Celebrating Lives of Ancient History: Pharaoh Cleopatra and King Leonidas

Statues of Cleopatra and King Leonidas - fierce rulers of ancient historyTwo fierce rulers in ancient history – Pharaoh Cleopatra and King Leonidas


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It may only be Tuesday, but today we are throwing it back to ancient history with a tribute to two fierce historical rulers whose fascinating lives inspired art and movies, in addition to the beauty and fitness industries centuries later.

Lessons from Ancient History: King Leonidas

Yesterday was King Leonidas of Sparta’s birthday. King Leonidas famously led his army of 300 Spartans against the much larger army of Persians in an attempt to defend his city-state from Persian rule. The Spartans were widely considered to be the fiercest hoplite warriors and the premier fighting force during the time of Ancient Greece. Training emphasized physical, mental, and spiritual toughness and was very brutal. Even though Leonidas had royal blood and was technically exempt from undergoing training, he trained with the warriors, rose up the ranks, and became renowned for his physical strength and military strategy.

On the fateful day of his death, King Leonidas and his small Spartan army had managed to hold off the large Persian forces for two days by using the phalanx formation in one of the most famous battles in ancient history. In the phalanx formation, rows of hoplites stand directly next to each other so that their shields overlap with one another. In a frontal attack, this wall of shields provided significant protection to the warriors behind it. If the phalanx broke or if the enemy attacked from the side or the rear, however, the formation became vulnerable.  While this proved successful during the two day frontal assault, they were betrayed by a Greek farmer who alerted the Persian forces of a small mountain pass that could lead them right behind the Spartan army. Thus, they were attacked from all sides and perished during this battle.

While King Leonidas lost his life that day, he lives on in stories about his relentless determination even in the face of defeat. He was a selfless ruler and a hero who died fighting for his country; a face from ancient history who inspires us today.

Lessons from Ancient History: Cleopatra

Today is Cleopatra, Pharaoh of Egypt’s death anniversary. In modern media, she is typically portrayed as a stunningly beautiful woman who uses her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Historically, however, she was rather “comely looking,” and known more for her charm, intelligence, and her ability to strategically employ those talents to get what she wanted.

As a queen, Egyptian historians show Cleopatra to have been a capable and popular leader who was fiercely protective of Egyptian interests. Unlike past rulers who generally used Greek to converse, Cleopatra was one of those who actually learned how to speak the Egyptian language. Cleopatra’s foreign policy goal, in addition to preserving her personal power, was to maintain Egypt’s independence from the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. She traded with Arabia and even India (which was geographically much further away and thus less convenient to trade with) and built up Egypt’s economy making it one of the biggest world powers during those times. 

By identifying herself as a truly Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra used patriotism to cement her position with the Egyptian people.

Centuries later, people still remain in awe of the lives of these two dynamic rulers, each powerful and inspiring in his/her own right. 

Ancient history in the movies: Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and Gerard Butler as Leonidas
Faces from Ancient History in the Movies: Elizabeth Taylor as Pharaoh Cleopatra and Gerard Butler as King Leonidas

Sources: History Channel, Smithsonian, Ancient Military


About Tiffany Qua

Social Media Manager Tiffany Qua, MA, specializes in content strategy, digital marketing, and social media campaigns. A graduate of Columbia University and John Hopkins University, Tiffany and her husband live in NYC.

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