Cleopatra

Cleopatra (in full: Cleopatra VII Phil-opator), a queen of Egypt of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She was a handsome, able, and ambitious woman noted for her charm. Her kingdom was one of the old subdivisions of the empire of Alexander the Great. Its capital was Alexandria. At first Cleopatra shared the throne with her younger brother, Ptolemy XII, whom she married, according to the prevailing custom in Egypt. After Ptolemy drove Cleopatra from the throne (49 B.C.), she used her charms to get the aid of Julius Caesar, who was in Egypt. Caesar helped her defeat Ptolemy, who was killed, and restored her to the Egyptian throne as joint ruler with her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIII.

Cleopatra bore Caesar a son called Caesarion (Little Caesar). In 46 B.C., a year after Caesar's return to Rome, Cleopatra joined him there. She returned to Egypt after Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. and soon poisoned her brother in order to gain complete control of the throne.

In 42 B.C. Mark Antony, who shared Roman rule with Octavian (later called Augustus), ordered Cleopatra to appear before him to determine her allegiance. Antony fell in love with her and remained with her in Egypt for a time. She bore him several children.

When Antony returned to Rome, he married Octavian's sister. But he abandoned her after some years and rejoined Cleopatra in Egypt, where he lived a luxurious and pleasure-loving life. Octavian, angry at this desertion of his sister and ambitious to rule alone, declared war on Egypt and defeated Antony in the naval battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The next year Octavian invaded Egypt. Believing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony killed himself.

Cleopatra next tried to win favor with Octavian as she had with Caesar and Antony. She failed, however, and came to realize that Octavian planned to exhibit her in his military triumph at Rome. To escape this humiliation, she killed herself. According to legend, she had an asp bite her. Her son Caesarion was killed by Octavian the same year. Cleopatra's death, which came after a reign of 21 years, ended the dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt.

Among the authors who have used Cleopatra's story in literature are William Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatraand George Bernard Shaw in Caesar and Cleopatra.