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Cleopatra VII was the legitimate daughter of reigning Queen Cleopatra V.


Cleopatra VII was born in 69 BCE. Plutarch tells us this in "Life of Antony" (LoA 86.4):

"When Cleopatra died she was forty years of age save one."

Her death in 30 BCE is well documented.

One year later in 68 BCE, Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V and their children (which can only be Berenike IV and Cleopatra VII) appear on a stone inscription (OGIS 185):

""On behalf of king Ptolemaios the god Philopator Philadelphos and the queen and their children, Lysimachos the assessor recorded his obeisance to the lady Isis. Year 12, Mesore 12"

-- How do we know who the king and queen were? It gives Ptolemy XII's formal names but we also know who Lysimachos is from other inscriptions, and we know he lived under Ptolemy XII. Ptolemy XII's reign started in 80 BCE, 12 years later is 68 BCE ("Mesore" is the month).


So what's the deal with Strabo? 

This is what Strabo says (Geography XVII 11:70):

"... since he had three daughters, of whom one, the eldest, was legitimate [Berenike IV], they proclaimed her queen;​ but his two sons,​ who were infants, were completely excluded from service at the time.."

Read this like a lawyer: Strabo doesn't say the other children are illegitimate (although you can imply that), he just says that Berenike IV was legitimate.

Strabo describes the boys as "infants": Ptolemy XIII was 5 years old, and Ptolemy XIV was 3 years old at this time ... another inaccuracy. Note that he also implies the only thing holding back the boys from assuming power is their age. "Illegitimacy" doesn't appear to be a limitation for them.

Recall that the name of Strabo's book is "Geography". He was interested in the big picture: countries, terrain, animals, cultures. He was much less interested in people. He devotes six sentences to Cleopatra VII personally (as opposed to associating her with territory acquisitions). No mention of her child with Julius Caesar. One sentence about Antony (Geography XVII 11:80) -- Antony meets Cleopatra VII, they marry, they have kids, they lose at Actium, they die: 

"After the death of Caesar and the battle of Philippi,​ Antony crossed over to Asia and held Cleopatra in such extraordinary honour that he chose her as wife and had children by her; and he undertook the battle at Actium with her and fled with her; and after this Augustus Caesar pursued them, destroyed both ..."

-- Strabo simply didn't think Cleopatra VII was important enough to deserve any greater coverage or research. 

Even without the stone inscription, historians generally dismiss the possibility of Cleopatra VII being "illegitimate" in some sense. The simple reason is that ALL the Roman historians demonized Cleopatra VII, and Josephus ratcheted his hatred of her to 11. Not one of them refers to her as a "bastard whore queen", although they love using the other two words. Strabo is the only historian that implies this, and he really didn't care to investigate. There are numerous references to Cleopatra VII's father, Ptolemy XII, as Nothos (the bastard), so they weren't shy of using the term. The general consensus is that Ptolemy XII's mother was a Cleopatra Selene, a Ptolemaic princess who never sat on the throne (hence, no Roman numerals by her name).

Some historians suspect Strabo confused Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra VII's younger sister, with Arsinoe III, the only legitimate child of Ptolemy IX (Pausanias I 9.3).

Strabo was in Alexandria about 10 years after Cleopatra VII's death. Porphyry wrote about 200 years later and confused things even more by trying to explain the re-appearance of Cleopatra V on the throne as an additional daughter of Ptolemy XII (FGrH  260 F2.11) . This is why for almost a 100 years, there was a Cleopatra VI (currently dismissed as confusion by Porphyry).

Porphyry in Eusubius' Chronicle, p.167:

"... a three year period was ascribed to the rule of his [Ptolemy XII] daughters Cleopatra Tryphaena and Berenice."  The consensus is that Porphyry was confused: Tryphaena is really Cleopatra V.

Strabo is the only historian that comes even close to calling Cleopatra illegitimate.


Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra VII's oldest younger brother, drowned.


Anyone who claims that Cleopatra VII caused Ptolemy XIII to die is just being lazy. Ptolemy XIII was sitting on the throne with Cleopatra VII, then left to join his sister Arsinoe IV who had herself declared Queen. He was in Alexandria for most of the urban street fighting, but later joined his army after its defeat at Pelusium. The army and Ptolemy XIII retreated to the Camp of the Jews where the fierce Battle of the Nile took place against Caesar himself. Ptolemy XIII's army was defeated and as they tried to escape across the Nile, the boat overturned. He was never seen again (PLENTY of crocodiles in the Nile).

Julius Caesar, The Alexandrian War,  31:

"It is established that the king [Ptolemy XIII] himself fled from the camp and then, after being taken aboard a ship along with a large number of his men who were swimming to the nearest ships, perished when as a result of the numbers the vessel capsized." -- "It is established" sounds like a witnessed fact.

Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 49.9:

"But finally, after the king [Ptolemy XIII] had gone away to the enemy, he [Caesar]  marched against him and conquered him in a battle where many fell and the king himself disappeared."


Cassius Dio, Roman History, XLII 43.3:
"Ptolemy and some others tried in their haste to escape across the river, and perished in it"


Appian, The Civil WarsI, II 90:
"He [Caesar] fought the last battle against the king [Ptolemy XIII] on the banks of the Nile, in which he won a decisive victory." -- No mention of what happened to Ptolemy XIII.


Caesar's book was available to all later historians and it's likely they all referred to it. Consequently, because Caesar didn't see a body, no one dwells on the death of Ptolemy XIII. Had he survived, a boy already declared Pharaoh would have resurfaced with supporters, even though  he was only 15 years old.

A pretender did appear living in Phoenician Arados, claiming to be Ptolemy XIII. He isn't named, but was killed around the same time as the alleged Arsinoe affair.




These two items are discussed together because they're created out of thin air by the same historian. Josephus, not great with chronology, is usually pretty good with dry details of who, what, where. He somehow felt it necessary to go over the top with personal attacks on Cleopatra VII to the point of just making stuff up (he's not the only one ... Cassius Dio is the poster-boy for this sort of thing). Like a modern politico, he screams "Cleopatra!" when anything he doesn't like happens, whether she was responsible or not.

Jan Willem van Henten, Cleopatra in Josephus from Herod's Rival to the Wise Ruler's Opposite  in The Wisdom of Egypt, pp.115-145

"Josephus is one of the most negative ancient sources about Cleopatra. He goes beyond the usual contempt for Cleopatra’s sexual immorality, greed and perverted hunger for power, and portrays her in Against Apionas as the ultimately wicked foreign ruler. Josephus’ Cleopatra passages show an increasing tendency to blacken the famous and intelligent queen; so much so that Michael Grant concludes in his biography of Cleopatra that Josephus ‘is savagely biased against the queen’."


Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XV 4.1:

"She had already poisoned her brother; because she knew that he was to be King of Egypt: and this when he was but fifteen years old. And she got her sister Arsinoe to be slain, by the means of Antony; when she was a supplicant at Diana’s temple at Ephesus"

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Against Apion, Book II 5.8:

"Who also had her sister Arsinoe slain in a temple, when she had done her no harm. Moreover, she had her brother slain by private treachery"

Josephus, The Jewish War, Book I 18.4

"Now Cleopatra had put to death all her kindred, till no one near her in blood remained alive"

Appian, The Civil Wars, Book V 9.1:

"Whatever Cleopatra ordered was done, regardless of laws, human or divine. While her sister Arsinoe was a suppliant in the temple of Artemis Leucophryne at Miletus, Antony sent assassins thither and put her to death"

--- Sound familiar? This is the result of Antony's very first meeting with Cleopatra VII, and Antony, ruler of over 1/2 the Roman Empire is already her slave? Appian is reading Josephus.

Porphyry in Eusubius' Chronicle, p.169:

"He [Ptolemy XIV] was plotted against and killed by Cleopatra, in his 4th year, which was Cleopatra's 8th year"

--- Porphyry is known to quote and reference Josephus (and gets quite a few things wrong, like Cleopatra VI).

Cassius Dio, Roman History, XLVIII 24.2:

"Meanwhile he fell in love with Cleopatra, whom he had seen in Cilicia, and thereafter gave not a thought to honour but became the Egyptian woman's slave and devoted his time to his passion for her. This caused him to do many outrageous things, and in particular to drag her brothers from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus and put them to death.​"

--- Wait ... WHAT?! It sounds like Dio heard a rumor about Antony killing someone in Ephesus. Quite a trick since Ptolemy XIII was already dead, and Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIV (who shows up years later) are safe in Alexandria. It's just more support that the story is more rumor than fact.

This is another case of a single source, Josephus, making unsubstantiated claims to make some subjective point.  See Strabo. 

The BBC production "Cleopatra Portrait of a Killer", claims Romans were "scandalized" by Arsinoe IV's murder. I believe this is unsubstantiated, since I can find no Roman source outside of Appian and Porphyry that mention it. My interpretation is that Romans didn't believe in that rumor.

Was there a reason to kill Arsinoe IV?

During the Alexandrian war, she joined the forces of Ptolemy XIII and declared herself Queen. One of her first acts was to execute Achillas, head of the Egyptian army. It's for this treason that she was taken to Rome by Caesar and paraded, in chains, as an enemy. She was scheduled to be strangled at the end, the normal Roman course of things, but the crowd apparently begged for mercy. Her advisor Ganymede, who took over Achillas' job, was paraded next to her and HE was strangled. Arsinoe IV was exiled to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and the temple priest greeted her as "queen". There is some speculation that Cleopatra VII's reign at this point was unstable and Arsinoe IV presented a real threat and was plotting with an advisor. Considering the habits of previous Ptolemies, her execution wouldn't be surprising ... there's just no evidence for it.

What about Ptolemy XIV?

Josephus says: Ptolemy XIV was 15 when he was killed. He was born in 60 BCE, so that's 45 BCE.

Porphyry says: year 8 of Cleopatra VII, year 4 of Ptolemy XIV. Porphyry is incorrectly dating here, because Ptolemy XIV didn't appear on inscriptions until around 45 BCE, so that would be Ptolemy XIV year 1. Ptolemy XIV year 4 would be 41 BCE, which just doesn't work. If Porphyry is back dating to 51 BCE, when Cleopatra was first Queen alongside her father, counting years that Ptolemy XIV WASN'T on the throne, that makes it 43 BCE.

45 BCE - Cleopatra reigns alone (SB 1.3926): 

"(ἔτους) ϛʹ, Φαμενὼθ εʹ" -- Year 6, Phaophi 12 <no second date for king> --- 51 BCE - 6 years = 45 BCE

45 BCE - Ptolemy XIV appears as king, subordinate to Cleopatra VII (p.Bon 10):

"βασιλευό̣ν̣τ̣ω̣ν̣ Κ̣λ̣ε̣ο̣π̣ά̣[τρας καὶ Πτολεμαίου  ... " -- Kings Cleopatra and Ptolemaios <dated past Phaophi from context>

42 BCE - Ptolemy XV appears as king, subordinate to Cleopatra VII (UC  14357):

"I was laid to rest in his tomb beside his forefathers in year nine, 15th of Meshir , under the Majesty, the soveriegn, Lady of the two Lands Cleopatra ... and her son .... Caesarion" --- 51 BCE - 9 years = 42 BCE

Clearly, Josephus has a badly dated rumor and claims Cleopatra VII prevented Ptolemy XIV from becoming king, which he clearly became. Porphyry tried to put some sense to it, and Ptolemy XIV could have died in 43 BCE.  Anywhere from 44 BCE to 42 BCE works. Still, no evidence of mayhem.

Roman historians (outside Appian and Porphyry repeating Josephus) didn't pay any attention to the rumor. That works for me.



Historians were interested in Cleopatra VII from 48-44 BC, because that was Julius Caesar time. Caesar was in Alexandria in 48-47, then he called Cleopatra VII to Rome, with Ptolemy XIV and Ptolemy XV (the Caesarion), housing them in his villa right across the Tiber from the house he shared with his wife, Calpurnia. After Caesar's death, historians lose interest until she sails ostentatiously to Marc Antony in 41 BC. After that, Cleopatra is only of interest when something saucy or dramatic happens.

No one was really interested in what she was doing in Egypt to get the place back on its feet.

However, because we have stone inscriptions and papyrus documents that are dated in regnal years, we have benchmarks along the way to tell us something about the structure of her reign.

52 BCE - Co-regent with Ptolemy XII

                Cleopatra VII was co-regent with her father Ptolemy XII. We don't have any documents or inscriptions

                showing this, but she appears behind her father in the crypts of the Temple of Hathor (Dendera)

                behind her father. We know temple construction started in August 54 BCE (there's an inscription for

                that), so her co-regency started sometime after that. 52 BCE is a conservative guess.

51 BCE - Queen with Ptolemy XII

               Cleopatra VII appears as Queen after her father in an inscription (iBucheum 13):

               "He [the Apis Bull] was installed by the king himself in year 1, Phamenoth 19 {of Ptolemy XIII; 22nd

               March 51 B.C.}. The queen, the Lady of the Two Lands {Cleopatra VII}, the goddess who loves her

               father {Thea Philopator}, rowed him in the barque of Amun

51 BCE - Sole Ruler

               Cleopatra VII appears alone on an inscription after her father's death (Fayoum 3.205): 

               "Κλεοπάτρας ... (ἔτους) αʹ, Ἐπὶφ αʹ" -- Cleopatra, Year 1, Epiphi 1

48 BCE - Sole Ruler

                Cleopatra VII appears alone on an inscription (SB 6.9065): 

                "βα̣σιλίσσῃ Κλεοπάτραι ... γ (ἔτει)" -- Queen Cleopatra, Year 3

48 BCE - Queen with Ptolemy XIII

                Ptolemy XIII's first year, he appears superior to Cleopatra VII (SB 8.9764): 

                "πρώτ[ο]υ καὶ τρίτου ἔτος(*)" -- First and Third Year

48 BCE - Queen with Ptolemy XIII

                Ptolemy XIII now claims the three years he had no power (BGU 8.1730):

                "βασιλέως καὶ βασιλίσσης ... (ἔτους) γ Φαῶφι κγ ... (ἔτους) γ Ἁθὺρ̣ ̣ε." -- King and Queen ... Year 3 Phaophi 23

                ... Year 3 Hathor 5 

48 BCE - Exiled

                Cleopatra VII possibly goes to Thebes first, (Malalas 9:217 <-- kind of sketchy)               

                ",,, he [Caesar] found this Cleopatra in the Thebaid, where she had been banished by her

                brother Ptolemy."   -- Found in the sense that someone told him, as opposed to Caesar taking a trip?     

                Then Cleopatra VII is in Syria (Strabo XVII 796.79)

                "Now the Alexandrians proclaimed as sovereigns both the elder of the boys and Cleopatra; but the

                associates of the boy caused an uprising and banished Cleopatra, and she set sail with her sister to


48 BCE - Queen with Ptolemy XIII (Strabo, Geography  XVII 11.79);

                Julius Caesar recalls Cleopatra VII and places both back on throne

                "... having summoned Cleopatra from exile, established her as queen of Aegypt; and he

               [Caesar] appointed her remaining brother to reign as king with her ..."

               --- Yes, in his hurry to get past having to write about Cleopatra VII, he skips Ptolemy XIII drowning in 

                     the Nile.

48 BCE - Cleopatra VII is Queen with Ptolemy XIII, Arsinoe IV declares herself Queen as well (Cassius Dio 42.39):

                "While these events were taking place, one Ganymedes, a eunuch, secretly brought Arsinoë to the

                 Egyptians, as she was not very well guarded. They declared her queen and proceeded to prosecute the

                 war more vigorously, inasmuch as they now had as leader a representative of the family of

                 the Ptolemies."               

                 Alexandrians soon get fed up with her (after she starts killing people) and beg for her brother. Caesar

                 releases Ptolemy XIII, mistrusting the Alexandrians but hoping this will stop the war

                (Caesar, Alexandrian War, 23):

                 "They sent envoys to Caesar requesting him to release the king and allow him to go over to his own

                  side. 'The whole population,' they said, 'being tired and wearied of the girl, of the delegation of the


                 --- Caesar was correct to mistrust the Alexandrians, The Alexandrian Civil War goes into high gear.




As a quick summary of the actual science, the sex of a foetus can be established at 14 weeks

(98 days) with ultrasound (earlier with DNA, of course).

Leviticus, Chapter 12 (King James version):

"12 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.

3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.

5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days."

Do the math here: a woman is "unclean" (no frisky business) for 7 + 3 + 30 days ... 40 days for a male baby, and for a "maid" child 14 days + 3*20 + 6 days ... 80 days. Fine. It's their religion, they're allowed to make up whatever rules they like.

By the end of the 3rd century ACE, a bunch of rabbis got together and one of their goals was to establish reasonable explanations for some of the rules they lived by. The Lord wouldn't just make up random laws to make their lives miserable: there must be a reason to it.

Apparently, Rabbi Ishmael introduced Cleopatra VII into the conversation (perhaps a natural extension of Josephus hatred of her ... she did make several attempts to annex Judaea). Either R. Ishmael invented or referred to a rumor: "Cleopatra VII carefully counted the days of pregnancy, then executed the women and examined them to determine the sex of the foetus" (although one version is more violent). Conclusion? Male sex is determined by 40 days, and females sex by 80 days: fitting in nicely with Leviticus. If you read my very first sentence, this is all nonsense, but they're trying to rationalize a rule with a made up story about a hated queen. How were THEY going to determine when sexual organs developed? <uhhh ... if it's not male at 40 days, doesn't that mean it has to be the other sex?> Anyway, the Mishnah and Tosefta documents contain some of their discussion.

Mishnah, Niddah 30b --

"Furthermore, the Rabbis said to Rabbi Yishmael that there is a proof against his opinion from an incident involving Cleopatra, Queen of Alexandria. Since her maidservants were sentenced to death by the government, she took advantage of the opportunity and experimented on them in order to examine the amount of time it takes for an embryo to develop. She had her maidservants engage in intercourse and operated on them following their execution in order to determine the stage at which an embryo is fully formed, and found that both in this case, when the embryo is male, and that case, when it is female, the formation is complete on the forty-first day after conception. Rabbi Yishmael said to them in response: I bring you proof from the Torah, and you bring me proof from the fools?"

-- In this case, the rabbis are arguing the exact opposite.

Tosefta, Niddah 4:8 --

"R. Ishmael said: “It happened with Cleopatra queen of Alexandria that she brought forward her handmaidens, who had been sentenced to death, to the king. He ripped them open and found that the male was complete at 41 days and the female at 81."

--- The Rabbi is arguing the exact opposite in line with Leviticus. Which "king" would that be? She was only Queen with her dad for a few months, and he was sick. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing he had an interest in, or the personality to do. Ptolemy XIII only had power for about a year, and he and Cleopatra VII were busy struggling for power. Ptolemy XIV, died at 15. Ptolemy XV, died at 14. It seems like something non-Jewish historians would talk about (not even Josephus mentions such a thing).



This is a bit hard to prove. While there are plenty of invoices and receipts from nome transactions, I know of no balance sheets that are related to the royal treasury. All the evidence is combined from multiple historical references.

Ptolemy XII was coronated in 79 BCE, (back dated to 80 BCE to pretend rule was continuous with his cousin Ptolemy XI). There was an ongoing problem because Ptolemy X (Alexander I) had willed Egypt to Rome on his death. This kind of thing was typically done to avoid murder of the king by challengers, since they would have nothing to gain.

Cicero, On The Agrarian Law, 2.41
"What will become of Alexandria, and of all Egypt? ... For who is there among you who is ignorant that that kingdom has become the property of the Roman people by the will of king Alexander? ...  I know that there is a resolution of the senate extant to the effect that it accepted the inheritance; which was passed when, after the death of Alexander, we sent ambassadors to Tyre, to recover for the people money which had been deposited there by him.

There's a lot of controversy about this will due to lack of details, but what happened is that a good portion of the royal treasury was stored on Tyre (the "Tyrian Hoard") and Rome did collect that, but for political reasons Rome decided NOT to claim Egypt. When Ptolemy X died, Sulla, who had been grooming Ptolemy XI in Rome, put him on the Egyptian throne along with his cousin Bernice III (already Queen), who he killed after 19 days, then the Alexandrians killed him. When Ptolemy XII became the next king, the will was still hanging over his head.


In 63 BCE, Ptolemy tried to bribe Pompey to be his ally: he provided pay and maintenance for 6000 cavalry and a golden crown. It didn't work as Pompey refused to help Ptolemy XII put down a revolt. This cost Ptolemy so much he had to raise taxes to pay for it, and he started borrowing funds. 


Pliny, Natural History, XXXIII 47

"Ptolemy who is recorded by Varro, at the time when Pompeius was campaigning in the regions adjoining Judaea {63 BC}, to have maintained 6000 horse at his own charges, to have given a lavish feast to a thousand guests, with 1,000 gold goblets, which were changed at every course"

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.35

""There came also an embassage out of Egypt, and a crown of the value of four thousand pieces of gold"


In 60BC, Ptolemy XII, trying to put an end to the threat of the will, went to Rome and started bribing Senators and influential people He soon ran out of money and had to start more borrowing. All the bribe money was wasted until he finally managed an agreement with Caesar and Pompey, for an additional 6000 talents. The Roman Senate finally recognised Ptolemy as king and Caesar passed a law that added Ptolemy to the list of friends and allies of the people of Rome (amici et socii populi Romani) in 59 BC.

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 54

"[Caesar] for he extorted from Ptolemy alone in his own name and that of Pompey nearly six thousand talents"

Ptolemy enjoyed the throne for about a year, when Alexandrians, complaining about the increase in taxes, chased him out of the country.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, XXXIX 12.1

"After this there was further disturbance on account of King Ptolemy. He had spent large amounts upon some of the Romans, part of it out of his own purse and part borrowed, in order to have his rule confirmed and to receive the name of friend and ally; and he was now collecting this sum forcibly from the Egyptians. They were accordingly very angry at him both on this account and also because when they had bidden him demand back Cyprus from the Romans or else renounce his friendship for them, he had been unwilling to do so. And since he could neither persuade nor yet compel them to be quiet, as he had no foreign troops, he fled from Egypt, and coming to Rome, accused his countrymen of having expelled him from his kingdom."

The "friend of Rome" didn't stop Caesar from trying annex Egypt anyway.

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 11

"Having won the goodwill of the masses, Caesar made an attempt through some of the tribunes to have the charge of Egypt given him by a decree of the commons, seizing the opportunity to ask for so irregular an appointment because the citizens of Alexandria had deposed their king, who had been named by the senate an ally and friend of the Roman people, and their action was generally condemned. He failed however "

Ptolemy XII fled to Rome and was bribing anyone he could find. They accepted the money, but did nothing. Eventually, Pompey and the creditors persuaded the official recognition of Ptolemy XII as King of Egypt.

Cicero, For Rabirius Postumus, 4

"In the meantime, Ptolemaeus being expelled from his kingdom with treachery, with evil designs (as the Sibyl said, expression of which Postumus found out the meaning) came to Rome. This unhappy man [Rabirius Postumus] lent him money, as he was in want and asked for it; and that was not the first time, (for he had lent him money before while he was king, without seeing him.) And he thought that he was not lending his money rashly, because no one doubted that he would be restored to his kingdom by the senate and people of Rome"

However, the Senators refused to place Ptolemy XII back on the throne using military power due to a Sybiline Prophecy.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, XXXIX 15.2

'but Rome wouldn't interfere due to a Sybiline prophecy: For when they read the Sibylline verses, they found written in them this very passage: "If the king of Egypt come requesting any aid, refuse him not friendship, nor yet succour him with any great force; else you shall have both toils and dangers."'

Plutarch, Life of Antony, 3.2

"After this, Ptolemy tried to persuade Gabinius by a bribe of ten thousand talents to join him in an invasion of Egypt and recover the kingdom for him.​6 But the greater part of the officers were opposed to the plan, and Gabinius himself felt a certain dread of the war, although he was completely captivated by the ten thousand talents. Antony, however, who was ambitious of great exploits and eager to gratify the request of Ptolemy, joined the king in persuading and inciting Gabinius to the expedition."

Cassius Dio, Roman History, XXXIX 56.3

"However, when Ptolemy came with Pompey's letter and promised that he would furnish large sums both to him and the army, some to be paid at once, and the rest when he should be restored, Gabinius abandoned the Parthian project and hastened to Egypt. 4 This he did notwithstanding the law forbade governors to enter territory outside their own borders or to begin wars on their own responsibility, and although the people and the Sibyl had declared that the man should not be restored. But the only restraint these considerations imposed was to lead him to sell his assistance for a higher price"

Ptolemy XII started borrowing money before the first bribe to Caesar and Crassus. Then he borrowed more fruitlessly bribing more Romans, and probably Pompey. Finally, the monstrous amount to Gabinius. 1,600 talents are documented, a wild guess of another 4000 in miscellaneous bribes and expenses makes 20,000 talents a rough guess. Gabinius left 2,500 Roman military to kept Ptolemy XII on the throne: Ptolemy was responsible for soldier pay, room and board, and military equipment as an ongoing expene.

When Gabinius re-throned Ptolemy XII, the Roman creditors demanded their money back with interest. The treasury was empty , Ptolemy XII didn't have over three years of income to pay back plus interest. He had enough trouble running the country on nothing as it was.

In response, one of the biggest creditors, Rabirius Posthumus, was placed as tax collector by Ptolemy XII. Now, when then peasants revolted because of higher taxes, they got mad at Rabirius, not Ptolemy XII. In a way, Ptolemy XII was WITH the Egyptians against the Romans. In typical fashion, not only did Rabirius raise taxes but started skimming. Ptolemy XII eventually had to imprison him for his own protection, then let him "escape" to Rome, where he was put on trial defended by Cicero.


Cicero, For Rabirius Postumus

28."For when he came to Alexandria to Auletes,1 O judges, this one means of saving his money was proposed to Postumus by the king—namely, that he should undertake the management, and, as it were, the stewardship of the royal revenues. And he could not do that unless he became the steward. "

30. "For the prosecutor says, that while Postumus was collecting the money for Gabinius, he also amassed money for himself out of the tenths belonging to the generals. ...  If he made that addition, then eleven thousand talents came to Gabinius"

20,000 talents ... what does that really mean? Diodorus Siculus was present in Egypt in 59 BCE (he provided the eye witness report of a Roman accidentally killing a cat, then a mob killing him for it). Cicero provide an annual revenue figure much greater, but Cicero tended to stretch the truth (or outright lie) in speeches. Diodorus was there at exactly the correct time.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, VII 52.5

"At the time when we were in Egypt, those who kept the census returns of the population said that its free residents were more than three hundred thousand,​ and that the king received from the revenues of the country more than six thousand talents."


It is not known how much was paid or owed in interest, but 6 years later, after Ptolemy XII had died and Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII were on the throne, they still owed the debt. Ptolemy XIII's advisors had exiled Cleopatra VII to Syria, and they didn't have the money either.

Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 48.9

"When, however, Potheinus [Ptolemy XIII advisor] bade him go away now and attend to his great affairs, assuring him that later he would get his money with thanks, Caesar replied that he had no need whatever of Egyptians as advisers, and secretly sent for Cleopatra from the country."

When Cleopatra VII was placed back on the throne by Caesar, she was able to pay off the debt at a discount after three years of running the country efficiently. She had funds that she was using to form an army in Syria that Ptolemy XIII (or his advisors) did not have access to.


Ptolemy XII amassed a huge debt with Roman creditors for more than three times the total yearly revenue of Egypt (money normally used for running a country: paying police and military, garbage collectors, maintaining buildings for defense and administration, etc.). He couldn't pay it back in his lifetime. Cleopatra VII was able to eliminate the debt from her three years of sole rule, keeping the treasury out of reach of her brother Ptolemy XIII


How Did Cleopatra VII Die?

Plutarch is the absolute primary source for this. Why? For one thing, Plutarch is a "biographer" as opposed to other "historians": he's interested in personalities and how they lived their lives. Second, we know where he got his information ... because he tells us. He uses two sources:

     1) Olympos was Cleopatra VII's personal physician. He took care of her when she was beating

          herself up and going on a hunger strike when Octavian was in control. He also wrote a

          biography of Cleopatra VII. Plutarch is the last know person to have read a copy of the book.

          Olympos was probably nervously pacing outside Cleopatra VII's mausoleum (where she

          retreated with her two servants) and was likely the first medical person to inspect her body.

     2) Philotas of Amphissa was a 21 year old medical student at the time of Cleopatra VII's death.

          He was a friend of Marc Antony's son, Antyllus, and was present at some of the luxurious

          parties. He may not have been in the palace, but it's likely he communicated with Olympos.

          Philotas lived long enough to enjoy a friendship with Lamprias, Plutarch's grandfather.

          Lamprias lived long enough to relay stories from Cleopatra VII's palace to Plutarch.

What does Plutarch say about how Cleopatra died? The most reliable primary source says:

          "No one knows." 

Plutarch, Life of Antony, 85-86

"After her meal, however, Cleopatra took a tablet which was already written upon and sealed, and sent it to Caesar, and then, sending away all the rest of the company except her two faithful women, she closed the doors.

But Caesar [Octavian/Augustus] opened the tablet, and when he found there lamentations and supplications of one who begged that he would bury her with Antony, he quickly knew what had happened. At first he was minded to go himself and give aid; then he ordered messengers to go with all speed and investigate. But the mischief had been swift. For though his messengers came on the run and found the guards as yet aware of nothing, when they opened the doors they found Cleopatra lying dead upon a golden couch, arrayed in royal state. And of her two women, the one called Iras was dying at her feet, while Charmion, already tottering and heavy-handed, was trying to arrange the diadem which encircled the queen's brow. Then somebody said in anger: "A fine deed, this, Charmion!" "It is indeed most fine," she said, "and befitting the descendant of so many kings." Not a word more did she speak, but fell there by the side of the couch.

It is said that the asp was brought with those figs and leaves and lay hidden beneath them, for thus Cleopatra had given orders, that the reptile might fasten itself upon her body without her being aware of it. But when she took away some of the figs and saw it, she said: "There it is, you see," and baring her arm she held it out for the bite. But others say that the asp was kept carefully shut up in a water jar, and that while Cleopatra was stirring it up and irritating it with a golden distaff it sprang and fastened itself upon her arm. But the truth of the matter no one knows; for it was also said that she carried about poison in a hollow comb and kept the comb hidden in her hair; and yet neither spot nor other sign of poison broke out upon her body. Moreover, not even was the reptile seen within the chamber, though people said they saw some traces of it near the sea, where the chamber looked out upon it with its windows. And some also say that Cleopatra's arm was seen to have two slight and indistinct punctures; and this Caesar also seems to have believed. For in his triumph an image of Cleopatra herself with the asp clinging to her was carried in the procession.​ These, then, are the various accounts of what happened."

Let's take this apart. There are four separate "stories".

     1) Asp in figs,

     2) Asp in water jar,

     3) Poison in hair comb,

     4) "Slight and indistinct punctures" on her arm.

Note that there's no mention of a snake bite on her breast. This is a complete invention added to make the whole event more juicy and inline with a "sexy" queen.

What facts are there?

     1) Cleopatra was dressed in royal robes, and apparently the only thing that needed adjusting for presentation

         was her diadem (crown). Definitely not naked (as many paintings depict), and apparently died without

         convulsions very quickly: "But the mischief had been swift." No  known Egyptian snake has that effect.

     2) There's no sign of snake bite anywhere. A horned viper leaves an ulcerated wound and where ever bitten

         swells up. A cobra only envenomates (injects venom) 30-45% of the time. Supposing, it

         was successful, cobra poison doesn't kill rapidly unless applied correctly (see Galen below). If the "pin

         pricks" of one story are a snake bite, it's a snake that's currently unknown.

     3) Iras and Charmion died of poison, apparently painlessly. Charmion was stumbling around, futzing with the

          diadem, and spoke to whomever burst in ... before she dropped dead. No agonizing or cries of pain, 

          consistent with Cleopatra VII's relaxed state on the couch. Did the servants have pin pricks, too? No one

          took the time to examine servants.

Toxicology and snakes in ptolemaic Egyptian dynasty: The suicide of Cleopatra, Rosso

"viper bites generally produce violent local pain with inflammation, oedema, skin discolorationpustules, vomiting and blood loss"

"the last component of [cobra] venom attacks the skin while a progressive necrosis in local tissues around the bite area and severe external bleeding could be detected over time."

What does Strabo say? He was in Alexandria only 10 years after Cleopatra VII's death. He says almost nothing. He didn't think she was significant for his history. Strabo, Geography, XVII

"[Cleopatra VII] also put an end to her life secretly, in prison, by the bite of an asp, or (for there are two accounts) by the application of a poisonous ointment." <-- He doesn't even get the mausoleum part correctly (maybe "ointment" meant something different back then).

Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 17

"Cleopatra he anxiously wished to save for his triumph; and when she was supposed to have been bit to death by an asp, he sent for the Psylli to endeavour to suck out the poison." <-- The Psylli is an interesting addition." 

--- The Psylli were remnants of an ancient Libyan tribe whose reputation grew over time: it started out as snake charmers, then advanced to sucking the poison out of wounds, finishing with complete resistance to snake bites. Since nothing appears in Plutarch, I doubt that this happened. Suetonius is guessing that Octavian did this as a last ditch effort to save Cleopatra VII so he could show her off in his triumph. He clearly hedges that it might not be true.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, LI, 14

"No one knows clearly in what way she perished, for the only marks on her body were slight pricks on the arm. Some say she applied to herself an asp which had been brought in to her in a water-jar, or perhaps hidden in some flowers. Others declare that she had smeared a pin, with which she was wont to fasten her hair, with some poison possessed of such a property that in ordinary circumstances it would not injure the body at all, but if it came into contact with even a drop of blood would destroy the body very quietly and painlessly; and that previous to this time she had worn it in her hair as usual, but now had made a slight scratch on her arm and had dipped the pin in the blood. In this or in some very similar way she perished, and her two handmaidens with her. As for the eunuch, he had of his own accord delivered himself up to the serpents at the very time of Cleopatra's arrest, and after being bitten by them had leaped into a coffin already prepared for him. When Caesar heard of Cleopatra's death, he was astounded, and not only viewed her body but also made use of drugs and Psylli​ in the hope that she might revive. These Psylli are males, for there is no woman born in their tribe, and they have the power to suck out any poison of any reptile, if use is made of them immediately, before the victim dies; and they are not harmed themselves when bitten by any such creature. They are propagated from one another and they test their offspring either by having them thrown among serpents as soon as they are born or else by having their swaddling-clothes thrown upon serpents; for the reptiles in the one case do no harm to the child, and in the other case are benumbed by its clothing."

--- This is classic Dio. The bare facts are not enough so he has to pad it out. "Poison in a hair comb" is pretty self-explanatory, but Dio needs to add stuff he knows nothing about. No women in the Psylli? How do they get their babies? It does make better reading. From "pin pricks", "water bottle", "hair comb", "two handmaidens" and "no one knows", it looks like he's referencing Plutarch. From the Psylli, he's referencing Suetonius, too.

What's that about Galen? He reviews Plutarch, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. He witnessed execution of condemned prisoners by cobra in Alexandria. 

Galen, Theriac to Piso, (as translated in "On Theriac to Piso, p93)

"Queen Cleopatra, wanting to escape the notice of her guards, died quickly and in a way which avoided suspicion. For when Augustus had beaten Antony and wanted to take her alive and to guard her carefully, as you would expect, so as to display such a famous woman to the Romans in a triumph. But they say she realised this and chose to leave the world of the living while still a queen rather than appear at Rome as a nobody, and so contrived her own death by the agency of one of these creatures. And they say she called her two most trusted women whose job was to tend to the attire of her body so as to display her beauty, called Naeira and Charmione. Naeira did her hair in a fitting manner and Charmione cut her fingernails and she then ordered the snake to be brought in hidden in some grapes and figs so that, as I have said, it would escape the notice of the guards. She then tried out the snake on these women to see if it could kill swiftly, and after it did she killed herself with the rest and they say that Augustus was completely amazed at this, both that they loved her to the extent of dying with her and that she was unwilling to live like a slave and chose rather to die nobly. And they say she was found with her right hand on her head grasping the diadem, as is likely, so that even up to that point it should be obvious to onlookers that she was the queen. Similarly the tragedian tells us about Polyxena that she also “when she died gave much forethought to falling in a noble manner". And those who want to demonstrate by this story both the cleverness of the woman in evading attention and the speed of the asp in killing, say that she bit her own arm wide and deep, and after doing this got the asp poison brought to her in some vessel and poured it into the wound and so after it had been given to her without the guards noticing she peacefully died. ... I have often seen in Alexandria the speed with which they induce death. For when they want to kill swiftly and humanely someone condemned to punishment by this law, they stick an asp on his chest and make him walk around a bit, and so swiftly dispatch him."

--- What to make of this? Galen is writing around 200 years after the event. That's plenty of time for things to get inflated/twisted by different authors. Because he names Iras and Charmion, he's read Plutarch (they're the only two to name them). How he knew what their cosmetic roles were is anybody's guess: a story grows with the telling. They die first? That's a big surprise to Plutarch's Roman. Read that part about biting her own arm carefully: Galen says that some people exaggerate to make a point. THE TAKE AWAY is the very last line. Galen witnessed execution by cobra in Alexandria and it happened pretty quickly ... if bitten directly in the chest.

Clinical Toxinology Resources, Naja haje (Egyptian  Cobra)

"After ensuring the patient and onlookers have moved out of range of further strikes by the snake, the bitten person should be reassured and persuaded to lie down and remain still. Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically. The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment." <-- Cobras are "elapid" snakes.

What's going on? Galen says he witnessed quick execution by cobra, but this modern report says cobra envenoming is slow. Most people don't get directly bitten in the chest. It takes a while for venom to work its way through limb tissue and veins to the heart (at which point the neurotoxin causes the heart to stop beating). If the snake fangs puncture the chest cavity (past the muscles), there's nothing in the "cavity" but heart and lungs. The venom just kind of splashes up against the heart, inhibiting the lungs on the way. Biting a breast wouldn't be very quick: the venom still has to work it's way through tissue. The fangs have to make it past the ribs to effect a quick death (side ribs are a likely target).

If Cleopatra used an Egyptian Cobra to bite her arm, death would take hours. It would be enough time for the bite wounds to necrose and her arm to swell. It would be obvious. A Horned Viper bite would be worse: big ulcerations around the bite, swelling, discoloration, and lots of pain.


How did Cleopatra VII die? You decide.















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