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Cleopatra VII Biography

Updated on December 15, 2011
This Bust of Cleopatra VII sits in the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany
This Bust of Cleopatra VII sits in the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany

In ancient Egypt there were seven female heads of Egypt named Cleopatra, six queens and one pharaoh.

The pharaoh was the ruler of Egypt who claims the lion's share of the fame and glory.

Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 BC -30 BC) was Egypt's last pharaoh, she was also the famed lover of both Roman generals Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

If you have ever watched the epic Elizabeth Taylor helmed film, Cleopatra (1963), you already Hollywood stylized bits and pieces of the Cleopatra VII biography

She is one of the most famous women in history, and this Cleopatra VII biography is a very brief overview of her legendary life and death.

Her Life & Death

Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator was born into the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which makes her of Greek decent.

In the beginning of her rein, she ruled Egypt alongside her father and brothers. As Egyptian custom dictated, she was married for a time to her brothers, but she bore no children from these unions.

After she became sole ruler of Egypt, she began her famed tryst with Roman General Julius Ceasar. And then, she became romantically involved with Roman general Mark Antony.

When Ceasar, who had since become Dictator of the Roman Republic, was assassinated in 44 BC, she conspired with Mark Antony to oppose his legal heir, Octavian (later known as Augustus).

Shortly after the failed opposition to Octavian came to a head at the naval Battle of Actium, Cleaopatra VII and Mark Antony committed suicide.

While she and Mark Antony lay dying, she from the bite of an asp* and he later from his sword, Octavian's forces completely invaded her beloved Egyptian empire.

Upon her death, Egypt completely fell to Rome and it was annexed as a Roman province.

Bust of Roman General/Roman Dictator Julius Caesar
Bust of Roman General/Roman Dictator Julius Caesar
Bust of Roman General Mark Antony
Bust of Roman General Mark Antony

After Her Death

In her time, Cleopatra VII had one son with Julius Ceasar (Ceasarion), and a set of twins(Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios) and another son (Ptolemy Philadelphus) with Mark Antony.

Octavian later invaded Alexandria, and upon the advice of his teacher, Arius Didymus, he had Ceasarion murdered.

Ceasarion would have been approximately 17 years old at the time of his death.

Octavian gave Cleopatra and Antony's children to his younger sister, Octavia Minor, and she raised them in her home in Rome.

It is said that before he retired the children to his sister's care, he paraded them through the streets of Rome in heavy gold chains.

It is doubtful that the children suffered further, because one of greatest claims to fame of Octavia Minor (another famous woman in history) is the fact that she was exceedingly humane.

We know today that of the three remaining children, only Cleopatra Selene II survived to mature adulthood.

Augustus eventually presented Cleopatra Selene II to African King Juba II of Numidia. It is said that she exercised great influence on the policies King Juba II created. Cleopatra Selene II and King Juba were great rulers of Numidia.

Helen Gardner in Cleopatra (1912)
Helen Gardner in Cleopatra (1912)
Theda Bera in Cleopatra (1917)
Theda Bera in Cleopatra (1917)
Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra (1934)
Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra (1934)
Vivien Leigh in Cleopatra and Ceasar (1945)
Vivien Leigh in Cleopatra and Ceasar (1945)
Sophia Loren in Two Nights with Cleopatra (1953)
Sophia Loren in Two Nights with Cleopatra (1953)

The Cleopatra VII Biography in Film

Throughout the years, the Cleopatra VII biography has been played out many times in motion pictures and television movies.

Some of the most accomplished actresses in Hollywood have taken on the role of the great Egyptian Pharaoh, including:

  • Helen Gardner
  • Theda Bera
  • Claudette Colbert
  • Vivien Leigh
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Sophia Loren
  • Leonor Varela

Classic and modern Cinematic portrayals of the Egyptian ruler have always painted her as an extraordinarily beautiful woman with strong seductive prowess.

More recently, Greek historians have discovered ancient Egyptian coins that take away some of the luster of the female pharaoh's legendary beauty.

The coins depict her as having a shallow forehead, pointy chin, thin lips, and a witch-like nose. The coins were discovered in 2007 and they are housed at Newcastle University's Shefton Museum.

Such an unattractive depiction is a far cry from the goddess-like image displayed by the beautiful actresses who have played the role of Cleopatra VII over the years.

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963)
Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963)

It is rumored that Angelina Jolie will be the latest Hollywood icon to play the role of the famed Egyptian Pharoah. Do we really need another film version?

Do We Really Need Another Film Portrayal of the Cleopatra VII Biography?

See results

Cleopatra VII has also remained relevant in contemporary culture. Kim Kardashian recently donned Cleopatra costuming for a popular layout that appeared in Harpar's Bazar March 2011 edition.

History and Western culture often attempt to attribute the legend of Cleopatra VII to her great beauty. However, It seems far more likely that she was an intelligent and brave woman with a fierce devotion to her country - and that, instead of any incredible claims of beauty, is why she became one of the most famous women in history.

*Historians have recently concluded that Cleopatra probably died from poison rather than an asp bite.

Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator
Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator

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    • profile image

      john julian 

      6 years ago

      Movie Star Motivator-Personal Trainer NYC, ''I motivate you''. John is a master adviser.Image consultant date coach and business consultant. Servicing the client's tempered headquarters:

      We are New York City best personal trainers, and suitable to service clients in any state.

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    • profile image

      Derdriu 

      6 years ago

      Rachelle, What an informative, interesting and succinct look at one of the ancient world's most famous women in both her personal and professional lives! Some artwork is known to be inaccurate because of hostile personal motivations. Such may or may not be the case of faces on money pieces: it comes down to the identity and the circulation range of the moneymaker.

      It would be interesting to see Angelina Jolie's interpretation of Cleopatra since she already has played the respectively powerful mothers of the monster Grendal and Alexander the Great.

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,

      Derdriu

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      My favorite Cleopatra was of course Elizabeth Taylor..but Vivien Leigh was great... I am so glad you did this HUB.. great information.. I like anything to do with history...I voted up and awesome..

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