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Lock, Stock, and History

Cleopatra was Greek, not Egyptian

Cleopatra is perhaps the most commonly known and most famous Egyptian Queen.  In fact she is so famous that the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor (above) was chosen to portray her on the silver screen.  Cleopatra was also very famous in the ancient world as well, courting both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.  However it may be surprising for many to learn the the last Pharaoh of Egypt was not actually Egyptian.  Cleopatra’s full name was Cleopatra VII Philopater.  In Greek “Cleopatra” means “The Glory of Her Father”.  Believe it or not Cleopatra was not Egyptian, she was Greek.

So how was it that a Greek ruled Ancient Egypt?  Back in the 300’s BC, Alexander the Great had conquered a vast empire stretching from Greece to Northern India.  Egypt was included in his empire.  In 323 BC Alexander the Great died without a legitimate heir.  Without anyone to inherit his empire, it was decided that Alexander’s former realm would be divided up among his generals.  The general who was awarded Egypt was Ptolemy Soter, who in 305 BC took the title “pharaoh”, thus founding the Ptolemaic Dynasty.  While the Ptolemies took Egyptian titles, they behaved like Greeks; speaking Greek, eating Greek food, and living like Greek royalty.  Highly xenophobic, the Ptolemies refused to speak the native language, assimilate with Egyptian culture, walk like an Egyptian, or even intermingle with the natives.  In fact it was not uncommon for the Ptolemies to practice incest in order to preserve their Greek bloodline. Cleopatra herself carried on this practice, marrying her two brothers. As a result the Ptolemaic Dynasty would remain a Greek Dynasty.

Cleopatra was a 12th generation direct descendant of Ptolemy Soter and the last pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.  One of the reason’s why Cleopatra is mistaken for an Egyptian was that Cleopatra tried to look like an Egyptian.  Unlike her previous ancestors, Cleopatra began to assimilate with the local culture.  She learned how to speak Egyptian, started dressing like an Egyptian, and even claimed to be a reincarnation of an Egyptian god.  

Unfortunately for Cleopatra, she had little time to become a proper Egyptian Queen.  By 43 BC the Roman Republic was embroiled in a civil war between the three most powerful men in Rome, Marc Antony, Octavian, and  Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.  Cleopatra chose to side with Marc Antony, a disastrous decision since it would be Octavian (Augustus) who would defeat Marc Antony, conquer Egypt, and become the first Roman Emperor.  Cleopatra committed suicide by being bitten by a poisonous asp in 30 BC.  Egypt would then become a province of the Roman Empire.


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    Cleopatra was Greek, not Egyptian Cleopatra is perhaps the most commonly known and most famous Egyptian Queen. In fact...
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