Was Cleopatra Black?
Was Cleopatra Black?
Cleopatra is one of histories most loved characters. And as with any popular historical figure, many people want to associate with her. This is true of many popular historical figures. For example, it is big business among genetics companies to have people send in DNA to see if they are decedents of Genghis Khan. Besides being powerful and rich Cleopatra was also very beautiful. So it is not a stretch to understand that people want to be like her. It is a popular to have a "Cleopatra style" haircut for example (Wither Cleopatra actually wore her hair like that is another matter).
So some people have come up with this idea that Cleopatra was black. There is a new movie coming out about Cleopatra (Angelina Jolie is mentioned as the next possible Cleopatra). Whenever you see news stories about this there is always people jumping up claiming that "Its time for an African American to play Cleopatra" because the real life Cleopatra was black. Since Cleopatra was the only pharaoh to be able to speak Egyptian that seems like proof that she was somehow different in her ethnicity.
But that is not all. While modern Egyptians might be tanner than Europeans, Cleopatra was not even Egyptian. She was Greek. She is the thirteenth generation in the line of Greeks who diligently practiced inbreeding to preserve the royal blood line. Two thousand years ago Greeks were not Black either. Her father and mother were probably half brother and sister. While there were outsiders adding DNA to the royal blood line they kept the bloodline as pure as possible and the vast majority of Ptolemaic Kings married sisters. How an inbred Greek could somehow turn out Black is somewhat of a medical mystery.
Cleopatra lived in Alexandria. Unless they were slaves or servants blacks people wouldn't even be allowed into the city. It might not be politically correct to say so today but in Cleopatra's time Black people were very low on the social ladder. Anybody who was allowed to be married into the family would have to have had some serious political connections. A Pharaoh who had a liking for black women would certainly have had at least something written about it - especially of they later became pharaoh.
Cleopatra spoke Egyptian. She was an expert on image and on how to charm people over. Learning the language of the people would certainly have won her brownie points. She spoke seven languages. Most pharaohs only spoke one language - and that language was Greek. If she was going to bother to learn six foreign languages you would think that the local language of her subjects would be one of the ones that she would bother with.
Cleopatra had coins minted in her image. These coins clearly show a women with European - not black, traits.
Cleopatra was supposed to be extremely beautiful. The people of Rome loved her. But the people of Rome thought that they were superior to anybody else and people of other ethnicities were considered second rate. Usually you couldn't even marry somebody who wasn't Roman. There is a lot of contemporary writing describing Cleopatra and things that she did. It is inconceivable that not one single writing would make a comment comment about her being black if she was.
When you hear people claiming that Cleopatra was black you will notice that they conveniently leave out the fact that everybody else around her was not Black. Her grandmother is not known (Probably another half sister or a cousin or niece of Ptolemy XI) and so therefore the idea is that there is some possibility that granny was black (Even though there is a complete lack of even a supporting theory about how that is possible - let alone historical evidence).
It might be a nice touch to try and claim her but there is no way that Cleopatra was anything other than of Greek decent. The bloodline was kept pure for twelve generations and no socially low outsiders added their DNA to the royal bloodline.