Few personalities from classical antiquity are more famousyet more poorly understoodthan Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt. In the centuries since her death in 30 BC, she has been endlessly portrayed in the arts and popular culture, from Shakespearean tragedy to paintings, opera, and movies. Despite the queen's enduring celebrity, however, many have dismissed her as a mere seductress. In this major new biography, Duane Roller reveals that Cleopatra was in fact a learned and visionary leader whose overarching goal was always the preservation of her dynasty and kingdom.
Roller's authoritative account is the first to be based solely on primary materials from the Greco-Roman period: literary sources, Egyptian documents (Cleopatra's own writings), and representations in art and coinage produced while she was alive. His compelling portrait of the queen illuminates her prowess as a royal administrator who managed a large and diverse kingdom extending from Asia Minor to the interior of Egypt, as a naval commander who led her own fleet in battle, and as a scholar and supporter of the arts. Even her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antoniusthe source of her reputation as a supreme seductress who drove men to their doomwere carefully crafted state policies: she chose these partners to insure the procreation of successors who would be worthy of her distinguished dynasty. That Cleopatra ultimately lost to her Roman opponents, Roller contends, in no way diminishes her abilities.
This definitive portrait restores the Egyptian queen to her rightful historical status as a potent force in the ancient worldone whose policies and influence longsurvived her and played a determining role in the future course of the Roman empire.
In Cleopatra's case, the word 'biography' strikes a strange modern note, suggesting the existence of more historical information about her than we in fact have to draw from. But as a historian, classical scholar and archaeologist, Roller brings the full apparatus of what we do know to beara tricky task given how Cleopatra's reputation was officially propa-gandized into oblivion after her defeat and death. The result is an authoritative, amply footnoted yet brisk account not only of her life but also of its rich backdrop, featuring a cast extending backward through almost three centuries of the Ptolemaic dynasty.