All About History

THE CLEOPATRAS: THE FORGOTTEN QUEENS OF EGYPT

Cleopatra’s predecesso­rs are powerfully returned to centre stage

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In 34 BCE, during the course of a fourday celebratio­n, Mark Antony and Cleopatra appeared before the revellers. Mark Antony was dressed as the New Dionysus – wearing a crown of gold vine leaves – while Cleopatra appeared as the goddess Isis. Together, they formed a tableau with their children, Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene and the baby Ptolemy Philadelph­us. Caesarion, the son of Julius Caesar, was also with them. Then, in front of the assembled crowd, Antony divided up the eastern Roman world and gifted it between Cleopatra and her children.

This is just a snippet of the famous Cleopatra’s story. And it is this Cleopatra – her life, her ambitions, her romances, her death – who is remembered across art and film. As much a myth as a woman, her lasting force of presence has held sway down the ages.

However, she was the last (in fact, the seventh) in a long line of formidable Cleopatras. It begins with Cleopatra Syra, who in 193 BCE married Ptolemy V in a diplomatic alliance between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties. She was then followed by generation­s of royal women who wielded power within an already ancient country, and within a family entwined with the gods. The Cleopatras captures their stories across times of intrigue and politics, betrayal and battle, triumph and disaster. Some events are truly shocking.

Cleopatra VII’S legend is most clearly understood against this backdrop of all the women who went before her. And, in this new account, Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-jones offers a comprehens­ive

“The Cleopatras captures their stories across times of intrigue and politics, betrayal and battle, triumph and disaster”

Price: £25 Released: May 2024

and readable history of their truly fascinatin­g lives.

Yet The Cleopatras also presents a history of Ancient Egypt in its final centuries, before being subsumed by the Roman Empire. It explores social structures and tensions, religious practices and customs, and regional power structures. While the focus is of course on the women of a powerful ruling house, there are compelling insights into the wider world of this era. Particular­ly noteworthy is the marriage of a Greek cavalry soldier, called Dryton, to a young woman in 130 BCE. This young woman went by two names, one Greek (Apollonia) and the other Egyptian (Senmonthis). Exploring the interactio­n between Greek and Egyptian communitie­s during the Ptolemaic dynasty, the story of their life and children is deftly included.

Further to this, the text is enriched by a range of quotations and extracts. There is also a helpful section of further reading and recommende­d texts, which would particular­ly appeal to any readers new to their exploratio­n of this period. A number of family trees are also helpful. The Ptolemaic dynasty clearly maintained a practice of reusing royal names. Further to this, as a means of consolidat­ing power and prestige, which is carefully explored within the text, they also had a practice of marrying within their immediate family.

The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt is certainly an interestin­g read that will appeal to anyone looking to find out more about Ancient Egypt, queenship or dynastic history.

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