Cleopatra is one of the most famous and fascinating figures in history. The last queen of ancient Egypt, she was a brilliant politician, a passionate lover, and a cultural icon. Throughout the ages, she inspires countless works of art, literature, and entertainment. From Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra to the 1963 epic movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.
But amidst all the legends and myths, what do we really know about Cleopatra’s appearance? Is she truly the breathtaking beauty that Hollywood and popular culture depicts her as? Or did her allure instead stem from her intelligence, charisma, and charm?
In this video, we will try to get to the bottom of what Cleopatra actually looked like, using archaeological evidence and computer reconstructions based on the historical record. We will also explore how her image has been shaped and distorted by various sources and perspectives over time. Join us as we uncover the truth behind the myth of Cleopatra’s appearance.
Factsverse Presents: Facial Reconstruction Shows What Cleopatra Really Looked Like
Cleopatra: The Race Debate
Cleopatra, born in Egypt around 70 B.C., is often assumed to be of Egyptian origin. However, she belongs to a line of rulers descending from Ptolemy I. It is a Greek general and historian who becomes king after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C.
Ptolemy had won over many native Egyptians, who accepted his descendants as pharaohs. But the Ptolemaic rulers generally avoided marrying native Egyptians and instead preferred to marry within their own families. This fact is significant because it raises the question of Cleopatra’s ethnicity.
Was she Black? Well, it’s hard to say for sure. Although her Greek roots on her father’s side are well documented, her mother’s identity remains uncertain. That’s not to say, however, that she couldn’t have been black! It’s still a possibility that remains quite plausible! And as you’ll later see, some modern researchers convince that Cleopatra isn’t as pale as she is.
The debate around Cleopatra’s ethnicity simmers for decades. Some modern audiences criticize Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal in the 1963 movie. The recent casting of Israeli actress Gal Gadot in an upcoming film about the queen.
If Cleopatra is Black, it challenges the notion that Western civilization creates by white male leaders. However, assuming that Cleopatra’s forebearers didn’t have affairs with Egyptians or Africans, she traces her ancestry back to the Greeks. The question of Cleopatra’s appearance remains a topic of fascination and debate. Scholars continue to uncover new evidence to light on this enigmatic figure.
Whether or not Cleopatra was of Black ancestry, there’s no denying that she was a woman of incredible allure. Her romantic conquests included two of the most powerful and influential men of her day: Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Cleopatra encounters Julius Caesar in a rather dramatic manner in 48 B.C.. At that time, she embroils in a power struggle with her brother. Also, she perceives an opportunity to advance her political goals when Caesar comes to Egypt. Cleopatra wrapped herself in a carpet, secretly entered his quarters, and then emerged to request his assistance. Caesar was captivated by the queen and agreed to help her.
Thanks to her resourcefulness, Cleopatra not only defeated her brother but also gave birth to Caesar’s son, Caesarion.
Cleopatra in 44 B.C.
Following Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., Cleopatra directed her attention to Mark Antony. As Stacy Schiff, a biographer, recounts, Cleopatra went to great lengths to captivate him. She arrives in the city of Tarsus and dresses as Venus in a painting. She reclines beneath a gold glimmering canopy while young boys fan her. Her most beautiful maids look like sea nymphs and graces, with some steering at the rudder and others workers. Greek historian Appian notes the moment Mark Antony first set eyes on her, he “lost his head to her like a young man.”
Antony and Cleopatra form a romantic and political partnership that lasts for 11 years. It results in the birth of three children. Their relationship demonstrates a deep affection but also strengths Egypt’s position within the Roman Empire, with far-reaching political implications.
As Cleopatra formed alliances with powerful men like Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, her critics began to speculate about her powers of attraction and persuasion. Some even suggested that she used these supposed gifts to gain an advantage in all her business dealings. However, such a narrow view fails to capture the true complexity and savvy of this remarkable ruler. While these rumors were undoubtedly meant to tarnish her reputation, they do not tell the whole story of Cleopatra’s reign, nor do they actually shed any light on what she may have looked like.
While we know that she had her fair share of fans, admirers, and famous lovers, Cleopatra’s image remains elusive, as scholars struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. Her appearance has been the subject of much debate, with surviving artwork and sculptures offering only fleeting glimpses into her possible appearance. Most portrayals are marred by political and ideological concerns, and some may not be contemporaneous at all. It’s worth noting that ancient Egyptian and Greek art did not have a Western concept of a portrait, making it even more challenging to discern what Cleopatra looked like.
One promising lead comes from coins minted during her reign. The depictions on these coins, however, are far from the glamorous visions popularized by Hollywood. Her nose and chin are pronounced, and her curly hair is styled in a bun at the base of her skull. Yet even these sources are fraught with legitimate concerns, as some coins were clearly Romanized to match her husband, Mark Antony’s features.
The only other unambiguous representations of Cleopatra are pharaonic-style Egyptian reliefs designed for her subjects. These colossal stone canvases portray her as more god than human. A few marble busts from her lifetime may depict the queen, but unfortunately none are inscribed with her name.
While these questionable sources provide some insight into her appearance, they offer little in the way of determining whether she was “beautiful” or what Caesar and Antony saw in her. Because of this, some scholars argue that the focus on her allure is inappropriate and detracts from her legacy as a strong and influential woman ruler from 2,000 years ago.
Reconstructions Paint A Different Picture
In recent years there have been several attempts made to use modern techniques and technology to produce a more historically accurate representation of what Cleopatra may have actually looked like. Let’s take a moment to review a couple of these reconstructions while taking in mind that the artists who produced them came to the table with their own biases and preconceptions in mind.
Sally Ann Ashton, an Egyptologist from Cambridge University, believes that this recent 3D image generated by a computer provides the best representation of Cleopatra. The image was created by piecing together images found on ancient artifacts, including a ring from Cleopatra’s reign 2,000 years ago, and involved over a year of meticulous research.
The 3D image portrays a beautiful young woman of mixed ethnicity, which is significantly different from the Westernized, fair-skinned version portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in that 1963 film. According to Dr. Ashton, the images reflect the monarch’s Greek heritage, as well as her upbringing in Egypt.
Dr. Ashton also points out that Cleopatra’s family had lived in Egypt for 3000 years by the time she rose to power, indicating that she was likely not completely European.
Cleopatra is depicted wearing a Macedonian cloth diadem, which was typically worn by Hellenistic rulers. Her hair color is unknown, but based upon some ancient frescoes, there have been suggestions that she was either a redhead or brunette. The earring shown in the reconstruction is based on 1st-century BCE Ptolemaic jewelry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The search for Cleopatra’s appearance largely draws on Roman writings from after her death. It’s clear, however, that some of these sources seem be rather biased. For example, Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, wanted to justify his violence against fellow Romans and used Cleopatra as a scapegoat, painting her as a foreign temptress. With similar politically motivated aims, Propertius, a poet and propagandist of Augustus, called her the “whore queen.”
Later classical historians were more impartial but disagreed on her beauty. Cassius Dio called her “a woman of surpassing beauty,” while Plutarch was more restrained. However, both emphasized her intelligence, charisma, and talents as a ruler.
We may never know what Cleopatra looked like, but we do know that she wielded great power and ruled over one of the greatest kingdoms of the ancient Mediterranean. Her fame endures to this day, with each generation recreating her image to suit their needs.
Gal Gadot’s Cleopatra: What We Know So Far
Gal Gadot’s long-awaited, albeit somewhat controversial, passion project, Cleopatra, is finally coming to the big screen. This historical epic will see the Wonder Woman actress in the titular role, serving as both producer and co-writer alongside Laeta Kalogridis. The film, which is being directed by Kari Skogland, promises to offer a fresh perspective on the iconic queen of Egypt. Gadot has pledged to showcase Cleopatra’s intelligence, strategy, and global impact, and to tell her story “through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera.”
The movie will explore the queen’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as her role in the political and cultural upheaval of her era. While the film will draw on historical mythology, it won’t be based on the Stacy Schiff biography that another studio is currently adapting under the direction of Denis Villeneuve. Instead it will attempt to tell Cleopatra’s story through a much more fictionalized lens.
Although there’s no official release date yet, the film is currently in pre-production. Gadot has expressed her eagerness to begin filming as soon as possible, hoping to inspire women and girls around the world with Cleopatra’s tale and encourage them to never give up on their dreams.
With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap this video up. But before you move on to watching another one of our facts-packed videos, we’d love to hear from you. Do you think that Cleopatra likely had Egyptian ancestry, or do you accept the theory that she was Greek through and through? Let us know in the comments. And as always, thanks for watching!