How Did Cleopatra Become Pharaoh?

Cleopatra became Pharaoh upon her father’s death. In his will, Ptolemy XII left the monarchy to 17-year-old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII, and they ruled Egypt together.

Cleopatra had married Ptolemy XIII when she was 12 years old because she could not rule without a male co-heir. Ptolemaic tradition held that the male ruler was supreme and demanded that his name be first. However, three years after assuming the throne together, Cleopatra insisted that her name, alone, be put on all official documents and that only her image be put on coins.

Ptolemy XIII retaliated by sending Cleopatra into exile. Reigning alone at 13 years old, Ptolemy sought the support of Rome by executing one of Caesar’s political enemies, Pompey. As Pompey had been married to Caesar’s daughter, Caesar was outraged by the murder and invaded the capital of Egypt, making himself a mediator between the competing interests of Ptolemy and Cleopatra.

Capitalizing on Caesar’s rage toward Ptolemy, Cleopatra had herself rolled up in a carpet and smuggled in to meet Caesar. She became his mistress and gave birth to his son, and Caesar helped her regain the throne by defeating Ptolemy’s army; Ptolemy drowned in the Nile, and she married the next brother in line, Ptolemy XIV, as was the custom.

After Caesar’s assassination, Cleopatra became mistress of Mark Antony. When Egypt fell to Roman rule, they both committed suicide.