Strict Greek law relating to women was becoming unsustainable in a rapidly expanding world where respectable single women were starting to travel far from the shelter of their city-states, and where growing numbers of Greek men were settling with non-Greek women. Legal papyri, written in Greek, introduce us to independent, strong- minded women who act as guardians for their children, arrange their own and their children's marriages, and initiate divorces.
Some women own houses, slaves, orchards or vineyards; others own large boats - important possessions in Nile-centred Egypt, where the river acted as the main highway and where barges were used for transporting grain. The poet Theocritos writes about elite Greek women who feel free to walk in the streets of Alexandria, and who consider it perfectly accept- able both to talk to unrelated men and to grumble loudly about the 'rascally' Egyptians who surround them. Some women, wealthy in their own right, are invited to play a part in civic affairs.
Many who stay at home are able to read the novels that are now being published with a female readership in mind. I am being wronged by Dionysos and my daughter Nike. For though I had nur- tured my daughter, and educated her and raised her to womanhood, when I was stricken with bodily infirmity and my eyesight grew feeble she would not provide me with any of the necessities of life. And when I wished to obtain justice from her in Alexandria she begged my pardon, and in Year 18 she gave me in the temple ofArsinoea written 21 Princess of Egypt oath by the king that she would pay me 20 drachmae every month from her earnings.
If she failed to do so, or transgressed any of the terms of her bond, she was to pay me drachmae or incur the penal- ties of her oath. Now however, corrupted by Dionysos, who is a comic actor, she is not keeping any of her promises In spite of the new air of freedom, the overwhelming majority of women living in Egypt, be they Greek, Egyptian or Jew, were denied a formal education. We can see from the surviving papyri that some women could sign their own names, but the extent to which women were taught to read and right is unclear and many more women required a scribe to both write and sign on their behalf.
Taught at home, women studied the household skills that they would need to care for their husband and children. Those who, for economic reasons, had to work outside the home took unimportant and archaeologically invisible jobs; none expected to enjoy a career beyond that of wife and mother. Cleopatra V Tryphaena the Opulent One , wife of Auletes, is a shadowy figure whose parentage is never mentioned. But it is possible to hazard a guess at her origins.
Her first and only confirmed child, Berenice IV, was born during the 70s. This suggests that Cleopatra married Auletes after his assumption of the throne in She must, therefore, have been chosen to be queen consort of Egypt, a role of such overwhelming political and religious importance that it was only awarded to women of impeccable social standing.
Given the Ptol- emaic penchant for incestuous unions, it is likely that Auletes would have preferred to marry a close relative. His wife's name tends to support this assumption. Names, of course, can easily be changed, and we cannot assume that the queen was born Cleopatra Tryphaena. Nevertheless, we may tentatively deduce that Cleopatra V was either a daughter born to Ptolemy IX by an unknown woman and therefore full or half-sister to her husband or, perhaps, a previously unidenti- fied daughter born to the unfortunate Berenice III and her first husband, Ptolemy X and therefore her husband's cousin.
If the latter was the case we should perhaps reinterpret the post-Berenice III suc- cession, and see Berenice's crown passing directly to her daughter and indirectly to her daughter's husband. Incest had been an occasional feature of earlier dynasties, when some of Egypt's kings married their sisters or half-sisters.
In a land happily oblivious to the perils of inbreeding, these incestuous mar- riages brought definite practical benefits. They kept non-royals at arm's length, restricted the number of potential claimants to the throne, provided a suitably royal husband for princesses who could not be allowed to marry foreigners or men of low social status, and ensured that a future queen could be trained from birth to understand her demanding role.
On a more theoretical level, but perhaps of equal importance, they allowed the royal family to differentiate themselves both from their subjects, who favoured cousin-cousin or uncle-niece unions, and from other, more conventional royal families. The kings and queens of Egypt allied themselves with the gods, who, at the very beginning of time, had been more than happy to marry their sisters.
Those who studied Egypt's ancient mythologies knew that Shu, the dry god of the air, had married his damp sister Tefnut, goddess of moisture. Their son Geb, the green earth god, then married his sister Nut, goddess of the sky, and their children Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys also wed each other.
Royal brother-sister marriages were, however, by no means compulsory, and by the end of the New Kingdom the tradition had more or less died out. But in Greece full-sibling incest was discouraged, and the Macedonians had mocked the 'inbred' Persian royal family for their brother-sister unions. It was considered acceptable for Arsinoe II to marry her half-brother Ptolemy Ceraunos, but her marriage to her full-brother Ptolemy II, which took place some time between and , was seen as scandalous perversion outside Egypt.
Just how it was perceived in Alexandria is not clear, as few cared to make public comment. Sotades the Obscene, inventor of the palindrome and celebrated author of many fine and filthy poems, was foolish enough to pen some humorous verses about the royal union; he was rewarded by a long period of imprisonment and, having fled Alexandria, was eventually captured, sealed in a lead chest and thrown into the sea. The far wiser Theocritos recorded the incestuous marriage with approval.
Ptolemy II, who was not averse to associating himself with Zeus, would have been pleased to read how In this manner too was accomplished the sacred marriage of the immortals whom Queen Rhea bore as kings of Olympus: it is one bed that Iris, to this day a virgin, prepares for Zeus and Hera, when she has cleansed her hands with pe fumes P Perversion or not, the marriage was perceived as beneficial to the royal family - it had all the advantages of the earlier royal incestuous mar- riages, and the additional benefit of linking the nouveaux Ptolemies to the earlier Egyptian kings - and it set a precedent that subsequent monarchs would follow with increasing enthusiasm so that only Beren- ice II daughter of Magas of Cyrene; cousin and wife of Ptolemy III and Cleopatra I daughter of Antiochos III of Syria; wife of the sister- less Ptolemy V subsequently married into the royal family.
Roman census returns from the Faiyum suggest that an aston- ishing 25 per cent of the population adopted the practice. Egypt's queens now found that they were expected to provide not only an heir to the throne plus a spare, but also a sister for the king to marry. It perhaps comes as no surprise to find the Ptolemaic sister-queens assum- ing an increasingly prominent role in both politics and religion. The queens develop their own regalia and are well represented in the surviv- ing statuary.
They also, for the first time, have their own title. While ancient Egypt had no word for queen - all royal women were classified by their relationship to the king, so we find many 'king's wives' queens , 'king's great wives' queen consorts , 'king's mothers' dowager queens and 'king's daughters' princesses , plus a handful of 'female kings' queens regnant - Greek had the word basilissa, or queen. While some of the dynastic kings of Egypt enjoyed incestuous unions, all of them enjoyed polygamous marriages. In this respect they differed from both their people and their gods.
Kings maintained one 'king's great wife'; the consort who played a well-defined role in state and religious ceremonial, who was featured in official writings and art, and whose son, gods willing, would inherit his father's crown. At the same time there were many secondary wives condemned to live sheltered, dull lives in harem palaces away from the court. All these harem wives could be classed as queens, or 'king's wives', but they were by no means wives of equal status and all ranked far below the great wife.
As all the harem queens were wives, there could be no ille- gitimate royal children. Each and every child was a potential future king, his or her chances of succeeding being determined by gender, age and, most important of all, their mother's status. Just occasionally, when the queen consort failed to produce an heir, a harem-born son acceded to the throne, allowing his mother to shed her obscurity and become a 'king's mother'. Their multiple marriages and their oft-repeated failures to nominate a successor from among their many children caused endless familial strife, which was made worse by the fiercely ambitious Macedonian queens, all too many of whom were prepared to lie, cheat and kill to place their own favoured son on the throne.
But the Ptolemies, like their people, prac- tised serial monogamy, taking one partner at a time, remarrying after death or divorce and, in many cases, maintaining an unofficial harem of mistresses whose children were not considered legitimate. Thus Auletes the Bastard, son of an unknown and we assume insignificant mother, was in the curious position of being completely acceptable to his Egyptian subjects, who recognised both his paternity and the validity of his coronation, but less acceptable to the Greeks and Romans, who consistently questioned his right to the throne.
The natural assumption is that Cleopatra V bore all five or six and, in the absence of any evidence to the con- trary, this is the view that many modern historians take. But, as the archaeologist's mantra reminds us, absence of evidence can never be equated with evidence of absence, and Strabo specifically tells us that just one child, the first-born Berenice, was legitimate. The unspoken implication is that the other children were not legitimate to Graeco- Roman eyes, and therefore not born to the queen consort.
We may justifiably choose not to believe Strabo, who, writing half a century after Octavian's conquest of Egypt, was keen to belittle the Ptolemies as a means of flattering the Romans. The suggestion that Cleopatra VII was innately, irredeemably flawed - a bastard like her father - even before she came to the throne was perhaps his means of 27 CLEOPATRA prejudicing his readers against her from the start, and it is curious that no contemporary historians mention her illegitimacy. But maybe Strabo is correct, and maybe some or all of the younger children were born to a variety of different mothers.
The large age gaps between the children - with a possible twenty years between the eldest and the youngest - combined with the fact that Cleopatra V vanishes from royal documents during 69, perhaps indicate that Auletes had more than one wife. We can then further speculate that Cleopatra V either died perhaps in childbirth or for some reason retired from public life before the birth of Cleopatra VII.
Auletes, a still-vigorous king without a son, would naturally seek to replace her. To calculate her birth year we have to work backwards from Plutarch's account of her death, which is known to have occurred on 12 August 30, when, he tells us, she was thirty-nine years old. The name of Cleopatra's mother, as we have already seen, is similarly unre- corded. Given that Auletes openly acknowledged Cleopatra as his daughter, do we really care who this missing mother was? That depends very much on our viewpoint.
The royal family, Cleopatra included, would certainly have cared, both at a personal level and when consid- ering the succession. It is highly unlikely that a daughter born to a slave would have been mentioned in the king's will; the fact that Cleo- patra was classed as a princess is a strong indication that her mother was a woman worthy of respect.
The Egyptian people - including the all-important priesthood - would not have cared at all: as Cleopatra was an acknowledged king's daughter, her mother was an irrelevance. Contemporary Greeks and Romans may have cared, as they held strong views on legitimacy, but the Egyptian Greeks very much took the view that any Ptolemy was better than none. Later classical histo- rians, Strabo included, demonstrably did care.
And what of people today? Yes, we care. Not because we care over- much about illegitimacy, but because we care perhaps too much about 2 8 Princess of Egypt race and appearance and, with Cleopatra's paternal line firmly rooted in the Macedonian Ptolemaic family tree, Cleopatra's mother and grandmother s hold the key to her ethnicity. Two thousand years after her death Cleopatra still has political relevance, and arguments over her racial heritage - was Cleopatra black or white? These definitions in themselves, of course, are open to charges of Eurocentrism and Afro- centrism — can we not have black Greeks?
Or non-black Africans? Is white not a colour? In the USA in particular, the recognition that traditional history has too often been written by a male, Eurocentric elite who, consciously or not, have promoted their own agenda and cultural expectations has led to the development of the theory - sin- cerely held by many - that Cleopatra was a black Egyptian queen whose achievements have been reallocated to a white proto-European. It is easy, but lazy, to ignore this popular debate, classify Cleopatra and her family as Greek and move swiftly on, tacitly dismissing any claim that Cleopatra may have a mixed-race heritage.
So, who exactly was Cleopatra VII? Whether he was of 'pure' Macedonian descent we will never know - can anyone, any- where in the world, swear that they are of pure descent, with all the compatibility of race, nationality and religious belief that this emotive term involves? Was he then a 'Greek? The kingdom of Macedon stretched across northern Greece, an anomaly topping a land of oli- garchic and democratic city-states.
The Macedonian people spoke a distinctive, almost unintelligible dialect, they drank their wine undi- luted with water, worshipped their own gods and buried their dead under tumuli as well as cremating them. The Macedonian elite certainly regarded themselves as true Greeks, or Hellenes, and after a certain amount of argument they had, during the reign of Alexander I c. But not everyone was con- vinced. Macedon's non-elite regarded non-Macedonians with the habitual suspicion reserved for all foreigners, while the true Greeks tended to regard all the Macedonians at best as uncouth quasi- foreigners.
Ptolemy and his descendants belong to the Hellenistic Age, the three centuries between Alexander's accession to the Macedonian throne in and the death of Cleopatra in 30, when an evolved form of classical Greek or Hellenic culture spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean world.
Culturally, then, the Ptolemies were Hellenistic Macedonians who had, by the time of Cleopatra's birth, lived in Egypt for long enough to have acquired at least some Egyptian habits. But what of Cleopatra's racial heritage? Her mother is, of course, unknown, although we suspect that she was Cleopatra V, who in turn we suspect of being closely related to Cleopatra's father, Auletes.
If this assump- tion is wrong, if Cleopatra's mother was not a Ptolemy, then she could have been an elite woman from anywhere in the Hellenistic world, although it seems most likely that she was either Egyptian or Greek. Auletes is known to have had a close working relationship with Pash- erenptah III, high priest of Ptah at Memphis, and it is not impossible that this relationship was sealed with a diplomatic marriage. An Egyp- tian mother might, perhaps, explain Cleopatra's reported proficiency in the Egyptian language.
But again, to assume that an Egyptian mother would be 'pure' Egyptian is perhaps an assumption too far. For almost 3, years tradition, theology and ideology had taught the Egyptian elite that they lived at the heart of the controlled, civilised world. Other, non- 3 Princess of Egypt Egyptian lands were places of unrestrained chaos occupied by ill- favoured peoples destined to be denied eternal life. It followed that those who lived and died by Egyptian custom within Egypt were Egyptian: the most blessed people in the world. Colour - both skin tone and racial heritage - was an irrelevance.
The well-known Greek tale of the xenophobic King Busiris, who habitually slaughtered any foreigner who set foot in Egypt until Heracles put an end to his cruelty was quite simply a myth. Egypt had always been open to immigrants. Libyans, Nubians, Asiatics and others had settled beside the Nile and there had never been any problem with individual Egyptians marry- ing people who looked or spoke differently. As a result, the Egyptian people showed a diverse range of racial characteristics, with red- headed, light-skinned Egyptians living alongside curly haired, darker- skinned neighbours.
Problems only came when too many people attempted to settle at once, bringing their own cultures with them. This willingness to accept, and the willingness of foreigners to assimi- late, make it difficult to estimate just how many 'Egyptians' were actu- ally of non-Egyptian origin. If we step back one generation, our problems grow worse. Cleo- patra's paternal grandfather was Ptolemy IX, but her paternal grand- mother, who may have been her sole grandmother, is again unknown.
She could have been a Ptolemy but, as her children are regarded as illegitimate, she is more likely to have been an outsider from Egypt, Syria, Greece, Rome, Nubia or somewhere else entirely. Her maternal grandmother and grandfather are equally unknown. Moving back in time again, we get a further dilution of the 'pure' Macedonian blood with the introduction of Berenice I, Berenice II and the part-Persian Cleopatra I into the incestuous family tree.
All we can conclude from this survey of just two generations is that, in the crudest of statistical terms, Cleopatra was somewhere between 25 per cent and per cent of Macedonian extraction, and that she possibly had some Egyptian 3 1 CLEOPATRA genes. And, although there are blond Macedonians Ptolemy II was apparently fair-haired and red-headed Egyptians the mummy of Ramesses II the Great confirms his fiery hair , this suggests that Cleo- patra is most likely to have had dark hair and an olive or light brown complexion.
Roman historians did not subscribe to the theory that childhood experiences help to shape the adult and so rarely showed any interest in their subjects' early years. In consequence, we know very little about Cleopatra's infancy and childhood in we assume Alexandria.
But we do know that no one expected Ptolemaic princesses to confine them- selves to the palace or to weave wool. They were women of substance, owning land, property, barges and bank accounts. Many controlled sizeable estates that they leased out to generate additional income.
The extent to which these highly professional businesswomen were formally edu- cated is unclear. To be effective they had not only to be able to read, write and do arithmetic, but to understand the laws, history and tradi- tions of Greece, Egypt and the wider Mediterranean world. Cleopatra VII must have had one or more private tutors borrowed, we might reasonably assume, from the Museion, home to the world-famous scholars of Alexandria: we know the names of Ptolemy XIII's tutor- guardian Theodotos of Chios and of Arsinoe's tutor-guardian the eunuch Ganymede , but Cleopatra's tutor, like most of her personal advisers, goes unrecorded.
Cicero, who met and took an instant dislike to Cleopatra, confirms that she had academic leanings - 'Her prom- ises were all things to do with learning, and not derogatory to my dignity. It is said that she knew the language of many other peoples also, although the preceding kings of Egypt had not tried to master even the Egyptian tongue, and some had indeed ceased to speak the Macedonian dialect. However, we have no confirmation of any scientific training, and the only evidence for her interest in medicine is the fact that she supported the temple of Hathor at Dendera, a temple associated with female health and healing.
It is perhaps more telling that Cleopatra herself employed the distin- guished scholar Nikolaos of Damascus to educate her twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Clearly, Cleopatra regarded education as an important matter for both boys and girls. Auletes understood that Egypt's future was bound up with the future of Rome. Unfortunately, he was incapable of persuading his people - the kingmakers of Alexandria - to accept the situation.
With the benefit of hindsight, it all seems terribly obvious. Egypt was a fertile and ill-defended land ripe for the taking, while Rome was a greedy, ever-expanding military nation with a constant need for grain and a legal claim, however dubious, over Egypt. Now, as Auletes's reign progressed, Egypt's position was deteriorating from bad to worse. Both proposals were defeated, but Egypt's days of inde- pendence were clearly numbered. Only by increasing his cooperation with Rome did Auletes have any hope of keeping his kingdom.
And so, very much against the wishes of the Alexandrians, he bent over backwards to cooperate. In 63 the influential Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Pompey the Great graciously accepted a golden crown, the lavish gift of Auletes and Egypt. Later that same year Egyptian soldiers were sent to fight alongside Pompey's troops in Palestine. Meanwhile, back in Rome, senators of all political factions received copious bribes; bribes which Auletes, impoverished after years of bad management and overspending, had borrowed from Roman money- lenders, and which he could only hope to repay by raising the taxes that were already causing his people much suffering.
Seizing his moment, Auletes offered Pompey and Caesar 6, silver talents, an almost unimaginable sum, the equivalent of half of Egypt's entire annual revenue, in exchange for recognition as Egypt's true king. Auletes had sacrificed his dignity, saved his crown and bought Egypt a few more years of independence; his achievement had little to do with his persuasive diplomatic powers and generous bribes, and much to do with Rome's reluctance to reduce Egypt to the status of a province.
The senators feared, with some justification, that this would allow the ambitious Caesar too much power. Auletes had been recognised as a friend and ally but his brother 3 4 Princess of Egypt had not. And, as Cyprus as well as Egypt had been gifted to Rome in the will of Ptolemy X, this left the younger Ptolemy in a precarious position.
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In 58 the Romans decided to claim their property. Cyprus was annexed by Marcus Porcius Cato Cato the Younger and King Ptolemy declining the offer of an honourable retirement as high priest of Aphrodite at Paphos, swallowed poison. As the people of Alexan- dria took to the streets to protest against their king's apparent indif- ference to his brother's fate, Auletes fled to Cato in Rhodes. His visit was conspicuously unsuccessful: he arrived soon after Cato had taken a laxative, and was forced to plead his case as Cato sat on the toilet.
From Cato's latrine he moved on to Pompey's villa in Rome. Few fathers choose to take young children on business trips, and it is gen- erally assumed that Auletes left all his children behind in Alexandria. However, an undated dedication made in Athens at about this time by a 'king's daughter from Libya' has led some historians to suggest that perhaps the twelve-year-old Cleopatra accompanied her father at least as far as Greece.
The confusion between Egypt and Libya is, however, an odd one and, with no precise date for the dedication, the Libyan princess is far more likely to be a daughter or granddaughter of Juba II of Mauretania, and therefore Cleopatra's granddaughter or great-granddaughter. With her unpopular father indefinitely absent, Berenice IV pro- claimed herself queen. She was associated in her early reign with a 'Cleopatra Tryphaena; whether this is Berenice's ephemeral sister or her mother, who has been missing from our history for over a decade, is not clear. Just one historian, Porphyrius of Tyre, writing three cen- turies after the event, specifies that this Cleopatra, who is by conven- tion numbered Cleopatra VI, is a daughter of Auletes.
Porphyrius's somewhat confused and occasionally incorrect Ptolemaic history is today lost, but fragments have been absorbed into the works of later historians, including Eusebius's Chronicle, where we read how: 3 5 CLEOPATRA In the reign of the New Dionysos, a three year period was ascribed to the rule of his daughters Cleopatra Tryphaena and Berenice, one year as a joint reign and the following two years, after the death of Cleo- patra Tryphaena, as the reign of Berenice on her own.
Whoever she was, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena vanished before the end of 57 and, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, is presumed to have died a natural death. History had started to repeat itself. Berenice, now renamed Cleo- patra Berenice, was a female ruler in need of a husband. Ideally she would have married one of her younger brothers, but as the elder was just three years old she chose an insignificant cousin, Seleucos, instead. This time it was the bride who took a violent dislike to the bride- groom: according to Strabo, the refined Berenice was unable to bear her husband's 'coarseness and vulgarity', while his crude and unap- pealing personality and perhaps his low standards of personal hygiene inspired the Alexandrians to rename him Cybiosactes, or 'salt-fish monger'.
The unfortunately vulgar Seleucos was strangled within a week of his wedding and a replacement husband was hastily recruited. Berenice's second choice, Archelaos, self-appointed son of Rome's great enemy Mithridates VI of Pontus and actual son of Mithridates's general, Achelaos , proved more satisfactory and the couple ruled for two years with the full support of the people of Alexandria. The Alexandrians may have been happy; Auletes and his Roman hosts were not. The influential Pompey offered his support to Auletes; a demonstrably weak king but one who had proved his loyalty to Rome and who, of course, owed such a large debt to Roman bankers that it seemed prudent to help him regain both his throne and his treasury.
However, Auletes could not return to Alexandria without 3 6 Princess of Egypt aid, and the Romans were hesitant, consulting oracles and failing to decide Egypt's fate. Meanwhile, realising that she needed Roman approval if she was to retain her crown, Berenice dispatched a ioo- strong delegation, headed by the brilliant academic and philosopher Dion of Alexandria, to plead her case. Auletes reacted with brutal efficiency, and a shameful combination of murder, coercion and bribery prevented the delegation from speaking.
The resulting scandal, which threatened to involve the prominent bankers who were backing Auletes, was quickly brushed behind the official arras. Disgraced, Auletes borrowed yet more money and fled to the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Auletes's exile continued until, early in 55, he managed to bribe Aulus Gabinius, governor of Syria, to give him military support.
As Plutarch delicately puts it, 'Gabinius himself felt a certain dread of the war, although he was completely captivated by the ten thousand talents'. Pelusium, Egypt's easternmost city, fell and Archelaos was killed in battle; although a traitor, he was given an honourable burial by Gabinius's cavalry officer, Marcus Anto- nius Mark Antony. Auletes returned home in triumph to find Alex- andria suffering under a fairly brutal foreign occupation. His vengeance was swift and uncompromising, tempered only by Mark Antony's gen- erous pleading on behalf of the ordinary citizens.
Berenice and her most prominent supporters were executed and their confiscated prop- erty was used to repay some of Auletes's ever-increasing debt to Rab- irius, who, for one extortionate year, became Egypt's finance minister. Rabirius brought havoc to the bureaucracy and poverty to the countryside. Stripping the Egyptian civil servants from their heredi- tary positions, he introduced his own ruthless men.
Soon there were civil disturbances in Alexandria, the Faiyum, Oxyrhynchus and Hera- cleopolis as the farmers threatened to withhold their labour unless they received protection from the avaricious tax collectors. Pleading poverty, he agreed that Julius Caesar should take over the collection of his outstanding Egyp- tian debt. Gabinius, too, was to be tried in Rome for financial irregu- larities; less fortunate than Rabirius, he was sent into exile. However, long after the danger had passed the 'Gabinians', the major part of Gabinius's army, which included many Germans and Gauls, remained in Egypt, ostensibly to support the restored Auletes.
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Gradually these soldiers married local women and fathered Egyptian children, adding yet another cultural and racial strand to an already well-mixed Egypt. Auletes emerged from the bloodshed a poverty-stricken king whose family had been torn apart by treachery and whose country was suffering from erratic Nile floods and unacceptably high taxation.
Now, to make his money go further, Auletes debased the silver content of his coins to just 84 per cent. This sparked a dramatic rise in inflation but did little to improve the economy. To protect the suc- cession, and pre-empt any further family squabbles, Auletes united his four surviving children within the royal cult as the rather optimisti- cally named Theoi Neoi Philadelphoi, New Sibling- Loving Gods.
Traditionally, Egypt's living kings had been semi-divine beings who acquired full divinity with death. The distinction between the gods, the semi-divine king and his mortal subjects had been theologically clear, but not always obvious to the masses, who, faced with a temple decorated with colossal images of their king, may well have been con- fused over who exactly was, and who was not, a god. Ptolemy II had swept away any confusion by establishing the royal cults. All Ptolem- aic rulers now routinely became a part of the dynastic cult during their lifetime, their group divinity frequently being supplemented by a personal divinity either at death during the earlier part of the Ptolemaic age or during their own lifetime during the later part of the Ptolemaic age.
This is extremely rare. The precise role of the traditional Egyptian queen consort is as yet ill- understood, but it seems that she offered the king a vital female element that would complement his maleness and make him a whole, perfect ruler. Egypt's priest would have considered that Auletes needed a queen to be able to perform the religious rituals that pleased the gods and kept the ever-threatening chaos at bay. Kings whose consorts died - and this itself was unusual; in contrast to the situation in non- royal Egypt, where women often died as a result of pregnancy-induced illness, queens tended to outlive their husbands - acquired a replace- ment consort quickly.
The 19th Dynasty monarch Ramesses II, blessed or cursed with an extremely long reign, outlived two Egyptian-born consorts and eventually promoted, and married, at least three of his daughters. Inscriptions in the crypts of the Dendera temple of Hathor add some support to this theory by linking the king's name with the cartouche of a 'Cleopatra', and with an unnamed woman who is described as the 'eldest daughter of the king'. As work on this temple did not start until 54, after the assumed death of Cleopatra V, it is likely that this is Cleopatra VII acting as her father's consort.
There is, however, no suggestion that Auletes married Cleopatra: father-daughter incest was not acceptable in the Hellenistic world, even at the louche court of Auletes. When, in 51, Auletes died an apparently natural death Strabo emphasises that he 'died of disease' , the throne passed as he had planned to the eighteen-year-old Cleopatra and her eldest brother, the ten-year-old Ptolemy.
Auletes's will appointed the people of Rome guardians of Egypt's new king and queen and protectors of the Ptolem- aic dynasty. One copy of this will was lodged in the Library of Alex- andria, a second was sent for safe-keeping to Pompey in Rome. Few Alexandri- ans grieved for Auletes, yet Cleopatra chose to highlight her unswerv- ing loyalty to her dead father by immediately adopting the name Philopator Father Loving. Her slightly later assumption of the epithet Thea Goddess , and later still Nea Isis the New Isis , signals her continuing devotion to the Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Auletes, as does her determination to complete many of Auletes's unfinished building projects.
It is easy for us to underestimate Auletes. Classical authors like Strabo, quoted earlier in this chapter, were happy to spread the propa- ganda of the last and most corrupt king of a decaying line; a king chosen by a mob, with a reign that was characterised by uncertainty, dissipation, economic hardship and civil unrest. We are left with the unpleasant image of the impotent Auletes frittering away his days throwing sumptuous banquets, drinking to excess and blowing his aulos with the palace dancing girls and, or so it was rumoured, boys.
However, impotent or not, Auletes did manage to preserve his throne and, whatever the Romans and the Alexandrians thought about him, the Egyptian priesthood respected him as a pharaoh prepared to invest in traditional temple building schemes. They inherited an insecure land suf- fering from high inflation and unreliable Nile floods, and their father's extensive debts. She came to rule through crime.
She gained glory for almost nothing else than her beauty while on the other hand she became known throughout the world for her greed, cruelty and lustfulness. Boccaccio, On the Lives of Famous Women ' For many hundreds of years the sacred Bakhu or Buchis bull had been worshipped as a living god in the Theban region. During his lifetime the bull was associated with the warrior god Montu and, to a lesser extent, with the fertility god Osiris and the sun god Re.
He received offerings, delivered oracles and cured the sick specialis- ing in eye diseases , and he occasionally fought with other bulls in a dedicated bullring. In death he was mummified and buried, with all the pomp and ceremony due to a deceased god, in a vast bull cem- etery known as the Bucheion, at Armant ancient Iuni-Montu; Greek Hermonthis , on the west bank of the Nile to the south-west of Thebes. He reached Thebes, his place of installation, which came into existence aforetime, beside his father, Nun the Old. He was installed by the King himself in year 1, Phamenoth ip.
The Queen, the Lady of the Two Lands, the Goddess Philopator, rowed him in the boat of Amen, together with the boats of the king, all the inhabitants of Thebes and Hermonthis and priests being with him. He reached Hermonthis, his dwelling place on Mechir But the Bucheion stela tells us that the installation ceremony occurred at a time when Egypt was ruled by a king and a queen, the 'Lady of the Two Lands, the Goddess Philopator'. The names within the text are left blank - something that frequently happens in later Ptolemaic inscriptions - and therefore both king and queen are unnamed.
The stela therefore offers a terminus ante quern for Auletes's death, which is likely to have occurred in late February or early March If this is the case, it may be that Auletes did not die until as late as June or July 51, and the wording of the stela may be read as an indication that Cleopatra was indeed her father's co-regent.
The image is a standard view of a king making an offering to the Buchis bull, and the text is a version of a standard Bucheion text found on three other late Ptolemaic stelae: He was installed by the King himself. Going on the boat of Amen, 41 Queen of Egypt together with the boats of the king, all the inhabitants of Thebes and Hermonthis, prophets and priests being with him. He reached Her- monthis, his dwelling place. The fact that the priests felt the need to adapt a standard text to include the queen confirms Cleopatra's political importance immediately after her father's death.
The Ptolemies observed the rites of the native reli- gion, and developed a strong interest in the cult of the Apis bull cel- ebrated at Memphis, cult centre of the creator god Ptah, where the Apis was worshipped as the physical manifestation of Ptah and the cult of the Mnevis bull celebrated at Heliopolis, cult centre of the sun god Re, where the Mnevis was considered to be the physical manifes- tation of the sun god. However, given the Egyptian fondness for formulaic texts, and given that the Bucheion text was inscribed in 29, after Cleopatra's death, the stela does not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Cleopatra actually attended the ceremony in person.
Although Ptolemaic tradition suggests that Cleopatra is likely to have married her brother soon after their father's death, their marriage is nowhere recorded. The age gap between sister and brother was unfortunate. The eighteen-year- old Cleopatra was rather too old to remain unwed, while Ptolemy, at just ten years old, was a little too young to consummate a marriage. There are no known legal age limits for marriage in Ptolemaic Egypt, but archaeological evidence indicates that most women married in 4 3 CLEOPATRA their mid- or late teens, acquiring husbands older rather than younger than themselves.
Tayimhotep, wife of the high priest of Ptah Pasher- enptah III, whom we last met at Auletes's coronation, would not have been unusual in marrying, aged fourteen, a husband eighteen years older than herself. As a queen of marriageable age she needed to start producing the children who would continue her dynastic line. Husband or brother, Ptolemy, as king, should have been the domi- nant partner in the relationship.
But he was a minor, ruling via a regency council, and for the first year and a half of their joint reign Cleopatra became the effective monarch, while her brother was pushed into the background. The earliest documents from this period suggest that Cleopatra ruled alone, although it is important to view docu- ments dated to the first year of the solo queen 'Cleopatra Philopator' with a degree of caution, as Berenice III had also been a Cleopatra Philopator.
The most intriguing of these documents is a unique lime- stone stela, of unknown provenance but probably from the Faiyum, which is now housed in the Louvre, Paris. The piece is a fusion of Egyptian and Greek traditions, with a conventional Egyptian religious image topping a text written in Greek.
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It shows a slightly damaged 'Cleopatra, dressed in the kilt and double crown of a traditional pharaoh, making an offering to the goddess Isis, who is sitting on a throne and suckling her infant son. The somewhat confusing inscrip- tion, which details the dedication of a 'seat' topos by the priest Omnophris, president of the association of the devotees of Isis, reads: For Queen Cleopatra Tbea Philopator [is dedicated] the seat of the association [of Isis] Snonais, the president of which is the chief priest Omnophris.
July 2 Cleopatra, on this stela, appears entirely male; the inscription, which 4 4 Queen of Egypt makes it clear that she is in fact a woman, implies that she is the sole ruler of Egypt. This, the only surviving image of Cleopatra as a female king, recalls the Theban artwork of the early New Kingdom female pharaoh Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut reigned struggled with the convention decreeing that a king of Egypt should be a young and healthy male. Soon after her coronation she abandoned the customary woman's sheath dress and queen's crowns, and started to appear in the traditional king's regalia of short kilt, bare chest, crown or head-cloth, broad collar and false beard.
Very occasionally, towards the beginning of her reign, Hatshepsut was depicted as a woman dressed in this male clothing, but more usually she was shown performing male actions with a man's body 5 It would be easy to suggest that Cleopatra is here deliberately emulating Egypt's most successful female monarch, as in many ways Hatshepsut, who effectively usurped the throne from a weaker and much younger male co-regent, makes an appropriate role model for Cleopatra.
Indeed, it seems unlikely that Cleopatra would have known much about Hat- shepsut 's history, art or propaganda, as the majority of Hatshepsut 's images were defaced within thirty years of her death, and her name was omitted from Egypt's official King List. Today Hatshepsut 's Red Chapel, decorated with multiple images of the female king perform- ing traditionally male actions, is the highlight of any tour of Karnak temple, but the chapel is a modern reconstruction, painstakingly compiled from the demolished remains of the original building, which would have been invisible to Cleopatra.
A re-reading of the text on Cleopatra's stela indicates that, although it features Cleopatra, she did not commission it. The image of the female king cannot therefore be taken as official propaganda. The text is not all it seems. This suggests that the stela was first cut for Cleo- patra's father and then changed, rather ineptly, when he died. Never- theless, the important fact remains that Cleopatra is featured as a sole ruler, while Ptolemy's name is excluded from the stela.
When, over two centuries earlier, the intelligent and experienced Arsinoe II married her younger, weaker brother Ptolemy II, she deter- mined to work with him. In so doing, she strengthened the Ptolemaic hold on the Egyptian throne. Cleopatra, intelligent and ambitious and not one to suffer fools gladly, would have done well to heed this prec- edent.
Her sidelining of her brother was to prove a tactical mistake, as it left Ptolemy vulnerable to a group of manipulative and ambitious Alexandrian courtiers, including his tutor Theodotos, the soldier Achil- las and the eunuch Pothinos, who was soon to become Egypt's chief minister. All three were to use the young king to further their own political ambitions.
By the time Ptolemy was old enough to embark on a full married life, his relationship with his sister had irretrievably broken down and Egypt was teetering on the brink of civil war. On 27 October 50 we find the first decree to be issued with Ptol- emy's name preceding Cleopatra's. Egypt, usually so fertile, was suffer- ing the effects of years of unreliable Nile floods. The decree, issued after a second disappointing inundation, directed that all surplus grain and legumes grown in Upper and Middle Egypt should be sent straight to Alexandria - and nowhere else.
The penalty for contravening the decree 'by order of the king and queen' was death, those who informed on rogue traders were to receive a specified reward dependent on their social status. But, as the Alexan- drians ate their grain supplies, the people outside Alexandria suffered from shortages, high inflation and high taxation. And, as the Nile continued to under-perform, the workers began to desert their 4 6 Queen of Egypt hamlets, taxes went unpaid and the cities started to fill with hungry peasants.
As wheat prices reached an all-time high, the priests of the Faiyum village of Hiera Nesos grew worried; their hungry villagers had mysteriously vanished, leaving them unable to complete the temple rituals. In 54 Julia, the only acknowledged child of Julius Caesar and the beloved wife of Pompey, had died, severing the personal link between the two men.
The following year Crassus perished in a disastrous campaign fighting the Parthians at Carrhae modern Harran, Turkey. A wave of unease rippled through the Mediterranean world; it was assumed, quite rightly, that the Parthians would now attempt to take Syria. In late 51 Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, the new Roman governor of Syria, sent his two sons to Egypt to plead with the Gabinians, Gabinius's now Egyptianised army, to return home and protect his land against Parthian attack.
The Gabinians, however, had grown comfortable serving as a mercenary Ptolemaic army and were reluctant to uproot themselves to fight. Rather than negotiate, they killed the two sons of Bibulus. This left the king and queen of Egypt in a difficult situation. Risking the anger of the Gabinians, Cleopatra and Ptolemy had the murderers arrested and sent in chains to Syria. In January 49 Caesar and his army of veterans crossed the Rubicon, the official boundary between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. As Roman law forbade any general from crossing the river with an army, this was treason. The die was cast: Caesar had effectively declared war on Pompey and Rome.
Soon after, Gnaeus Pompey, Pompey's son, arrived in Alexandria to beg for military aid on his father's behalf. His request could not be honourably refused. Pompey had been Auletes's host and patron in Rome, and he was entitled to call upon the Ptolemies for support. Egypt supplied Gnaeus with a large quantity of wheat, Gabinians and sixty warships that were to play a key role in his father's subsequent campaigns.
It was a decision that angered the people of Alexan- dria, who blamed Cleopatra for the whole affair. Her apparent eager- ness to please the Romans, first in the matter of the Bibulus murderers and then by giving arms to Pompey, reminded them too much of her father's reign. Later there would come a rumour, preserved for us by Plutarch, that the sexually voracious Cleopatra had seduced Gnaeus during his Egyptian sojourn. Much later still, due to a misreading of his sources by William Shakespeare, would come the fiction that Cleopatra had had an affair with Gnaeus's father.
Cleopatra's obvious and growing unpopularity in Alexandria may in part explain why Ptolemy's advisers chose this time to act against his co-regent. In 49 we find the development of a new regnal-year numbering system. In the summer of 49 Cleopatra's name disappears from all official documents and the new Year 1' dating system is dropped.
Ptolemy is backdating his reign, erasing the memory of his sister and retrospectively claiming sole rule from the time of his father's death. Cleopatra and her supporters had been forced to flee Alexandria, travelling first perhaps south to Thebes - a city notoriously prone to rebellion, but one that may have been inclined to support Auletes's daughter against the Alexandrians - then eastwards to Syria. Quite how Cleopatra managed to raise an effective army at a time when the Roman civil war was causing massive disruption across the Mediterranean world is nowhere explained; the fact that she was able to achieve this in a very short space of time confirms that, outside Alexandria, she was consid- ered a viable candidate for the Egyptian throne.
Ptolemy, like his father before him, had become a 'friend and ally' of Rome. Pompey had the advantage of numbers - his 47, men outnumbered Caesar's by two to one - but he was the weaker general, his advisers were inexpe- rienced, and Caesar had Mars, god of war, and Venus, his divine ancestress, on his side. Caesar won the battle and, magnanimous in victory, pardoned his enemies, including Marcus Junius Brutus, the son of his long-term mistress Servilia.
Defeated but by no means inclined to give up the fight, Pompey fled with the remnants of his army to the island of Lesbos, where he was reunited with his younger son, Sextus, and his fifth wife, Cornelia, the widowed daughter-in-law of Crassus. From Lesbos Pompey sailed to Cilicia, thence to Cyprus and finally, after some hesitation, to his old ally, Egypt.
Confident of a warm welcome from Auletes's son, he sailed to Pelusium and dropped anchor in sight of the beach. The 'eyewitness' accounts of what hap- pened next are provided by Plutarch and Dio; neither, of course, a true witness, but both capable of telling a moving story calculated to touch even the most stony of hearts.
Messengers came to announce Pompey's arrival and to ask for an audience with the king. Panicking, Pothinos called a meeting of Ptolemy's most trusted advisers so that each could suggest a course of action. But Theodotos could see flaws in both arguments, and he argued his case with all the skills of an experienced teacher. If Pompey was welcomed as a friend, Caesar would automati- cally become Egypt's enemy. But if Pompey was driven away, he would become Egypt's enemy and Caesar would blame Ptolemy for allowing him to escape. Furthermore, Pompey already had links with Cleopatra through his son Gnaeus; it was more than likely that he would support the queen in her battle for the throne.
It seemed to Theodotos, perhaps correctly, that Pompey's cause was already irretrievably lost. Wishing to ingratiate his king with Caesar, and worried that Egypt might become Rome's battleground, he argued that the vulnerable Pompey should be killed before he landed. After all, as everyone knew, 'A dead man does not bite. Ptolemy's army marched to the beach and formed themselves in ranks facing the sea. Commandeering a fishing boat, Achillas rowed out to Pompey's flagship with two of the Gabinians, the tribune Lucius Septimus and the centurion Salvius.
Pompey's fol- lowers, worried that a lone, undignified fishing boat was an inappro- priate vessel for their master, urged him not to leave the safety of his ship. Indeed, they argued, it might be prudent to row away from the shore, at least until they were out of missile range. And Achillas, speaking in Greek, explained that the undignified transport was an unfortunate necessity, the harbour at Pelusium being too shallow to accommodate Pompey's fine ship.
Reas- sured, Pompey embraced his wife and transferred to the fishing boat with two bodyguards, his freedman Philip and a slave. Once on board he busied himself reading through the speech he meant to make to King Ptolemy. As the boat bumped on the beach Pompey held out his hand so that Philip might help him to rise with dignity. Then, far too late, he 5 Queen of Egypt realised his danger. Pompey's head was hacked from his body, his corpse thrown into the sea. It was the day before his fifty- eighth birthday. Ptolemy, sitting on his throne on the shore, turned a blind eye to the murder of his father's friend.
For this callousness Dante would consign him to circle nine, the circle reserved for those who betray their guests, in his Inferno. His ashes were eventually returned to the grieving Cornelia, who buried him in Italy. A few weeks later Egypt experienced the lowest Nile flooding ever recorded and the already depleted food supplies became perilously low. Divine retribution, some said, for the murder of Pompey Four days later Caesar, chasing Pompey with a small fleet of ten warships and some 4, men, arrived in the great harbour of Alex- andria.
Pothinos and Theodotos hurried from Pelusium to meet him, eager to tell their tale before Caesar heard it from others less sympa- thetic to their cause. They took with them, as macabre greeting gifts, Pompey's severed and in some accounts pickled head and his signet ring. Caesar must have had mixed feelings when viewing these grizzly trophies. The Old Kingdom is best known for the pyramids, which were constructed at this time. The Old Kingdom was a time of art and engineering unmatched in history. The people of Egypt in the fourth dynasty cut, moved, raised, placed and squared twenty million tons of stone to build their pyramids and associated temples, plazas and causeways.
Today we would need a half million full size diesel trucks to move all that stone. Lined up, those trucks would reach half-way around the world. And they did all this without iron. The Fifth Dynasty ruled from to BC. All the Fifth Dynasty Pharaohs built pyramids, although on a much smaller scale than those of the Fourth Dynasty. The Old Kingdom was followed by a period of economic and cultural decline referred to by Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period -- or, as the Egyptians called it, the "first illness.
He had reigned for 94 years, longer than any monarch in history, and died aged The latter years of his reign were marked by inefficiency. In the meantime, however, a rival line based at Thebes, was reuniting Upper Egypt and a clash between the two rival dynasties was inevitable. The Middle Kingdom was a time of expansion of foreign trade. Wealth from this trade eventually led to an invasion by the Hyksos. The Twelfth Dynasty ruled from to BC, and was considered by later Egyptians as their greatest age. The Thirteenth Dynasty was much weaker than the Twelfth Dynasty, and was unable to hold onto the land of Egypt.
The provincial ruling family in Xois, located in the marshes of the western Delta, broke away from the central authority to form the Fourteenth Dynasty. They are counted as Pharaohs of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. Around the time Memphis fell to the Hyksos, the native Egyptian ruling house in Thebes declared its independence and set itself up as the Seventeenth Dynasty.
The several dynasties of the second intermediate period sometimes ruled in different areas at the same time. About 70 Pharaohs ruled during this period. The Turin King List provides an additional 25 names, some fragmentary, and no dates. None are attested to elsewhere, and all are of very dubious provenance. The Fifteenth Dynasty arose from among the Hyskos people: desert Bedouins who emerged out of modern Iraq or Syria to establish governance over the northern Nile region, and then the entire kingdom, intending to eliminate the Egyptians. Josephus mistakenly believed them to be Hebrews.
The Fifteenth Dynasty ruled from to BC. The Sixteenth Dynasty was a local group based on the north coast of the Sinai Pelusium and ruled from to around BC. They are called Shepherds and may be descended from the Hyksos. This group seems to have disappeared entirely by BC. The Abydos Dynasty is theorized to have been a series of kings that ruled the area around Abydos and Thinis, north of Thebes from to BC.
The Turin King list has 16 entries in this position, unfortunately that part of the list is fragmentary and most of the names are missing. Abydos was at this time a small kingdom pressed between Thebes in the South and the aggressive Hyksos invaders to the North. Four kings are known from archaeological finds at Abydos. It is possible these duplicate other listed kings of the 13th dynasty:. May be the same as Narmer. Generally considered to have been the unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt. In early lists also known as Min and Meni.