“Had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been different.” Blaise Pascal
A recent news item resurrects an age-old question concerning Cleopatra VII, the last Queen of Egypt: “What did she look like?”
“Roman writers tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic, and that she had a seductive voice but, tellingly, they do not mention her beauty. The image of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress is a more recent image.”
She reigned during the first century BC and had liaisons with two of Rome’s most prominent men of the time, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. The mythology surrounding Cleopatra depicts her as the beautiful, irresistible siren, manipulating powerful men.
For a queen of such enduring renown, likenesses of Cleopatra are extremely scarce. Mark Antony’s successor, Octavian, who defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, succeeded in having most of the images of his predecessors obliterated. The only contemporary examples and in consequence, reasonably dependable images appear on her coinage. Her coin portraits are hardly flattering depictions, but she was undoubtedly a shrewd politician, achieving prosperity and peace for a country that had been ruined by civil war. A tiny blue glass intaglio with a portrait of Cleopatra VII, in the British Museum, is one of the few accepted portraits of the queen.
The other long-standing and much-debated question concerning her appearance, of course, is: “Was Cleopatra black?”.
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