Wednesday, 1 October 2014

An Ancient Roman Perspective of Cleopatra...

Published: May 13, 2007 on Helium

Cleopatra VII, born c.69B.C., was a young, intelligent AND beautiful 17 year old when she first came to the throne as the last pharaoh of Egypt. How could anyone not fall to her many charms. Yes, from 48-44B.C., she had a fling with the mighty Julius Caesar. This was only terminated by his untimely death. Yes, she had a fling with Mark Antony until the disastrous Battle of Actium in 31B.C. forced him into a suicide attempt, falling on his own sword, but he died romantically in Cleopatra's arms. However, these men were only two very public figures in the Roman world.
How did other Romans view Cleopatra?
At best, the Romans viewed Cleopatra with suspicion.
At worst, they hated her.

For a time, Julius Caesar was a Roman military hero, until he met Cleopatra. Traditions tell that Cleopatra wooed Caesar, first by getting her slaves to deliver her as a gift to Caesar's camp. She was wrapped in a carpet. These are the actions of a person who enjoys the flair of drama.

Not surprisingly, the Romans saw Cleopatra as a rival for Caesar's attention.

He no longer served Rome while being beguiled by Cleopatra.

The ultimate insult was when Caesar dared to bring Cleopatra to Rome, to her own home in Rome. This seems quite incongruous. A pharaoh wanders away from her own kingdom, to set up house in another? But why? Just for love? The Romans wondered much the same. What could she gain? Rome itself? All too quickly the hatred was brewing. Only a short time after Cleopatra set up house in Rome, Caesar was murdered. Was this far more than some vendetta against Caesar alone? Was this a means of getting rid of Cleopatra?

History shows that Cleopatra subsequently left Rome in quite a hurry; she returned to Egypt.

And now, for her next victim, Mark Antony. By this time, Cleopatra was older and wiser. It was well known she wanted to build a solid, Egyptian kingdom. The Romans knew her connections with Mark Antony had political possibilities in Cleopatra's favour. The Romans saw this bonding as a threat to Rome. And so Romans flocked to a new rising star who was not smitten by Cleopatra. This was Octavian, who was to become the Emperor Augustus. Inevitably, there would be a clash of Roman against Roman, Mark Antony against Octavian; and this was the Battle of Actium. Octavian was by far the more accomplished leader with the more faithful following; he had to win.

In short, Cleopatra had undone the careers of two mighty Roman men and had split Roman against Roman.

As a hypothetical thought, we wonder if the Romans' suspicions and hatred of Cleopatra would have been so visible if there had been no Julius Caesar or Mark Antony, no torrid love affairs. But history tells us, Cleopatra was not the sweetest of women. When she began her reign, it was actually a joint reign with her brother Ptolemy XIII. She was married to him too. Cleopatra enlisted Caesar's aid in having him killed. Cleopatra was a murderer. She used Roman soldiers to murder her brother/husband. All this happened before the Caesar-Cleopatra love affair reached full bloom.

It would seem the Romans had little respect for Cleopatra.

She destroyed their leaders and dragged the Romans themselves into her kingdom-building plans. Little wonder, at the first opportunity, when Octavian triumphed at the Battle of Actium, they hungered to rid Rome of her. They hunted her down in Alexandria, but the wily Cleopatra preserved her dramatic dignity, even at this critical time. She took her own life.

Cleopatra remained beautiful (seductive enchantress) and intelligent (wily) right to the very end.

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