My latest novel - Wrath of the Ancients - is a ghostly story featuring a sinister, obsessed archaeologist called Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, who is determined to find - and reincarnate - the last Pharaoh of Egypt - Cleopatra. My story is of course, fiction, but what of the real Cleopatra and her scheming, ruthless family, the Ptolemies? They lived a horror story of their own making.
We’ve all learned about Cleopatra – even if only by seeing the 1963 epic film of the same name. Elizabeth Taylor triumphantly entering Rome and sweeping Richard Burton (Mark Antony) off his sandaled feet. But what of the rest of her family – in particular her younger sister (or possibly half-sister), Arsinoe?
Cleopatra and Arsinoe’s family – the notorious Ptolemies- were by any standard an evil lot. Intrigue, murder, incest, torture- and that was among themselves. In short, the Ptolemaic dynasty made Vlad the Impaler look like a pussycat (albeit one with extremely long claws and fangs). They would stop at nothing to gain power and dispose of anyone who attempted to wrest it from them.
In order to keep the bloodline pure, the Ptolemies opted for incestuous marriages; brothers wedding sisters, sons marrying their mothers, and all were expected to produce heirs to secure the dynastic continuance.
Arsinoe and Cleopatra’s father – Ptolemy XII Auletes – fathered a number of children including a son, also called Ptolemy. In keeping with family tradition none of the siblings cared for the others, and treated them with a great deal of suspicion. Wisely, as it turned out. By now, the great Egyptian empire had become a shadow of its former glory and waned at the time the Roman Empire was expanding and growing. As a result, Ptolemy XII relied increasingly heavily on Rome’s support in order to remain in power. He bribed, tortured and murdered members of his own family but was driven out of Egypt in 58 BC when, following the death of his wife (who was also his sister), his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, became sole ruler of Egypt. Ptolemy was determined to return to power and grew increasingly in debt to Rome. He gained the support of Aulus Gabinius, pro consul of Syria and returned to Egypt with a Roman army supporting him. He then proceeded to murder his daughter, Berenice and recapture his throne.
He proclaimed his daughter, Cleopatra, his queen but broke with Ptolemaic tradition by not marrying her.
On his death in 51 BC, his eldest surviving son and daughter – Ptolemy and Cleopatra - were proclaimed co-regents. This was never going to work. The two hated each other. Before long, Ptolemy dethroned Cleopatra and she fled from Alexandria to Palestine.
In 48BC, Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria and Cleopatra secretly returned. All the lessons she had learned at her father’s side came into play and she seduced the Roman leader. The mighty Caesar had never met anyone like her before. Clever, independent, strong-willed and determined, she was her father’s daughter.
Ptolemy XIII meanwhile, had also learned from his father – just not as well. He had Caesar’s rival, Pompey executed, and presented the Roman leader with his head. Caesar was disgusted. Such behaviour was barbaric. He had to choose between the brother and sister as to who would rule Egypt. Ptolemy XIII took one look at Cleopatra sitting next to Caesar and knew he had no chance. Petulantly, he threw his crown to the ground and stormed off into the street, calling his sister a traitor.
Now it was Arsinoe’s turn to emerge from the shadows. Aged possibly around 15 or 16, although her birth date is uncertain, she sided with her brother to topple Cleopatra. Along with her mentor, the eunuch Ganymedes, she led the Egyptian army in revolt against the Romans and proclaimed herself Pharaoh. Months of struggle ensued and, at one time, Caesar and Cleopatra were besieged in the palace when one of Arsinoe’s advisers poured seawater in the cisterns, rendering the water undrinkable.
Arsinoe was now co ruler of Egypt with her brother. But her triumph was short-lived. Roman forces arrived and Ptolemy XIII drowned in a mighty sea battle.
Arsinoe was captured and sent to Rome where she faced the real possibility of a public strangling for her treachery. Cleopatra, in 47BC was once again proclaimed queen.
Caesar spared Arsinoe from strangling and granted her sanctuary at the great temple of Artemis in Ephesus. From there, the younger sister monitored the older sister’s movements, aware that Cleopatra was just as wary of her.
For as long as Arsinoe remained alive, she would remain a real threat to Cleopatra’s power. By now, 41 BC, with Caesar dead, Cleopatra and Mark Antony were living an ultimately tragic love story. The queen bore the rather dim-witted Mark Antony a son. Arsinoe was now too much of a threat to leave alone.
On the orders of Mark Antony, Arsinoe was murdered on the steps of the great temple – in itself an act of terrible violation, widely condemned in Rome.
There she remained until, in 1904, archaeologists discovered a tomb containing bones, housed in an octagonal structure on the site of the ruined temple. What then follows is still hotly disputed. Many of the bones apparently disappeared in Germany during the Second World War but an Austrian scientist, Dr. Hilke Thur, claimed to have found the rest of the bones still in the tomb and performed DNA analysis on them. This proved inconclusive as the fragments were contaminated by so much handling over the years. Nevertheless, Thur maintains the circumstantial and historical evidence strongly supports the theory that the body in the Octagon was that of Arsinoe. The monument itself is said to bear a striking resemblance to the lighthouse (Pharos) at Alexandria – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. From records and photographs taken of the missing bones early in the twentieth century, Thur recreated the head and face of Arsinoe, concluding that her features hint at African descent. Since the Ptolemies were of Greek lineage, this would indicate that her mother was African.
Given Arsinoe’s upbringing, terrible family example and the culture and beliefs of the time in which she lived, was she more sinned against than sinning? I leave that to you to decide. Cleopatra, meanwhile, still rests in an unknown grave but, if current theories are correct, archaeologists are closing in on her.
In my book – Wrath of the Ancients- Arsinoe appears as a vengeful spirit, determined to make her sister pay for murdering her for all eternity. But then, if you had been murdered at your own sister’s behest, I doubt you’d be too pleased about it either!
Here’s a little more about the story:
DESTINY IN DEATH
Eminent archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert sands . . .
Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr. Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena: strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of hieroglyphics.
Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry.
Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy . . .
Wrath of the Ancients is available now from: