When you think of Cleopatra. What is the first thing you think of? Usually, the answer is that her beauty was her greatest asset.
But was Cleopatra really the ancient beautiful seductress as she is so often portrayed?
The short answer is no.
In 2007, a small coin in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle was said to have changed our understanding of her, it made headlines around the world. Why? Because it sported a clear depiction of Cleopatra.
She is seen to have a sloping forehead, a prominent angular nose, a jutting chin and even a shrewish nature about her complexion.
There is no real objection to these coins bearing Cleopatra’s likeness as being wrong. After all, they were minted during her lifetime. Interestingly, this realistic portrayal of a queen was actually quite popular at the time. To show a king or queen how they really looked was fashionable during the Hellenistic world.
Even Cleopatra’s conquests, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony were portrayed with this warts-and-all likeness on coinage.
Rumours of her sexual deviancy and beauty spread after she was defeated by Octavian. When she died, the propaganda spread by Octavian fuelled the fire that she was a deadly monster.
So the seed of Cleopatra’s beauty was sparked by her greatest enemy. Rome.
Antony and Cleopatra written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century is also a proponent for the reintroduction to Cleopatra’s beauty. Ever since she has had a tragic romantic air about her. This idea that an ancient woman from a faraway land, so beautiful but also so deadly, could seduce whoever she wanted to excite a lot of people during this time.
Hollywood has also portrayed Cleopatra as a beautiful temptress. The reality, however, is evident on coins that have come down to us.