Antique coin refutes Cleopatra's beauty

Portraits of Mark Antony and the Egyptian ruler are not very flattering

Silver coin with Cleopatra portrait. © University of Newcastle upon Tyne
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Mark Antony and Cleopatra are considered the tragic lovers of antiquity. But as a newly discovered Roman silver coin now shows, they probably bore no resemblance to the idealized ideals of beauty that they were often portrayed.

Cleopatra, the last ruler of Egypt, is still considered today as the epitome of beauty and power. The queen of the Nile kingdom, who came from the Ptolemaic family, had a relationship with two Roman leaders at a time: Caesarion only with Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After Caesar's death she also won Antony for herself. Although he was married, he got involved in a relationship with Cleopatra, three children came out of this connection.

"The popular image that we have of Cleopatra is that of a beautiful queen who was literally at the feet of Roman politicians and generals, " explains Clare Pickersgill, of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne Archaeological Museum. "The relationship between Mark Antony and Cleopatra has long been idealized by writers, artists and filmmakers. Already Shakespeare wrote in 1608 a tragedy about the couple and the Hollywood film adaptation in 1963 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton also contributed to the aura of their beauty. Current research, however, contradicts this picture. "

Portrait of Mark Antony. © University of Newcastle upon Tyne

So did the recent discovery of an antique silver coin in a collection of the Society for Antiquities in Newcastle by researchers of the local university. The coin, a silver denarius from the year 32 BC, shows a portrait of Antonius on one side and Cleopatra on the other side. Cleopatra is depicted with a flat forehead, a long, pointed nose, narrow lips and a rather pointed chin. Mark Antony has prominent eyes, a big hooked nose and a thick neck.

"The images on the coin are very far removed from those of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, " said Lindsay Allason-Jones, director of the Archaeological Museum in Newcastle. "Roman records tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic and that she had a seductive voice, her beauty does not mention her. The idea of ​​her as a beautiful entrant has evidently only arisen in recent times

(University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 15.02.2007 - NPO)