Cleopatra: A Biography

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Mar 4, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 272 pages
44 Reviews
Few personalities from classical antiquity are more famous--yet more poorly understood--than Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt. In this major biography, Duane Roller reveals that Cleopatra was in fact a learned and visionary leader whose overarching goal was always the preservation of her dynasty and kingdom. Roller's authoritative account is the first to be based solely on primary materials from the Greco-Roman period: literary sources, Egyptian documents (Cleopatra's own writings), and representations in art and coinage produced while she was alive. His compelling portrait of the queen illuminates her prowess as a royal administrator who managed a large and diverse kingdom extending from Asia Minor to the interior of Egypt, as a naval commander who led her own fleet in battle, and as a scholar and supporter of the arts. Even her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius--the source of her reputation as a supreme seductress who drove men to their doom--were carefully crafted state policies: she chose these partners to insure the procreation of successors who would be worthy of her distinguished dynasty. That Cleopatra ultimately lost to her Roman opponents, Roller contends, in no way diminishes her abilities. "Roller tells his tale smoothly and accessibly....The resulting portrait is that of a complex, many-sided figure, a potent Hellenistic ruler who could move the tillers of power as skillfully as any man, and one far and nobly removed from the 'constructed icon' of popular imagination." --The New York Times Book Review "A rich account of late Ptolemaic culture." --The New Yorker "Offers a superb panorama of the society and culture of late Ptolemaic Egypt, with vivid sketches of the (remarkably vigorous) intellectual life of Cleopatra's Alexandria and the structural instabilities of the late Ptolemaic state." --Times Literary Supplement "Besides providing a compelling story and breathing fresh air into a heretofore two-dimensional caricature from history, Roller's 'Cleopatra' provides an interesting commentary on the attitudes still prevalent towards women who rule." --Christian Science Monitor "Compulsively readable." --Bookslut "A definitive account of a queen of remarkable strength." --Publishers Weekly

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: Cleopatra: A Biography

User Review  - Goodreads

I am quickly becoming addicted to this series of biographies about ancient women. Some of them describe women who often overlooked by scholars of antiquity, but this one is clearly not that kind of ... Read full review

Review: Cleopatra: A Biography

User Review  - Bob Finch - Goodreads

This is an excellent look at a fascinating historical figure. The author has done a great job of sorting through myth and fact, a difficult task, as the former seems so much more abundant. He has also ... Read full review


1 Cleopatras Ancestry and Background
2 The Ptolemaic Heritage and the Involvement with Rome
3 Cleopatras Youth and Education
4 Becoming Queen 5147 BC
5 Consolidating the Empire 4740 BC
6 The Peak Years 4034 BC
7 The Operation of the Kingdom
9 Downfall 3430 BC
Index of Passages Cited

8 Scholarship and Culture at the Court of Cleopatra

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

Historian, archaeologist, and classical scholar, Duane W. Roller is Professor Emeritus of Greek and Latin at The Ohio State University. The author of eight books, including Through the Pillars of Herakles and The Building Program of Herod the Great, he has excavated in Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the Levant.

Bibliographic information