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Thread: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

  1. #1
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    [Epic Shakespearean announcer's voice:] by the powers of Wikipedia and black magic sorcery, arise! Arise, Cleopatra, seventh of her name! Arise and show us thy face! The face that wooed Julius Caesar and Mark Antony! The face descended from Ptolemy I, that Macedonian Greek general of Alexander the Great! The face that stared into the eyes of death itself with the vicious asp that bit your chest and introduced its deadly toxin! The face that shall inspire Afrocentrism for centuries to come and serve as a timeless icon for Black Power! The face that...



    Oh. Never mind. She's kinda average for a white chick, I guess. I wouldn't swipe her away on Tinder, though. On condition that she ditch the kid here, Caesarion. I ain't paying no child support, k babe? If she speaks Latin in the streets and Greek in the sheets then we all good, yo.

    The image above comes from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, Italy, and it's one that I just uploaded to Wikimedia Commons today and placed in several articles at Wikipedia (i.e. the ones for Cleopatra, Caesarion, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Augustus). I also created the entire "Depictions in ancient art" sub-section of Cleopatra's present article. Without my doing, this particular painting from Pompeii would be a rather obscure one and very hard to find online, used almost exclusively in academic circles (where we all know they have a kinky fapping fetish for keeping these things to themselves and away from the unworthy, unwashed plebs of the general public, especially the uncouth dregs and knaves at TWC). As explained by Duane W. Roller (Cleopatra: a biography, Oxford University Press, 2010) and Susan Walker ("Cleopatra in Pompeii?", Papers from the British School at Rome, 2008), it's a contemporary Roman depiction of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt as Venus Genetrix, holding her rugrat son Caesarion, seen here as an annoying little blonde-haired cupid hugging her face.

    Caesarion, as you may recall, was allegedly the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

    Uh oh, Spaghettios! That was simply too problematic for Octavian/Augustus, who murdered the little bastard and would-be heir to Caesar in 30 BC. Plus, Caesarion was the legitimate Hellenistic king of Egypt, another obstacle for the expansionism of Augustus. Gotta get that sweet, sweet Egyptian grain without worrying about another stupid Ptolemaic civil war disrupting vital imports for the hungry, unruly mob in Rome. The cool thing about this painting is that the owner of it decided to wall it off completely and hide it within the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus. Both Roller and Walker affirm that this was done shortly after Caesarion was executed and there's evidence that there was a program in place for destroying images of Caesarion, who would continue to be a thorn in the side of Augustus if his legacy lived on (plus damnatio memoriae and all that nasty grease-ball Guido Italian mafia stuff). For instance, several academic sources compare the painting in Pompeii to a sculpted marble bust in the Vatican museum, the so-called Vatican Cleopatra, which appears to have a mark on its left cheek where a cupid's hand once rested. The Vatican Cleopatra, along with the Berlin Cleopatra (Altes Museum, Berlin) that has a full, undamaged nose, both seem to be derived from a single, standard work, which Roller and Walker assume was the now lost gilded statue of Cleopatra erected in the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar, Rome, by her patron Julius Caesar (it was still standing there as late as the 3rd century).

    The Berlin Cleopatra:


    The Vatican Cleopatra:


    The British Museum Cleopatra (lacking a royal diadem, so perhaps one of her courtiers mimicking her 'melon' hairstyle instead of the actual queen herself):


    The Tomba di Nerone Cleopatra, now in the Museo Pio-Clementino of the Vatican Museums:


    The Esquiline Venus, thought by some academics to depict Cleopatra (with good reason):


    And of course, who could forget the famous Queen Latifa Malik Abdul Jabar Afro Farrakhan Ebony Cleopatra:


    If only that statue of Cleopatra commissioned by Julius Caesar was still standing in the Roman Forum! Or at least fragments of it. It must have been re-purposed during the Christian era, no doubt. Hey! Let's melt down the gilded bits to make jewelry and use the other parts as building materials!

    So what do you guys make of all of this? Bear in mind this thread is about the academic discourse focused on surviving coins, sculptures and paintings. We don't need to talk about the silly race debate in popular media. Let's focus instead on comparing and contrasting these images in the surviving corpus of ancient works depicting Cleopatra, and those which are mostly disputed in academia. Let's all huddle together in our Ivory Tower and have a smart discussion about this, cuz we're smart guys and we do smart things like comparing the aquiline nose of the Berlin portrait to that of Cleo's coinage. That's pretty smart! You can do smart stuff too, right? Like a smart kid?

    In essence, the title of my thread is largely in jest, even though it's true. We're not here to talk about Cleopatra's skin unless it has something to do with an academic debate, such as Walker's comparison of her ivory-white skin and other features in the Pompeii mural to that of common Roman and Ptolemaic-Egyptian depictions of various goddesses.

    Oh, and if you deviate from this, the wrath of the gods and the thousand moderators of the Persian Empire shall descend upon you. Their arrows and TWC moderation shall blot out the sun, one should hope. And we shall argue in the shade.

    EDIT: I made this little video recently about the aforementioned artworks. Please visit the link, give it a thumbs up, and subscribe!



    Cleopatra and Caesarion, wearing royal diadems and attended to by servants as Cleo commits suicide by poisoning, in a fresco from the House of Giuseppe II at Pompeii dated to the early 1st century AD:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ing_poison.jpg


    Posthumous painted portrait of Cleopatra from Herculaneum dated to the early 1st century AD (before Herculaneum was destroyed in 79 AD by Mt Vesuvius), depicting Cleopatra with red hair, her Greek royal diadem, melon-style hairdo, and studded pearl earrings:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...1127162%29.jpg

  2. #2
    Christianus's Avatar Miles
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    hahahaha
    Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
    κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.
    - Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος

  3. #3

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Honestly, I hadn't heard of anyone stating otherwise. The recent find of the dark skinned "Cheddar man" in Britain is rather intriguing though, if it can be trusted.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    I recommend a pugio rather than a spear, because in close quarters combat, a dagger will serve you better than a spear.

    Rad, 2016.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    It's my understanding that it's not really possible to map modern ethnicities onto the ancient world, though. In a sense Cleopatra was no more "black" or "white" than the Sarmatians were "Ukrainian" or "Uzbek" - black/white distinctions are afaik a much later, modern distinction - the first time a distinction was explicitly formulated between the two groups was in the Virginia slave code of 1705, which is often credited with inventing the concept of "whiteness" as opposed to the plurality of white identities that existed before - English, Italian, Irish, etc.

    Anyway, attempting to shoehorn North African peoples in particular into the modern black/white dichotomy is imo particularly awkward since they very much sit at the "boundary zone" where the hard border between these identities really begins to break down, even today.

    Haha, just read all that back and it sounds so serious - sorry, just adding my 0.2$

    Also, wasn't Cleopatra of Ptolemaic (and therefore Macedonian) descent? So we would expect her to look similar to contemporary Greeks, no?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Baharr - yes, Cleopatra was ethnically Macedonian. Anyone arguing she was "black" or somehow "African" in origin is a retard. Same goes for Hannibal, who was Phoenician.

  7. #7
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by nvm View Post
    Honestly, I hadn't heard of anyone stating otherwise. The recent find of the dark skinned "Cheddar man" in Britain is rather intriguing though, if it can be trusted.
    I'm glad to see you've never read a Youtube comments section, then.

    Cheddar man is irrelevant to the thread, but yeah, it's interesting to note the alleged appearance of Britons long before the Celtic peoples even arrived, let alone the Romans.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baharr View Post
    It's my understanding that it's not really possible to map modern ethnicities onto the ancient world, though. In a sense Cleopatra was no more "black" or "white" than the Sarmatians were "Ukrainian" or "Uzbek" - black/white distinctions are afaik a much later, modern distinction - the first time a distinction was explicitly formulated between the two groups was in the Virginia slave code of 1705, which is often credited with inventing the concept of "whiteness" as opposed to the plurality of white identities that existed before - English, Italian, Irish, etc.
    There's that. And then there's also the obvious fact that ancient Macedonian Greeks, like the Ptolemaic dynasty of rulers in Egypt (including Cleopatra), had nothing to do with population groups of black Africans south of the Sahara Desert. Aside from the fact that Cleopatra, in her attempt to learn multiple languages, also picked up Ethiopian and could apparently speak it alongside her native Greek as well as Late Egyptian, Hebrew, Median, and Parthian-Iranian.

    Also, archaeogenetics aren't as murky or hazy as you seem to think. We actually know a great deal about the genetic history of population groups around the world, contrary to your beliefs.

    Anyway, attempting to shoehorn North African peoples in particular into the modern black/white dichotomy is imo particularly awkward since they very much sit at the "boundary zone" where the hard border between these identities really begins to break down, even today.
    Some North African populations include varying levels black sub-Saharan elements, especially in places like Algeria and Libya, but these are distinct minorities within those populations. Most North Africans share a lot more genetic code with Mediterranean islanders and southern Europeans than anything else, and that's basically been the case since the Neolithic period. It's the reason why North Africans are classified as white/Caucasian by today's United States Census Bureau.

    East Africans like Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis, etc. are basically "black" for lack of a better word, but even various population groups of the Horn of Africa share significant amount of genetic history with Semitic peoples of the neighboring Arabian peninsula. That becomes rather obvious when you consider that even various cultures of East Africa are Semitic, like the predominant ethnic group of Ethiopia, the Amharic people.

    Haha, just read all that back and it sounds so serious - sorry, just adding my 0.2$

    Also, wasn't Cleopatra of Ptolemaic (and therefore Macedonian) descent? So we would expect her to look similar to contemporary Greeks, no?
    I mean, I mentioned in the fourth sentence of this thread that her ancestor (and founder of the dynasty) was Ptolemy I, a Macedonian Greek general who originally served under Alexander the Great. This part here is a silly conversation, though, one that's not grounded in reality or basic knowledge of the people we are discussing. How about establishing the basics? Like, you know, the name Cleopatra (Κλεοπάτρα) itself being Greek (meaning "from the glorious father"). Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, had a wife named Cleopatra Eurydice. He even had a daughter named Cleopatra, for god's sake. Anyone with any sort of basic literacy in Greek history knows this.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    That's all super interesting, actually! I admit my knowledge of ancient history is fairly limited compared to many of the people here, so it's pretty cool to see a really in-depth discussion materialise every now and again

    re: archaeogenetics - what I meant to say was that I frequently see people attempting to slap modern ethnic labels onto ancient cultures, to the point where I've seen the Proto-Indo-Europeans referred to as "ancient Ukrainians", which is really just silly. I wasn't implying the science is murky at all, more that ethnic groups are not "fixed", if you catch my meaning. To get back to the point, what I was implying but failed to really articulate is that claiming either Cleopatra or Egypt (whether Ancient or Ptolemaic or Islamic...) as "black" or "white" is to anachronistically project a modern conflict into the past - it's a bit like asking "who owns Ancient Egyptian culture, white people or black people?" and the answer really is "Ancient Egyptians" because "white people" and "black people" in a sense did not exist as identities until recently.

    But anyway, I applaud your find, that reconstruction you posted at the end of your initial post seems super ridiculous now

  9. #9

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Trying to put modern labels on ancients is really, really silly. Especially when you consider how much migration there has been between now and then. The Asian steppe was a constantly-moving procession of people from east to west (even millenia before Genghis Khan), and there were many smaller migrations going on all over the place too. Add to that Phoenician, Hellenistic and Roman colonisation.
    It began on seven hills - a historical house-ruled Romani AAR
    Heirs to Lysimachos - a semi-historical Epeiros-as-Pergamon AAR
    Philetairos' Gift - a second attempt at an Epeiros-as-Pergamon AAR


  10. #10

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by QuintusSertorius View Post
    Trying to put modern labels on ancients is really, really silly. Especially when you consider how much migration there has been between now and then. The Asian steppe was a constantly-moving procession of people from east to west (even millenia before Genghis Khan), and there were many smaller migrations going on all over the place too. Add to that Phoenician, Hellenistic and Roman colonisation.
    Sure, and that's why it's so important that we have tools like archaeogenetics, which bring facts to a discussion that has seen so much speculation from laymen, hand-waving from historians (or even certain archaeologists whose world only includes studying Greek pottery and Roman portraits ), and hilarious theories from race ideologues of all colours... hey wait a second, didn't the original EB bibliography thread recommend one of those quacks, a certain Mr. Bernal?

  11. #11

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by athanaric View Post
    Sure, and that's why it's so important that we have tools like archaeogenetics, which bring facts to a discussion that has seen so much speculation from laymen, hand-waving from historians (or even certain archaeologists whose world only includes studying Greek pottery and Roman portraits ), and hilarious theories from race ideologues of all colours... hey wait a second, didn't the original EB bibliography thread recommend one of those quacks, a certain Mr. Bernal?
    I wouldn't call the original EB1 bibliography an especially good example of the team's work. Not least because that was largely a different team, and our standards of rigour are much higher than was the case back then.

    I wasn't a member of that team, and as I'm regularly at pains to point out, I couldn't care less what EB1 did, it doesn't inform what we're doing in EBII.

    As for archaeogenetics, I'd take it with a pinch of salt until they gather a lot more data on modern populations. The current data on Africa, for example (where the greatest variety of genetic expressions exist) is very thin right now.
    It began on seven hills - a historical house-ruled Romani AAR
    Heirs to Lysimachos - a semi-historical Epeiros-as-Pergamon AAR
    Philetairos' Gift - a second attempt at an Epeiros-as-Pergamon AAR


  12. #12
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Love the conversation thus far, but just a friendly reminder that the thread is about portraits and iconography of Cleopatra, not about genetics or biological forensics. Unless of course one of you guys has a hair follicle from Cleopatra’s head or something. Lol. Let’s keep the discussion about artwork, please.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Kinda related to this thread but how multicultural is the Roman Empire? Are they similar in a way America is?

    Is it possible you would be able to encounter Illyrians, Gauls, Dacians, Africans and many more spread out all over the Empire?

  14. #14
    Beckitz's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by Tactics Mayers View Post
    Kinda related to this thread but how multicultural is the Roman Empire? Are they similar in a way America is?

    Is it possible you would be able to encounter Illyrians, Gauls, Dacians, Africans and many more spread out all over the Empire?
    Short answer: yes

    Long answer: basically yes, but you should keep in mind the different world and society of Ancient Rome. The most likely people to travel across the Empire were administrators/magistrates, soldiers, slaves, or the merchant class

  15. #15

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by Beckitz View Post
    Short answer: yes

    Long answer: basically yes, but you should keep in mind the different world and society of Ancient Rome. The most likely people to travel across the Empire were administrators/magistrates, soldiers, slaves, or the merchant class
    So basically it's possible that a Legion from Africa can be transfered to Britain? or a Danube Legion being transfered to Spain or the Middle East?

  16. #16

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by Tactics Mayers View Post
    So basically it's possible that a Legion from Africa can be transfered to Britain? or a Danube Legion being transfered to Spain or the Middle East?
    A legion being transferred? I can't say much about that: IIRC, a lot of the legions on the Rhine/Danube/Euphrates stayed on the Rhine/Danube/Euphrates, unless the Emperor decided to use them for a major campaign (a la Trajan in Dacia). However, auxiliary units would often be sent to non-native regions for their tour of service; hence, the 5,500 Iazyges who got shipped to Britain, and may-or-may-not have inspired that whole "sword-in-the-stone" thing. I think we also have some 200 Iberian horsemen who got their citizenship by fighting in Italy during the Social War, since the document in question survived. More knowledgeable people will know more. (Look at that, a tautology!)

    Quote Originally Posted by Baharr View Post
    It's my understanding that it's not really possible to map modern ethnicities onto the ancient world, though. In a sense Cleopatra was no more "black" or "white" than the Sarmatians were "Ukrainian" or "Uzbek" - black/white distinctions are afaik a much later, modern distinction - the first time a distinction was explicitly formulated between the two groups was in the Virginia slave code of 1705, which is often credited with inventing the concept of "whiteness" as opposed to the plurality of white identities that existed before - English, Italian, Irish, etc.
    You may be correct that the Virginia code established an official "standard" of whiteness vs blackness, but similar kinds of attitudes had been seen since at least ibn Battuta in the 14th century. ibn Battuta was the worst tourist you'll ever encounter. At times, it seems that his appraisal of various locales is based solely on how well the natives feed him...but I digress. During his travels in West Africa, whenever he's slighted (read: not fetted properly), he'll start making snappy remarks about how "the blacks" hate pale folks like him. Then he'll get to the next town, be treated "properly," and suddenly everything is alright again.

    Such attitudes probably existed earlier: ibn Battuta is just the earliest Arab writer I've read, so I'm not equipped to say more.

    On the actual thread topic...

    Was it Alexandrian fashion at the time to have such short hair? I mean, I understand why most folks wouldn't have long hair in the days before easy access to shampoo, but was the fuzzy half-sphere the style in the Eastern Med at this point?
    Last edited by Dargaron; March 12, 2018 at 12:27 AM.

  17. #17
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Quote Originally Posted by Dargaron View Post
    On the actual thread topic...

    Was it Alexandrian fashion at the time to have such short hair? I mean, I understand why most folks wouldn't have long hair in the days before easy access to shampoo, but was the fuzzy half-sphere the style in the Eastern Med at this point?
    Yes, it sure was! From sciencedirect.com:

    * Norbert Haas, Francoise Toppe, Beate M. Henz. "Hairstyles in the Arts of Greek and Roman Antiquity," in Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, Volume 10, Issue 3, (December 2005): 298-300.
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1087-0024.2005.10120.x

    The maiden of the archaic period, the kore (Grk), wore extremely fine braids. Since men at the archaic period also had long hair, the visitor at a museum may find it difficult to distinguish the sexes. By the 5th century, however, a clear difference occurred. In contrast to men, women continued to wear long hair, usually curled on the forehead and sides of the head and drawn into a bun at the nape. Later, a very distinct youthful style was in fashion, the so-called “melon”, named because the hair was divided into a number of segments running like the ribs of a melon from the forehead to the back of the head (Hurschmann, 1998).
    This is the same melon-style haircut mentioned above and discussed at length here in this University of Chicago web source on Cleopatra:

    Grout, James. (April 1, 2017). "Was Cleopatra Beautiful?". Encyclopaedia Romana. University of Chicago.

    EDIT:

    I can't confirm it on any academic sites, but it appears that yet another painting at Pompeii might depict Cleopatra. Susan Walker and Duane W. Roller seem immensely confident that, with little doubt, the painting I showed above from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus depicts Cleopatra VII. They didn't say anything about the Temple of Isis fresco from Pompeii, and yet there is a direct comparison made by this Reno Coin collector's club:

    http://www.renocoinclub.org/CartwheelOct2013.html


    They are not an academic institution, so take it with a grain of salt when they say: "Even more fascinating is the identification of a fresco in Pompeii as being an image of Cleopatra. It had long been thought that the images of Isis found in the Temple of Isis in Pompeii might be depictions of Cleopatra as Isis. Take a look."

    Roller (2010), writing for the Oxford University Press, says that the painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus is the only legitimate surviving painted depiction of Cleopatra, though. Perhaps they excluded the other from the Temple of Isis because it is controversial, or only a minority of scholars have that opinion? It could simply just depict the goddess Isis holding an Egyptian cobra (while sitting next to Io), but I'm not sure.

    Here's the original fresco from Wikimedia:


  18. #18

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    "ptolemaioi".

    Nothing more to say.


  19. #19
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    I now have to wonder if red hair is a phenotype that ran in the family for the Ptolemies. The painting in the OP from Pompeii shows her as a light brunette (with her son Caesarion as blond). However, this posthumous portrait of Cleopatra VII from nearby Herculaneum shows her with red hair. It reminded me instantly of a mosaic from Thmuis (Mendes), Egypt, that I had seen long ago of the Ptolemaic Queen Berenice II, Cleopatra's ancestor, in an artwork dated around 200 BC. She seems to have reddish brunette hair in it. Perhaps it's from that old Egyptian tradition of dying hair red as associated with certain deities. I'm not really sure. I have no idea what hair color Ptolemy I had, but Macedonian Greeks in general have been depicted with it, even Alexander the Great and Hephaestion in the Stag Hunt Mosaic of the late 4th century BC.

    Painting from Roman Herculaneum, Italy, late 1st-century BC to mid-1st century AD, most likely a portrait of Cleopatra VII with red hair and wearing her royal diadem.


    Mosaic of Berenice II personified as the city of Alexandria, with a ship's prow crown and anchor brooch symbolizing the Ptolemaic naval prowess in the Mediterranean, c. 200 BC, from Thmuis (Mendes), Egypt


    The famous Stag Hunt Mosaic depicting Alexander the Great and Hephaestion, late 4th century BC, from Pella, Macedonia, Greece

  20. #20

    Default Re: Cleopatra was white and I can prove it

    Most people don't care about truth just what fits them better, so they interpret everything as they want. I mean there are descriptions, statues, paintings, dna from many of antiquity and everyone still only see what they want. And that's why all this revisionism exists so that history serves the modern vision of the world.

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