Section 1: Identification and Evaluation of Sources This investigation will explore the question: How did Cleopatra VII Theo Philopator of ancient Egypt utilize her sexuality to gain political power? The years 51 B. C. to 34 B. C. will be the focus of this investigation, to allow for an analysis of Cleopatra’s political gains through her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony/Antonius. The first source that will be evaluated in depth is Duane W. Roller’s book Cleopatra: A Biography, published in 2010. The origin of this work, Roller, is a retired Professor of Classics from Ohio State University.
He has been awarded the Fulbright Scholar and has written many scholarly books on ancient Rome and Greece. The value of his work is, thus, enhanced by his extensive research, as a professor and historian, on the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome during the time period of Cleopatra’s rein. The purpose of his book is to create a timeline of Cleopatra’s life, adding value to the work because he attempted to tell her story without bias or misinterpretation of the facts. He wrote his work based solely on primary sources from the time of Cleopatra’s rein.
The piece is valuable because the accuracy of his work has been enhanced through primary sources. However, most of Roller’s primary sources are Roman. This is a limitation because she was a political enemy of many powerful Roman’s that wished to take Cleopatra and her lovers from power through the use of propaganda and media. The opinion of her throughout the Roman public would have been biased and exaggerated or untruthful when writing about Cleopatra’s life during the time. Moreover, it is a limitation that Roller is analyzing a time period from centuries ago.
There are several gaps in the documentation of Cleopatra’s life, such as from 40 to 37 B. C. , and the book is relatively short for a time span of about wenty years, which takes away from the value of the work. The second source evaluated in depth is Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend by Dr. Joann Fletcher. The origin of this source is valuable because Fletcher is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archeology at the University of York with a focus on ancient Egypt. She has spent years researching and analyzing the history of this era with her archeologist findings, strengthening the credibility of her work.
The purpose of her book is to tell the true story of Cleopatra, and not the story dictated by her Roman enemies and isogynists throughout the ages. This can be a value and a limitation; a value, because Fletcher wishes to be unbiased, but a limitation because she is writing this book from the viewpoint that Cleopatra has been slandered for centuries. Fletcher may have interpreted or portrayed Cleopatra in a way to give her the bibliography Fletcher’s believes Cleopatra deserves. This limitation is supported by her admission that she admires Cleopatra more than any other individual from ancient Egypt as stated in interviews.
Within the piece, Fletcher uses speculation to give Cleopatra’s life a story-life quality. For example, Fletcher uses more than three pages to describe the possibilities of Cleopatra’s appearance when she first met Antonius. These assumptions about Cleopatra’s lifestyle and personality limit the piece as some fact and fiction is merged together. Fletcher mentions the multiple scenarios of Cleopatra’s life, stating the scene that is generally agreed to have happened by scholarly consensus but also acknowledging other biographies of Cleopatra given to her by the Romans and historians from the past.
This adds value to Fletcher’s analysis of Cleopatra’s life because she is using more than one source to come a onclusion. Section 2: Investigation Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, married and became joint rulers of Egypt in 51 B. C. (see Appendix). The queen was able to acquire most of her power from the ten-year-old Ptolemy (Roller 53). However, in 48 B. C. , a political fraction supporting the young Egyptian king began to grow and civil war broke out. It was during this time that Julius Caesar became the ruler of Rome (Foss 74-76).
He travelled to Egypt, an important ally, hoping to stop the feud between the royal siblings by summoning them to his quarters in Alexandria for a peace conference (Crawford). The night before the conference, Cleopatra entered Caesar’s personal quarters. There are two theories as to how she did this. The first is fortified by Plutarch, a Greek historian of early 100 A. D. , and his account of Cleopatra “having herself wrapped in a roll of bedding” and carried to Caesar’s rooms by her servant (qtd. in Foss). The second, supported by Cassius Dio, a Roman historian of late 100 A. D. paints Cleopatra sneaking into Caesar’s chambers using thick clothing to cover her body and face and, upon entering, unveiling to reveal herself (Fletcher 103).
Many historians believe the latter is the true story. Cleopatra was a queen with great pride and it is unlikely that she would have allowed herself to be placed into a sack. Unveiling is also symbolic of a woman offering her virginity to a man in Rome and Greece, which the experienced Caesar would have caught onto (Fletcher 103). Both of these scenarios would have been highly suggestive; she entered a male’s room, without permission, alone, during the night.
Cleopatra explained her dilemma to Caesar and pleaded for him to restore her power. He agreed and their deal was likely sealed with sex, as was the way for “worldly and ambitious women” of the time (Foss 83). The next day, Caesar revealed the late king’s will and stated that Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra were meant to be joint rulers (Fletcher 113). Ptolemy and Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra’s younger sister, then rebelled against Caesar’s decree in the Alexandrian War of 47 B. C. By the end of the war, Ptolemy XIII had drowned, Arsinoe was forced into exile, and their support diminished.
Cleopatra remained quiet throughout the war; she was content to watch as Caesar defeated her political rivals for the throne. With this win, Caesar placed Cleopatra as joint ruler with her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV. However, because of Ptolemy’s ge, about eleven, she gained most of the power in Egypt for herself (Roller 63-64). Months later, Cleopatra gave birth to a son, Caesarion.
It is unclear to historians if the child was Caesar’s. Dio claims the son was not, while Suetonius, a Roman historian of early 100 A. D. , states that Caesar “allowed her to call the son… y his own name” and that some had said the boy “resembled Caesar in features as well as in gait,” (qtd. Tyldesly 101) implying that Caerarion was Caesar’s child. With an heir possibly connected to the ruler of Rome, Cleopatra gained recognition as a ruler and greater prestige (100-102). It is because of Cleopatra’s power of seduction and cunning that she was able to convince the ruler of Rome, arguably the most powerful man of the time, to fight for her position as monarch, become involved in a civil war, re- instate her, and allow her to name her child as his.
After Caesar’s assassination in 44 B. C. , Mark Antonius took control of the East in 42 B. C. (Jackson 52). The new ruler summoned Cleopatra and she set out on her barge to meet him. The vessel was said to have been made of gold and silver with purple sails and Cleopatra herself dressed like Aphrodite, the goddess of love, on the dais (Nardo 49-50). Plutarch stated that “word spread on every side that Aphrodite [Cleopatra] had come to revel with Dionysus [Antonius] for the happiness of Asia” (qtd. in Nardo 50).
She had purposely dressed as Aphrodite, not only to entice the self-proclaimed Dionysius, but to gain favor from the public and establish her status as the reincarnation of the gods. Over a course of one long winter, Cleopatra was able to gain many political benefits from Antonius’ presence in Egypt (Smith). Arsinoe IV and a phony Ptolemy XIII were claiming their right to rule and the public was beginning to support them. Fearing for er political stability and power, she had them both executed by Antonius (Clark). She was given Kilikain, increasing her political stability and providing her kingdom with timber for shipbuilding.
It was during the time Antonius had left to rule Rome that Cleopatra had given birth to twins, a boy and girl, in 40 B. C. They were given the names Helios and Selene, the god’s of the sun and moon, respectively, and the children of the goddess Isis. This solidified Cleopatra’s image as the protective and traditional reincarnation of Isis (Roller 84). She also gave birth to Ptolemy Philadelphus in 36 B. C. The increased amount of heirs was an important product of her seduction; they increased her political stability and ensured her political goals for Egypt would continue after her death (Fletcher 82-84).
Antonius reappeared in Cleopatra’s life in 34 B. C. He reorganized the East, giving Cleopatra an increased amount of land and the position as the strongest eastern Mediterranean ruler. She obtained Levantine coastal cities, the Syrian interior, Jericho, Ailana, Crete districts, Gaza and Phoenicia, and Cyprus. These lands contained important trade centers, fertile land, economic resources, copper mines, and increased protection rom invasion (Roller 91-94). Without Antonius’ favor, the Egyptian queen would never have been able to control and receive such large amounts of money from these lands.
Cleopatra knew several languages, had traveled extensively, understood politics and culture, (Fletcher 107) and unlike the women of Rome and Greece, strategically wore perfume, makeup, oils, and jewelry to attract men (236-238). It was with these abilities that she was able to gain the favor Julius Caesar and Mark Antonius, the two most powerful Romans of their time. Through Caesar her political enemies were demolished, he was able to rule as the sole monarch in Egypt, and was given an heir. Through Antonius her remaining political rivals were killed, her heirs increased to four, and her empire was expanded (Roller 84).
In a time ruled by men, Cleopatra was able to regain her kingdom, eliminate all her political rivals, and become the richest and strongest ruler of the eastern Mediterranean coast (Hayes). Reflection During this investigation I had to use different methods to come to my conclusion. When analyzing my sources I had to ask myself when, where, and by whom the work was written. I also had to question its sources and credibility. I found it particularly difficult to find primary sources for my investigation.
This is because of the high illiteracy at the time of Cleopatra’s rein and because there is a limited amount of valuable primary sources from this era. I was able to recognize some of the difficulties historians face when attempting to research a time from centuries past. With little sources from the time a historical event took place, it is difficult to come to a conclusion about the occurrence. As I have learned while researching Cleopatra, one event can be influenced by many factors, such as the politics, economics, and social relations of the time.
Cleopatra had relations with Caesar and Antonius, which influenced the Roman view of her as an evil seductress, witch, and adulterer. Some of the more powerful men in Rome viewed her as a political enemy and disliked her great power in a patriarchal world. Others wished to use her involvement with Caesar and Antonius to turn the public opinion against these men and reduce their power. As such, the limited primary sources with information on Cleopatra are severe towards her and likely filled with lies or exaggerations about her rein in an attempt to diminish her support in Rome.
Cleopatra’s image has also been distorted by the mythology surrounding her. Popular theatrical works like Cleopatra and Antony by William Shakespeare romanticized her relationship with the men in her life and give her the image of a seductress and femme fatale. They do not recognize her political position or aspirations and some of the more current sources on Cleopatra tend to mix up fiction from fact, making it harder to distinguish the two. It is because of this that I found it hard to objectively analyze Cleopatra’s affairs and the political benefits that came from them.
Not only were the primary sources bias, but some of my secondary sources were also noticeably bias too. The secondary sources praised Cleopatra and I found that some sources exaggerated Cleopatra’s bravery to glorify her strength in a man’s world. This was particularly noticeable when I researched how Cleopatra first met Caesar and her interactions with Antonius during the first few months they were together. Also, because I researched Cleopatra with a question in mind, I was deliberately searching for the ‘correct answer. These are both hardships that historians and I faced while researching my topic.