Grade level: 6-8 subject area: World History credit

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Two class periods



World History

Jay Lamb, world history and religion teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia; Sandy Lamb, social studies teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School.


Students will understand the following:

1. Comparing people and ranking them is a difficult challenge.

2. People are important to society in many different ways.


For this lesson, you will need:

Access to a photocopier
Access for students to biographical reference materials in a class library, in a school library, or on a computer or the Internet
A calculator for quick checking of students' addition

1. Set the stage for a project that focuses on Cleopatra and other notable women. If necessary, explain that historically women have not had as much opportunity as men to lead society, but there were always exceptions, and the tide, of course, has been turning.

2. Stimulate a class discussion by asking, Is Cleopatra the most important woman of all time? Early in the discussion, establish definitions: What does themostimportantmean? Suggest that the class come up with the qualities that determine whom we identify as important—for example, fame, contribution to society, influence on other people, and so on.

3. Create a chart with at least five columns so that you can list the names of women and the qualities your class named to explain what importantmeans. Put Cleopatrain the first column of the first row. Ask students to name other women to list in the rows under Cleopatra's name. Here are some suggestions of historical women your students may already have studied or at least heard about and can research: Sacagawea, Madame Curie, Golda Meir, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Sandra Day O'Connor. Some students may also suggest women who are entertainment or sports celebrities. Persuade the class to limit the number of women you write on the list; students will have to research each woman they don't already know about.

4. Photocopy the partially filled-in chart. Keep the master of the chart for yourself, and hand out a copy to each student. Accompany the chart with the following text:


- On a separate piece of paper, for each woman, write at least one sentence explaining why she is important. If you can't write the sentence, you will have to do research to learn about the woman and thenwrite the sentence.
- On the chart, give each woman a score of 1 to 5 in all the columns except the last, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 the highest.
- After you've written in the individual scores for all the women, add up the columns for each woman so that you get a total for her in the last column.
- Circle the highest total score. If two or more women share the highest score, you can revise the numbers you originally wrote in each box. Or you can write a paragraph telling why you want to leave the scores tied.
Decide if you want students to check their addition on a calculator.

5. Call on each student in the class to tell you who his or her highest-scoring woman is (or who tied for that student's top score) and what that number is. Keep a tally so that when you've polled the whole class, you will be able to tell students which woman came in first, which came in second, and so forth, as “the most important woman in history.”

6. Ask students to comment on this activity. Ask what was easy about it and what was hard. Ask what the value is in going through such an exercise. (Some students may comment that it's ultimately not very important who is “the most important woman in history”—that they're all important. Other students may comment that ranking is a good exercise because it helps the ranker analyze his or her own values.)


Adaptations for Older Students:

Consider converting the activity from a poll to a debate on the issue “Resolved: Cleopatra is the most important woman in history.” Before students take or are assigned sides in the debate, explain that they must agree on what the most importantmeans in this case. Lead a discussion to elicit the qualities that define importance, giving students as much latitude as you deem appropriate.

1. Why would Alexander the Great or other political leaders of both the ancient and modern world want to consult an oracle? Discuss what uses this would have for a leader and how valid you think it is. Would you go to an oracle? Why? What happened when it was found that Nancy Reagan consulted a psychic when her husband was president?
2. Why do you think the traditional beliefs about Cleopatra focus on her beauty, rather than on her personality and intelligence? Discuss the problems a woman would have had in being a leader during Cleopatra's time. Debate whether or not those constraints have changed significantly today.
3. How much can a person's family affect the way that person grows up and the kind of person he or she becomes? How could Cleopatra have become so talented and successful coming from a family as “dysfunctional” as hers?
4. Did the Greek culture of the Ptolemaic rulers dominate Egypt, or were the Ptolemies more influenced by the ancient Egyptian culture? Explain which culture prevailed and why it did. Discuss parallels between this example and different cultural groups that have immigrated to the United States. Does one culture prevail or are they both changed to some degree? Use examples to prove your point.
5. What did the symbolism of Egyptian religion (e.g., ibises, cobras, crocodiles, and the Nile river) mean to the Egyptians? Analyze the symbolism of contemporary religions in your area and compare their meaning to the Egyptian ones. Discuss the value and meaning of symbolism, using specific examples to support your views.
6. Is it true that people turn to religion in times of stress like Cleopatra did? Why? Discuss historical and contemporary examples that either illustrate or contradict this idea.
7. Why did Cleopatra and Antony decide to commit suicide? What were their alternatives? Why is suicide acceptable in some cultures and not in others? How is this viewed in the United States? Discuss the reasons why people would consider suicide and the possible alternatives they might have.

You can evaluate your students on their work using the following three-point rubric:

- Three points: wrote a substantial sentence about each woman on the chart; completely followed instructions in the rest of the procedures


- Two points: wrote a sentence about each woman on the chart; mostly followed instructions in the rest of the procedures


- One point: did not write a sentence about each woman on the chart; did not sufficiently follow instructions in the rest of the procedures

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for a substantial sentence.

Civi et Republicae (“For the Citizens and the State”)

How much of a democracy was the Roman republic? Using dictionaries and civics textbooks, define democracyand republic. Have students research the actual workings of the Roman government during the time of Julius Caesar. Then direct students to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting ancient Roman democracy with contemporary American democracy. What similarities and differences are there? Which society—ancient Roman or contemporary American—comes closer to the definition of democracyand to the definition of republic?

What If?

The battle of Actium was a turning point in the development of ancient Rome. Invite students to speculate on what might have happened in history if Antony had been the victor instead of Octavian. Would Antony and Cleopatra have changed the course of the world? Would Egyptian influence be more prevalent in our culture? Examine other significant battles (Marathon, Gaugamela, Tours, Hastings, etc.) and ask students to speculate on how history might have played out differently if the results of those battles had been different.

Down among the Sewage: Cleopatra's Storied City”

Douglas Jehl. New York Times, October 29, 1997.

An interesting juxtaposition of the foul and the majestic is revealed in this account of archaeologists' discovery of artifacts beneath Alexandria's harbor from a residence that once belonged to ancient Egyptian rulers, including Cleopatra.
Cleopatra: What Kind of Woman Was She, Anyway?”

Barbara Holland. Smithsonian, February 1997.

In its coverage of the most currently available biographical information about her, this article presents the variety of extant accounts of Cleopatra's ethnic status and influence, and the truths and untruths of her historical and artistic images.

House of Ptolemy

Maps, bibliographies, history, and museums are just a few things that you can locate on this page. This information supercenter on the Ptolemaic Dynasty will provide you with a wide array of facts about Ptolemaic to present-day Egypt.
Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoah

Learn about the rise of the Roman Empire and the effect that it had on the Egyptians. Find out about the important roles that Julius Caesar and Mark Antony played in Cleopatra's life and why the pharaonic age ended with Cleopatra.
Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt

Here is an art and artifact exhibit on the different roles that women played in ancient Egypt. If you have any questions concerning gender in the ancient world you should definitely pay a visit to this page.
Egypt Search

From religion to science, this site makes it possible for you to find anything that you need related to Egypt—past and present. If you can't find what you're looking for here, then it probably doesn't exist!
Egypt and Ancient Near East—Web Resources for Young People and Teachers

Whatever your age, you can find some useful information on this site. This list of museums has resources and cyber tours of Egypt as well as some interesting ideas for teachers.
The Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology—University of Memphis

Take a tour of the ancient artifacts and archaeology here. Then follow the Nile River through Egypt, making stops at lots of sites along the way including Giza and Abu Simbel.
Tour Egypt

Whether you want to find out about Egypt's animals, vacation spots, or ancient attractions, this site's got you covered. And if you want to learn about the underwater life in Egypt, head to the Red Sea Virtual Diving Center for a tour of the sea floor.


The spouse/partner of a reigning king or queen.


By the time Cleopatra was 23 she had gone even further than Alexander, making her entrance into Rome as queen of Egypt and consort of Julius Caesar, the most powerful man in the world.

femme fatale

A woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery.


She's not wearing any jewelry, there are no earrings, no necklace; this is not the portrait of a femme fatale.


One who speaks several languages.


The ancient sources tell us she was intelligent, witty, charming—a linguist.


Impaired or abnormal functioning.


Pretty good for someone coming from a dysfunctional family.


An increase in the volume of money and credit relative to available goods and services resulting in a continuing rise in the general price level.


Government spending was out of control, inflation was rampant, and the administration of the country was in the hands of corrupt Greeks.


Made or occurring before marriage.


It was a prenuptial agreement that any Hollywood lawyer would have been proud of.


To go ashore from a ship.


When they reached Egypt he disembarked at a remote site.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley.


Understands environmental and cultural factors that shaped the development of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley (e.g., development of religious and ethical belief systems and how they legitimized political and social order; demands of the natural environment; how written records such as the Epic of Gilgamesh reflected and shaped the political, religious, and cultural life of Mesopotamia).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.


Understands the spatial aspects of systems designed to deliver goods and services (e.g., the movement of a product from point of manufacture to point of use; imports, exports, and trading patterns of various countries; interruptions in world trade such as war, crop failures, and labor strikes).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands how Aegean civilizations emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia from 600 to 200 B.C.E.


Understands how conquest influenced cultural life during the Hellenistic era (e.g., the cultural diffusion of Greek, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian art and architecture through assimilation, conquest, migration, and trade; the benefits and costs of Alexander's conquests on numerous cultures, and the extent to which these conquests brought about cultural mixing and exchange).

Understands the characteristics of religion, gender, and philosophy in the Hellenistic era (e.g., the significance of the interaction of Greek and Jewish traditions for the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity; the changes in the status of women during the Hellenistic era, their new opportunities, and greater restrictions; what different Greek philosophers considered to be a “good life”).

Understands how Sumerian, Egyptian, and Greek societies saw themselves in relation to their gods and how attitudes towards women are indicated in representations of their goddesses.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands how major religious and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean basin, China, and India from 500 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.


Understands shifts in the political framework of Roman society (e.g., major phases in the empire's expansion through the 1st century C.E.; how imperial rule over a vast area transformed Roman society, economy, and culture; the causes and consequences of the transition from republic to empire under Augustus in Rome; how Rome governed its provinces from the late republic to the empire; how innovations in ancient military technology affected patterns of warfare and empire building).

Understands the significant individuals and achievements of Roman society (e.g., the major legal, artistic, architectural, technological, and literary achievements of the Roman republic; the influence of Hellenistic cultural traditions; the accomplishments of different, famous Roman citizens [Cincinnatus, the Gracchi, Cicero, Constantine, Nero, Marcus Aurelius]).

Understands influences on the economic and political framework of Roman society (e.g., how Roman unity contributed to the growth of trade among lands of the Mediterranean basin; the importance of Roman commercial connections with sub-Saharan Africa, India, and East Asia; the history of the Punic Wars and the consequences of the wars for Rome; the major phases of Roman expansion, including the Roman occupation of Britain).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface.


Understands the changes that occur in the extent and organization of social, political, and economic entities on Earth's surface (e.g., imperial powers such as the Roman Empire, Han Dynasty, Carolingian Empire, British Empire).
Copyright 2001

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