5 facts about… Cleopatra

She was a manipulative queen who charmed two leaders from the greatest empire in the world, seized power and was prepared to kill for her right to rule

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In the November issue of History Revealedon sale now – we explore the life and death of the fearsome Pharaoh who has become one of the most famous women in history.

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So here are 5 facts about Cleopatra, the woman who almost brought Rome to its knees…

1) A MEDICAL MIND
According to recent suggestions, Cleopatra was not just the seductress as depicted in Roman sources. She may have studied science and medicine, as did many women in Egypt, and wrote a treatise called Cosmetics – not on the subject of make-up, but about medical remedies.

2) GREEK DYNASTY
Although she walked like an Egyptian, Cleopatra’s dynasty was descended from Ptolemy, and can actually be traced to a line originating in Macedonia – starting with a lieutenant in Alexander the Great’s army.

3) PEARLY PUNCH
There is a famous story of how Cleopatra once drank a cocktail with a dissolved pearl in it in order to win a bet with Mark Antony. According to the tale, the lovers made a bet over whether the Egyptian Queen could spend a small fortune – ten thousand sesterces – on a single meal. Historian Prudence Jones published a study saying that this may have actually happened as all that was needed to melt a pearl was vinegar. It does not sound like the tastiest cocktail recipe, however.

4) THE CHARMER
Despite the beautiful representations of Cleopatra in film and art, some ancient writers were less than enthusiastic about her looks. In Life of Antony, Plutarch claims: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her”. But he is very quick to praise her character and skills as a conversationalist, describing her presence as “irresistible” and “stimulating”.

5) NO SUCH SNAKE BITE
A recent theory states that Cleopatra did not die from being bitten by a snake after all, but had instead drunk poison. Researchers have argued that to die by asp bite would be a painfully slow and torturous way to go, and that Cleopatra would have known this, given her own scientific interests in poisons. Instead, she may have used a cocktail of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium to drift into a peaceful sleep, before dying.

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Written by Steve Hartill