Born: 69 B.C.
Died: 30 B.C. (Suicide, possibly by snake)
Best known as: The famously alluring Queen of Egypt
Cleopatra (actually Cleopatra VII) was the last of the Ptolemies, the Macedonian-descended pharaohs who ruled Egypt beginning in 304 B.C. Cleopatra has come down through history less for her administrative skills than for her beguiling ways, which she used in an attempt to keep Egypt free from Roman domination. Among those whom she charmed was Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son, Caesarion. After Caesar's death, Cleopatra joined forces with Caesar's colleague Marc Antony; they became lovers and political allies against Antony's rival Octavian. Octavian's forces finally defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra in the naval battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The two lovers fled to Alexandria and, faced with defeat by Octavian, committed suicide. Legend has it that Cleopatra died by the self-inflicted bite of a poisonous snake called an asp, though no firm evidence exists to support that claim.
Extra credit: Cleopatra was immortalized by Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra and played by Elizabeth Taylor in a big-budget 1963 movie.... Philosopher Blaise Pascal made the famous remark that "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed."
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