Fresco of Cleopatra

2.2 Cleopatra, Pharoah of Egypt

Cleopatra, Pharoah of Egypt

Basic Facts:

Life: approx. 70 to 30 BCE

Reign: 51 to 30 BCE

Extremely Brief Summary: Cleopatra inherited a joint throne, but pushed first one and then a second brother out of it to rule alone. In a world where rising Roman dominance was a fact of life, she managed to maintain control of her country by negotiating (in every possible way) with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Though she lost in the end, she still managed to close out 3000 years of Egyptian history on her own terms.

Most Memorable Moment: Cleopatra and Mark Antony have a genuine Romeo-and-Juliet type ending. He thought she had killed herself, so he killed himself, and then she killed herself. Possibly this is where Shakespeare got the idea?

Selected Sources and Images

Sources on Cleopatra are both plentiful and contradictory. My personal pick is Joyce Tyldesley’s Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

You can read Plutarch’s version of her in his Life of Antony. Plutarch was the major source for Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra. But do bear in mind that Plutarch was neither unbiased, nor an eye-witness. He wrote about 100 years after Cleopatra’s time. If an Egyptian had written an equivalent biography, I think it would have read rather differently.

Black basalt statue of Cleopatra

Cleopatra (or maybe one of the other Ptolemaic queens) as an Egyptian goddess in black basalt, from the 1st century BCE.

Image Source: By George Shuklin – Own work, Public Domain

Papyrus, possibly with Cleopatra's handwriting

This papyrus contains the Greek for “so be it” at the bottom, possibly in Cleopatra’s own handwriting. If so, it is the only words we have directly from her.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Denarius coin with Antony and Cleopatra

Mark Antony and Cleopatra, as two sides of one denarius coin.

Image Source: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Cleopatra and Caesarion on Egyptian temple

Cleopatra and her son Ptolemy Caesarion at the temple of Dendera.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fresco of Cleopatra

This 1st century fresco from Herculaneum, Italy, is possibly of Cleopatra, showing her with red hair. It would have been done posthumously, so is not necessarily an accurate depiction.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bust of Cleopatra

Cleopatra, as discovered in Via Appia, probably made during the time of her visit to Rome, now in the Alter Museum in Berlin.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

You can also read one historian’s view of how she really died here.


  1. What a dynamic story! Cleopatra certainly had possessed many of the same qualities that we both extol and despise in our modern politicians!


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