Cleopatra and Julius Caesar's Relationship: What Happened And Why Were They Together

By | August 16, 2020

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Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a publicity still issued for the film Cleopatra in 1963. The historical drama starred Burton as Mark Antony and Taylor as Cleopatra. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

If you're fan of romance stories from the classical era or just old epic movies starring Elizabeth Taylor, you're probably familiar with the life of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and her love affair with Julius Caesar, followed by her romance with Caesar's friend and general, Mark Antony. But there's a lot you may not know about this ancient love triangle.

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A posthumous painted portrait of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt from Roman Herculaneum, made during the first century A.D. (Ángel M. Felicísimo/Wikimedia Commons)

Cleopatra's World

Cleopatra was born around 69 B.C. in the Ptolemaic era of Egyptian history. Founded in 323 B.C. by Ptolemy, a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great who seized control of Egypt following Alexander's death, it was an unprecedented time of prosperity for Egypt as they established trade with other civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. It was in this new, blended world that Cleopatra—not entirely Egyptian herself, thanks to her father, Ptolemy XII—became the queen of Egypt.

Not much information is known about Cleopatra's mother, but it's very likely that Cleopatra's parents were brother and sister. It was common back then for royals to wed their cousins and siblings to keep the family line "pure," and in fact, Cleopatra dabbled in incest herself. When her father died, he willed his empire to be co-ruled by then-18-year old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII. She later married her even younger brother, Ptolemy XIV.