It’s difficult to get a handle on what Cleopatra actually looked like since most images tend to look like Elizabeth Taylor. But history gives us a pretty good idea of what life was like in her reign.

It seems that she was a very rich lady. On one contemporary list she appears as the 22nd richest person in history, well behind John D. Rockefeller and Tsar Nicholas 11, but ahead of Napoleon and J.P.Morgan. She is assigned a net worth of $95.8 billion which is nothing to sneer at.

In spite of having all this money, she had no standing army and was thus both coveted by and vulnerable to Rome.

The Ptolemaic system (the Ptolemy’s, were Cleopatra’s dynastic family and the rulers of Egypt) and has been compared to that of Soviet Russia; it stands among the most closely controlled economies in history.

How did she get so rich from being a farmer? Easy; she controlled the land and had functionaries who determined and monitored its use. Only with government permission could you fell a tree, breed pigs, turn your barley field into an olive garden. You faced prosecution if you planted palms without permission. The beekeeper could not move his hives from one district to another as doing so confused the authorities. It probably confused the bees too.

No one left his district during the agricultural season. Looms were checked to make sure none was idle and thread counts correct. (No wonder Egyptian cotton sheets cost so much.) It was illegal for a private individual to own an oil press or anything resembling one. (So much for anyone trying to press a little olive oil for a Caesar salad for dinner.)

It was frequently broadcast throughout Egypt the reassuring message that ‘nobody is allowed to do what he wishes, but that everything is arranged for the best.’

Unparalleled in its sophistication, the system was hugely effective and, for Cleopatra, hugely lucrative. The greatest of Egypt’s industries—wheat, glass, papyrus, linen, oils, and unguents–essentially constituted royal monopolies. On those commodities Cleopatra profited doubly.

The sale of oil to the crown was taxed at nearly 50 percent. Cleopatra then resold the oil at a profit, in some cases as great as 300 percent.
If an item could be named, it was taxed. Owners of baths which were privately owned, owed the state a third of their revenue. Professional fishermen surrendered 25 percent of their catch, vintners 16 percent of their tonnage. Cleopatra operated several wool and textile factories of her own, with a staff of slave girls.

How wealthy was she? Into her coffers went approximately half of what Egypt produced, and they produced a lot.



  1. Yes, amazing. Was she the first female libber? My visit to Egypt was after king Farouk was chucked out. I believe that even today, when a couple divorce, the property goes to the female partner. It could well be that those laws do date back to when Cleopata was in town.
    Did I tell you at the time I was there tourists were allowed to clamber into the pyramids. I did and went up inside a tunnel right up to some Queen’s burial chamber. It was ghoulishly lit by neon light. You had to climb up all stooped over, something I would be unable to do now.
    On the way out I pocketed a small piece of stone from this pyramid. No wonder they stopped that excusrion.!
    The Cleopatra of above seems to be wearing a sturdy bra. Brilliant design with sensible padding underneath and hoisted up to her lovely necklace.


    • All as it should be. (grin) My aunt also climbed up into the pyramid. What a strange and claustrophobic feeling that must have been. Especially with neon light. I always wanted to go to Egypt, but the massacre some years ago changed my mind. But there aren’t too many other ancient civilizations quite as fascinating. Good that you have your lucky stone.
      I chose this image especially for you Gerard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, that’s mind-boggling. I didn’t know these details. Fascinating to learn. Tough for any workers to get ahead facing those types of taxes and rules.


  3. Hmmm… a command and control economy, but with a whole lot more class. Well, unless you were one of the peasants who really, really wanted a Caesar salad for supper, but couldn’t press those olives. Didn’t someone say, “The rich are just like you and me, except they have a whole lot more money” ? As in Egypt, so in everywhere, actually!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought it was interesting to see that she had female slaves working her woolen mills. Why female?
      When you think of all that money it’s no wonder Marc Anthony was so eager to capture her attentions. Nothing changes.


      • Here’s an interesting tidbit. Cleo is said to have died by the bite of an asp (the snake), and I was bitten by an asp (the caterpillar) last week. Our asp, which also is called a puss caterpillar, because it’s cute and futty as a kitten, is terribly toxic. It injects poison as if by hypodermic needle, and believe me, it’s painful.

        I’d never seen one before, and when someone told me it was an asp, Cleopatra was the first thing that came to mind. I’ve not figured out if the furry asp was named after the snakey asp.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. How dreadful. I’ll look it up. You never know what you’ll find digging in your garden.


  5. Unfortunately we have plenty of politicians who wouldn’t flinch at imposing the tax rates you cited.

    Liked by 1 person

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