Hello my lovely readers, and welcome to Femme Fatale Friday, here at White Rose of Avalon. For this week’s femme fatale I have chosen to discuss the life and legend of Cleopatra VII of Egypt. She was the last queen of Egypt, and an icon of female power in an era when it was not necessarily okay for a woman to hold so much power alone!
I have written about her before, and likely will write about her many more times, as she is such an important and pivotal figure in antiquity. Today I would like to focus on her status as a literal femme fatale. Cleopatra was responsible for the deaths of her brother Ptolemy XIII and sister Arsinoe IV. It is also believed that she likely ordered the death of her brother Ptolemy XIV.
The death of her brother Ptolemy XIII took place after Cleopatra had met, and seduced Caesar. With the help, and support, of Caesar, Cleopatra could now take her place as Pharaoh back. Her brother had previously had her exiled from Alexandria, and she knew had she come back before Caesar got to Egypt, she would have been killed herself! This led to the Siege of Alexandria, which took place in 47 BC, and ended with the death of Ptolemy XIII and the capture of Arsinoe IV. Arsinoe was exiled to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It was here that she remained until her death.
Ordering the death of one’s own brothers and sister seems to be an incredibly evil thing to do. However, the Ptolemaic Dynasty had a long reputation of killing one another for power! Cleopatra’s order to kill Arsinoe came when Caesar had sent Arsinoe away after the death of Ptolemy (whom she had supported). Cleopatra knew there were still supporters of her sister in Egypt, and that the one way to protect herself was to have her sister taken out!
After the death of Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra was remarried to her other young brother Ptolemy XIV. It was tradition in the Ptolemaic Dynasty to marry siblings to one another, and Cleopatra had been married to Ptolemy XIII before she was exiled. The death of Ptolemy XIV took place after the birth of Cleopatra’s first son, so that he could rule by his mother’s side instead. Cleopatra’s son was fathered by Julius Caesar, even though he never recognized the child as his. Caesarian was recognized by Marc Antony, as Caesar’s son, when he fell in love with Cleopatra!
In many ways Cleopatra was more of a pragmatic queen than she was a cold blooded killer. She was not killing her family out of bloodlust, but instead out of a desire to keep herself (and her children) safe. She was the best qualified to lead Egypt, as she was incredibly well educated, and a truly brilliant intellect! Her ability for running a country has been very well established by historians. She understood diplomacy and how to present herself in the most appealing lights to her prospective allies!
While developing strong connections, she never forgot that she had detractors who wanted her dead. It is known that she perfected poisons, and had them tested on criminals and slaves! She proved herself as both a ruthless leader, and a protective mother. When Octavian was advancing on Egypt to wage war against Cleopatra and Antony, she sent her son Caesarian away. It is this protective instinct that has led some modern historians to question whether she actually killed herself, knowing her son would be killed after she was out of the way!
Whether or not she committed suicide, as is the traditional history, it is a fact that Cleopatra had her siblings put to death. In her mind this was a protective measure that ensured her safety to rule. I hope that you have enjoyed learning a bit about Cleopatra as a deadly Pharaoh. Thank you so much for joining me for Femme Fatale Friday, here at White Rose of Avalon. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a still from the Elizabeth Taylor led film from 1963. I found the image on fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu.
- Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
- Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer (2009)