Coins Ruin Cleo’s Fame
Cleopatra, Mark Antony no beauties, coin shows
Antony and Cleopatra were not the handsome General and his beautiful queen Hollywood would have us believe, according to experts at Newcastle University, who have been studying the depiction of the one of history’s most tragic romantic couples found on a Roman coin.
‘Roman writers tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic, and that she had a seductive voice but, tellingly, they do not mention her beauty. The image of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress is a more recent image’.
The coin is a silver denarius of Mark Antony and Cleopatra dated to 32 BC, which would have been issued by the mint of Mark Antony. On one side is the head of Mark Antony, bearing the caption Antoni Armenia devicta meaning ‘For Antony, Armenia having been vanquished’.
Cleopatra appears on the reverse of the coin with the inscription Cleopatra Reginae regum filiorumque regum, meaning ‘For Cleopatra, Queen of kings and of the children of kings’ (or possibly ‘Queen of kings and of her children who are kings’).
The Egyptian Queen looks like something from a horror movie with a long, pointed nose and chin and thin lips and rather bulbous eyes. He, on the other hand, has a hooked nose, cauliflower ears and a tree-trunk neck.
“Oriental artists of the 19th century and the modern Hollywood depictions, such as that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1963 film, have added to the idea that Cleopatra was a great beauty. Recent research would seem to disagree”, said Clare Pickersgill, assistant director of archaeological museums at the university.
Cleopatra (in fact, she was Cleopatra VII) was the last ruler of Egypt before the Romans conquered in 30 BC. Her suicide, reportedly a reaction to Antony’s own suicide in 30 BC, has seen her portrayed as a noble and loving queen. Rumours from Rome, on the other hand, suggested she was a man-stealing drunkard.
Do tell, I think these portraits are about as far from the Elizabeth Taylor ideal of Cleopatra as you’d care to go!