cleopatra: In the springtime of 51 BC, Ptolemy Auletes died and left
his kingdom in his will to his eighteen year old daughter, Cleopatra, and her
younger brother Ptolemy XIII who was twelve at the time.
In the springtime of 51 BC, Ptolemy Auletes died and left his kingdom in his
will to his eighteen year old daughter, Cleopatra, and her younger brother
Ptolemy XIII who was twelve at the time. Cleopatra was born in 69 BC in
Alexandria, Egypt. She had two older sisters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV as
well as a younger sister, Arsinoe IV. There were two younger brothers as well,
Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. It is thought that Cleopatra VI may have died as a
child and Auletes had Berenice beheaded. At Ptolemy Auletes’ death, Pompey, a
Roman leader, was left in charge of the children. During the two centuries that
preceded Ptolemy Auletes death, the Ptolemies were allied with the Romans. The
Ptolemies’ strength was failing and the Roman Empire was rising. City after city
was falling to the Roman power and the Ptolemies could do nothing but create a
pact with them. During the later rule of the Ptolemies, the Romans gained more
and more control over Egypt. Tributes had to be paid to the Romans to keep them
away from Egypt. When Ptolemy Auletes died, the fall of the Dynasty appeared to
be even closer.
According to Egyptian law, Cleopatra was forced to have a consort, who was
either a brother or a son, no matter what age, throughout her reign. She was
married to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII when he was twelve, however she soon
dropped his name from any official documents regardless of the Ptolemaic
insistence that the male presence be first among co-rulers. She also had her own
portrait and name on coins of that time, ignoring her brother’s. When Cleopatra
became co-regent, her world was crumbling down around her. Cyprus, Coele-Syria
and Cyrenaica were gone. There was anarchy abroad and famine at home. Cleopatra
was a strong-willed Macedonian queen who was brilliant and dreamed of a greater
world empire. She almost achieved it. Whether her way of getting it done was for
her own desires or for the pursuit of power will never be known for certain.
However, like many Hellenistic queens, she was passionate but not promiscuous.
As far as we know, she had no other lovers other than Caesar and Antony. Many
believe that she did what she felt was necessary to try to save Alexandria,
whatever the price.
By 48 BC, Cleopatra had alarmed the more powerful court officials of
Alexandria by some of her actions. For instance, her mercenaries killed the
Roman governor of Syria’s sons when they came to ask for her assistance for
their father against the Parthians. A group of men led by Theodotus, the eunuch
Pothinus and a half-Greek general, Achillas, overthrew her in favor of her
younger brother. They believed him to be much easier to influence and they
became his council of regency. Cleopatra is thought to have fled to Thebaid.
Between 51 and 49 BC, Egypt was suffering from bad harvests and famine because
of a drought which stopped the much needed Nile flooding. Ptolemy XIII signed a
decree on October 27, 50 BC which banned any shipments of grain to anywhere but
Alexandria. It is thought that this was to deprive Cleopatra and her supporters
who were not in Alexandria. Regardless, she started an army from the Arab tribes
which were east of Pelusium. During this time, she and her sister Arsinoe moved
to Syria. They returned by way of Ascalon which may have been Cleopatra’s
In the meantime, Pompey had been defeated at Pharsalus in August of 48 BC. He
headed for Alexandria hoping to find refuge with Ptolemy XIII, of whom Pompey
was a senate-appointed guardian. Pompey did not realize how much his reputation
had been destroyed by Pharsalus until it was too late. He was murdered as he
stepped ashore on September 28, 48 BC. The young Ptolemy XIII stood on the dock
and watched the whole scene. Four days later, Caesar arrived in Alexandria. He
brought with him thirty-two hundred legionaries and eight hundred cavalry. He
also brought twelve other soldiers who bore the insignia of the Roman government
who carried a bundle of rods with an ax with a blade that projected out. This
was considered a badge of authority that gave a clear hint of his intentions.
There were riots that followed in Alexandria.