What Did Cleopatra Really Look Like?

For centuries, Cleopatra has been celebrated for her beauty. You only have to watch like 10 of the bazillions of Cleopatra movies to know that beauty was pretty much right there on the top of Cleopatra's list of fine qualities. In fact, in many of those portrayals, beauty has clearly been ranked above things like whether or not she was a capable ruler or a skilled politician. So we should all be kind of annoyed about that, frankly.

So how beautiful was the famous queen of Egypt, really? It's hard to know for sure. We don't have a skeleton so we can't exactly recreate her face with modern forensics or anything. We do know that she very famously seduced two of the most powerful men in the world — Julius Caesar and Mark Antony — but seduction doesn't necessarily require physical beauty, so it would be kind of bold to make an assumption that those particular accomplishments somehow prove she must have been beautiful. 

For now, we only have the archaeological record to look at. According to Heritage Daily, the Greek historian Plutarch described Cleopatra's beauty as "in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her." A century later, though, a Roman historian was gushing about her "surpassing beauty," calling her "brilliant to look upon." Neither one of these men actually met her, though, so it's impossible to say which one (if either of them) came closer to the truth. 

The best portraits we have of Cleopatra can be found on coins, where she's usually depicted as plain, and sometimes even mannish. But we can't really depend on those portraits either, since she may have deliberately wanted to portray herself as masculine in order to legitimize her rule during a time when women were still thought of as less-than-capable leaders.

So we don't really know, and until someone finds the tomb of Antony and Cleopatra, the question will probably remain unanswered. What most of her contemporaries agreed on, though, was that Cleopatra possessed charm and intellect — and let's face it, those qualities are way more important than good looks anyway.