The Legend of Cleopatra

No other queen of the ancient world—not Hatshepsut or Nefertiti, not Helen of Troy or Boudicca of the Celts—carries with her the intrigue of Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra VII. Her life, her politics, and her romantic encounters have given her a magical appeal that has captivated the world ever since. Over the years, her tale has been told and retold, and often reinterpreted; her image has been reinterpreted by age after age in light of each proceeding style of art and fashion. And still Cleopatra remains rich, ruthless, and incredibly alluring.

And to think that this is a woman whose appearance we cannot even know for certain. Years ago, a British Museum curator examined the royal statues of the queen and the coins stamped with her image and stated that her face was not what one would consider beautiful by modern standards. Reports that the queen was fat, frumpy, and had a large hooked nose, bad teeth, sharp eyes, and a fat-folded neck, spread throughout the press. “Ancient Coin Suggests Cleopatra Was No Beauty,” read the headlines. And yet we continue to be fascinated by this woman who made history.


From National Geographic Magazine

  • <p>Photo: Workers at dawn</p>

    Egyptian Afterlife

    New evidence shows that, human sacrifice helped populate the royal city of the dead.

  • Photo: Desert ruins

    The Black Pharaohs

    An ignored chapter of history tells of a time when kings from deep in Africa conquered ancient Egypt.

  • Photo: Egyptian tomb at night

    The King Herself

    What motivated Hatshepsut to rule ancient Egypt as a man while her stepson stood in the shadows? Her mummy, and her true story, come to light.


  • Photo: Underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio

    Franck Goddio

    Franck Goddio explains his drive to keep searching for elements of Cleopatra's life.

  • Photo: Zahi Hawass

    Zahi Hawass

    Zahi is looking for that missing piece of Egypt’s story—the tomb of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra in the News