Cleopatra was Macedonian Greek, a direct descendant of Ptolemy I, who plucked the plum of Alexandria and Egypt when the generals divvied up the empire after Alexander the Great’s death. Alexandria was founded by Alexander, a city on the edge of the Middle Sea (aka the Mediterranean) that had only increased in size, beauty and riches over its three hundred years of history. Alexandria’s population was made up of Macedonian Greeks, Jews, and Egyptians.
Egyptians, on the other hand, were descendants of the Pharaohs, a line that went back four thousand years and countless dynasties. Evidence of their greatness was carved into the very stones going hundreds of miles up the Nile, reminders of past glory Egyptians would have seen every day on their way to farm the grain that fed the known world.
And then along came these downriver Ptolemy parvenus, throwing their weight around, telling the Egyptians what to do, what gods to worship, to pick up a spear and march as ordered, and forcing them to pay ever-increasing tithes of grain and goods.
It’s no wonder the Egyptians made a regular thing out of rebelling against them. The only Ptolemy against whom the Egyptians did not rebel was Cleopatra VII Philopator.
Following the death of her father, as one of her first public acts Cleopatra took the royal fleet six hundred miles up the Nile to escort the new Baucis bull to his sanctuary. This bull was an object of immense veneration to the Egyptians, who associated it with Ra and Sobek, the gods of sun and war. Over the years she made a point of participating in public ceremonies as the goddess Isis many times.
This was something new: a ruler who demonstrated her regard of her Egyptians subjects by direct action over and over again. Why, the Egyptians might be encouraged to believe that they would be welcome in Alexandria itself, and the ones who already lived there might begin to believe they could partake more fully in life there. Maybe sell one’s own goods instead of working through a Greek middleman. Maybe get the same pay as that Greek stevedore. Maybe buy a house for their family in a neighborhood made safe by the shurta, who have until now seemed to hear only a Greek cry for help. Maybe enter the same door and sit in the same section of the Hippodrome as everyone else. Maybe fall in love with a Greek and marry without fear of being arrested for breaking the law.
Which last, yes, was a law in that time and place. We’ll see what my version of Cleopatra does with it in due course.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.