leopatra’s famous relationship with Julius Caesar has its beginnings in the Egyptian ruler’s ascent to power at the hands of the Roman dictator. It was at first a political alliance.
Ptolomy’s power play
Cleopatra’s father Ptolemy XII Auletes had decided to ally with Rome, as he rightly believed it was becoming the region’s greatest power. But there were powerful Egyptians and Greeks who disagreed with this policy and decided it would be better to have Cleopatra in control.
So Ptolemy paid Rome to invade Egypt and guarantee his place in power, incurring large debts by borrowing from a Roman businessman in the process. As was the custom of the Greek Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII were married in order to maintain the family’s power and inherited the rule of Egypt upon the death of their father in 51 BC.
During Caesar’s civil war with Pompey, the latter fled to Egypt. Caesar pursued Pompey — who had already been murdered by a trio of treasonous Roman military men who were stationed there — and defeated his armies at Alexandria.
In the midst of a civil war between her supporters and those of her brother, Cleopatra sought help from Caesar.
A mutually beneficial relationship
The pair’s need of one another was mutual. Cleopatra required the might of Caesar’s armies to install her as ruler of Egypt, while Caesar was in need of Cleopatra’s vast wealth. She is believed to have been the world’s richest woman at the time and able to finance Caesar’s return to power in Rome.
Caesar declared Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII to be joint rulers, but this was not accepted by Ptolemy’s supporters, who laid siege to the palace in Alexandria. Meanwhile Cleopatra’s younger sister, Arsinoe, escaped and declared her own rebellion. Caesar and Cleopatra were stuck inside for several months before Roman reinforcements arrived, allowing Caesar to take all of Alexandria.
Placing Ptolemy XII’s daughter on the throne meant she would inherit her father’s debts to Rome and was capable of paying them off.
With Cleopatra successfully installed, the couple cruised the Nile on the Queen’s royal barge, after which Caesar returned to Rome, leaving Cleopatra with a child.