Many myths abound about Ceopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Some say she was the most beautiful woman that ever lived, that she bathed in the milk of asps, but few know the truth about her remarkable life.
"History lesson" is a regular column here on the Rebel blog – we're going to be looking at some infamous figures from history, and showing you some of the amazing apparel, accessories and artwork our sellers have created inspired by their lives and deeds.
"Cleopatra and Julius Caesar", by Jean-Leon Gerome.
Cleopatra was born around 69BC, to her parents, the king Ptolemy XII and queen Cleopatra V Trypheana (who was probably also her father's sister). Her family, the Ptolemy Dynasty, had ruled Egypt since 323BC, when Alexander the Great had given rule to his general, Ptolemy I. During this period, Egypt became a cultural capital, producing some of the world's finest art. Ptolemy built a new capital city, called Alexandria, and this became an international centre of art, culture and literature. (The famous library of Alexandria was reputed to hold a copy of every written work in the world).
Cleopatra had two older sisters, and a brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was heir to the throne. In 51 BC, Ptolemy XII died, and the throne passed to his ten-year-old son, and his queen, Cleopatra. At just 18 years of age, Cleopatra was on the throne of Egypt.
But her reign was not easy. As her brother was very young, she had to take over many of the responsibilities of the kingdom, and Egypt was a struggling nation. Flood, famine, threat of war from Rome, a struggling economy, and political plots threatened at every turn. There were many factions competing for power, and they drove a rift between Cleopatra and her brother/husband. Cleopatra was forced out of Egypt, and she fled to Syria.
In Syria, Cleopatra assembled an army and returned to claim the throne from her younger brother. Julius Caesar was travelling to Egypt in pursuit of his rival, Pompey. Caesar and Cleopatra met and fell in love, and Caesar agreed to help her regain the throne. Caesar defeated Ptolemy's forces at the Battle of the Nile, and he gave Cleopatra the throne of Egypt, and the pair formed an alliance.
But the Roman people were not so keen on this foreign queen who they saw as "corrupting" their beloved general. Cleopatra bore Caesar a son, Caesarian, but he never formally acknowledged the child as his – perhaps an astute political move on his part.
Back in Rome, a plot was hatched against Caesar, and on the 15 March, 44 BC he was slain outside the senate by Brutus and Cassius, who hoped to reinstate a form of republican rule.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Following Caesar's death, Rome instituted a Triumvirate – with Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, the general Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. In 41 BC, Mark Antony sent for Cleopatra – he wanted her to come to Rome and explain her allegiance to Caesar. Cleopatra made a lavish journey to Rome, arriving with a huge entourage to show off the wealth of Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra began their infamous love affair.
The Triumvirate broke down and Mark Antony and Octavian began to battle over control of Rome. Antony's relationship to Cleopatra (despite his wife and children in Rome) soured public opinion against him.
This image shows Cleopatra as an Egyptian Goddess.
Downfall and Death
Antony declared that Cleopatra's son Caesarian should be the real heir to Caesar, as Octavian was only adopted. In response to this insult, Octavian told the Roman people he'd seized Antony's will, and that Antony had turned over Roman possessions to Cleopatra and that he wanted to make Alexandria the new capital of the Roman Empire.
In 31BC, Cleopatra raised an army to help Antony fight Octavian. But the battle – fought at Actium off the coast of Greece – saw Cleopatra and Antony defeated. They fled to Alexandria, and Antony returned to the battlefield to attempt to fight off Octavian's advance. In the heat of battle he received the news that Cleopatra was dead and, distraught, he stabbed himself.
But Cleopatra was very much alive. As the Roman armies overran her city, she hid in her mausoleum – the tomb she'd built for herself in the heart of the city. There, with her two most loyal servants, she allowed a poisonous cobra to bite her, killing her with its venom. Cleopatra and Antony were buried together, Octavian became Caesar Augustus – one of the most revered Roman emperors of all time – and Egypt became a Roman province.
"The Death of Cleopatra", by Reginold Arthur
Cleopatra's life became infamous, and tales of her deeds and her beauty was passed down through history, until she became more of a myth than a true ruler. To this day she remains a popular figure in modern culture – there have been many depictions and dramatizations of her life, (the most famous being Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra), as well as films, books, comics and . Her beauty sells many products, such as cars, soaps and cosmetics, and her story inspires many artists, artisans and creators.
Tune in to the next blog post, where we look at some of the most popular products on Rebelsmarket inspired by Cleopatra herself!