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Egyptian Dynasty Part II: Will "Tony" Save the Day? Can "Cleo" Stay Alive? Will Their Love Be Foiled by "The Brother-In-Law"?

Last week on Dynasty, we witnessed Tuthmosis III completely obliterate any signs of his stepmother/aunt/mother-in-law Queen Hatshepsut's domination. Well, if you thought that was family rivalry, stay tuned for this week's episode as the great Greek empire expands to encompass Egypt and all it's mysteries and soap operas. Move over New Kingdom, the Ptolemies have more drama than one empire could possibly handle! One thousand five hundred years after Hatshepsut, Egypt came under the reign of a new female ruler... the legendary Cleopatra.

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Cleopatra: the most powerful woman in the known world!
Cleopatra: The most powerful woman in the known world!
After Alexander the Great's death, his favorite Macedonian general Ptolemy I became ruler of Egypt. The Ptolemy Dynasty lasted over 300 years during which time Alexandria became a cosmopolitan, prosperous, and progressive city, a hub of philosophical and scientific thought with a trading port, a thriving art scene, a naval base, and a library larger than any other in the world at the time. Despite its prosperity, the Ptolemies dynasty was not without its fare share of internal bickering and backstabbing (literally!). This instability was of great interest to the Roman Empire which was eager to gain control over Alexandria, and its riches.

Vocabulary box

obliterate--to overwhelmingly destroy
mausoleum--a sealed burial room

Cleopatra VII was born in 69 BC. Her father, Ptolemy XII, and her sisters spent a number of years bickering, assassinating, and attempting to overthrow each other over the issue of whether or not to ally themselves with Rome. In 51 BC when Ptolemy XII died, Cleopatra, then only 18, and her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 10, were crowned and married. At the time, Alexandria was at the height of its prosperity - a true cultural and intellectual center. It rivaled Rome in everything except military power. Due to the instability of her home, Cleopatra sought to become an ally of Rome, which was under Julius Caesar's control at the time. Unfortunately, Cleopatra's brother, Ptolemy XIII, and their advisor, Pothinus, thought differently. In 49 BC, they killed Pompey, a Roman over-seer, and banished Cleopatra from the kingdom.

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We're taking E.M. Forster's advice
We're taking E.M. Forster's advice
While in Alexandria, Monica and I got to explore the ruins of this ancient city of riches and beauty. Under the Ptolemies, many great advances were made in architecture and art, but little has survived subsequent conquests. One monument that still stands is Pompey's Pillar. We walked through the windy residential streets of Alexandria looking up at the colorful laundry hanging to dry in the balconies of old deteriorating apartment buildings until we saw it.

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Pompey's pillar
Pompey's pillar
The tall, white, 75ft pillar stood out against the bright blue sky. Even though it is called Pompey's pillar, it was actually erected for Diocletian 300 years after Pompey died. The Crusaders, in their haste to destroy rather than understand, called it Pompey's pillar, and the stupid name has stuck! The pillar itself was nothing too special, but it was built on the sight of the splendid Serapeum. The Serapeum was an acropolis that was topped by a temple of Serapis, the new god that resulted from the Greek fusion with ancient Egypt and it's religion. Serapis is a hybrid of Osiris, lord of the afterworld, and Apis the divine bull.

The acropolis once consisted of many fine temples including the library Cleopatra started, but unfortunately, nothing except the pillar and a couple of sphinxes survived the Christian's final assault on the 'pagan' intellects of Alexandria in 391 AD.

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All that's left of the once mighty empire
All that's left of the once mighty empire
In comes Caesar...

Our Roman hero not only had Pothinus executed and Ptolemy XIII thrown in the Nile, he helped Cleopatra regain the throne and quite possibly won her heart at the same time. The Roman ruler spent some mysterious months in Alexandria before returning home. When Cleopatra gave birth a few months later to a boy she named Ptolemy Caesar, the mystery behind Caesar's time in Alexandria seemed solved. Was Julius Caesar really the father of the child, or was Cleopatra just a calculating and clever ruler? In Rome, Caesar was assassinated by rivals. Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Cleopatra made her infant son joint ruler.She realized he was too young to interfere with her rule and as Caesar's son, he might hopefully have some pull with the Roman Empire in the future.

Chaos engulfed the Roman elite after Caesar's death. After a brutal power struggle, the Triumvirate which consisted of Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus emerged as the winners. Clever Cleopatra had been hesitant to get involved, but when it became obvious who the winners would be, she showed her support for the Triumvirate. Mark Antony summoned her to answer charges of secretly helping Caesar's assassins, but rather than convicting her he soon fell for her charm and intrigue. Mark Antony and Cleopatra, rulers of the most powerful empires of the time, were to become lovers... the stuff of great tragedies... the stuff of great soap operas.

After years of moving back and forth between Alexandria and Rome, Antony built up quite a number of enemies who were angry at his alliance with Egypt. He eventually left his wife, Octavia, and Rome all together to stay with Cleopatra..

This upset Octavian, whose sister was Octavia. He convinced the Romans that Antony was an enemy of the state and lead the empire to war against Antony and Cleopatra. While Antony went to sea to fight in the battle, Cleopatra tried other tactics to end the battle that they were likely to lose. She realized that Octavian needed more funds to support his war, and riches were one thing this royal diva was not without.

Cleopatra made numerous attempts at opening a dialogue with Octavian, but to no avail. As a last resort, she had herself locked up in a mausoleum with all her treasures. Surrounded by her gold, silver, pearls, emeralds, ivory, ebony, and cinnamon she shut herself up with 3 attendants and threatened to set fire to the whole building. She repeatedly asked Octavian to allow one of her sons to precede her.

In the meantime, poor Antony was losing badly at war. When he got news about Cleopatra in the mausoleum he immediately thought she was dead. Filled with anguish, he took a sword to his heart and killed himself.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - A Day in the Life of a Coptic Monk.
Jasmine - Coptic Cairo
Monica - Meeting of the Minds: The Afro-Aisan Peoples' Solidarity Organization (AAPSO)
Monica - Alexandria, Egypt: City of Legend
Monica - The Liberation of Women

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