From Caesar’s Death to Jesus’ Birth
By Scott Rohter, July 2012
Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Caesar Augustus all have something in common. What is it that unites all of these historic figures…? They all lived during a brief period of time just before the birth of Jesus Christ. So many important things happened during those forty tumultuous years between the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and the birth of Jesus Christ around 4 B.C. that no other time in history is quite as significant. So many momentous, world changing events occurred which altered the course of history during those four critical decades between the murder of Rome’s first emperor and the birth of the world’s only Savior that one has to wonder if anybody alive during those fortuitous years, even the great people who were molding the world’s future actually knew the significance of the times they were living through. The world’s future was largely determined during these crucial years.
The period between 44 B.C and 4 A.D was such a pivotal time in the development of western civilization that many of the world’s current problems and trouble spots can trace their origins back to decisions made during those years. In just the span of a man’s lifetime Rome’s first emperor was murdered and Rome was plunged into a bloody civil war which lasted for more than ten years. This civil war took Rome very far from its early Republican roots. The long struggle for control of the Roman Empire devolved into a bitter personal fight to the death between two former allies of the assassinated emperor. One of these men was Julius Caesar’s trusted military commander Mark Antony and the other was his nephew Octavian.
Mark Antony quickly formed a strategic alliance with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt who was the mother of Caesar’s son and the presumptive heir to the Roman throne. Her royal title was Cleopatra VII, but Cleopatra was actually the name of an entire dynasty of Egyptian Queens. This particular Cleopatra whom Mark Antony fell in love with was the last in a long line of Greeco-Macedonian rulers to sit on the throne of Egypt. They were the descendants of Ptolemy who took control of Egypt after the untimely death of Alexander the Great. With Cleopatra’s death by suicide in 30 B.C. Egypt ceased to be ruled by Greek overlords.
Young Alexander the Great’s death came unexpectedly and he left no specific instructions as to how his vast territories which he conquered were to be administered. Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s generals. He seized Egypt for himself and he finished Alexander’s plans to build a great new capitol city for Egypt on the shores of the Mediterranean which he named after Alexander. He built the city on a grand scale to be the finest city of its time and he named it Alexandria. Today it is still referred to in Arabic as El Iskandaria, the City of Alexander.
Ptolemy founded a dynasty of Greek-Macedonian rulers who would go on to rule Egypt for the next three hundred years. This dynasty culminated in the death by suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. She was the same Queen of Egypt who made a strategic alliance with Mark Antony who fathered three of her four children. Her other child was the son of Julius Caesar.
Cleopatra VII was the daughter of Ptolemy XI. After a bitter family feud broke out into a full-fledged struggle for power between Cleopatra and Egyptian forces aligned with her brother, Julius Caesar intervene and had her restored to the throne, but for two years between 46 B.C. and 44 B.C. Cleopatra lived in Rome with Julius Caesar where she gave birth to his son. The only child of Caesar and Cleopatra was always a source of contention to Romans who didn’t want any child of an Egyptian Queen to rule Rome so after Julius Caesar’s death by assassination in 44 B.C. Cleopatra was forced to return to Egypt where she had her own brother put to death in order to ensure that her son would become the future ruler of Egypt.
Just two years later in 42 B.C. Cleopatra had a fortuitous meeting with Mark Antony in a little city called Tarsus in present day Turkey. Tarsus was the birthplace of another one of the world’s most influential people, namely the Apostle Paul who is credited with writing much of the New Testament. Paul was one of the principle leaders of the early Christian Church. He was born in Tarsus a mere twenty or thirty years after that fateful meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
According to legend when Mark Antony first met Cleopatra he immediately fell in love with the enticing and persuasive Egyptian Queen. Together they formed a strategic alliance to challenge Octavian’s plans to rule Rome. Cleopatra was the mother of Julius Caesar’s son who was the real heir apparent to the Roman throne. Mark Anthony was Caesar’s trusted friend and ambitious military commander. Together Anthony and Cleopatra hoped to jointly rule Rome after defeating the Roman forces that were aligned with Caesar’s nephew Octavian, but in order to do this Anthony needed Cleopatra’s help . Egypt furnished his army with ships and grain to feed his soldiers and money to pay them and in return Cleopatra wanted Egypt to play a stronger role in the re-organized Roman Empire. Her long term goal was exactly the same as it always had been. She wanted to unite Egypt and Rome. Whether she was the co-regent with Julius Caesar or Mark Anthony really didn’t matter to her. Now to make matters even more complicated Mark Antony was already married to Octavian’s sister whom he jilted in order to be with the wily Cleopatra.
It was the shrewd and cunning Cleopatra who turned Mark Antony’s eyes away from his wife Octavia and lured him into a strategic alliance and a personal relationship with her. Octavia was the sister of the man who would eventually go on to rule Rome, but who was at that moment locked in a bitter struggle with Mark Antony over Rome’s future. The abandonment of his sister by Mark Antony did nothing to assuage the animosity that already existed between Octavian and Mark Anthony. The tensions between them eventually culminated in the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. where the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra were totally destroyed.
After hearing false rumors that his beloved Cleopatra had died Mark Antony took his own life by the sword before the advancing legions of Roman soldiers led by Octavian. However just before his death he learned that Cleopatra was actually still alive and his last request was to be taken to her where history tells us that he died in her arms.
Now with Mark Antony gone, the wily Cleopatra sought to entice Octavian by offering herself to him in very much the same way that she had done with Mark Antony and Julius Caesar before him. She sent emissaries to Octavian and used her considerable female charm to try to forge an alliance with him, but all of her overtures were unsuccessful and so rather than suffer humiliation at the hands of her enemies she decided to take her own life before Octavian’s advancing armies could find her. She drank a fatal dose of poison about ten days after Mark Antony had died by his own sword.
When the victorious Octavian finally entered the royal Egyptian city and the royal palace in August of 30 B.C. he found both Antony and Cleopatra dead, one by the sword and the other by poison The last Queen of Egypt was only 39 years old at the time of her death. It was 30 B.C., only a mere twenty five years before the birth of Jesus Christ in the little Jewish town of Bethlehem only a few hundred miles away.
The tumultuous events of those forty years before Jesus was born in Judea set the stage for even greater cataclysmic upheavals during the next seventy years. Jesus would grow into a man. He would be crucified by Roman soldiers and his life and death and subsequent resurrection would give birth to one of the world’s great faiths. The ancient Jewish Kingdom of Judea would be destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman Legions under the command of Emperor Octavian’s successor,Titus and the surviving Jewish inhabitants of the land 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 which still troubles the world to this day.
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 formation of the world wide British Empire.
3) The Nazi Holocaust.
4) A centuries long hostility between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths which has resulted in the current War on Terror.
Select Related Articles