Cleopatra VII, often simply called “Cleopatra,” was the last of a series of rulers called the Ptolemies who ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years. She was also the last true pharaoh of Egypt. Cleopatra ruled an empire that included Egypt, Cyprus, part of modern-day Libya and other territories in the Middle East.
A TROUBLED DYNASTY
Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. into a troubled royal dynasty. The Ptolemies were descended from a Macedonian generalwho had served under Alexander the Great. Although they had ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries, their kingdom was eclipsed by the power of Rome and there was a great deal of internal dissension that eventually led to Cleopatra fighting against her own brother.
Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy XII and a mother whose identity we do not know. Ptolemy XII (reign 80-58 B.C.) was under a great deal of pressure from the Romans and struggled to hold onto power.
“Ptolemy XII was heavily dependent upon the Romans and as their ‘friendship’ put an increased strain upon the Egyptian economy, his rule came under increasing scrutiny from the Egyptian elite,” writes Sally-Ann Ashton, a keeper at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, in her book “Cleopatra and Egypt” (Blackwell Publishing, 2008). In 58 B.C., Ptolemy XII was exiled and a woman named “Cleopatra Tryphaena” (a different Cleopatra) became ruler of Egypt, dying not long afterwards.
She was succeeded by another woman named Berenice IV. In 55 B.C., with the support of the Romans, Ptolemy XII was put back on the throne and took his 17-year-old daughter Cleopatra (VII) as his co-ruler.
After the king died in 51 B.C., he said in his will that Cleopatra should share the throne with her brother (and husband) Ptolemy XIII. Ptolemy XIII and his advisers refused to acknowledge this arrangement and fighting broke out between them, with Cleopatra being forced to flee the royal palace. It would be Julius Caesar who helped Cleopatra regain her throne