Cleopatra-A-Life

Cleopatra moreover came of age in a country that entertained a singular definition of women’s roles.  Well before her and centuries before the arrival of the Ptolemies, Egyptian women enjoyed the right to make their own marriages.  Over time their liberties had increased, to levels unprecedented in the ancient world.  They inherited equally and held property independently.  Married women did not submit to their husbands’ control.  They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce.  Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice.  Her property remained hers; it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband.  The law sided with the wife and children if a husband acted against their interests.  Romans marveled that in Egypt female children were not left to die; a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter.  Egyptian women married later than did their neighbors as well, only about half of them by Cleopatra’s age.  They loaned money and operated barges.  They served as priests in the native temples.  They initiated lawsuits and hired flute players.  As wives, widows, or divorcees, they owned vineyards, wineries, papyrus marshes, ships, perfume businesses, milling equipment, slaves, homes, camels.  As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.
—  Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

I will have no satisfaction in this life until I have ankha living in my town so I can stare at her on a daily basis

she has a tattoo on her back  wanna fight about it

He had extravagant expenses and extravagant tastes, but Egypt had, Caesar knew, a treasury to match. The captivating young woman before him - who spoke so effectively, laughed so easily, hailed from an ancient, accomplished culture, moved amid an opulence that would set his countrymen’s teeth on edge, and had so artfully outfoxed an army  - was one of the two richest people in the world.

Cleopatra, A Life - Stacy Schiff

Amum…He made me rule…No one rebels against me in all lands. All foreign lands are my subjects. He placed my border at the limits of heaven.”

-Section from the obelisk inscriptions of Hatshepsut, Karnak (trans. Lichtheim). Hatshepsut here emphasises her destined, god-given right to rule Egypt. In which and beyond, she is all-powerful. 

A quick look at: Hatshepsut (r. c. 1479–1458 BC), king of Egypt. 

When talking about aspects of ancient Egyptian history, I find that people are often surprised to hear that Egypt had female rulers aside from Cleopatra. Perhaps one of the most significant of these was Hatshepsut of Dynasty 18, some 1400 years before Cleopatra. Her life deserves far more recognition that it has typically received.

Hatshepsut was the daughter of king Thutmose I and his wife Ahmose. She had a younger half-brother: Thutmose II, who succeeded his father as king. She married her half-brother, an act that seems strange to us today, but it was not unusual for Egyptian royalty to marry family members. With the title “God’s wife”, Hatshepsut was extremely prominent during the reign of Thutmose II. Her husband had a son (Thutmose III) by another woman, who became king upon his father’s death. At this time Thutmose III was still a young child, and so Hatshepsut took care of Egypt, acting as regent. About 7 years into the regency, things started to change. Hatshepsut began using royal names and titles, which she made into feminine form. She was crowned king of Egypt. 

Her reign was accepted by a flourishing Egypt. As far as we know, there does not seem to have been foul play in her rise to kingship; there is no evidence for social trauma or bloodshed. Some Egyptologists have argued that she already held the strings of power during the reign of her husband. As king, she also acknowledged the kingship of Thutmose III -he is, for example, often depicted alongside her on monuments (although his inferior status is made clear by being placed behind her). Her reign as king was prosperous, and included trade expeditions (such as to Punt), and some military action, such as in Nubia. Her reign introduced a period of particularly outstanding artistic creativity, and her mortuary temple Deir el-Bahari is now one of the most visited monuments in Egypt.

Hatshepsut ruled as king for about 15 years. After this she seemingly disappears, and Thutmose III becomes sole king. It is not clear what happened to her; we do not know whether she died naturally, or was removed. Whatever occurred, her memory was wiped from Egyptian history. Thutmose III had her images and names removed from many of her monuments, and her statues at Deir el-Bahari were smashed. In addition, she was left out of later Egyptian king lists. Why this happened is much debated and not straight-forward, although the unconventional nature of her rule probably at least played a part in this. Manetho, however, much later during the Ptolemaic era, recognises her reign as king in his famous History of Egypt.

Much of this write-up draws from the work and interpretations of Egyptologist Marc Van De Mieroop. His publication ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’ (2010) is recommended. The shown sculpture of Hatshepsut is courtesy of & can be viewed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Via their online collections29.3.2.

On this day in history, August 12th, two thousand and forty five years ago, Cleopatra VII, the last active ruler of Ancient Egypt, committed suicide.

Eleven days previously, her husband Marc Antony had already done the same. The couple had been engaged in a civil war against Octavian, the great nephew of Julius Caesar who had been declared his legal heir. During the final battle in Alexandria, Antony suffered serious desertions among his troops and lost the fight. Upon his return, he falsely heard Cleopatra had killed herself and fell on his sword.

After Antony’s death, Octavian arrived in Egypt and effectively took Cleopatra and her children by Antony prisoner. She had sent her eldest son Caesarion, her only living child with Caesar, away for his own safety. She knew that Octavian planned for her to march in chains behind his chariot during his triumph parade, and would very likely have her killed afterwards. Rather than suffer such humiliations and indignity, she chose to take her own life.

Popular history and mythology leads us to believe that she was killed by inducing an asp to bite her, after having locked herself in her mausoleum with her two handmaidens. However, many modern scholars believe that she instead took a mixture of poisons, since the venom of an asp does not cause a quick or painless death. Octavian and his men found her too late to do anything, Cleopatra was already dead and one handmaiden, Iras, was nearly dead on the floor. The second, Charmian, was straightening the Queen’s diadem. According to legend, one of the men asked if this was well done of her mistress, and she shot back “Very well done, as befitting the descendant of so many noble Kings.”

Upon her death, Octavian honoured her wish to be buried in her mausoleum at Antony’s side. He took her children with Antony, the twins Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios, along with their younger brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus, to Rome with him as prisoners of sorts. They were fated to march in his triumph parade in their mother’s place, the chains so heavy they could hardly walk. After this they were given to Octavian’s sister Octavia, who had been Antony’s third wife, to look after.

Cleopatra’s son with Caesar, Caesarion, was nominally sole ruler of Egypt after his mother’s death. Eleven days after her suicide, he was found after being lured back to Alexandria under false pretenses of being allowed to rule in his mother’s place. Octavian ordered his murder, on advice that “Two Caesar were too many.”

With Cleopatra’s death, and Caesarion’s subsequent murder, the rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty came to an end and Egypt became a mere Roman Province.

There is evidence in Cleopatra’s first year of her ambition as well.  Her brother’s name is absent from official documents, where he should have figured as Cleopatra’s superior.  Nor is he in evidence on her coins; Cleopatra’s commanding portrait appears alone.  Coinage qualifies as a kind of language, too.  It is the only one in which she speaks to us in her own voice, without Roman interpreters.
—  Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

What’s your advice on how to be a queen? 

I have never wanted to be a queen! Cleopatra was a role, and I am an actor, so it was fun to play one, but it’s not real. The real Cleopatra had an incredibly complicated life, and she had to be very, very canny to survive as long as she did. For me, the most interesting thing about her was her passion. The things that are important to me—being a mother, a businesswoman, an activist—are all things that were borne out of great passion. (x)

currently reading: Cleopatra - A Life by Stacy Schiff
enjoying it a lot so far. i’m pretty familiar with the historical aspects of this era but Schiff brings in really interesting perspectives to see this period through. favorite element so far is how she talks about Cleopatra’s completely incestuous and dysfunctional lineage…HBO needs to make a damn show about the Ptolemies already. and from a scientific point of view, how does someone as smart and as accomplished (total understatements, btw) like Cleopatra VII come out of all that inbreeding and trauma? boggles the mind.