How many languages did Cleopatra speak?

Cleopatra was not only the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, but also a remarkable woman who could speak many languages. She learned to speak Greek, Egyptian and at least seven other languages for various political and cultural reasons. In this article, we will explore how and why Cleopatra became a polyglot and what languages she spoke.

Cleopatra's native language: Greek

Cleopatra's native language was Greek, specifically Koine Greek, which was the common language of the eastern Mediterranean at the time. She was of Macedonian Greek descent and belonged to a royal family that traced its origins back to one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy I Soter. The Ptolemaic rulers spoke Greek and followed Greek culture and religion, while largely ignoring the native Egyptian population and their traditions.

Cleopatra's second language: Egyptian

Cleopatra was different from her predecessors in that she learned to speak Egyptian, the language of the majority of her subjects. She was the first and only Ptolemaic ruler to do so, and she used it as a way to connect with the Egyptian people and gain their loyalty and support. She also adopted some aspects of Egyptian religion and culture, such as worshipping the goddess Isis and wearing Egyptian-style clothing and jewelry.

Cleopatra's other languages: Ethiopian, Aramaic, Syriac, Median, Parthian, Arabic and Troglodytes

According to various historical sources, Cleopatra could also speak at least seven other languages besides Greek and Egyptian. These were:

  • Ethiopian: This could refer to either Ge'ez or Meroitic, two ancient languages spoken in the region that we now call Ethiopia. The term "Ethiopian" was used by the ancient Greeks to describe any black people from Africa.

  • Aramaic: This was a Semitic language that was widely spoken in the Near East at the time. It was also the language of Jesus and his disciples.

  • Syriac: This was a dialect of Aramaic that was spoken in ancient Syria and Mesopotamia. It later became an important literary language for Christians in the region.

  • Median: This was an extinct Iranian language that was spoken by the Medes, an ancient people who lived in what is now western and northern Iran.

  • Parthian: This was another Iranian language that was spoken by the Parthians, a powerful empire that rivaled Rome in the east. Cleopatra had diplomatic relations with the Parthian king Phraates IV.

  • Arabic: This could refer to any of the Arabic dialects that were spoken in Arabia and neighboring regions at the time. Cleopatra may have learned Arabic from her lover Julius Caesar, who had contacts with Arab tribes during his campaign in Egypt.

  • Troglodytes: This was a name given by the ancient Greeks to various peoples who lived in caves or underground dwellings in Africa and Asia. The exact identity and language of these people are unknown.

Some sources also claim that Cleopatra could speak Latin, but this is disputed by most historians. Latin was the official language of Rome, but most Romans preferred to speak Greek when dealing with foreigners. Cleopatra probably communicated with her Roman lovers Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Greek.

Why did Cleopatra learn all these languages

Cleopatra learned all these languages for various reasons. Some possible reasons are:

  • She wanted to communicate with different peoples and cultures in her kingdom and beyond. Egypt was a multicultural and multilingual country that had many ethnic groups and languages. Cleopatra wanted to show respect and understanding for her subjects and allies by learning their languages.

  • She wanted to gain political advantage and influence over her enemies and rivals. Cleopatra had to deal with powerful empires and kingdoms such as Rome, Parthia, Ethiopia and Arabia. She used her linguistic skills to negotiate, persuade and charm the leaders of these countries, such as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Phraates IV.

  • She wanted to enhance her knowledge and education. Cleopatra was a very intelligent and curious woman who studied many subjects such as philosophy, astronomy, medicine, mathematics and history. She learned different languages to access the sources of knowledge and wisdom that were available in the ancient world.

  • She wanted to emulate the goddess Isis. Cleopatra claimed to be the reincarnation of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of magic, healing, fertility and protection. Isis was also known as the mistress of all languages and the inventor of writing. Cleopatra may have learned many languages to imitate the divine attributes of Isis and to appeal to her worshippers.