This week's In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) discusses Cleopatra with Catharine Edwards, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London and Susan Walker, Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.
Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies, the successors of Alexander in Egypt. She was born into an impoverished country. Ancient sources note that she had a good education, noted by ancient Roman sources. She could speak Egyptian. Her father died when she was 17. Unfortunately, there are very few Egyptian sources informing us about her. What we know comes from antagonistic Roman sources. Octavian, her vanquisher at the battle of Actium, constructs a narrative about her that frames the events as a primal battle: Rome against the East; man against woman. This approach characterizes subsequent histories. It is remarkable that any account of her abilities has survived Roman propaganda.