WATCH: Elizabeth Taylor In The Trailer For The Movie 'Cleopatra' (1963)
ARTICLES AND BOOKS BY WRITER BEN AROGUNDADE
Queen Cleopatra VII Beauty Biography And Facts: Was She Black, White, Greek Or Egyptian?
ROYAL BEAUTY: British actress the late Elizabeth Taylor stars as Cleopatra in the 1963 movie. Was the real queen black, white, Greek or Egyptian? Facts about her ethnicity and nationality have been debated for centuries. The latest research findings shed new light on the biographical details of her life.
Was queen Cleopatra VII black, white, Greek or Egyptian? The debate about her beauty, ethnicity and nationality has raged for centuries, but new evidence finally provides some answers. By Ben Arogundade.
FOR CENTURIES, BLACKS, WHITES, Greeks and Egyptians have debated the ethnicity and nationality of Queen Cleopatra VII. Born in Alexandra in 69BC into a Macedonian Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt for three centuries, Cleopatra ascended to the throne at the age of 17. Three years later she seduced Julius Caesar, bearing him a son, Caesarion. After Caesar was assassinated she courted Mark Antony before committing suicide on his death — legend has it by placing an asp, a venomous serpent — to her breast.
CINEMA'S WHITE CLEOPATRA Within Renaissance art Cleopatra has often been portrayed as a dark or olive-skinned woman, whereas within film she has traditionally been played by white actresses, including Vivien Leigh, Claudette Colbert, Sophia Loren and most famously Elizabeth Taylor. The question is, with such contrasting and conflicting representations within art and popular culture, are we any nearer to knowing the facts about the legendary Queen’s true ethnicity and nationality? The latest evidence suggests we are.
In December 2008, Egyptologist and Senior Assistant Keeper at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Sally Ann Ashton, after a year of painstaking research, created a computer animated 3D image of queen Cleopatra’s head, which she and her team forensically pieced together by interpreting a collection of images drawn from ancient artefacts, including a 2000-year-old ring dating back to Cleopatra’s reign. The resulting graphic is of a striking young woman of mixed ethnicity, with African-style cornrowed hair — very different to the white Cleopatra portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film. “She probably wasn't just completely European,” Ashton confirmed. “You've got to remember that her family had actually lived in Egypt for 300 years by the time she came to power.” Dr Ashton also stated that the images, which formed part of a British television documentary on Cleopatra, reflected the monarch’s Greek heritage as well as her Egyptian upbringing.
CLEOPATRA'S REAL ETHNICITY AND NATIONALITY In 2009 more interesting facts were uncovered which shed fresh light on queen Cleopatra’s ethnicity and skin color. A research team headed by Hilke Thuer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences revealed evidence that the remains of the queen’s sister, Princess Arsinoe, found in Ephesus, Turkey, indicated that her mother’s skeleton was of African origin. “That Arsinoe had an African mother is a real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatra's family and the relationship of the sisters Cleopatra and Arsinoe,” Thuer revealed. His assertion that Cleopatra was part-African is also consistent with Ashton’s 3-D model.
On this evidence it seems clear that queen Cleopatra VII was of Egyptian and Greek nationality. And so what should a modern movie Cleopatra look like, if indeed Hollywood were to caste ethnically in a new production? Perhaps Greek beauty Tonia Sotiropoulou, who stars in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall; or maybe a multi-racial actress such as Kristin Kruek (who is of Dutch, Chinese and Jamaican ethnicity); or even Jessica Alba (of Mexican and European descent).
ETHNIC RECONSTRUCTION: Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton's 3-D reconstruction of queen Cleopatra VII's head suggests a light-skinned monarch of mixed ethnicity, complete with African-style cornrowed hair. Image by Foundry Studios.
*QUEEN CLEOPATRA VII'S ETHNICITY ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Was Cleopatra white?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Was Cleopatra black?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Was Cleopatra Egyptian?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Was Cleopatra Greek?” each month.
*All figures for “Queen Cleopatra VII's Ethnicity According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.