From Caesar’s Death to Jesus’ Birth
By Scott Rohter, July 2012
Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Caesar Augustus all had something in common. What is it that unites all of these famous historic figures?… They all lived during a very brief period of time before the birth of Jesus Christ. So many things happened during those forty tumultuous years between the death of Julius Caesar in 44B.C. and the birth of Jesus Christ roughly around 4 B.C. No other time in history is quite as significant. So many world changing events which altered the course of history unfolded during those critical years between the murder of Rome’s first emperor, and the birth or the world’s one and only Savior. So much of human history was determined between that royal assassination and the very humble beginnings in a little manger, of a child born to a young Jewish woman in a remote town, of an unimportant province of the far-flung Roman Empire.
It was such a pivotal time in human history and in the development of not just western civilization, but of all civilization on earth. In just a little less than forty years, within a single generation, the span of one man’s life, Julius Caesar was murdered and Rome was plunged into a long civil war, a war which lasted for over ten years and one which took Rome very far from its early Republican moorings. This long struggle for control of the Roman Empire became a very personal fight to the finish between two military strongmen, who were both former allies of Julius Cesar. One was Caesar’s friend and strongest military commander Mark Antony, and the other was Caesar’s nephew Octavian.
Mark Antony quickly formed a strategic alliance with the mother of one of Julius Caesar’s sons and heirs. This was the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. She was actually Cleopatra VII. The name Cleopatra just like the name Caesar was actually the name of an entire dynasty of Egyptian Queens. But this particular Cleopatra, the one who Mark Antony fell in love with, was actually the last Cleopatra to rule Egypt. She was also the last in a long line of descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. This general’s name was Ptolemy. Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemys to rule the land of the Nile. With her death by suicide in 30 B.C., the rule of Egypt by the descendants of Ptolemy came to a fatal end. Cleopatra VII was the last in a long line of Greek-Macedonian rulers who sat upon the throne of Egypt after Alexander‘s armies had defeated their Persian overlords and after Alexander had died.
Young Alexander the Great’s death was swift and unexpected. He left no specific instructions as to how his vast territories were to be administered after his untimely demise. Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s strongest generals. He seized Egypt for himself. At the same time he honored Alexander’s plans to build a great new capitol city for Egypt on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea which he named after his beloved leader. So Ptolemy finished building the city that Alexander had started. He built it on a grand scale to be the finest city of its day. He named it Alexandria. Today it is still referred to in Arabic as El Iskandaria, the City of Alexander the Great.
Ptolemy started a dynasty of Greek-Macedonian rulers who would go on to rule Egypt for over three hundred years. This dynasty culminated in the death by suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. This was the same Cleopatra who made a strategic alliance with Mark Antony who later went on to become the father of three of her four children.
Here is a little more background about the last Cleopatra. She was the daughter of Ptolemy XI. After a bitter family rivalry between her and her younger brother broke out into a full-fledged internecine struggle for power between her and Egyptian forces aligned with her younger brother, Julius Caesar had to have her restored to the Egyptian throne and to her queenly status as the sole Pharaoh of Egypt. But for two years between 46 B.C. and 44 B.C. Cleopatra lived with Julius Caesar in Rome where she gave birth to his son. This only child of Caesar and Cleopatra was a sore spot for the Roman people who didn’t want any child of an Egyptian queen ruling over Rome. So after Julius Caesar’s death in 44 B.C. Cleopatra returned to Egypt where she had her own brother put to death in order that her son by Julius Caesar could be the joint ruler of Egypt with her.
Just two years later in 42 B.C. Cleopatra met Mark Antony in Tarsus of all places which is in present day Turkey. Tarsus was the birthplace of another famous person, the Apostle Paul who is credited with writing much of the New Testament which changed the world. He was also one of the principle leaders of the early Christian Church. Paul was born in Tarsus only a mere twenty or thirty years after that fateful meeting between Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Mark Antony immediately fell in love with the very persuasive Egyptian Queen and together they formed a strategic alliance to challenge Octavian’s right to rule Rome. She was still the mother of Caesar’s heir apparent, and Mark Anthony was Caesar’s ambitious friend and trusted military commander. Together they hoped to defeat the combined forces of Octavian, who was Caesar’s nephew, and to jointly rule Rome. Anthony needed Egypt’s help in order to do this. Egypt furnished his army with ships, and grain to feed his soldiers, and money to pay them. In return Cleopatra wanted a stronger role for Egypt in the re-organized Roman Empire. Her long term goal was exactly the same as it always had been. She wanted to jointly rule Rome one day as Mark Antony’s Queen, in just the same way that she had hoped to do before as Julius Caesar’s Queen before his murder. To make matters even more complicated Marc Antony was already married to Octavian’s sister whom he left for Cleopatra.
It was the shrewd and wily Cleopatra who turned Mark Antony’s eyes and heart away from his wife Octavia, and lured him to form an allegiance and a personal relationship with her. Octavia was the sister of Octavian, the man who would eventually rule Rome one day, but who was then locked in a struggle to the death with Mark Antony over Rome’s future. The abandonment of his sister did nothing to reduce the animosity or calm the tensions that already existed between these two fierce rivals. The tensions Octavian and Antony eventually culminated in the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. with the complete military defeat of the forces that were aligned with Antony and Cleopatra along the western coast of Greece.
Later, after hearing rumors that were deliberately spread by his beloved Cleopatra of her death, Mark Antony took his own life by the sword before the advancing legions of Roman soldiers who were led by Octavian. However just before he died, he learned that Cleopatra was actually still alive, and he asked to be taken to her where it is said that he died in her arms.
Now with Mark Antony gone and conveniently out of the way, the wily Cleopatra sought to entice the victorious Octavian by offering herself to him in much the same way that she had done with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She tried to use her considerable charm to forge an alliance with Octavian, but it was to no avail. So rather than be humiliated before her enemies she decided to really commit suicide this time before Octavian’s advancing armies could find her. This was about ten days after Mark Antony had taken his own life.
When Octavian finally entered the royal Egyptian city and the royal quarters in August of 30 B.C. he found that they had both committed suicide, one by the sword and the other by poisoning about ten days apart. The last Pharaoh Queen of Egypt and the last of the Ptolemys to rule the land of the Nile was only 39 years old at the time of her death by poisoning. This was in the year 30 B.C., only a mere twenty five years before the birth of Jesus Christ in a little Jewish town only a few hundred miles away.
The tumultuous events of those forty years between 44 B.C. and 4 B.C. when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea set the stage for even greater cataclysmic upheavals during the next seventy years! Jesus would be crucified and his death and life would go on to give birth to one of the world’s three great faiths which is Christianity. The ancient Jewish Kingdoms of Judea and Samaria were destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman Legions under the command of the next Emperor of Rome who was Titus, and the surviving Jewish inhabitants would be scattered all over the Greek and Roman world. In the absence of any significant numbers of Jews in the Middle East the world stage was set for the spread of another great religion, Islam.
The expulsion of the Jews from their homeland in 70 A.D. resulted in a worldwide Diaspora of millions of displaced persons and set the conditions for the following world wide events.
1) The Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century led to the confiscation of Jewish property by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain which provided a financial way to finance the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Those voyages resulted in the discovery of America.
2) The subsequent maritime competition between England and Spain for supremacy on the high seas led to the eventual formation of the far flung British Empire.
3) The Nazi Holocaust.
4) The centuries long hostility that has always existed between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths which has resulted in the current War on Terror.
The origin of all of these events can be traced back to the events that occurred between about 4 B.C. and 70 A.D.
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