What REALLY happened? When?
It's difficult to go any one place and find the entire life of Cleopatra VII plotted out. Here, almost all the dates are tied to inscriptions on stone or papyrus legal documents written while she was still alive. That gets rid of the pesky guesswork from historians writing 100's of years after she died. You're welcome.
Did you know there's a large consensus about exactly who her mother was?
Did you know she ruled as Queen with her father (not married)?
Did you know there is no evidence at all she approved her sister's death or poisoned her youngest brother?
--- I guess if you know that stuff already, you might not find anything surprising here.
The inscription and papyrus verification could not have been done without Christopher Bennet's intensive research, conveniently summarized here:
79 BC - In 81 BC, Ptolemy IX dies. His two sons are in Cyprus and they are the only royal descendants available to become
the new king/Pharaoh. The oldest returns to Alexandria and is crowned King with his second-cousin Cleopatra V as
Queen. In order to show a contiguous sequence of rule, his first year is considered 80 BC for legal dating.
76 BC - The king-title and Pharaoh-titles were different things. Ptolemy becomes Pharaoh in Memphis, where he brought all his
wives and children. It's an indication that Ptolemy was polygamous, but only had one Royal Wife who sat on the throne.
69 BC - Cleopatra VII is born. There's no inscription for this. It comes out of Plutarch: "When Cleopatra died she was forty
years of age save one ..." Strabo's claim that "only the eldest was legitimate" is either misinterpreted or wrong. The
Roman historians clearly disregarded it: if they could have said "bastard whore queen", they would have ... instead
they had to settle for just the last two words.
68 BC - The last inscription we know of referring to Cleopatra V ... from her first reign. It references her children, who could
only be Berenike IV and Cleopatra VII. Usually, someone dropping out of history is an indication they died. Current
consensus is that Cleopatra V was very much alive and stepped down from the throne. Since she went on to have
three more children, it doesn't appear to be a physical health issue. IMHO, maybe something behavioral like
clinical depression or bipolar disorder.
61 BC - Ptolemy XII appears on an inscription by himself, no Queen. Egyptians didn't like single religious figureheads. The
male:female combination fit their Horus:Isis theology. It would be surprising if Ptolemy made it 7 years on his own.
Perhaps Cleopatra V was still involved somehow. There aren't any inscriptions that say she wasn't around.
58 BC - Ptolemy XII appears on an inscription by himself, just in time to be exiled for raising taxes a second time.
An inscription refers to two Queens the same year, interpreted to be Cleopatra V and Berenike IV. This is the only
known case of mother-daughter (or any kind of female pair) co-regents in all Egyptian history. Since Cleopatra V had
already been a ruling Queen, it makes sense that this would give some legitimacy to the rule. There's some speculation
that Berenike IV fought for power, or perhaps whatever it was that made her step down occurred again: in any case,
Cleopatra V stepped down within the year.
57 BC - An inscription refers to a single Queen: Berenike IV. Again, Egyptians didn't like single rulers. Berenike was pressed
to get married. She had her first husband strangled after the first few days. Her second one, possibly in her last year,
died fighting Ptolemy XII's Romans (see 55 BC).
56 BC - A very fluffy date for a very fluffy reference: an epitaph in Athens refers to a "king's daughter from Libya." At this time
Ptolemy XII was in Athens and "Libya" was colloquially used to refer to Egypt. I admit it's a stretch. The actual
inscription is buried three references deep in old German archaeology papers, and I just couldn't find it.
55 BC - Ptolemy XII returns with the backing of 2500 Roman solders and cavalry. Berenike IV is executed for seizing power.
54 BC - An inscription dates Ptolemy as though his reign was never interrupted: year 26 of Ptolemy. Cleopatra V is also back on
the throne, Ptolemy giving her credit for assuming power when he left: year 4 of Cleopatra. It's pretty clear that
Ptolemy did not like Berenike IV seizing? power, but he was perfectly alright with Cleopatra V returning. This is really
the LAST inscription we know of for Cleopatra V. Maybe she stepped down again, or maybe this time she died.
52 BC - Cleopatra VII appears in the crypts of the reconstructed Temple of Hathor in Dendera as co-regent behind Ptolemy
XII. Dating is a bit sketchy. Reconstruction only began near the end of 54 BC, so any Cleopatra images near Ptolemy
XII would have to be Cleopatra VII.
51 BC - Cleopatra VII appears on inscription as Queen, after Ptolemy's name. As mentioned, Egyptians liked a male:female
pair of rulers. It's also possible that Cleopatra VII's multi-faceted abilities appeared early, and Ptolemy XII was anxious
to retire from the hard labor of ruling an empire. Sometime in the year no later than August, Ptolemy XII died of illness.
Although Ptolemy XII's will decreed that Cleopatra VII rule jointly with her oldest younger brother Ptolemy XIII, she
appears in inscriptions by herself, indicating he was sidelined. There is no evidence of any marriage, although one was
stated by the will. Cleopatra VII was 18 years old, Ptolemy XIII was 11 years old.
49 BC - Cleopatra VII starts the year with inscriptions listing her only. Then Ptolemy XIII appears after her name. Then Ptolemy
XIII appears before her name. ... and then again the reverse. Clearly a power struggle is going on and Cleopatra VII is
forced to leave Alexandria and reconnoiters in Thebes (maybe ... sketchy source). There's an inscription listing Ptolemy
XIII as ruling alone.
48 BC - Cleopatra VII flees to Syria and forms an army for her return to the throne. Julius Caesar arrives in Egypt, takes over
the palace, and summons both Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII before him. Ptolemy XIII's guard are barring her entry
into the city as well as the palace, and she has to sneak in (origin of the "rolled in a rug" myth). In alignment with their
father's will, Caesar places them both on the throne. Ptolemy XIII's forces outside the palace start the Alexandrian
Civil War. Arsinoe IV escapes the palace, Alexandrians pronounce her Queen: she executes Achillas, leader of the army,
for disagreeing with her.
47 BC - The Alexandrians beg for Ptolemy XIII to come and control his sister. Caesar lets him go, he joins the army, eventually
he drowns, defeated at the battle of the Nile escaping Caesar's forces. Ptolemy XIV (9 years old) is placed on the
throne with Cleopatra VII (no marriage). Ptolemy Caesar (nicknamed the Caesarion) is born ~7 months after Caesar
46 BC - Cleopatra VII, Ptolemy XIV, and Ptolemy XV (aka Ptolemy Caesar, aka the Caesarion) all go to Rome. Caesar puts them
up in his villa, across the Tiber from his own house. Cicero hates Cleopatra, and makes a point of telling his friends in
nastigrams. Cleopatra may have been present for Caesar's four days of triumph, witnessing Arsinoe IV (exiled) and her
advisor Ganymede (strangled) paraded in chains. Cleopatra VII's name appears alone on an inscription.
45 BC - Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIV names appear, in that order, on a papyrus document. Last mention of Ptolemy XIV.
44 BC - Julius Caesar is murdered by Senators. Marc Antony immediately takes charge of ruling the Roman empire. Cicero
delights in a possible miscarriage by Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra VII, Ptolemy XIV, and Ptolemy XV return to Alexandria.
Josephus (never missing an opportunity to attack Cleopatra VII) starts a rumor that Cleopatra VII poisoned her brother,
Ptolemy XIV "to prevent him becoming king". He was already "king" the previous year. Poryphyri repeats the rumor.
No one else does.
42 BC - Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XV appear in an inscription, in that order.
41 BC - Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XV appear in another inscription. Cleopatra VII sails to Marc Antony. Josephus starts
another rumor, sends it to Appian, Appian repeats it: "Cleopatra VII asked Marc Antony to kill Arsinoe IV in exile
in Ephesus." There's no evidence that this occurred. Cassius Dio, never one to let go of a good rumor, reports that
Cleopatra VII had both of her brother killed in Ephesus (besides them never going there and being both dead
already). Rumors do tend to get changed in the retelling. There's some speculation that Arsinoe IV liked being Queen
and was possibly involved in plotting to take power away from Cleopatra VII, but there's only evidence by "association"
(who she was known to be talking to).
40 BC - Marc Antony marries Octavian's sister Octavia as a political move that works: relations between Octavian and the West,
and Marc Antony in the East are smoothed over. Meanwhile, Cleopatra VII gives birth to Marc Antony's twins:
Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. At this point, it doesn't appear that Marc Antony has bought into "unite with
Egypt, rule the world."
36 BC - Marc Antony marries Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra gives birth to another of Antony's sons, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
32 BC - Cleopatra signs document "Ginesthoi". Marc Antony divorces Octavia. Octavian pushes the Senate to declare war
on Cleopatra VII, even though the Senators all know it is just the start of yet another Roman-against-Roman Civil War.
31 BC - Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony lose battle of Actium and return to Alexandria.
30 BC - Octavian conquers Egyptian forces (many surrender and change sides out of fear) and takes Alexandria. Mark Antony
commits suicide, dying in Cleopatra VII's arms. Cleopatra VII commits suicide later despite Octavian's attempts to
prevent it. Octavian has Ptolemy XV (the Caesarion) captured as he flees to India, and kills him. Octavian also kills
Antony's son Antyllus, by deceased ex-wife Fulvia, for spite. Cleopatra VII's remaining three children are taken to Rome
and fostered by Octavian's sister Octavia, tutored along with her own children by Nicolaus of Damascus.
Cleopatra Selene is eventually married to Juba II of Mauretania and was "given" her two brothers ... as a wedding
present? Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus disappear from history, but Cleopatra Selene's descendants wind
up including 7 Roman emperors.
Everything in a nice order. How do you know my dates are good? Because I read pages of Wikipedia? Oh, no,no,no.
There's so much more!
For all the inscriptions and papyrus documents, I tracked down the original text (all but one or two) to see exactly what they said. There are too many WWW pages that just cut&paste sentences and facts from one site to another. I went to the original sources, carved/stylused 2000 years ago. Again, you're welcome.
NOTE: Sometimes the years can appear to be "one off". The Egyptian calendar started in the middle of September, and the dates BC are based on the Julian calendar.