Cleopatra: context is key

Before I get going on Cleopatra, there are two big things I want to point out.

  1. You can’t talk about Cleopatra without talking about Rome. Why? Well, Rome was busy taking over bits of the Mediterranean; it had been for awhile. In fact, Rome ruled almost the entire Mediterranean at this point. Egypt was just about the only place left that it didn’t. As a result, Rome was the 500-lb gorilla. Egypt was full of grain and exotic and Rome had its eye on it. In fact, Rome takes over Egypt when Cleopatra dies. Which leads me to my second point…
  2. Augustus (Rome’s ruler at her death) really, really didn’t like Cleopatra. He portrayed her as a “inebriated whore” (In Our Time, 2 Dec 2010) who tempted Antony into rebelling against him. In fact, it was Octavian (as Augustus was then known) and Antony disputing over who should rule Rome which lead to a civil war. Cleopatra threw in with Anthony, which put her on the losing side. Augustus  could portray her as a temptress, luring Antony away from Rome. Since Augustus was Rome’s ruler for the next forty-five years, he got to tell the story. In fact, he burned two thousand documents that disagreed with his version of events. (Cleopatra and Antony, p5) It’s important to keep in mind just how skewed the sources are.

So even though Cleopatra rules Egypt, we’re going to talk a lot about Rome.

Next week, I promise a more meaty post about the Ptolemys and Alexandria. Alexandria sounds like it would have been a great place to live.