When we think about nations and empires, we’re usually thinking in terms of centuries, but ancient Egypt stretched on for three millennia. The empire’s first pharaoh, Menes, united the country and formed the first dynasty on the Nile around 3100 BCE. Nearly 500 years later (more than double the entire history of the United States), the first of the Great Pyramid’s 2.3 million stone blocks was put into place. These blocks were the beginnings of an illustrious tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu. Within the next century, two other pyramids (along with an equally impressive sphinx) were completed nearby. Today, the three Pyramids of Giza are regarded as the oldest — and the only surviving — of the Seven Wonders of the World.
It wasn’t until about 2,500 years after that first block was wedged into place that Cleopatra VII was born around 69 BCE. Although the world of Cleopatra feels more comparable to the ancient reign of Khufu than the technological reign of the iPhone, first introduced in 2007, she’s about 400 years closer to our hyper-technological age than to the creation of Egypt’s most famous wonders — which have now been standing for an incredible 4,500 years.
Today Cleopatra is often thought of as a seductress, a woman who used her sex appeal to manipulate those around her in search of power. In reality, Cleopatra was a lot more complicated than that stereotype, but she’s had a bad rep for millennia thanks to Roman propaganda. To solidify his grasp on power, Octavian — the soon-to-be-first emperor of Rome, later known as Augustus — used every weapon available against his rival, Mark Antony, and Antony’s wife, Cleopatra, launching a “fake news” campaign to discredit them both. Today, historians recognize the last active Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt as a ruler loved by her people, an effective politician, and a polymath capable of speaking several languages, including Egyptian (the only Greek ruler of Egypt to do so). Sadly, the propaganda-tinged Roman reputation is the one that persists more than two millennia after her death.