7 Intriguing Facts About Cleopatra You Have Probably Never Heard Of
Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. She was a descendant of its founder Ptolemy I Soter, who was a Macedonian Greek general and a close companion of Alexander the Great.
Cleopatra was born in the year 69 BC, and she died at the age of 39 in the year 30 BC. She ruled ancient Egypt as a co-regent, first with her father, then with her two brothers, and lastly with her son.
She was very smart and well-educated. Cleopatra spoke several languages and served as the dominant ruler in all three of her co-regencies. Her native language was Koine Greek, and she was the only Ptolemaic ruler to learn the Egyptian language.
After Cleopatra died in 30 BC, Egypt became the province of the Roman Empire. Her death marked the end of the second to last Hellenistic state and the age that lasted since the reign of Alexander the Great (336 – 323 BC).
According to popular belief, she killed herself by allowing an Egyptian cobra to bite her. However, Greek and Roman historians widely believe that she poisoned herself using either a toxic ointment or by injecting poison into her body with a sharp implement, such as a hairpin.
Cleopatra earned herself an enduring place in history and popular myth. Next to her sharp-mindedness, there are a few more things that gave her the popularity she still has today. Her supposed exotic beauty, power of seduction, and romantic and military alliances with Roman leaders, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. (1) (2)
You’ve probably learned about Cleopatra in school. However, there are still many facts about Cleopatra that you probably never heard about. Let’s brush up on that knowledge, and learn a couple of new things about Cleopatra, and her life. Without any further ado, let’s find out more!
1. Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian
One of the most common facts about Cleopatra is actually not true at all. While many think she was of Egyptian descent, that’s not true. Cleopatra was born in Egypt, but she originated from a Macedonian Greek royal family, the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Ptolemy I Soter, Cleopatra’s ancestor, was one of the generals who served Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Ptolemy took the reigns of Egypt. His family became a dynasty of Greek-speaking rulers that lasted in Egypt for almost three centuries.
While Cleopatra wasn’t ethnically Egyptian, she embraced many of the country’s ancient customs and traditions. She was the first member of the Ptolemaic line to learn the Egyptian language.
In that matter, Cleopatra was quite similar to Alexander the Great, who also remained known for adopting Persian customs, language, and fashion in an attempt to become accepted by the Persian people. (3)
2. There’s a lot more to Cleopatra than her beauty
One of the most popular facts about Cleopatra is her alluring physical appearance and exotic looks. Even today, it’s widely known that Cleopatra was an absolutely beautiful woman, and it’s believed that she used her sex appeal as a political weapon. However, that might be the picture that the Roman propaganda wanted you to see.
In fact, Cleopatra may have been more renowned and respected for her intellect rather than her physical appearance. As we already mentioned, she was the first Ptolemaic leader who learned the Egyptian language, and she even spoke a few more.
She was also educated in philosophy, astronomy, oratory, and math. Some Egyptian sources even described her as the ruler “who elevated the ranks of scholars and enjoyed their company.”
On the other hand, there’s also some evidence that Cleopatra might’ve not been as beautiful as once believed. Coins with her portrait display that she had some manly features, and a large, hooked nose. Some historians tend to believe that she decided to portray herself as masculine as a display of strength.
The ancient writer Plutarch wrote that her beauty was “not altogether incomparable”, but that her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” made her so attractive. (4) (5)
3. She paid extra attention to her entrances
Some of Cleopatra’s popularity and status might also come from performance entrances she cleverly organized. She believed that she was a living goddess, and wanted people to think about her like one.
Cleopatra often used smart stagecraft to woo potential allies and state her divine status. One of the most famous examples of this happened in 48 BC, when Caesar arrived in Alexandria, while Cleopatra had a feud with her brother, Ptolemy XIII.
Cleopatra knew that Ptolemy’s allies would try their best to stop her attempt to meet Caesar. She wrapped herself in a carpet, or a linen sack, and found her way to Caesar’s personal quarters. The two of them soon became political allies and romantic lovers.
Several years later, she tried a similar bit when she met Mark Antony. When she was invited to meet him, she arrived on a golden barge adorned with purple sails and rowed by oars made of silver.
Cleopatra was styled to look like the goddess Aphrodite, and she was sitting beneath a gilded canopy while attendants who were dresses like cupids fanned her. Needless to say, Mark Antony was enchanted. (6)
4. Cleopatra was conceived in incest
Similar to many other royal houses, members of the Ptolemaic dynasty married within the family, with the goal of preserving the purity of their bloodline. Most of Cleopatra’s ancestors were married and had children with their cousins and siblings. It’s highly likely that was the case with her parents as well.
Cleopatra kept with this unusual custom and married both of her teenage brothers. Both of them served as her ceremonial spouse and a co-regent during different parts of her reign. (2) (7)
5. When Caesar was assassinated, Cleopatra was living in Rome with him, as his mistress
Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. At the time, Cleopatra who was married to her brother lived in Rome with Caesar as his mistress, and their son Caesarion. She was living in a palace of her own, right on the other side of the river Tiber from Caesar’s household. After his assassination, she left and returned to Egypt. (8)
6. When we call the eighth month of the year “August”, we’re celebrating the death and defeat of Cleopatra
One of the most surprising facts about Cleopatra is that the month of August has something to do with her death and defeat.
Octavius Augustus founded his reign on Cleopatra’s defeat. When he had the chance to have a month named in his honor, instead of choosing September, the month when he was born, he decided to choose the eighth month, a month in which Cleopatra died.
By doing this, Augustus created a yearly reminder of his victory over Cleopatra. When he defeated Cleopatra, he wanted to lead Cleopatra as a captive through Rome, to showcase his power. At the time, this was the way generals showed their prisoners and celebrated their victories. However, Cleopatra stopped him from doing that by killing herself.
Cleopatra didn’t die for love, but she chose to die instead of suffering the violence of being shamed, paraded, and helpless. However, Augustus still wanted to show his triumph over her, so he carried an image of her through the streets of Rome instead. After her death, Cleopatra’s son Ceasarion was murdered under Augustus’ orders. (9) (10)
7. The movie “Cleopatra” is one of the most expensive movies ever made
For this fact about Cleopatra, we’ll have to fast forward a few decades. In a 1963 movie, Cleopatra was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor. The movies had many production problems and script issues, which eventually caused the movie’s budget to jump from $2 million to $44 million.
The price of Elizabeth’s costumes came in at a whopping $200,000. At the time when the movie was released, it was the most expensive film ever made. The studio that released it almost went bankrupt despite the fortune that it made at the box office.
Even today, Cleopatra remains one of the most expensive movies ever made. We’re wondering if Cleopatra would be happy with the scandalous and controversial way she was portrayed on the screen. (11)
Facts about Cleopatra – a never-ending book!
Cleopatra was such a significant and interesting historical figure that we could talk for days about her, and still not cover everything there is to now. These were some of the most interesting facts about Cleopatra, and we hope you enjoyed them.
Now, we’d like to hear back from you. Which one of these facts about Cleopatra did you like the most? Is there something you didn’t know about her that really surprised you? Or, did we fail to mention some of your favorite ones? Don’t be shy, and let us know in the comments below!
While you’re here, there’s a lot more around here you might like! If you liked this one, you’ll definitely enjoy reading facts about Alexander the Great. Or, you might want to brush up on your knowledge about Aristotle!