Cleopatra I (c. 210–176 BCE)

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Cleopatra I (c. 210–176 bce)

Queen of Egypt. Born around 210 bce in Syria; died in 176 bce; daughter of Antiochus III, a Seleucid king, and his cousin-wife, Laodice III; married Ptolemy V Epiphanes, king of Egypt, in 196 bce; children: Ptolemy VI Philometor; Cleopatra II (c. 183–116 bce); Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II.

Cleopatra I was the daughter of the Seleucid king Antiochus III and his cousin-wife, Laodice III . Her political importance began in 196 bce with her betrothal to the young king of Egypt, Ptolemy V Epiphanes, when both were about 14. This betrothal was arranged in the interests of Antiochus after he had defeated the Egyptians in battle at Panium, a victory that resecured for Syria the control over Palestine, which had been lost to Egypt 22 years earlier at the Battle of Raphia. The youth of the principals delayed their marriage, but when it occurred in 193, it was again scheduled for the benefit of Antiochus, who thereby expected to strengthen ties with Egypt as he embarked upon what would be an unsuccessful war with Rome. The site of the marriage was as symbolic as its timing, for Antiochus chose to deliver his daughter to Ptolemy V at Raphia, in order to demonstrate his hegemony over Egypt at the site of Egypt's last significant victory over a Seleucid army. Hoping, however, to ease the longstanding animosity between Syria and Egypt over Palestine, and hoping to lay the foundation for a lasting friendship between the two powers as both were beginning to be overshadowed by Rome in the international arena, Antiochus returned Palestine to Ptolemy as Cleopatra's marriage dower. Nonetheless, she, not her husband, controlled the region's revenues until her death.

Ptolemy V's reign was a troubled time for the Greeks and Macedonians who ruled Egypt, both because the indigenous population of Egypt resented the rule of a foreign regime and also because the native population at that time was in a position to flex its political and military muscle. Ironically, it had been the Battle of Raphia, which inaugurated a new age of unrest, because, in order to defeat the Seleucid army in 218, Ptolemy V's father had been forced to conscript native Egyptian soldiers into his army—an epic turning point that inhibited the Greco-Macedonian elite's ability to rule solely in its own interests. It is against this background that Ptolemy V's relationship with Cleopatra is best viewed, for Syria had become an essential ally against indigenous Egyptians.

Under influence of the Seleucid court, Ptolemy V manifested a more responsible sense of kingship than his hedonistic father ever had. Although Antiochus clearly intended for Cleopatra I to effectively link Ptolemy V's interests to his own, it is equally clear that she quickly assumed a more Egyptian perspective on affairs, much to the delight of the Greeks in Egypt. So well did she come to identify with Ptolemy instead of her father, that when the Romans ejected Antiochus from Greece in 190, Cleopatra with her husband sent an embassy to congratulate the Romans on their victory. Ptolemy V came to value Cleopatra's insight and strength of character, even if these were incapable of overcoming all vestiges of his well-documented cruelty. (Especially noteworthy in this regard was the torture he mandated as punishment for an unsuccessful Egyptian rebellion in 184–183 bce.) Iconographically represented as an equal of her husband, Cleopatra I received many honorific titles on his approval. She and her husband produced three offspring: Ptolemy VI Philometor, Cleopatra II , and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II.

When Ptolemy V died in 180, perhaps the victim of poisoning (his cruelty had manifested itself at court as well as among those less able to retaliate), Cleopatra seized the reigns of power and ruled, without male oversight, as the first female regent in Ptolemaic history. Nominally ruling on behalf of her older son, Ptolemy VI (a boy of about five when his father died), Cleopatra did so at least as competently as any of her immediate predecessors. However, to maintain an uncontested control of the court, Cleopatra I built up a faction comprised of eunuchs, ex-slaves, and others whose lowly status undermined the loyalty of many to the royal government. The net effect of this policy would be to accelerate the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty once Cleopatra I was no longer on the scene. Nevertheless, as long as she lived Cleopatra reigned supreme—coining money in her own name and generally ruling well. After the death of her father, she wisely maintained cordial relations with her brother, Seleucus IV (who succeeded in 187), and reestablished domestic order within Egypt itself. Cleopatra I introduced her famous name into the Ptolemaic dynasty, and her responsible rule would foster future intermarriages between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid houses.

Laodice III (fl. 200 bce)

Syrian queen. Flourished around 200 bce; married her cousin, the Seleucid king Antiochus III (r. 223–287); children: Cleopatra I (c. 210–176 bce); Seleucus IV (r. 187–176 bce); Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175–164 bce).

After her death in 176, Cleopatra was famed as a good influence on her children (she was praised as kind and intelligent); priesthoods were established in her memory. For all of her ability, however, she proved to be but a brief respite from the devolution of the Ptolemaic house. Nevertheless, her example subsequently motivated those of her successors (such as her famous namesake, Cleopatra VII ) who possessed both the character and talent essential for responsible rule.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California

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Cleopatra I (c. 210–176 BCE)

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