Ask for facts about Cleopatra and you may get a blank stare. Some details about Cleopatra are the result of stories passed through the generations or glamorized in the movies. These unknown and little-known facts about the Queen of the Nile detail the intrigue and mystery of her life and death.
Things You Don’t Know About Cleopatra
1. She was not Egyptian
Cleopatra is often referred to as “The Egyptian Queen.” However, her heritage was not actually Egyptian. Although born in Egypt, “she traced her family origins to Macedonian Greece and Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander the Great’s generals”. Cleopatra still embraced many Egyptian customs, however.
2. Identity of her mother remains unknown
Although her father was Ptolemy XII, the true identity of her mother remains a mystery. Members of the Ptolemaic dynasty often bore children who were the product of incest, allegedly to preserve the purity of their bloodline. Suspicions lend to the assumption that her mother was her father’s sister. Cleopatra herself married her two brothers at different times.
3. She killed off relatives that she considered a threat
Although Cleopatra married her brothers at different points during her rein, she also had them killed to prevent them from interfering with her power. She also had her sister killed.
4. Her beauty is questionable
Stories about Cleopatra’s beauty were just that – a story. Live Science explains that “a number of ancient records, as well as recent historical research, tell a different story.” The Queen knew how to use makeup, perfume and oils, clothing and jewels to charm her suitors.
5. Marriage of Cleopatra and Caesar not fully recognized
When Ptolemy XIII tried to bar Cleopatra from meeting with Caesar in order to get to Caesar and convince Caesar to proclaim him as sole ruler of Egypt, she used her cunning and intelligence to circumvent those efforts. When Ptolemy XIII arrived at Caesar’s quarters he discovered his sister already lounging there.
Caesar and Cleopatra had a son together, which gave her even greater power, but the marriage of Caesar and Cleopatra was never fully recognized. Caesar “married Cleopatra in the Egyptian manner“. Rome did not recognize the marriage because Caesar was already married. It was also illegal for citizens of Rome to marry a foreigner.
6. Her astronomer assisted in development of new calendar
Caesar did not just dream up the Julian calendar on his own. Cleopatra’s astronomer, Sosigenes, helped Caesar create the calendar, still used today, to replace the defective Roman calendar.
7. She was outraged over Antony and Octavia
Cleopatra captivated Mark Antony and although the two seemed inseparable, Cleopatra’s happiness soon turned to rage. When Antony assumed control of only the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, one of the additional points of settlement was that he would marry Octavia. This outraged the Queen, who gave birth to twins fathered by Antony in 40 BC. Octavia gave birth to Antony’s child the following year. Yet in 37 BC, Antony and Cleopatra finally married and had two more children.
8. Cleopatra’s death probably not suicide by asp (reptile)
Through the centuries, stories and artists depict Cleopatra’s suicide by the bite of a poisonous asp. This account is likely not factual. Cleopatra carried a hair comb with poison concealed inside. While no one knows for sure how she killed herself, historians and scholars now believe she applied a poisonous toxin to her body.