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Cleopatra was Egyptian
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Cleopatra was Egyptian.

Don’t believe that!

The beginnings of the Cleopatra myth probably started with William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. George Bernard Shaw’s 1898 play Caesar & Cleopatra dealt with the political ramifications of a Roman Emperor marrying the Egyptian queen. Solidifying our modern image of Cleopatra as a ravishing Egyptian beauty was Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal in the 1963 film (though Taylor was not Egyptian, either!)

The real Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. Her full name was Cleopatra VII, daughter of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII. The Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt at the time had been founded three centuries earlier by Ptolemy I, a Macedonian Greek and heir to Alexander the Great. The bloodline had been kept pure for nearly 300 years through a succession of incestuous marriages. Therefore, Cleopatra was Greek and likely had no Egyptian blood or heritage.

When Ptolemy XII died in 53 B.C., he left the throne to Cleopatra and her younger brother. Cleopatra saw an opportunity to solidify her power and claim to the throne when the Roman conquest of the Greeks began in 48 B.C. She began a torrid affair with Julius Caesar, and later, another Roman leader, Marc Anthony.

And what about Cleopatra’s legendary beauty? The most reliable historical reports suggest that Cleopatra III was actually the pretty one.

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