Cleopatra nude

 Cleopatra nude


By reputation, Cleopatra was the most beautiful, the sexiest,  and the most intelligent of all the women of antiquity. By way of history, she was the last of the Pharaohs of Egypt, the end of a line that stretched from around 3000 BC to her death in 30 BC.

Actually, Cleopatra was not Egyptian, but Greek. For the last thousand years of the history of the pharaohs,  Egypt had been conquered by outsiders, and in 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and put one of his generals in charge who sensibly established himself as a pharaoh and produced a line of Greek Pharaohs of whom Cleopatra was the last and the most intelligent.

By this time it was clear that Rome was expanding, and it would be wise for Egypt to put itself on the right side, so Cleopatra did her duty and seduced the most likely Roman rulers,  first Julius Caesar, and then after his assassination, Mark Anthony. However when Anthony was defeated by Augustus at the battle of Actium in 30 BC, she feared she would be taken prisoner and displayed as a trophy in Augustus’s triumphal procession, so she committed suicide, apparently by clasping an asp to her bosom.

Cleopatra nude sideways

Black basalt statue of Cleopatra, shown from the side

But although she was ethnically Greek, Cleopatra was very keen to present herself as being a proper Egyptian, and in this statue she very much presented herself in the Egyptian style. This black basalt statue is in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, but from the side one notes the straight nose, the lovely rounded breasts, and the very heavy wig. Although Cleopatra was a Greek of the Macedonian dynasty,  she was clearly keen to emphasise her Egyptian-ness –she   even learnt Egyptian —and therefore she wore a wig.





Cleopatra nude full frontal

Full frontal nude of Cleopatra

Here we see her from the front. The wig has a uraeus in it,  the symbol of Egyptian royalty,  but she is carrying a cornucopia which is very much part of Greek and Roman symbolism.

She appears to be totally nude  – but looked down at her  ankles and the bottom half of her legs are mysteriously clothed. However she has a very prominent belly button though the area below that is not very clear — the clothes seem to somehow appear halfway down her legs. Clearly the sculptor couldn’t quite make out whether she was meant to be totally nude or not.












BM 2015 Egyptian lady on cartonnage 955An interesting example of Romano-Egyptian sexuality is this fine cartonnage mask showing a woman brazenly displaying a fine pair of breasts. I wonder what this woman was like in real life? Was she really a show-off, openly flaunting her breasts to all her friends? Or was this mask prepared after her death by her husband, showing her as he wished to remember her? She has very prominent breasts which it appear to have been rouged: there are rouge lines radiating out from her right breast (left as we see it) enhancing their size and appearance.

Not that she was totally naked. In fact apart from her breasts she was remarkably well dressed with her necklace holding up her dress with a large brooch. From the style of earrings, bracelets and finger rings, she can be dated to the early 2nd century AD. But she certainly makes a remarkable display in the British Museum, shocking the prudes, but delighting the rest of us.



On to Mesopotamia,


On  to the Minoans


Revised and updated: 23rd July 2015