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N.S. Gill

What Did Cleopatra Look Like?

By September 8, 2013

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Silver Tetradrachm of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII
CC Flickr User Ancient Art Alt: Silver Tetradrachm of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII

There are limited contemporary depictions of the famous queen, so when a new example comes to light, it is a major find for those of us interested in ancient, especially Roman history. On his September 7 weekly round up of archaeological news (Explorator 16.21‏), the Rogue Classicist mentioned just such a find (which he says was actually found last year). See Hansen: UNO archaeological dig in Israel unearths priceless Cleopatra coin for a look at the coin.

Also see What Did Cleopatra Look Like?


September 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm
(1) Narukami says:

As Adrian Goldsworthy points out:

“Absolutely nothing is certain. Cleopatra may have had black, brown, blonde or even red hair, and her eyes could have been brown, grey, green or blue. Almost any combination of these is possible. Similarly, she may have been very light skinned or had a darker more Mediterranean complexion. Fairer skin is probably marginally more likely given her ancestry. Greek art traditionally represented women and goddesses as very pale, and fair skin seems to have been part of the ideal of beauty. Roman propaganda never suggested that Cleopatra was dark-skinned, although this may simply mean that she was not exceptionally dark or simply that the color of her skin was not important to her critics.

At no point will we need to consider Antony’s appearance at similar length and this should remind us that the obsession with Cleopatra’s looks is unusual, and not entirely healthy. Not only is there no good evidence, but also there is something disturbing about the desire to base our understanding of her first and foremost on her appearance.

Cleopatra was not another Helen of Troy, a mythical figure about whom the most important thing was her beauty. She was no mere object of desire, but a very active political player in her own kingdom and beyond.
Cleopatra was born and raised in the real and very dangerous world of the Ptolemaic court in the first century BC. When her father died in 51 BC, she became queen. Auletes had planned for his son and daughter to rule jointly. Cleopatra had other ideas.”
-from Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2010 pp.128-129


September 12, 2013 at 9:21 am
(2) ancienthistory says:

It’s too bad that Goldsworthy’s book didn’t get the type of publicity the other book on Cleopatra that came out at the same time did. My review: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/cleopatra/a/092510-Antony-And-Cleopatra-By-Adrian-Goldsworthy.htm

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