Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cleopatra, the first tycoon in the history of human kind!

With the wealth that was worth today’s hundred billion dollars, this Egyptian queen was also and the first victim of tabloid writing: the myth of her as a "queen of whores” was created by her biggest adversary, Emperor Octavian.

She was a child of incest, born as a goddess, queen at the age of 18 and the richest leader in the Mediterranean before she turned 20.  When she was 21, she slept with the most powerful ruler of that time to protect the best interests of her country. She married her own brothers when she needed them and killed them when they ceased to be useful. She became a mother of four children, and never had family problems, because the fathers of her children, already married, lived on the other side of the sea. We are talking about Cleopatra, the last in line of the great Egyptian Pharaohs.

She was not Egyptian, as many believe – she was Greek. Her hair was not black, it was more likely the color similar to mead. Although she is remembered as a seductress, it is difficult to speak of her as beauty by Hollywood standards. She was nothing like, for example, Angelina Jolie: she was tiny, like a little bird, and had a distinctive hooked nose. She spoke several languages and was a gifted speaker. She loved sex, but she loved more a good conversation. She wasn’t a nymphomaniac - she lost her innocence with Julius Caesar. If she and her ancestors were killing each other, they didn’t think of it as a crime; if they practiced incest, there was no word for it in their time.

Cleopatra VII was already in her time (she was born in 69 BC) something that we call today “celebrity”. During her lifetime, myths, rumors and speculation surrounded her, and they followed her name even when she died. If she was, with the wealth that was worth today’s hundred billion dollars, the first tycoon in the history of human kind, she was also and the first victim of tabloid writing.  The myth of her as a “queen of whores”, which follows her name to this day, was created by the Romans, who preferred to deal with her looks and alleged lust more then with her extraordinary intellectual capacity.

In her latest book “Cleopatra. A Life”, American historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Stacy Schiff claims that the idea of sexually insatiable queen, dangerous and starved with blood and power, was created by Cleopatra's biggest adversary, Emperor Octavian.

Cleopatra grew up in a luxury of Alexandria. A whole squad of servants and teachers took care of her. Thanks to them, she gained an excellent education, which was generally Greek. Her schoolbooks were works of two historians, Herodotus and Thucydides. She mastered the oratory skill and spoke at least nine languages. 

Such education was not reserved just for her. Women in Egypt always had a lot of rights, and in Cleopatra’s time, their independence was almost equal to that which exists today. When it comes to marriage, women themselves chose their husbands, and in case of divorce, to which they also had the right, the stronger half had to support his ex-wife until he pays of the dowry. Woman’s property was sacrosanct, and in divorce proceedings, the court was always on the side of women and children.

Schiff states that women had very active role in social life: they were able borrow money, to be priestesses in temples, they initiated court proceedings and steered boats.  They dealt with a variety of jobs and were more than successful. It is believed that women possessed a third of Egypt’s wealth.  Herodotus wrote that Egypt is a country in which "women urinate standing up, and men sitting down".

Cleopatra came to the throne at a time when Egypt began to decline, and Rome was expanded to its borders. However, despite that decline, in the height of her power she ruled over the entire eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Schiff says that she was more than capable ruler: she was skillful, cunning, she knew how to suppress the rebellion and to relieve hunger, how to manage money and when to build a fleet.

According to her father's will, Cleopatra shared the throne with her ten-years-younger brother Ptolemy XIII, with whom she was married. It is likely that even her parents were brother and sister, because in Egypt, incest was a tradition for centuries.  Cleopatra's ancestors, Greeks from Macedonia, adopted that tradition and they have ruled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great. Schiff says that this means that Cleopatra was Egyptian, just as much Elizabeth Taylor was. 

However, Cleopatra didn’t want to share the throne with her brother. She got rid of Ptolemy XIII in a civil war while they were still teenagers, and later on the rest of her closest family – she poisoned her second brother, with whom she was also married, and after him her own sister, which was showing way too much ambition.

Besides being a skilled ruler, she was adorned and with persistence and enthusiasm. When she ended in exile because of her manipulations, she returned to the palace, from which she was thrown out, smuggled in a sack. Julius Caesar was already in the palace, because he used political turmoil to rule over Egypt.  Although it is concluded that the royal couple was tied with their charisma and intellect, and that there was a strong sexual attraction between them, it still isn’t possible to find an answer to a question how did Cleopatra succeeded to persuade Caesar to support her and independent Egypt. Whatever she did, it will still remain recorded in history that Cleopatra saved her country by seducing Caesar.

Very soon, they had a son whom Cleopatra named Caesarion - Little Caesar. She presented her lover to her people by sailing the Nile with him for nine weeks. Whether because of Cleopatra or something else, Caesar was fascinated with Egypt. Alexandria, from where Cleopatra ruled her Empire, was wonderfully beautiful city, with fascinating mechanical wonders such as hydraulic lifts and machines that used coins to work.  In short, Rome was a simple province in comparison to the capital of Egypt. However, Caesar was not just thrilled with architectural solutions. Inspired by Egypt, on his return to Rome he launched a series of reforms, laid the cornerstone of the public library, asked for a census and envisioned a series of constructions that were similar to the sophisticated Egyptian dams and dikes.

When Caesar was killed in 44 BC, Cleopatra enthroned Caesarion as the ruler. But she still needed the support of Rome, and that is, Mark Antony. Cleopatra mesmerized the new Roman ruler, who was considered as a great womanizer, to such extent that Mark Antony gave her the library at Pergamom, Cyprus and almost all cities on the Phoenician coast.

Cleopatra remained with him for ten years. Mark Antony, in contrary to Roman custom, even demanded to be buried in the same grave with her. Death eventually separated them.

In a civil war for power over Rome, Octavian defeated Mark Antony. After that, Mark Antony committed suicide. After his suicide, Cleopatra tried to negotiate with the new Emperor her future and the future of her children - Caesarion and three other she had with Mark Antony. Despite all her intelligence, skill and education, she wasn’t successful. Octavian killed Caesarion as the oldest child, and spared the lives of younger children.

Cleopatra ended her life by committing a suicide.  According to legend, she poisoned herself. At the time of her death, she was only 39 years old.

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3 comments: on "Cleopatra, the first tycoon in the history of human kind!"

Articles on History said...

According to Plutarch, when Mark Antony first met Cleopatra, he tried to out do her extravagance, and failed miserably ( though I don’t think it bothered him much as he had found the love of his life.). Plutarch said;

"On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good humor and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equaled for beauty.

The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it, that he was himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit, and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross, and savored more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve”.


Saill said...

Thank you Auron for your contribution to my article :)

Giovanni Carlo said...

What if Plutarch lies he he anyways I was just amazed that hydraulic lift already exist in Cleopatras time

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