Beauty with Brain.
Roman propaganda painted Cleopatra as a debauched temptress who used her sex appeal as a political weapon, but she may have been more renowned for her intellect than her appearance. She spoke as many as a dozen languages and was educated in mathematics, philosophy, oratory, and astronomy, and Egyptian sources later described her as a ruler “who elevated the ranks of scholars and enjoyed their company.” There’s also evidence that Cleopatra wasn’t as physically striking as once believed. Coins with her portrait show her with manly features and a large, hooked nose, though some historians contend that she intentionally portrayed herself as masculine as a display of strength. For his part, the ancient writer Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra’s beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was instead her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” that made her so desirable.
She had a hand in the deaths of three of her siblings.
Power grabs and murder plots were as much a Ptolemaic tradition as family marriage, and Cleopatra and her brothers and sisters were no different. Her first sibling-husband, Ptolemy XIII, ran her out of Egypt after she tried to take sole possession of the throne, and the pair later faced off in a civil war. Cleopatra regained the upper hand by teaming with Julius Caesar, and Ptolemy drowned in the Nile River after being defeated in battle. Following the war, Cleopatra remarried to her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but she is believed to have had him murdered in a bid to make her son her co-ruler. In 41 B.C., she also engineered the execution of her sister, Arsinoe, who she considered a rival to the throne.
Cleopatra made an ally of Julius Caesar, who helped to establish her on the throne.
She then invited him to join her on a voyage up the Nile, and when she subsequently gave birth to a son, she named the baby Caesarion – ‘little Caesar’.
In Rome, this caused a scandal. This was, firstly, because Egypt and its pleasure-loving culture were despised as decadent. But it was also because Caesar had no other sons – though he was married to Calpurnia, and had had two wives before her – and he had just made himself the most powerful man in Rome. Elite Romans were meant to share power, but Caesar seemed to want to be supreme, like a monarch. It was a doubly unbearable prospect: Caesarion, an Egyptian, just might grow up to claim to rule over Rome as Caesar’s heir.