Cleopatra is known as a beautiful woman, and she is best known for her tragic love affair with Mark Antony. Over the years, artists have created paintings, sculptures in marble, and her likeness has been etched in glass, despite the fact that nobody knows what she looked like. Cleopatra has been the subject of Renaissance and Baroque artwork, plays, operas, and poetry. She is even included in modern TV shows and films.
Pretty Or Plain
Many imagine Cleopatra as being gorgeous, but the Roman artists saw her as plain. Because nobody knows the truth, there is no way to know who is right. Was she beautiful, or was she plain looking? We may never know exactly what she looked like, but thanks to forensic evidence, there is something that we may now know about her. Archaeologists in Egypt claim they’ve discovered exactly what Cleopatra smelled like. The evidence dates back to the Ptolemaic Kingdom, which existed over two millennia in the past.
Cleopatra was the oldest surviving offspring of Auletes, and after his death in 51 B.C., she was the rightful heir to the Egyptian throne. Auletes requested that Cleopatra marry her brother, which was common at the time, so the two could rule together. At the age of 17, Cleopatra married her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator. She was the co-ruler of Egypt but was ousted by her brother’s counselors. She was 22-years-old when the palace exiled her. When this happened, she began gathering an army. A civil war in Egypt would have been bad for the Roman Republic because they relied on Egyptian exports, such as grain. In 48 B.C., Julius Ceasar, the Roman ruler, traveled to have a secret meeting with Cleopatra. He smuggled in into his quarters in a rolled-up carpet. With Julius Ceasar’s support, Cleopatra defeated her brother in the Battle of the Nile. It is believed that he drowned. After his death, Cleopatra then married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, which was demanded by custom. They two were announced by Caesar to be the co-rulers of Egypt.
Cleopatra is best known for her passionate love affairs. In 47 B.C., Cleopatra and Julius Caesar took a two-month-long trip to the Nile, which was the beginning off their love affair. Together they shared a son, Caesarion. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar installed a gold statue of Cleopatra inside the Temple of Venus Genetrix. Sadly, their love affair didn’t last. In 44 B.C., a group of senators murdered Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey. His death resulted in a split in Roman society. One faction was led by Mark Antony, and the other fell behind Octavian, Caesar’s grandson and only heir. Cleopatra threw her support behind Mark Antony, who was the stronger of the two. She fell in love with him, and the two married then had three children together.
Cleopatra’s marriage to Mark Antony wasn’t popular with everyone. In Rome, Cleopatra was known as a scheming seductress. When Antony stated that he wanted to be buried in Alexandria rather than Rome, it worked out great for Octavian, who managed to portray Antony as disloyal to the public. Now that Antony was no longer popular in Roman, Octavian declared war against Antony. He and Cleopatra were defeated in a battle at Actium. A year later, Octavian arrived in Alexandria to claim Egypt for Rome, but Antony committed suicide before he could be captured. He died in the arms of Cleopatra, his true love.
The End Of An Era
When Cleopatra and Mark Antony died, it marked the end of two critical eras in ancient history. In Egypt, the Ptolemaic dynasty ended. Also, Octavian was now free to exert his authority. With the Republic finished, the dawn of the Roman Empire began.
Two researchers from the University of Hawai’l at Manoa, Robert Littman, and Jay Silverstein made significant progress in learning about Cleopatra. They believe that they know what she smelled like. Robert described her fragrance as the Chanel No. 5 of Ancient Egypt. Her smell was important to them because it had to do with history. It is said that when she visited Antony in Tarus, she soaked the sails of her ship in her perfume. The smell was so overpowering that the Roman general could detect it long before she arrived onshore. The men located a sample of her perfume when they began a dig at Tell-El Timai, which was the site of Thmuis. This was the center of production for two perfumes, Mendesian and Metopian. Metopian was not just a perfume, but also a stomach medicine.
The two men discovered the remnants of an ancient Egyptian perfumery in Tell-El Timai. They were thrilled to have found remnants of the perfume that Cleopatra may have worn. We may still not know what Cleopatra looked like, but thanks to Robert and Jay, we know what she may have smelled like.