Who Was Cleopatra?

Who was Cleopatra?
It should be noted that in the study of Cleopatra there is typically an emphasis on the Romans’ point of view. This is due not only to the primacy of the Roman empire in the western tradition but also to the relative lack of any Egyptian evidence with which to counter this viewpoint. Cleopatra entered the history of the West largely through her incorporation into the written records of Roman authors, and there are no narrative histories or biographies of Cleopatra written by ancient Egyptians that we can set beside the Roman accounts. Even the brief outline of Cleopatra’s historical background and life that follows is largely put together from bits and pieces of information from Roman authors. What we do have, however, is some material evidence in the form of statues, inscriptions and coins, which we will examine in the section ‘Cleopatra’s images of herself’ below.
The last of the Ptolemies
What is often lost in the modern Cleopatra story is an accurate understanding of the real historical figure. Cleopatra has become legendary, but the legends that surround her have a tendency to obscure and distort the actual Cleopatra of history.
One important aspect of Cleopatra, which is underplayed in the Roman sources and also in modern representations of her, is her status not only as an Egyptian but also as a member of a Hellenic (Greek)

of the generals (Ptolemy) of Alexander the Great, a Macedonian Greek who conquered the Persian empire and acquired Egypt in the fourth century BCE. Like all the Ptolemies, Cleopatra was both a pharaoh and a Hellenistic monarch. This is deliberately underplayed in Roman portraits of her which prefer to represent her as the figurehead of a strange and barbarous Egyptian culture. This portrayal is, of course, in itself a deliberate perversion of the ancient and significant culture of Egypt. The reason behind this is that it was much easier for the Romans to draw a picture of radical differences between...