Cleopatra VII was the last pharaoh of the Macedonian dynasty in Egypt. She is probably most known from the 1963 film, “Cleopatra,” Shakespeare's “Antony and Cleopatra,” and museum exhibits about her family's rich history.
She was born in January of 69 BCE to Ptolemy XII. All though she was of Greek descent, she spoke and acted Egyptian. Because Egyptian rulership descended through the female line in the royal family, she inherited the throne when her father died in 51 BCE. She was only 17 the only way one of her brothers could rule was to marry her. Cleopatra married her middle brother, the 12 year-old Ptolemy XIII, Marrying one's sibling was a common practice in Egyptian royalty in order to keep the power in the family and avoid much rivalry for the throne.
Between 51 and 49 BCE, there were many droughts along the Nile River, causing most of the crops to die. Due to this decline in the amount of food, her brother forbade all trading of grain from Alexandria, which was then the capital of Egypt. This made the Romans, who were allies of Egypt, angry because it meant that the Romans would not profit from their alliance. Rome was gaining power over Egypt, up to the point in 48 BCE when Julius Caesar captured Alexandria. Cleopatra, of course, did not want to lose her country. As the story goes, she rolled herself up in a carpet and had the carpet sent to Caesar to speak with him in person.
But after the war that broke out, Cleopatra's brother and husband, Ptolemy XIII, died. Cleopatra then married her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIV, and she also started having an affair with Caesar. It is unknown if this relationship grew from true love or from the desire for power. Cleopatra bore Caesar one child, Ptolemy Caesar, or Caesarion. But back in Rome, Caesar did not recognize this son and stated that his nephew, Octavian, would be his heir.
When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, Cleopatra and Caesarion were in Rome. By the time they returned to Alexandria, Ptolemy XIV was dead. Some think that Cleopatra murdered her brother to ensure power for her son, who became Cleopatra's co-ruler.
Back in Rome, after Caesar was killed, citizens divided into two groups: Those who followed Octavian, Caesar's heir, and those who followed Rome's leading senator, Marc Antony. Antony wanted to sustain the Egyptian-Roman alliance, so he traveled to Alexandria to speak with Cleopatra. Plutarch's described how Cleopatra presented herself to Antony:
“She came sailing up the River Cydnus, in a barge with a gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces...The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore.”
When Antony saw Cleopatra, he fell in love even though he already had a wife, Octavia, in Rome. He and Cleopatra married in 36 BCE. They had two children, twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and later another child, Ptolemy Philadelphos.
But when Rome heard about Antony and Cleopatra's relationship, Roman senators and Octavian became more and more aggravated because Antony was giving Cleopatra parts of the Roman Empire. The last straw for Octavian was when Antony printed Cleopatra's face onto Roman coins.
At this, Octavian started a war against Antony and Cleopatra. The Romans defeated the Egyptians in 31 BCE in the battle of Actium. Octavian’s ambition took her further to defeat Antony personally in Alexandria. Out of shame, Antony committed suicide. As Octavian’s captive, Cleopatra also chose death at the age of 39. She took the path believed to secure her immortality in the after-life: She was bitten by a cobra. Octavian had Caesarion executed, and Cleopatra’s three children from Antony were sent back to Rome to be raised by Octavia.
Cleopatra was a very powerful woman. She was a mother, seduced two of the most influential men of the time, and ruled an empire. She is not considered a very kind ruler, but was commanding. The character that she inspired for Shakespeare is also considered one of the world’s greatest roles for women. One of her biggest dreams was to expand the Egyptian Empire and rule it and for a short time -- she succeeded. Her rule extended over all of Egypt, and part of the great Roman Empire, as well.
[Source: Women Who Changed the World]