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Who was the real Cleopatra?

January 13, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 24.2%. 1 min read.

Over time, Cleopatra has become an icon of beauty. But in the ancient world, the Egyptian queen was better known as a masterful leader.

Her most remarkable asset, it seems, was her fabled beauty -- a conception driven by cultural touchstones such as Shakespeare's great tragedy "Antony and Cleopatra," and Elizabeth Taylor's iconic turn in the 1963 epic "Cleopatra," which spawned the ubiquitous image of a queen with beaded braids, kohl-rimmed eyes and serpentine accessories.

But whether or not Cleopatra was beautiful (there is little primary evidence to give an accurate representation of her appearance), we know that, in the ancient world, what made her so formidable wasn't her appearance or famous lovers, but the way she skillfully manipulated her public image to consolidate her power.

As British archaeologist Joyce Tyldesley observed in her 2008 book "Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt," she "drew on the iconography and cultural references of earlier queens to reinforce her position," dressing herself as the mother goddess Isis at ceremonial events to emphasize her divine right to rule.

In ancient Egypt, foreign and familial ambitions upon the crown were a constant threat, and Cleopatra was astute at resisting both by forging connections to the most powerful Romans of the period.

Sometime after her return to Egypt in a bid to claim the throne as hers alone, Cleopatra managed to gain a private audience with Julius Caesar, who had traveled to Alexandria to settle the dispute.

Despite Cleopatra's impressive reign over two decades, it was to be the queen's public image -- one of the most important means of sustaining her vast empire against the rising power of Rome -- that would thwart her in the afterlife.

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