Powerful African women: Cleopatra

Pre-colonial Africa has a rich history of amazing women rulers. Across the African continent we can find fantastic examples of powerful women from Madagascar in the East to Ghana in the West and Egypt in the North. These women prove that strength and leadership skill know no gender.


Queen Cleopatra is one example of a powerful African ruler. She was born around 69BC. She was the second oldest of five siblings. Cleopatra’s father, King Ptolemy XII was a weak and cruel ruler. He had huge debts and left his country in a terrible economic state. In 58 BC the people of Alexandria reacted by rebelling and they overthrew him. He fled to Rome while his eldest daughter, Berenice, took the throne. Three years later, Ptolemy XII returned and executed his elder daughter and her husband. When her father died in 51BC Cleopatra was next in line and inherited the throne with her younger brother in line Egyptian tradition. She was 18 years-old whilst her brother was 10. However, Egypt continued to suffer from economic problems and food shortages during this time. Rome was also a threat being a powerful empire and close to invading. Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII fell out and went to war during which her brother was killed. Cleopatra became independent head of state. From this point she devoted herself the kingdom. She set out to resolve her father’s debts and stabilise the Egyptian economy.


During her reign Cleopatra proved herself to be an exceptional diplomat. She spoke nine languages and was the first Ptolemy pharaoh able to speak Egyptian! She also led expeditions to Parthia (in modern-day Iran) showing her skill as a naval commander. She successfully managed her kingdom even against the overwhelming power of Rome. Although she eventually lost the battle against Rome, historians largely agree that her political abilities and achievements were tremendous.

Cleopatra’s legacy is important for men and women to learn from. Her life has been spoken about by many historians who are amazed by her strength. Cleopatra ruled against all odds in a male-dominated society. When she came to power Egypt was also unstable and suffering by many internal and external battles. Cleopatra faced an uphill battle from the start. However, she had a clear strategy to align Egypt with Rome which kings before her lacked. She held the country together and proved to be a more determined and capable leader than those before her.

Queen Cleopatra shows that people need certain qualities to lead. A person needs to be courageous, brave, talented and intelligent. Not everyone possesses such abilities. Those who do should be celebrated and encouraged to step forward regardless of their gender. They are the people that hold communities together when they are close to falling apart.



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