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Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it in for me

Posted on: 13th March 2015 By: David Thorold

Most people know at least one or two of the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt.  Tutankhamen, the boy king of the 18th dynasty who died young and was buried in an unremarkable minor tomb in the Valley of the Kings thereby guaranteeing his later fame when his intact tomb was discovered by Howard carter in 1922. Ramesses may also be recalled.  In fact there were 11 Pharaohs of this name, the most famous being Ramesses II, warrior king of the 19th dynasty who ruled for 66 years and erected hundreds of monuments to himself across the country.

Arguably the most famous Pharaoh was Cleopatra, another ruler with a shared name. In this case, the famous Cleopatra was the seventh. She was part of a Greek dynasty that had come to control Egypt after it had been conquered by Alexander the Great. After his death Alexander’s generals carved his Empire up between them, with Egypt going to Ptolemy who founded the dynasty that bears his name, so Ptolemaic Egypt is the period of 305 years after Ptolemy came to power in 305 BC until the end of Cleopatra VII’s reign in 30 BC.

Cleopatra’s rule came to an end when she intrigued against, and eventually fought the ruler of a newly emerging power, Octavian, better known as Augustus, the first roman emperor. At first, Cleopatra had strengthened her position in Egypt by seducing the de facto Roman ruler, Julius Caesar. After his death however, Cleopatra backed the wrong man. She partnered with Mark Antony, Caesar’s former supporter and military commander, betting that he would win out in the power struggle with the youthful and inexperienced Octavian, who was Caesar’s nephew. However, it was Octavian’s forces that were victorious in the naval battle of Actium. Defeated, Cleopatra and Marc Antony committed suicide, leaving Egypt as the Roman Emperor’s personal province.  For the next 649 years it was Emperors, not Pharaohs who ruled Egypt, although the Egyptian way of life continued with a Roman twist.

To find out more about this period of Egyptian history come along to hear  John Johnston talk this Saturday 14th March at the Museum of St Albans.