Caesar and Cleopatra had the greatest love affair in the ancient world, second only to Antony and Cleopatra (she knew how to get around). But their affair could hardly be surprising considering he was a scrawny, graying, rat-faced man of 52 and she a sensuous and nubile young girl of 21. Oh, and they each ruled the greatest empires of their day. Like I said: Soul Mates.
Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy XII, better known as the drunk, flute playing one. After her father died, Cleopatra and her younger brother/husband (where is Darwin when you need him?) Ptolemy XIII became co-rulers of Egypt. This was all well and good, but as Cleopatra was eight years older than Ptolemy she started getting the idea she knew better than a kid not even in his teens. Before long, she was doing all the ruling on her own and upsetting people who didn’t think a woman should be that smart. In 48 BC a group of courtiers led by the eunuch Pothinus (somehow, he seemed immune to her charms) made Ptolemy the sole ruler and pushed Cleopatra into exile.
This didn’t sit too well with Cleopatra, so she began plotting. Meanwhile, our old friend Pompey fled to Egypt to escape Caesar and had his head removed for his trouble. Ptolemy may have only been thirteen, but he knew how to hold a dramatic execution. Oddly enough, Caesar was pissed when he found out that someone else had done his dirty work. After all, he may have hated Pompey, but he had still been a Roman and a Consul. You didn’t want people getting funny ideas about that sort of a thing. So Caesar seized control of Egypt and declared himself the arbiter between Ptolemy and Cleopatra’s still feuding forces.
Cleopatra had figured out which way the wind was blowing, so she had herself hidden inside a bedroll and smuggled past her brother’s guards to see Caesar. (Some people persist in saying she came in a rolled up rug which is not nearly as practical. Either way, Caesar was impressed.) While historians don’t know anything at all about what Cleopatra may have looked like, their best guesses range from “she was a surpassing beauty” to “she had a large nose.” In her defense, large noses were considered distinguished back then. Plutarch said it best: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behavior towards others, had something stimulating about it.” In other words, looks aren’t everything.
Ptolemy was a little surprised when he came down to meet Caesar the next morning and found he’d already been seduced by Cleopatra. But hey, all’s fair in love and war. In 47 BC Cleopatra gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar or Caesarian and Caesar gave up on being fair. He declared war on Ptolemy and had Cleopatra restored to the throne—later Ptolemy somehow wound up dead in the Nile. Then, because we all know women can’t rule, Caesar had Cleopatra married to her other younger brother Ptolemy XIV because that worked out so well last time.
Although Caesar had to return to Rome, their affair was not over. In 46 BC Cleopatra and their son came to visit for a summer. The Romans were not impressed. She was simply too scandalous for them. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra had been staying in Rome again. She left quickly. It’s not that she didn’t love him. She just didn’t want to be next.