One of the most famous female rulers in history, Cleopatra served as the inspiration for the Shakespearean play Anthony and Cleopatra. Her family's rule over Egypt began in 323 B.C. and ended in 30 B.C.
Cleopatra's father was King Ptolemy XII, descended from King Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt who once served as a general in Alexander the Great's army before taking over Egypt. Their family created the Ptolemaic Empire, amassing power and prestige. The identity of Cleopatra's mother is unknown, but historians speculate that she was Cleopatra V Tryphaena, Ptolemy XII's sister.
Ptolemy XII died when Cleopatra was 18, leaving the throne for her and her brother Ptolemy XIII, who was 10 years old. The two siblings most likely married each other at this time. However, complications arose and Cleopatra fled to Syria before returning in 48 B.C. to challenge her brother for the throne. She was supported by Julius Caesar of Rome, who provided her with the military might and experience she needed to battle her brother's armies.
Cleopatra's ethnicity is unknown, but she was most likely of Greek or black African descent. She had a son whose father was most likely Caesar, but he never acknowledged the child. After Caesar's murder, she had an affair with Marc Antony, who later declared Cleopatra's eldest son as Caesar's true heir. They lost against Antony's rival Octavian. Cleopatra is said to have killed herself through grief with a snake bite.