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  • Order, order.

  • So who do we have here?

  • Your Honor, this is Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen whose lurid affairs destroyed two of Rome's finest generals and brought the end of the Republic.

  • Your Honor, this is Cleopatra, one of the most powerful women in history whose reign brought Egypt nearly 22 years of stability and prosperity.

  • Uh, why don't we even know what she looked like?

  • Most of the art and descriptions came long after her lifetime in the first century BCE, just like most of the things written about her.

  • So what do we actually know?

  • Cleopatra VII was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Macedonian Greek family that governed Egypt after its conquest by Alexander the Great.

  • She ruled jointly in Alexandria with her brother to whom she was also married until he had her exiled.

  • But what does all this have to do with Rome?

  • Egypt had long been a Roman client state, and Cleopatra's father incurred large debts to the Republic.

  • After being defeated by Julius Caesar in Rome's civil war, the General Pompey sought refuge in Egypt.

  • But was executed by Cleopatra's brother instead.

  • Caesar must have liked that.

  • Actually, he found the murder unseemly and demanded repayment of Egypt's debt.

  • He could have annexed Egypt, but Cleopatra convinced him to restore her to the throne instead.

  • We hear she was quite convincing.

  • And why not? Cleopatra was a fascinating woman.

  • She commanded armies at 21, spoke several languages, and was educated in a city with the world's finest library and some of the greatest scholars of the time.

  • Hmm.

  • She kept Caesar lounging in Egypt for months when Rome needed him.

  • Caesar did more than lounge.

  • He was fascinated by Egypt's culture and knowledge, and he learned much during his time there.

  • When he returned to Rome, he reformed the calendar.

  • Commissioned a census.

  • Made plans for a public library.

  • And proposed many new infrastructure projects.

  • Yes, all very ambitious, exactly what got him assassinated.

  • Don't blame the Queen for Rome's strange politics.

  • Her job was ruling Egypt, and she did it well.

  • She stabilized the economy.

  • Managed the vast bureaucracy.

  • And curbed corruption by priests and officials.

  • When drought hit, she opened the granaries to the public and passed a tax amnesty, all while preserving her kingdom's stability and independence with no revolts during the rest of her reign.

  • So what went wrong?

  • After Caesar's death, this foreign Queen couldn't stop meddling in Roman matters.

  • Actually, it was the Roman factions who came demanding her aid.

  • And of course she had no choice but to support Octavian and Marc Antony in avenging Caesar, if only for the sake of their son.

  • And again, she provided her particular kind of support to Marc Antony.

  • Why does that matter?

  • Why doesn't anyone seem to care about Caesar or Antony's countless other affairs?

  • Why do we assume she instigated the relationships?

  • And why are only powerful women defined by their sexuality?

  • Order.

  • Cleopatra and Antony were a disaster.

  • They offended the Republic with their ridiculous celebrations sitting on golden thrones and dressing up as gods until Octavian had all of Rome convinced of their megalomania.

  • And yet Octavian was the one who attacked Antony, annexed Egypt, and declared himself Emperor.

  • It was the Roman's fear of a woman in power that ended their Republic, not the woman herself.

  • How ironic.

  • Cleopatra's story survived mainly in the accounts of her enemies in Rome, and later writers filled the gaps with rumors and stereotypes.

  • We may never know the full truth of her life and her reign, but we can separate fact from rumor by putting history on trial.

Order, order.

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B1 US TED-Ed cleopatra egypt caesar rome antony

History vs. Cleopatra - Alex Gendler

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2019/02/18
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