Isis and Cleopatra in Rome : how one of history’s most famous queens influenced an Egyptian cult in the heart of the Roman Empire
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For centuries, Cleopatra VII has been remembered as a temptress who seduced powerful Roman men like Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. However, the infamy of Cleopatra’s legend is rooted in the ancient propaganda of her enemies, who constructed this narrative to suit their own ends. In an effort to sexualize and vilify her, this narrative purposefully leaves out Cleopatra’s own agency as the sovereign of one of the most powerful empires in the ancient Mediterranean world. During her reign in Egypt, Cleopatra strongly connected herself to the Egyptian goddess Isis. This served to legitimize her rule and to connect her with the native religion of her people. Similar strategies helped Cleopatra to extend her political and religious influence, reach beyond the boarders of Egypt and extending into the heart of the Roman empire. This paper argues Cleopatra VII had a significant impact on the Roman Isis cult in three ways: she associated herself with the divinity of Isis while in Rome through a carefully curated image, her political sway influenced the construction of the first major Isis cult site in Rome at the Temple of Isis Campense, and her military defeat in 31 BCE led to the stigmatization and persecution of the Isis cult in Rome.