Historical story

A promiscuous seducer, psychopath or a figment of the imagination? What do we really know about Cleopatra's life?

She was one of the most controversial and hated women of the ancient world. She was said to be a bloodthirsty monster, a promiscuous harlot and a whore queen. Her ruthlessness on the way to the throne and her promiscuous life shocked the ancients and still inspire artists today. How much truth is there in the stories of Egypt's last ruler?

The first part of the text was published on our sister site Your History. In the article Ruthless Tyrant on the Nile. How was the legend of Cleopatra born? her youth was described, her love affair with Julius Caesar and the various tricks she used to charm her contemporaries.

It seemed that at the age of 24, Cleopatra VII had everything she needed to continue her life. Her lover was the most powerful man in the world at that time - Julius Caesar, with whom she appeared on an equal basis in life and politics without courtesy. She also bore him a son and heir, and together with her younger brother Ptolemy XIV she ruled Egypt. She certainly did not expect that her life would soon experience events that would completely change her plans for the future . March 15, 44 B.C.E. Julius Caesar was murdered.

The figure of Cleopatra inspires artists. Her role was played by, among others, Theda Bara

I don't feel sorry for the queen's escape

Cicero wrote such words in his letter to his friend Attica a month after Caesar's death. If Cleopatra did "flee" Rome, it must be remembered that it lasted at least three weeks . Certainly, this delay was not only due to the size of the luggage that her servants had to pack (although we can imagine how many things the queen took with her for her two years on the Tiber). It seems that Cleopatra was very determined to claim the rights of her son Caesarion. Julius Caesar's will did not open until two weeks after his death. There was no direct mention of Caesarion in its content, which certainly hastened Cleopatra's decision to leave Rome.

Cold shower

Cleopatra, on her way back from Rome, stopped in Cyprus to demonstrate her sovereignty over the island. This was a significant event, because during her absence, her sister Arsinoe IV plotted to seize power. After arriving in Alexandria, the queen found herself in a very difficult political situation. Alexandrians resented her relationship with Caesar and the subjugation of Egypt to Rome. Ironically, the Romans didn't like her for similar reasons!
Support for her fifteen-year-old brother Ptolemy XIV was growing in the country, and the thought of a different royal couple was already in the minds of many heads. Cleopatra was certainly also thinking about the potential relationship of her siblings - Arsinoe and Ptolemy. Therefore, family tradition took over and in 44 BCE Ptolemy XIV has disappeared from the pages of history. Flavius ​​Joseph tells us that most likely he was poisoned by his sister.

Cleopatra had at her disposal various plant poisons and arsenic, which she reportedly tested on her prisoners and servants . Most likely, she used aconite, which is highly poisonous in small amounts and causes vomiting, diarrhea and cardio-respiratory failure. In addition, it is a substance that is extremely difficult to detect, so she could easily add it to her brother, even to a drink.
Arsinoe IV was becoming an increasing threat to Cleopatra, but as long as she remained in exile, she could not follow in her brother's footsteps. At least for now.

Pearl in vinegar and other ways of seduction

Cleopatra ruled Egypt for the next 3 years as regent of her underage son Ptolemy XV. She realized that in order to stay in power, she had to find a new ally. No wonder she eagerly responded to Mark Antony's invitation and in 41 BCE she set out to meet him in Tarsus. We learn from Plutarch that she arrived in Aphrodite's garb on a golden-stern ship powered by silver-shining oars and purple sails . She was accompanied by a great entourage of girls dressed as Nereids and Charity, and men dressed as eros. Antony and Cleopatra competed in hospitality and lavish banquets. During the evening feast, Cleopatra ordered to illuminate her ship so that thousands of bright lights were reflected in the water's surface . Music, richly laid tables, generous gifts of the queen for guests, and above all her unusual personality They certainly made a great impression on Antony, who was known for his vanity, sensitivity to material things and his willingness to pose as the god Dionysus.

Cleopatra and Mark Antony

Pliny the Elder, describing these events, also mentions the banquet competitions taking place at that time. Cleopatra and Mark Antony competed over who would throw a more expensive party. Of course, the winner was Cleopatra, who, according to Pliny the Elder , threw the pearl from her earring into the vinegar cup, waited for it to dissolve, and then drank the resulting solution . Scientists decided to check this fact by conducting a simple experiment. It turns out that the pearl does - it can dissolve when thrown into a pot of vinegar, but the time it takes for it to completely annihilate far exceeds the length of even the most glamorous and decadent party. Moreover, it's hard to imagine Cleopatra drinking a whole cup of pure vinegar.

What brought Mark Antony and Cleopatra together? Certainly a strong sensual bond, but most of all a political alliance. Cleopatra also gave birth to Antony's twins:Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selena. Their romance is considered one of the greatest in history and has inspired artists for centuries . Cleopatra very quickly began to use the influence of her new lover. Remember that her sister Arsinoe was still in exile and she was trying to seize power over Egypt. In 41 BCE she was murdered on the steps of the temple in Ephesus, at that time in Mark Antony's sphere of influence. Archaeological discoveries in the city confirmed that a tomb marked with Egyptian symbols containing the body of an aristocrat comes from around this period.

Marcus Antony even had a coin minted in honor of Cleopatra

Demon woman or just propaganda?

When describing the life of Cleopatra VII, it should be remembered that the information about her comes mainly from ancient sources, and these, to put it mildly, are very biased. We already know perfectly well that Cicero did not like Cleopatra which may have worsened as the queen reportedly promised him scrolls from the Alexandrian library and then did not keep her word . Important political events took place during her acquaintance with Mark Antony in Rome. The conflict between Octavian and the heirs of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony grew and was soon to end with the Battle of Actium. Octavian's propaganda became very strong and was enthusiastically supported by ancient writers. Cleopatra was portrayed as the embodiment of barbaric values ​​that were to be overcome by higher Roman values: virtus - courage and pietas - godliness . It was told how Cleopatra used the well-known tricks of a courtesan to deceive and win Antony to her side. She had succeeded, although according to Plutarch, she was not a beautiful woman .
Plutarch wrote about the customs of both of them, describing Antony's stay in Egypt and presenting a catalog of eccentric behaviors in which they indulged. One day they walked in slave costumes around Alexandria to the delight of the inhabitants, another time they went fishing in the port. Antony was not doing very well, so he ordered the slave to dive and attach previously caught specimens to the fishing rod, which he then triumphantly hauled to the surface. Of course, Cleopatra noticed this, and the next day, when they went fishing again, she had a slave dive and hooked a Pontic pickled fish to Antony's rod.

Cleopatra and Antony loved the lavish banquets

The ancients also wrote about luxury and the waste of money . The feasts described earlier and the dissolved pearl and eccentric behavior in Alexandria are just some of the stories that were told about this couple during this period. Cleopatra was supposed to take baths in donkey's milk which kept her skin silky. This custom was then attributed to Roman women who were considered promiscuous, including Poppaea Sabina - Nero's second wife. Pliny the Elder called Cleopatra a harlot and attributed her arrogance . His lack of good taste was indicated by referring to the episode in which it is said that Mark Antony was dealing with his needs for golden vessels. According to Pliny, the queen must have been guilty of the same indecency.

Looking at Cleopatra's story, we can consider her a psychopathic person . She could easily kill family members to secure power over Egypt. Despite these actions, as a woman striving for independent power, she was still defenseless and this forced her to enter into political agreements. She did not hesitate to use all her skills and body to get what she felt was rightfully entitled to her. She was certainly a confident woman, extremely strong, knowing what she wanted and how to get it. She liked to be the center of attention and the theatrical gestures certainly gave her great satisfaction. No wonder her death was just as dramatic. Remember, however, that what we know about Cleopatra today comes mainly from the messages of people who did not like her and used her image in propaganda campaigns.