We Got Mail from Cleopatra
By Ulei Bellwald
Archeaology Editor, Albawaba.com.
A papyrus scroll bearing the hand-written signature of Queen Cleopatra has been found in the ‘cardboard’ outer case of an Egyptian mummy stored in a German museum.
Museum storerooms sometimes turn out to be unsuspected treasure houses where outstanding archaeological discoveries can be made. Such an event happened a few weeks ago in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and was presented to the public at the end of October by its discoverer, Professor Peter van Minnen from the Catholic University in Loewen in Belgium. Wrapped into the cardboard cover of an Egyptian Mummy, he found a Papyrus scroll with the hand-written signature of the legendary queen Cleopatra from Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemaic, Hellenistic Empire of Egypt.
Cleopatra lived from 69 - 30 BC and was famous for both her beauty and intelligence (she is said to have spoken seven languages). To save the empire she inherited from her father from Roman conquest, she bewitched several Roman leaders including Julius Cesar and finally married Marcus Antonius, the most important enemy of Octavianus (who later became Emperor Augustus).
The document, which has been in a storeroom of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin for more than 100 years along with 30,000 scrolls which are waiting to be deciphered, brilliantly highlights Cleopatra’s policy of hatching plots among the Roman rulers in order to save her throne. The papyrus scroll was written by the royal chancellery as an attempt to bribe Candidus, then the supply commissioner of the Roman army. Cleopatra offered him to export 10,000 bags of wheat and to import 5,000 amphorae of wine duty-free. With such a valuable offer, she tried to tie Candidus to her policy and to win his support in the conflict between Marcus Antonius (who was later to be her husband) and Octavianus. After the document had been written in the Royal chancellery, Cleopatra signed it with her own hand on the outside of the scroll with the official royal formula "that's how it’s done" in Greek.
With this document Cleopatra proves herself to be a very talented and gifted political apprentice of her father Ptolemaios XII, who bribed the Romans, especially Julius Cesar, for years with enormous amounts of silver to be reinstalled as the Egyptian ruler. The incredibly large personal debts which were the consequence of his policy nearly ruined his Empire and had a disastrous impact on the economy of the neighbouring nations such as Nabataens who suffered from a tremendous devaluation of their currency.
As chronicled by the Romans in the history of the civil war between their rulers, Octavianus overcame Marcus Antonius in the sea battle of Actium on September 2nd, 31 BC. Cleopatra, on hearing the news, could see no way out of this personal and political disaster and committed suicide in the year 30 BC. The bite of the asp which killed her is undoubtedly the most famous snakebite of history.
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