besieged power again. Her brother Ptolemy laid siege on the palace grounds where Caesar was staying.

Moreover, Cleopatra’s younger sister, Arsinoe, declared herself the true Queen of Egypt. Arsinoe also ushered rebel forces against Cleopatra and Ptolemy. 

Amid all the chaos, Caesar’s troops from Syria’s arrival turned the tide in Cleopatra’s favor again. The Roman militia defeated Ptolemy and Arsinoe and secured Cleopatra’s seat as Egypt’s ruler.

What’s more, she was also pregnant with Caesar’s child. However, Caesar did not declare Cleopatra, the sole ruler of Egypt. Instead, the Roman general made her co-ruler alongside her remaining brother, 12-year-old Ptolemy XIV, who was soon to be her new husband. 

In June 47 BC, Ptolemy Caesar was born to Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. His name was indicative of Caesarion – ‘little Caesar,’ although Julius never formally acknowledged that the child was his. Upon arriving in Rome, Cleopatra and the child were officially welcomed as “allies and friends of the Roman people.”

Beneath the friendly patina of welcomes, however, the Roman Senate was extremely angry. Caesar had fathered no sons from Calpurnia, his Roman wife, or his previous wives.

The idea of a foreign child from Egypt, a land the Romans despised as an indulgent and decadent society, growing up to rule over Rome as Caesar’s heir, was an intolerable prospect. 

Nevertheless, this prospect never bore fruit as Caesar later declared his grandnephew Octavian (also known as Augustus in later years) as his heir. 

In 44 B.C., on the 15th of March, in the Roman Senate that housed 60 conspirators, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus assassinated Caesar, the day infamous as the Ides of March. Cleopatra, a disliked figure in Rome, fled with her son back to Egypt. 

Finally, Cleopatra- the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, died on either 10 or 12 August, in 30 B.C., in Alexandria, when she was 39 years old. As per popular belief, Cleopatra killed herself by allowing an asp, an Egyptian cobra, to bite and poison her. 

Conclusion 

Both Cleopatra and Julius Caesar are prominent historical figures whose legend and legacy are larger than life. Their affair and liaisons paved and changed the course of two of the most powerful empires in the world that still stand today. 

Full of deceit, conspirators, backstabs, and lies, while also filled with love, legacy, and clash of cultures, the story of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar will forever remain perhaps the most famous historical lore of all time.   

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