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Most Beautiful Women

The women in the ancient world renowned for beauty


Myth, history, and legend provide evidence of ancient women who were considered beautiful, but for most of them, we have no reliable portraits. Beauty is an aesthetic consideration. When judging beauty, it's appropriate to think in terms of the whole personality, but that's not this top beauties list. This one is strictly for physical attractiveness as represented. Here are the women I consider the most beautiful either on the basis of their sexual power over men or their beautiful portraits.

1. Nefertiti

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
I love to look at the exquisite iconic bust of Nefertiti. Her jewelry is tasteful, her swan's neck elegant, and her facial features, where intact, seem to define our standard of feminine beauty. The missing eye and part of her ear, as well as the almost elven shape of the other add a bit of quirkiness, which enhances the effect.

2. Phryne

Copy of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
Aphrodite, the goddess who won the goddesses' beauty contest that led to the Trojan War should be counted among the all-time world-class beauties. However, this is a list of mortals, so Aphrodite (Venus) doesn't count. Luckily, there was a woman so beautiful she was used as the model for a statue of Aphrodite. Her beauty was so great it brought about her acquittal when she was put on trial. This woman was the courtesan Phryne whom the famed sculptor Praxiteles used as his model for the Aphrodite of Knidos statue.

3. Helen

Helen of Troy at the Louvre. From an Attic red-figure krater from about 450-440 B.C.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Helen of Troy's face launched a thousand ships. Thousands died for her. Men tried to kidnap her. She was undoubtedly phenomenal, if real, but without a contemporary portrait and a more secure footing in history, she is not my first choice. Here is an artist's depiction from the 5th century B.C., possibly 7 centuries after the Trojan War.

4. Neaira (and Other Courtesans)

Between the top three and Neaira is a big gap. She was a famous, expensive Greek courtesan who, like other hetairai, including Thargelia and Lais of Corinth, was probably successful because of her good looks.

5. Bathsheba

David and Bathsheba, by  Jan Matsys, 1562. At the Louvre.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Bathsheba may or may not have been beautiful, but she was seductive enough to capture the attention of David, king of the Hebrew people during the United Monarchy. The Biblical passage from II Samuel says that David killed Bathsheba's husband so he could marry her himself.

6. Salome

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Titian, c. 1515.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The seductress Salome's name is associated with the Head of John the Baptist. The story goes that she agreed to perform a dance in exchange for the head. Salome is said to be the daughter of Herodias. She is named by Flavius Josephus and appears in the Bible at Mark 6:21-29 and Matt 14:6-11.

7. Cornelia

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, by Noel Halle, 1779 (Musee Fabre)
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, was a model of Roman womanly virtue. This meant she was a one-man woman, a perfect mother, wife, daughter, and attractive. Cornelia Scipionis Africana (c. 190-100 B.C.) was the daughter of Scipio Africanus and the wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, with whom she produced 12 children, of whom three survived to adulthood, Sempronia, Tiberius, and Gaius. Being a one-man woman means that although widowed, she never re-married.

8. Berenice of Cilicia or Julia Berenice

Berenice (28 A.D. - at least A.D. 79) was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I and great grand-daughter of Herod the Great. She was a Judaean client-queen of Rome, married frequently and accused of incest, whom Titus fell in love with. Despite hostility on the part of Rome, Titus lived openly with her nearly until his succession. He sent her away shortly before, but she returned to Rome in 79 when he succeeded his father to the throne. She was soon sent away again and disappears from the historical record.

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