The Truth About Cleopatra's Many Husbands

When it comes to historically famous women who held power of queenly proportions in their hands, Cleopatra is by far one of the most well-known, though her accomplishments seem to constantly be overshadowed by her reputed beauty. As Ancient World magazine explains, the appearance of this ruler of Egypt has been written about by historians, philosophers, and scholars throughout the ages. The truth is Cleopatra had far more interesting attributes, like her political wiliness, that make for far better stories. Further, you can't separate her marital history from her political rise and fall. They truly go hand-in-hand.

Cleopatra was born into royalty, inherited a throne, and lived a life that has left statues and stories thousands of years old, but that sort of historical fame doesn't come easily. Her reign looks more like a sine wave with all the rise and drops, and it was the marital ladder Cleopatra climbed — from Ptolemy XIII to Ptolemy XIV and the other famous lovers speckled throughout her life — that helped bring her to the peak of her power. It may have also been just as responsible for ending her rule and her life.

At war with her first husband, Ptolemy XIII

Cleopatra became a ruler earlier than most would feel comfortable with. She was only 18 when her father, King Ptolemy XII Auletes, died in 51 B.C., according to History. Of course, Cleopatra wasn't the only person ruling Egypt. After her father's death by natural causes, the throne became the property of young Cleopatra and her then 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator. It's believed that the siblings were married shortly after their reign began, but Britannica says that isn't 100% certain. What is certain is that their marriage, if it existed, wasn't exactly a healthy one.

It wasn't long after that Ptolemy XIII's advisors decided they didn't want his sister-wife to share power in Egypt, and they chased her out of the country and into Syria. Cleopatra wasn't a pushover, and she wasn't going to take this loss lightly, so she raised an army of her own to match her (probably) husband's slight with military force. The civil war lasted until Julius Caesar came on the scene.

At first, Caesar linked up with Ptolemy XIII after the murder of General Pompey but later linked up with Cleopatra. In the meantime, he took control of the Ptolemaic family and forced them to stop their war (via Britannica). Ptolemy XIII likely drowned sometime later while running from his younger sister's army.

A love affair with Julius Caesar

Cleopatra was never married to Julius Caesar, but she had both a romantic and political involvement with him that bridges the gap in her story between Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy IV. Caesar ended up in the Ptolemaic empire while chasing down Pompey, and according to History Daily, Ptolemy XIII offered him the head of his enemy to bribe him into standing by his side while the young ruler got his sister out of the picture for good. It didn't work. In a plot that would've garnished big money had the box office been around, Cleopatra talked a servant into rolling her up in a rug and delivering her to Caesar's bed chambers. Cue the beginning of a beneficial love affair with one of Rome's greatest.

Caesar needed access to Ptolemaic money to pay debts, as Britannica notes, and Cleopatra needed Caesar's forces to back her up. The two went on a honeymoon of sorts, and she was impregnated. That didn't go over well with the people of the Ptolemaic empire, especially since she'd married Ptolemy IV sometime during their affair, so Cleopatra ran back to Rome with her husband (via History).

Julius Caesar was himself assassinated while Cleopatra was in Rome. Using his troops to regain Egypt was now out of the question, as was staying in Rome. Instead, she headed for home, where things seemed just as unsafe.

Her second brother-husband, Ptolemy XIV

Out of all of Cleopatra's known lovers, Ptolemy XIV seems to be the least noteworthy. They were married after Ptolemy XIII died, and Cleopatra gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar, believed by many to be Julius Caesar's child, notes Britannica. Ptolemy XIII was her brother and even younger than her former husband, making this her second marriage to a brother. Such familial marriages among royalty was pretty common at the time. Besides marrying two of her brothers throughout the course of her life, Cleopatra herself was the product of a familial marriage, according to History. However, the historical record seems to show that out of Cleopatra's four children, not a single one was sired by her brothers.

Cleopatra went on a bit of a murdering spree. It's believed she had Ptolemy XIV killed along with their younger sister, Arsinoe, who killed Ptolemy XIII, according to LiveScience. Ptolemy XIV's murder happened shortly after Cleopatra returned to Egypt following Caesar's assassination. Conveniently enough, she raised her and Caesar's son to the station of co-ruler beside her.

Her throne was beginning to look a bit rocky at this point, but lucky enough for the Ptolemaic queen, there was trouble brewing in Rome after Julius Caesar was killed, and the empire was about to be torn apart. This would provide a kind of tumultuous meet-cute for her and her final lover.

Committed suicide, as did her final lover, Mark Antony

Julius Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, butted heads with all sorts of people, such as Mark Antony, and that conflict caused the Roman empire to be split into three areas, as National Geographic explains. Octavian and Antony each governed a territory, with the third belonging to Lepidus, and none of them seemed to like each other much, which is pretty much what led to Antony and Cleopatra meeting in the first place.

Antony needed Cleopatra's location and riches, and the Ptolemaic queen needed Roman support to solidify her uneasy claim to the throne. So, Cleopatra put on an extravagant show to appeal to Antony's Greek artisanal fascination, and the masterful performance of a reception drew the leader in. From there, the couple would marry, according to History, giving Octavian reason to claim Antony was being led on a metaphorical leash by the queen. (At one point, Antony had also married Octavian's sister.) Conflict ensued.

During their time together, the couple had three children. They also spent a lot of time on what could be categorized as a sort of extended, extravagant honeymoon, throwing lavish banquets and doing risky things like running the streets at night pretending to be slaves. But all of this came to an end when Octavian mounted a brutal attack from the sea, defeating the couple, and leading to Cleopatra and Antony both committing suicide.