Cleopatra's childhood: From Princess to Pharaoh

Cleopatra was the last of the Greek Ptolemaic rulers who ruled Egypt between 323 BCE and 30 BCE. She was an exceptional queen who possessed a mixed culture of Greek and Egyptian elements. In this article, we will explore the different aspects of Cleopatra's childhood, such as her birth and family, her education and culture, her exile and restoration, and her succession and accession. We will also see how her childhood shaped her personality and destiny as one of the most famous and influential women in history.


Birth and Family

Cleopatra was born in 69 BCE to the ruling Ptolemaic pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes and an uncertain mother, who was probably his wife Cleopatra V Tryphaena or Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. She was of Macedonian descent and had little, if any, Egyptian blood. She had several siblings, including two older sisters (Berenice IV and Cleopatra VI), two younger brothers (Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV), and a younger sister (Arsinoe IV).


Education and Culture

Cleopatra was raised in the palace of Alexandria, the capital of Egypt and a center of learning and culture. She received a primarily Hellenistic Greek education from her tutor Philostratos, who was a scholar in the famous library of Alexandria. She learned many subjects, such as philosophy, literature, art, music, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and geography. She also learned many languages, including Egyptian, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Arabic, Median, Parthian, Latin, and her native Koine Greek. She was the only one of her dynasty who took the trouble to learn Egyptian and styled herself as the new Isis, the goddess of magic and healing.


Exile and Restoration

Cleopatra's childhood was not peaceful or stable. Her father Ptolemy XII was a weak and unpopular ruler who faced several rebellions and foreign threats. He was also a client king of Rome, which meant he had to pay tribute and obey the orders of the Roman Republic. In 58 BCE, when Rome annexed Cyprus and drove Ptolemy XII's brother Ptolemy of Cyprus to commit suicide, Ptolemy XII did not react or protest. This angered the Egyptians who revolted against him and forced him to flee to Rome with one of his daughters, possibly Cleopatra. This left the throne to his eldest daughter Berenice IV, who ruled jointly with another daughter Cleopatra VI until she died shortly after.


Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra stayed in Rome for four years, seeking support from their Roman patron Pompey the Great. They also met Julius Caesar, who was one of the most powerful Roman generals at the time. Pompey eventually convinced Aulus Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria, to invade Egypt and restore Ptolemy XII to power. In 55 BCE, Gabinius' army arrived in Egypt and defeated Berenice IV's forces. Another Roman officer Mark Antony helped Ptolemy XII enter Alexandria peacefully and prevented him from massacring the inhabitants for their defiance. Ptolemy XII regained his throne but had to pay a huge sum of money to Gabinius and Pompey for their services.


Succession and Accession

Ptolemy XII made Cleopatra his co-ruler and regent in 52 BCE. He also named her and his son Ptolemy XIII as his joint successors in his will. He died in 51 BCE, leaving Cleopatra as the queen of Egypt at the age of 18. However, she had to share her power with her brother Ptolemy XIII, who was only 10 years old. They were also married according to the Ptolemaic custom of sibling marriage. Cleopatra soon faced many challenges and conflicts as she tried to assert her authority and independence in a male-dominated society.

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