The legend of Queen Cleopatra has been immortalized by the Shakespeare tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. Though the story only focused on her beauty and the torrid love the two of them shared, there was more to Queen Cleopatra than being led on. She was an astute politician and a great strategist and diplomat. She has always been reduced to a thing of beauty thanks to Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of her, and because of this, for a long time, the world had a face for the most beautiful queen of the ancient world. But was the woman white? And what exactly is the history of the legendary queen?
The Netflix Original mini-series begins with experts talking about how Cleopatra was misrepresented by Hollywood by showcasing her as a white-skinned lady from the ancient world who happened to have ancient Macedonian heritage. It is mind-boggling to understand how a woman of Mediterranean descent could be portrayed as a white-skinned woman. The color of her skin is touched upon by the experts. But they are keener to talk about the leader that she was and how she got hold of the power of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt along with the support of the people. Before becoming a queen, Cleopatra was the second daughter of the ailing Ptolemy XII, who was on his deathbed. Cleopatra and her siblings are by the bedside of their father as they are all ready to bid goodbye to their father, the Pharaoh. Her elder sister was killed by her father for trying to usurp him. Reaming siblings who were raised by different advisers are not on good terms with each other.
With the Pharaoh now dead, there is the question of succession. As per the will left by the deceased Pharaoh, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII are to be married, and they would be the co-rulers of the dynasty. Cleopatra is now a pharaoh, just like her father and her brother. The woman did have power ambitions, and since she knew local languages, she was able to get the support of the local population. She also managed to head to the pilgrimage site of Thebes as a way to connect with the locals, which included the Greeks, Jews, and Egyptians. Cleopatra, from the very beginning as a Pharaoh, managed to sweep the people off their feet by being a leader and reaching out to them. She had two female advisors: Charmion and Iras. Meanwhile, her brother and husband, Ptolemy XIII’s advisor, Pothinus, wanted to remain in power, and for that to happen, he tried to get rid of Cleopatra. Pothinus planned to gain more power over Ptolemy XIII, the young king. Pothinus knew keeping Cleopatra around would be dangerous because she is known to be a politically smart person. Pothinus is successful in usurping Cleopatra, and in saving herself from being killed or put in jail, Cleopatra runs off to her father’s allies’ kingdom in Syria. Cleopatra knew if she remained alive, she would manage to gather as much support and as large an army as possible and come back to Egypt to claim what was hers: the throne of the Pharaoh and the entire kingdom. Cleopatra knew she was the rightful heir, and she never liked having her brother and his advisor hovering around trying to control her. Her fleeing came at the right time, and it would be interesting to see how, sooner or later, she gets back to Egypt.
Who Will Win The Civil War Between The Three Siblings: Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra, Or Arsinoe?
Egypt, back in ancient times, was considered the breadbasket for the mighty Roman empire. The food supply came from Egypt and headed towards Rome’s granary. And just before Cleopatra fled Alexandria, she had a minor disagreement with her husband-brother regarding who to support during the ongoing civil war in the Roman Empire. Cleopatra was keen on supporting Pompey’s army because he was his father’s oldest ally, and supporting him would make far more sense. But Pothinus speaks on behalf of Ptolemy XIII and lets her know that Pompey is losing the war and it won’t be right to share the food with the Romans amidst the drought that has hit Egypt. The disagreement led to Cleopatra having to flee to Syria. She comes back with her army, which cements her power in the kingdom. Her sister Arsinoe and her husband-brother are unable to do anything with the military might she has on her back that would do anything for her. Cleopatra did the right thing by bringing back her bunch of supportive armies as a show of power.
With the civil war in the Roman Empire reaching its peak, Pompey loses the battle against his father-in-law, Julius Caesar, and the man heads to Egypt, asking for shelter. Egypt was kind to Pompey by allowing him to stay back and get ready for an assault from Julius Caesar, who was on his way to Egypt to capture Pompey. Arsinoe suggests getting Julius’ on their side, by killing Pompey. Cleopatra sternly disagrees. She does not feel it would be right to kill the guest in their shelter. But Pothinus and Ptolemy, as a show of power, beheaded Pompey, hoping it would please the arriving Julius Caesar. The duo was taken aback by Julius’s reaction to his ex-son-in-law’s death. The Romans believe in the honor code, and they do not believe in killing the enemy dishonorably, nor do they expect their allies to do the same for them. The enraged man heads to Egypt where he has a private conversation with Cleopatra. As the story goes, she did not come to visit him wrapped in a carpet, though she arrived discreetly. Somehow, here, Cleopatra was right not to have agreed with the plan to kill Pompey, but Pothinus went ahead anyway by underestimating Julius’s reaction. Cleopatra knew only she could get him to calm down and agree to have talks about what the ties between the two ancient empires would be.
The Greek scholar Plutarch made Cleopatra look, in his records, like a seductress who managed to woo the most powerful man, a great leader, and an orator who had the Senate backing him. Cleopatra, on the other hand, was a great politician and diplomat, and she made sure to let Julius know that she was also a woman as knowledgeable as he was. The king was impressed by her intelligence because, back in Rome, not many women were involved in governance, politics, and bureaucracy. Cleopatra’s vast knowledge of warfare and worldly politics brought them together, and the two couldn’t stop falling in love.
Although Cleopatra knew the man was married and the Romans never believed in polygamy, she still went ahead and had an affair with him, securing him as an ally forever to protect her country. The coming together of Cleopatra and Julius, fusing the two powers of the ancient world, and the product was something valuable, which was peace between Egypt and Rome. Her brother senses there is a brewing affair between Julius and Cleopatra and declares war on the two of them, with Pothinus, Arsinoe, and Ptolemy XIII on one side and Julius and Cleopatra on the other. There was a clear winner here because Julius had the biggest army on his back, and it was easy to defeat the rebel faction. Ptolemy was thrown off the ship wearing heavy gold armor; Arsinoe was captured, and Caesar was planning to place her in a cell in Rome.
Meanwhile, Pothinus was killed as well. The last scene of the first episode has Julius Caesar taking Arsinoe as a prisoner and promising Cleopatra he’d put her in a cell to make sure she does not rebel ever again. But the promise was not kept. As Cleopatra believes her threats have been eradicated, she is happy to be marrying her youngest brother Ptolemy XIV as a defector co-ruler as per the will left by her father. Cleopatra has everything going for her with her siblings gone, and since she is pregnant with Julius Caesar’s child, she believes all of her problems are resolved. Little did she know there was more to come. The pregnancy works as a big advantage because that would make her child an heir to Julius. What she is not aware of is that Rome at that time was a republic, and the system of the hierarchy did not work, just as it did in the Ptolemaic dynasty. It will be a long road ahead for her from now on to become an invincible queen.