Cleopatra the beauty


Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

No queen of Egypt is as famous as the last, Cleopatra VII. Her fame was great in antiquity, just as it is now. Born in 69 BCE as the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, she ascended the throne at the age of seventeen and attempted to save a leading power that had held sway over the Eastern Mediterranean for thousands of years from the clutches of the emergent Imperium Romanum. Highly educated, ambitious, spirited, eloquent and with a radiant personality, she won over the Roman general Gaius Julius Caesar. He legitimised her reign – and the child they had together, Caesarion. She visited Rome and held court in Caesar’s house as the queen of Egypt, arousing the suspicions of the republicans of Rome. Caesar’s murder on 15 March 44 BCE put an end to her ambitions. Three years later she was summoned to Tarsus by Mark Antony, the new commander of the Roman eastern provinces. It was to be a fateful encounter for both of them. He followed her to Alexandria, the twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene were born. The fight for dominance in Rome kept him away from Cleopatra for four years but he returned to her in 37 BCE, married her, and they had a third child, Ptolemy Philadelphus. He named Cleopatra ‘Queen of Kings’ and donated to her and her children, the East of the Roman Empire. By doing so, he inflamed his rival, Octavian (Augustus) who resolved to fight her as Rome’s national enemy. On 2 September 31 BCE, the Roman fleet was victorious at the Battle of Actium. After the fall of Alexandria on 1 August 20 BCE, Mark Antony killed himself. Through the deadly bite of a snake, Cleopatra spared herself the ignominy of being paraded through the streets of Rome as a trophy of war. She was given a royal burial in Alexandria and laid to rest beside Mark Antony. As the last ruler in the Ptolemaic dynasty, her death marked the end of the epoch of successive Hellenistic empires, the legacy of Alexander the Great. Rome now seized supremacy in Europe, North Africa and the Near East. The Berlin portrait of Cleopatra has an immediate likeness with that seen on her coins, minted in 38 BCE, a likeness that is rarely seen in other sources. The broad royal headband worn by the Ptolemaic rulers, the traditional ‘melon’ hairstyle, knotted at the neck with tiny curls on the forehead, the protruding nose, the self-assured mouth, firmly shut, and the lively chin find their distinct echoes on coins and are idealised in the marble portrait. This was entirely in keeping with the genre and general tastes of the time, but in the Berlin portrait, the idealisation of her features is accentuated by the sensitive modelling in the Greek island marble, composed of large crystals, which lend the profile a translucence almost akin to alabaster. The left third of the back of the head, neck and shoulder was originally chiselled separately. The added part was probably once covered in gold, attested by the remains of a red ground in the hairs on the forehead. The additions and the section of her robe, both probably dating from the late 18th century and now held in storage, recently led to the Berlin Cleopatra being identified as having earlier belonged to the Despuig collection on Mallorca. Cardinal Antonio Despuig y Dameto, Count of Montenegro, oversaw excavations between 1786 and 1797 on the Via Appia south of Rome between Ariccia and Genzano. A large part of his antiquities stemmed from there. The slightly under life-sized Berlin portrait of Cleopatra VII was probably displayed in a private, rather than public or official context. Another portrait in the Vatican depicts the Egyptian queen in her natural size. That head, found before 1790 on the Via Cassia outside Rome, was identified as a portrait of Cleopatra by Ludwig Curtius in 1933.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Cleopatra the beauty
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -40/-30
  • Location: Via Appia between Ariccia and Genzano
  • Physical Dimensions: h29,5 cm
  • Type: Statuette
  • Medium: Marble
  • Inv.-No.: 1976.1
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Gertrud Platz-Horster || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz


Translate with Google