[editor's note: I purchased the Kindle edition, which explains the lack of page references in what follows]
Brown, P. (2013). The murder of Cleopatra: History’s greatest cold case. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
This is not a scholarly book. The author — Pat Brown — is a noted criminal profiler who has authored several books germaine to that subject and has appeared on assorted news programs. In trying to turn the death of Cleopatra into a “cold case”, however, she is clearly out of her element. Although her book has a very impressive bibliography of secondary sources, she seems to be either padding heavily, or is deliberately choosing to ignore quite a bit of Classical scholarship which has gone before. Indeed, when this blog mentioned a hypish piece written by the author in the Huffington post a couple of weeks ago (Cleopatra Murdered? Hmmmm ….) , she carried on a conversation with me in the comments in which she clearly either has no idea or is unwilling to acknowledge that pretty much all the questions she raises have been dealt with before by professionals in the field, and they did it without resort to speculation being built upon circularity built upon speculation supported by arguments e silentio built upon sentences beginning with the word “surely” and overuse of the first person singular pronoun. The book is, however, somewhat unique in that it appears to have arisen out of a documentary of the same name from a couple of years ago (rather than the other way around, which is more usual). Indeed, if you want a good TL;DR version of the book, you can still see the German version on Youtube, although for how long is impossible to say:
Outside of the lack of a scholarly approach, Brown’s chief ‘sin’, as it were, is in looking at Cleopatra’s death almost solely through the eyes of a 21st century criminal profiler who seems to think the ancients were “just like us” and that ancient historians like Plutarch were writing about events in such a way that they could substitute for a modern police crime scene report. What’s worse, is she seems to think that the ‘Hollywood’ or Shakespearean view of Cleopatra’s demise is the one which is generally accepted by “historians”, who are held up as nameless strawfolk on a fairly regular basis. More than that, she spends an awful lot of time not believing anything Plutarch says, sometimes for good reasons, but more often for questionable ones to paradoxically bolster her own baseless speculations.
Enough of generalities, however, let’s examine some specifics. I really don’t want to do a chapter-by-chapter critique (which this thing actually deserves) because I really don’t have an attention span long enough to write such a thing. We are fortunate, however, that brief excerpt of The Murder of Cleopatra has been put up at The Scientist, as it includes what might be called Brown’s Credo – a list of all the things she believes. I won’t deal with all of these, but fittingly, it begins with one of Brown’s more outlandish claims:
I believed Cleopatra was tortured.
This comes following chapter eighteen, which is entitled “The Unforeseen Murder of Antony”, which begins with a long digression about how Egyptian temples were designed — it later turns out — to argue that Cleopatra couldn’t possibly have dragged the dying Antony up to a window, as portrayed by Plutarch (a very long excerpt from Plutarch is also included here). Eventually her head is “spinning at Plutarch’s contorted logic” and so she decides it makes more sense that Antony was actually murdered by his own men. In the next chapter, “The Capture of Cleopatra”, the focus is on another section from that excerpt, in which Cleopatra tears her breasts and garments in grief over Antony. Brown doubts that Cleopatra would have done such things to herself because of her high levels of narcissism and the fact that she didn’t ‘fall apart’ when Julius Caesar was murdered or when she and Antony escaped from Actium (although I don’t know how that last one fits in). She does acknowledge that this was the sort of thing one might do for a loved one, but another part of her credo is:
I believed Cleopatra never loved Antony.
… the arguments presented for which I really won’t get into, but it’s all part of trying to find an alternate explanation for Cleopatra’s “self abuse”. To further cast doubt on Cleopatra engaging in what is a well-known traditional act of mourning, Brown decides to ‘role play’ to see if Cleopatra could inflict “the level of harm” that various sources claim for such actions. She tried beating her own breasts and decided it would require “hysterical grief to keep up such a ridiculous activity”. To tear clothes and lacerate one’s breasts would require “a crazed emotional haze.” Adding to her evidence is a typical bit of e silentio — Plutarch’s report of Proculeius intervening when she was attempting to stab herself with a knife. She suggests (through questions) that if Cleopatra was already bloodied from these grieving actions, that Proculeius would have believed she had already stabbed herself. Brown further thinks that Proculeius would have checked for such wounds and/or would have informed Octavian of all the bruises and gashes.
Yet he apparently notices none of these things, nor does he call for medical assistance. He also never notes that she has exposed either of her breasts for examination.
Note to Brown: Plutarch ain’t writing a police report. He is drawing on other sources and they aren’t dealing with a prosecutor and a judge. That women in the ancient world could rip garments and lacerate themselves is a common enough idea in the ancient Mediterranean world, as Brown does seem to know. The fact that it — and even Proculeius’ actions – doesn’t fit with her own world view is the problem here, not Plutarch’s description of it.
Another item from the ‘Credo’:
I believed Cleopatra was strangled.
The queen’s physician, who visited the scene of the crime and pronounced the ladies dead, did not state the deaths were natural, so we can determine that their deaths were at least suspicious.
At the time when preparations were making for the battle that was eventually fought at Actium, Antonius held the queen in such extreme distrust as to be in dread of her very attentions even, and would not so much as touch his food, unless another person had tasted it first. Upon this, the queen, it is said, wishing to amuse herself with his fears, had the extremities of the flowers in a chaplet dipped in poison, and then placed it upon her head. After a time, as the hilarity increased apace, she challenged Antonius to swallow the chaplets, mixed up with their drink. Who, under such circumstances as these, could have apprehended treachery? Accordingly, the leaves were stripped from off the chaplet, and thrown into the cup. Just as Antonius was on the very point of drinking, she arrested his arm with her hand.—”Behold, Marcus Antonius,” said she, “the woman against whom you are so careful to take these new precautions of yours in employing your tasters! And would then, if I could exist without you, either means or opportunity of effecting my purpose be wanting to me?” Saying this, she ordered a man to be brought from prison, and made him drink off the potion; he did so, and fell dead3 upon the spot.
I believed Cleopatra may have been one of the most brilliant, cold-blooded, iron-willed rulers in history and the truth about what really happened was hidden behind a veil of propaganda and lies set in motion by her murderer, Octavian, and the agenda of the Roman Empire.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that Cleopatra was, to some extent, the victim of a propaganda campaign (although Antony was the major target of such), but we might be hesitant to see Octavian as a “murderer” (I won’t get into the section where she decides he was gay as well). Even here, however, Brown isn’t breaking new ground — Michael Grant suggested such things back in 1972 in his tome dedicated to the Egyptian Queen. But it is very difficult for those who are familiar with the ancient sources — and not just translations of Plutarch and Dio — and the historical and cultural milieu in which Cleopatra et al were living, to see the death of Cleopatra as having any real advantage for Octavian. Indeed, the current ‘party line’ — that exhibiting her in his triumph and then allowing her to live in some other place — would be an amazing exhibition of his own clementia. To emphasize this, we can note (along with Adrian Goldsworthy, p. 384 and in a discussion with Dorothy King which she mentioned to me a few weeks ago), the precedent had already been set by Julius Caesar who sent Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe into exile in Ephesus … we won’t get into that story again, though.
As can possibly be surmised from the foregoing — which was incredibly difficult to write because there are so very many things to object to in this book — this isn’t the sort of book which should be gracing the shelves of scholars. If you feel you must purchase it, get a Kindle edition so at least trees don’t have to suffer … if you must have a print version, wait a month or so. This is destined to be filling the remaindered bin very soon.
I note that Hilke Thur seems to be still giving talks on the Arsinoe thing (e.g. Archaeologist says bones found in Turkey are probably those of Cleopatra’s half-sister in the Charlotte Observer), so we’ll take this opportunity to gather in one place all the relevant posts:
- Cleopatra, Arsinoe, and the Implications (the tease for the documentary … March 2009)
- rogueclassicism Review: Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer (our review of the documentary, May 2009)
- From Sword to Asp (futher thoughts … we’ll probably be referring to this post in a few days when we post another review)
Just saw this post by author Pat Brown, who is promoting her work via the Huffington Post … here’s the incipit:
For 2000 years, historians and Egyptologists have written of Cleopatra VII’s death in 30 BCE, repeating again and again the tale that the last pharaoh of Egypt committed suicide along with her two handmaidens soon after the conquering of her country by Rome.
There has been little dissension in the ranks; Cleopatra is believed to have taken her life to prevent the victorious Roman general Octavian from carrying her back to Rome in chains and humiliating her by displaying her in his triumph. Yet, I have taken a radically different view of this episode of history and that puts me in the rather risky position of upsetting a very beloved apple cart in a field I am not even a part of. But, I cannot back off because I believe that Cleopatra has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the last two millennia. I believe the evidence supports my theory that Cleopatra was murdered and that the events leading up to her death are not the ones that have been reported for centuries.
I recently gave a talk on my book at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Washington DC and after I shared my theory of Cleopatra’s life and death with the audience, a woman raised her hand.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you think your theory holds any water if none of the great minds of academia and none of the seasoned historians of the Egyptian and European past have ever come up with your conclusions? ” In other words, who am I to question such authority? Do I consider myself to be smarter than all these other people?
The answer to the latter question is clearly, “No, I am not all that brilliant,” and those who know me well will vouch for my IQ being quite normal; I doubt I have an invitation on the way to join Mensa in the near future. But, I do have something which many in the field of history do not; a way of looking at events from a completely different vantage point – through the eyes of a criminal profiler. I also am not beholden to any mindset or to historical tradition or to any institution. I am free to analyze Cleopatra and her life from a very new perspective, one based on evidence – forensic, behavioral, archeological, cultural, political and historical. I am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing. [...]
- via: Was Cleopatra Murdered? (Huffington Post)
… I’m going to suspend judgement on this one until I can get a copy of the book (why is there no Kindle edition?). We should remind folks, however, the bit of revisionism from a couple of years ago suggesting drugs rather than asps might be involved (assorted links gathered together here: Death of Cleopatra Revisionism Followup). I must mention, however, that there seems to be a certain arrogance in Brown’s claims of ‘superior knowledge’ and the tenor of her post in general … I do want to see how she handles the ancient accounts, however, as I myself am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing — as are the vast majority of the professional scholars who have dealt with this question, believe it or not (he muttered, sarcastically). I do get weary of ‘outsiders’ claiming those who do ancient historical research for a living are necessarily doing flawed research that isn’t based on evidence. Judging from the tenor of the Huffington Post piece, I would be surprised if I wasn’t labelled a part of some sort of sleeper cell of Plutarchian theology or some such. Still, it will be useful to see that Brown brings to the discussion …
UPDATE (a few minutes later): here’s Pat Brown’s background (via the ARCE DC chapter’s page about her talk … not sure how long it will be there):
Pat Brown is a nationally known criminal profiler, television commentator, author, and founder and CEO of The Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE) and The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency.
Pat has provided crime commentary, and profiling and forensic analysis in over one thousand television and radio appearances in the United States and across the globe. She can be seen regularly on the Cable Television news programs MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, and is a frequent guest of Nancy Grace, America’s Most Wanted, and The Montel Williams Show.
Here’s the tease:
In the years following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, internal Roman power struggles—combined with the increasingly negative response to Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony’s romantic partnership—led to the deterioration of the relationship between Egypt and Rome. The conflict ultimately came to a head with the Battle of Actium in September of 31 BCE, in which the Egyptian forces were decimated at sea by the Romans—with Cleopatra and Marc Antony barely escaping with their lives. The aftermath of this battle set the course for the final desperate year of Cleopatra’s life. Dr. Jennifer Wegner, Associate Curator, Egyptian Section, speaks at this “Great Battles: Moments in Time that Changed History” series lecture program.
… and here’s the video from UPenn Museum:
Time for the annual update from Dominican Today:
The biggest tomb of mummies, one Cleopatra’s masks and the temple of Isis are a few of the finds of Dominican Republic’s most famous architect, while fending off venomous snakes and scorpions, for which she’s “the only woman who dares enter the labyrinths”
Kathleen Martinez made the revelations Thursday, and noted that her excavation crews, all members of the Bedouin tribes, fear one labyrinth in particular, located at the site of the temple Taposiris Magna “They told me that anyone who goes in there vanishes forever, one snake there is particularly deadly.”
But more than snakebites and scorpion stings, Martinez said the seemingly endless tunnels guard an even deadlier secret. “We even found unexploded bombs, that’s why they fear it, people who went in there were killed by the blasts.”
“The men have to be shown that there’s no danger, so I go down any shaft first,” the arquitect said, interviewed by Huchi Lora on Channel 11.
To neutralize the bombs and even remains of soldiers Martinez affirms are the aftermath of the 2nd World War Battle of El Alamein in that zone, she contacted military authorities. “We’ve contacted the Army, we found remains of Italian and new Zealand soldiers. We’ve turned over more than 60 bombs, some soldiers were burned alive within the tunnels. There’s so much story in those tombs, from the pharaohs to the 2nd World War.”
Among the most harrowing experiences, Martinez says, was a bomb that “we tried to lift out with a winch, but it fell off the bucket and nearly detonated with a few of us still in the tunnel.”
New York exhibit
Martinez also announced the exhibit of her findings at the Metropolitan Art Museum, where Dominicans who live in New York can view them
The architect who has spent more than five years excavating to find the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra, affirms that among the she artifacts has found are “what we believe is the true face of Cleopatra.”
The added that Egypt’s new government informed her last week that her license to continue the excavations has been renewed.”
- via: Fending off snakes and scorpions, Dominican architect seeks Cleopatra’s tomb (Dominican Today)
… sounds like a scary dig, but am I the only one who thinks that if soldiers and the like were in those tunnels, the likelihood of finding anything is pretty slim? FWIW, there is nothing up at the Met right now which seems like it’s connected to this; we should also note that this past January, Martinez was complaining that many artifacts had been stolen (along with excavation equipment). If you’re new to rogueclassicism, the last time we heard from Martinez was back in January: Latest Development (?) in the Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb; we’ve been following this muchly-overhyped dig at Taposiris for years and you can follow links back …
Just came across this timely piece from Dominican Today:
Dominican Republic’s own Egyptologist affirmed Friday that the turmoil in Egypt prevented setting up protection for the museum of antiquities for which bands of looters managed to cart off important pieces.
Kathleen Martinez said the groups of looters which had formed amid the chaos even sacked the pyramids and that the upheaval in Egypt will also lead to the suspension of a global effort to return to that country its antiquities pilfered throughout the centuries.
She said groups of volunteer youngsters formed to help Zahi Hawass, director of the Supreme Council of the Antiques, defend the museum against the raiders at the start of the antigovernment protests, and revealed that the Antiquities Director already had plans to transfer it to a safer place. “There are pieces that have been lost probably forever.”
Interviewed by Huchi Lora and Patricia Solano on Telesistema, the researcher regretted the impact that the revolt will have on Egypt’s cultural legacy. “Now those pieces will start touring the world and very few people will know whether they are legal or pillaged.”
Martinez said the chaos has also forced the suspension of the entire excavation season, as her search for Cleopatra’s tomb won’t resume for now. “I will not resume the excavation until the safety of the personnel and of the pieces can be guaranteed.
She lauded Hawaas’ efforts to get the international community’s cooperation on the return of the stolen objects. “After a long judicial process, just as he was about to accomplish the return of the pieces, this happens.”
Asked about Egypt’s ability to protect its legacy, Martinez said that the presence of “radical” groups in that nation may hinder it. “I was excavating a site and a group of men approached me in an aggressive manner, and then the workers ran off and I was left all alone with them”
She said she handled the situation unscathed by managing to convince the group that she was working for the Government of their country.
The archaeologist added that despite the uncertainty to resume her quest to find Cleopatra, her work has already yielded important finds, including a pharoah’s tomb
“I know inside that I’m close to finding Cleopatra’s tomb,” the attorney-turned archaelogist said at an excavation site in November, 2009, when her team found a large statue dated 300 BC, which represents the pharaoh Ptolemy IV.
… on Sunday I’ll post excerpts from my Explorator newsletter with more links about the situation in Egypt (from an archaeological perspective); the above item is the only one so far which seems to touch upon the period of our purview …
My spiders bring me back piles of things which are claimed about Cleo … I’ve decided I might as well share them in the hopes someone might be able to point to a source. We’ll start the series off with this one (inter alia, of course):
Just talking about lice makes most of us start scratching our heads, but don’t let lice get your child down. Lice doesn’t play favorites; even Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, had her own golden lice comb.
Source? (Or did Cleo shave her head an wear a wig?)
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while … an excerpt from a piece by Zahi Hawass in Asharq Al-Awsat:
However what is strange is that there is not one statue of Queen Cleopatra, and thanks to historians we know that such statues did exist. However there is an image of Queen Cleopatra on the walls of the Temple of Hathor in Dendera, in which she is depicted with her son Caesarion…while there is also a boat rest-stop at the Temple of Kom Ombo whose construction is attributed to Cleopatra, and a maternity house in the Temple of Dendera, and a carving at the Louvre Museum that is allegedly of Cleopatra VII.
Now I’m not sure if I’m reading that correctly, but I was under the impression that that black basalt statue from the Hermitage Museum — which was part of the Cleopatra exhibition at the British Museum — was Cleopatra VII, i.e.:
I know a couple of the busts from that exhibition were ‘identified’ as Cleopatra (but hesitant), so we can probably grant him that; I can also note that some of the press coverage, such as that from the BBC, noted:
Many of the images of Cleopatra during her reign were destroyed by Octavian, Mark Antony’s successor, who took over after the couple killed themselves.
… although I don’t recall that being attested in our ancient sources. Do we really have no statues of Cleopatra VII?
… and of course, we can also argue forever about who the Esquiline Venus is …
From an interview in the New York Times:
Gail Collins: Your new biography of Cleopatra is coming out this fall, right? I’m reading it, and I’m pretty sure that from now on, whenever I hear elected officials complain about the treachery of their opponents, I’m just going to say: “Ha! You should try being queen of Egypt in 40 B.C.”
Stacy Schiff: Red and blue states were nothing to a woman who not only played to two radically different constituencies but also knew she could be removed by Rome, deposed by her subjects, undermined by her advisers — or stabbed, poisoned and dismembered by her own family. On the other hand, Cleopatra had one great advantage. She lived at a time when female sovereigns were not anomalies. And when women enjoyed rights they would not again enjoy for another 2,000 years. You could call them early feminists, if I may use a dirty word.
I think it might be time we declared a moratorium on books about Cleopatra … a quick glance through Amazon shows from the past couple of years:
- Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend by Joann Fletcher
- Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy
- Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff (the above-mentioned one presumable)
- Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane Roller
- Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston (I’ve got a review of this on one of my laptops … I should post it)
- Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley
… then again, this one coming out in a few weeks makes one go hmmmm when one sees the authors:
- Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt by Zahi A. Hawass and Franck Goddio
(i.e. not someone from the Dominican Republic)
A very interesting item in USA Today (ultimately deriving from an article in Classical World!) is bouncing around the interwebs … we’ll preface it with this excerpt from Philemon Holland’s 1847 translation of Pliny’s Natural History (9.119-121) via Archive.org. The Latin is available, as always, via Lacus Curtius:
There were two Pearls, the very largest that ever were
known in any Age, and they were possessed by Cleopatra,
the last Queen of Egypt ; having descended to her by means
of the Kings of the East. When Antony had feasted her
Day by Day very sumptuously, and under the Influence,
at one Time, of Pride and petulant Disdain, as a Royal
Harlot, after undervaluing his Expense and Provision, he
demanded how it was possible to go beyond this Magni-
ficence : she replied, that she would consume, in one Supper,
100 hundred thousand Sestertii. 2 Antony desired to learn
how that could be possible, but he thought it was not.
Wagers were, therefore, laid ; and on the following Day,
when the Decision was to be made (for that a Day might
not be lost, Antony appointed the next succeeding one), she
provided a Supper, which was, on the whole, sumptuous ;
but Antony laughed at it, and required to see an Account of
the Particulars. But she said, that what had been served up
already was but the Over-measure, and affirmed still, that
she would in that Supper make up the full Sum ; and her-
self alone consume in this Supper 600 huudred thousand
Sestertii. 1 She then commanded the second Table to be
brought in. As soon as the Order was given, the Attendants
placed before her one only Vessel of Vinegar, 2 the Strength
and Sharpness of which wasted and dissolved the Pearls.
Now she wore at her Ears that most remarkable and truly
singular Work of Nature. Therefore, as Antony waited to
see what she was going to do, she took one of them from
her Ear, steeped it in the Vinegar, and when it was liquefied,
drank it. As she was about to do the like by the other,
L. Plancius, the Judge of that Wager, laid hold upon it
with his Hand, and pronounced that Antony had lost the
Wager : whereat the Man became very angry. The Fame
of this Pearl may go with its Fellow ; for after this Queen,
the Winner of so great a Wager, was taken Prisoner, the
other Pearl was cut in two, that the half of their Supper
might hang at the Ears of Venus, in the Pantheon, at
Also of interest, is note on the story:
Cleopatra must have employed a stronger vinegar than that which
we now use for our tables, as the pearls, on account of their hardness and
their natural enamel, cannot be easily dissolved by a weak acid. Nature has
secured the teeth of animals against the effect of acids, by an enamel
covering of the like kind ; but if this enamel happen to be injured only
in one small place, the teeth soon spoil and rot. Cleopatra, perhaps,
broke and pounded the pearls ; and it is probable that she afterwards
diluted the vinegar with water, that she might be able to drink it ;
though it is the nature of the basis or calx to neutralise the acid, and so
render it imperceptible to the tongue. See BECKMAN’S Hist, of Inventions,
vol. ii. p. 1.
This story always reminds me of my Grade 12 biology class, where some poor soul decided to do the ‘Coca-Cola can dissolve teeth) thing as their final project (and it didn’t work, of course) … generally when one hears about Cleo’s pearl, it’s considered one of those urban legends of the ancient world. But check out the excerpts from the piece from USA Today:
“There’s usually a kernel of truth in these stories,” says classicist Prudence Jones of Montclair (N.J.) State University. “I always prefer to give ancient sources the benefit of the doubt and not assume that something that sounds far-fetched is just fiction.”
In the current Classical World journal, Jones details the history of the story. In it, Cleopatra won a wager with her befuddled Roman consort, Marc Antony, by consuming her pearl cocktail to create the costliest catering bill ever. Her 10 million sesterces (sesterces were the nickels of the ancient world) banquet bill, thanks to the destruction of the pearl, set a pretty early mark on extravagant consumption.
“I think there was a fairly good understanding of practical chemistry in the ancient world,” Jones says, by email. Fertilizer recipes and preparations to kill parasites on sheep appear, for example, in ancient Roman texts.
Pearls were a popular adornment for the wealthy in the Roman era. Because in antiquity the only pearls in existence were natural ones, they were considerably rarer than they are today, making dissolving one a truly wasteful act. “I think modern scholars dismiss the story more out of disbelief,” Jones says, noting a long line of references, such as a 1940 translation of the story, for instance, that says, “no such vinegar exists.”
The classicist B.L. Ullman of the University of North Carolina noted in 1957 that some experiments suggested that vinegar could indeed dissolve pearls, made of acid-unfriendly calcium carbonate by oysters. But the news never made it to most classicists, says Jones, author of Cleopatra: Life & Times. So, “I began to wonder if there was any truth behind it and started trying some experiments, at first with calcium supplement tablets and pieces of oyster shell and then with pearls,” she says.
To experiment with large pearls, Jones found a jeweler who had a couple of 5 carat ones that had been removed from pieces of jewelry. “They were not perfectly round and so were not suitable for other settings and were going to be disposed of,” Jones says. “He was willing to donate these to my experiment.”
So what did she find? “Experiments reveal that a reaction between pearls and vinegar is quite possible,” concludes the study. Calcium carbonate plus the vinegar’s acetic acid in water produces calcium acetate water and carbon dioxide, for chemistry fans. Jones finds a 5% solution of acetic acid, sold in supermarkets today and well within concentrations produced naturally by fermentation, takes 24 to 36 hours to dissolve a 5-carat pearl.
Biochemist Takeshi Furuhashi of Austria’s University of Vienna tried his own experiments with nacre shells from Red Sea oysters to see if he could reproduce Jones’s results for USA TODAY. He finds that without boiling or crushing the pearl, many hours would be needed for the acid to dissolve a large pearl. But at low concentrations of acetic acid, he reports, only an hour was required to dissolve a crushed pearl shell. So, if Cleopatra crushed the pearl, the story may be true, Furuhashi says. “However, if she put her earring directly into solution, it is impossible to obtain the same results.”
She may also have soaked the pearl in vinegar for a day or two to soften it up, he adds. Indeed, Jones says other stories about ancient wastrels knocking back pearl boilermakers involve prepared vinegar and pearl solutions being brought to the banquet table.
“I think the most likely explanations for the discrepancy between the experiment and the (legend) Pliny describes, during a banquet, are that the story compresses events for dramatic effect,” Jones says, “or that Cleopatra drank the cocktail with the pearl only partially disintegrated, having satisfied her guests that it was destroyed.”
It’s a good article to print out for your ClassCiv classes; I’m sure you’ll all find one or more students willing to try to recreate the experiment. The abstract for the Classical World article is also online, as is Dr Jones’ abstract from a talk on the subject at the APA meeting quite a while ago should you desire to pursue this a bit further. B.L. Ullman’s article in the 1957 Classical Journal is a good read as well … Also of use is the Cleopatra and the Pearl page at Lacus Curtius.
UPDATE: USA Today now also has a brief interview with Dr. Jones:
As I sit here rethinking my Ancient World on Television listings because there seem to be so few ‘new’ items worth watching coming out (more on this later) I wandered over to the History Channel’s website and they have a pile of preview videos from Zahi Hawass’ new series called Chasing Mummies. Early media reviews have commented primarily on how badly Dr Hawass seems to abuse folks working on sites (and that comes out in some of the previews) but of more importance to us are a couple of segments which are of interest to us and, of course, the History Channel’s embedding thing doesn’t want to work. So here’s the APA format citation:
Bonus Discoveries At Taposiris Magna. (2010). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:51, July 16, 2010, from http://www.history.com/videos/bonus-discoveries-at-taposiris-magna.
I won’t comment on the silliness of certain folks asking for a brush so they can clean the femur a bit more. Nor will I comment on the apparent ‘amazement’ at rather common lamp decorations and the identification of certain winged horses coming from “Roman Mythology”.
Of more interest/importance is a segment where Dr Allan Morton and David Cheetham discuss what happened to Cleopatra’s body. Both of them seem to think she was cremated “according to Macedonian tradition”. Morton thinks the idea of a tomb at Taposiris Magna is ‘possible’, but not probable. Cheetham thinks the possibility of a tomb there is zero because he thinks she was cremated and buried:
Where is Cleopatra?. (2010). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:47, July 16, 2010, from http://www.history.com/videos/where-is-cleopatra.
Ignoring the apparent lack of any suggestion that the tomb might be under water where Franck Goddio has been working, as regular readers of rogueclassicism will recall, we have previously pondered the fate of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s bodies ages ago and wondered what Macedonian practices would have been. I’m not sure that the suggested cremation scenario works for Cleopatra — Macedonian cremation traditions notwithstanding — because it seems clear from Augustus’ famous visit to the tomb of Alexander that the bodies/sarcophagi of other ptolemies were on view there as well. Here’s Suetonius, Augustus 18 (via Lacus Curtius):
About this time he had the sarcophagus and body of Alexander the Great brought forth from its shrine, and after gazing on it, showed his respect by placing upon it a golden crown and strewing it with flowers; and being then asked whether he wished to see the tomb of the Ptolemies as well, he replied, “My wish was to see a king, not corpses.”
A famous pronouncement, of course, but one I don’t would work in a cremation situation if the Ptolemies continued Macedonian practice. But maybe Cleo was treated differently?
… by the way, the Chasing Mummies website will probably be of interest to many of our readers …
UPDATE (an hour or so later): I think it’s salutary to note that the Latin Suetonius uses for ‘corpses’ is ‘mortuos’, which is possibly ambiguous in the context of ‘burial’ (it could generally refer to ‘bodies’, sarcophagi, urns with ashes, etc., I think. The Latin text/notes from the Detlev Carl Wilhelm Baumgarten-Crusius text at Google include the parallel passage from Dio and seem to suggest the passage in Suetonius has been restored from the Dio passage, so it’s problematical on many levels:
Folks who are still interested in Christoph Schaefer’s theories regarding the death of Cleopatra might want to watch the German science show Abenteuer Wissen for more details (not sure how long the video will be up; I can’t seem to embed it here). The takes-too-long-and-is-too-painful theory works if you take the accounts of our ancient sources’ claims that it was a “peaceful death” at face value. Of course, they weren’t eyewitnesses and as we’ve mentioned before, there are problems with the accounts of the ‘funerating’ of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra … it seems likely there are similar problems here. Nonetheless, perhaps a combination of ‘drugs’ plus snakebite-for-show satisfies everyone …
Our previous coverage:
Some additional coverage outside of the Telegraph (which we mentioned in our first post):
- Cleopatra ‘was killed by a cocktail of drugs – not a snake bite’ | Daily Mail
- Poison, not snake, killed Cleopatra, scholar says | CNN
- Cleopatra did not die of snake bite: study | Al Arabiya
- Cleopatra Killed by Drug Cocktail | Discovery News
The incipit of a brief item in the Telegraph:
The Queen of the Nile ended her life in 30BC and it has always been held that it was the bite of an asp – now called the Egyptian cobra – which caused her demise.
Now Christoph Schaefer, German historian and professor at the University of Trier, is presenting evidence that aims to prove drugs and not the reptile were the cause of death.
“Queen Cleopatra was famous for her beauty and was unlikely to have subjected herself to a long and disfiguring death,” he said.
He journeyed with other experts to Alexandria, Egypt, where they consulted ancient medical texts and snake experts.
“Cleopatra wanted to remain beautiful in her death to maintain her myth,” he says on the Adventure Science show screened by the German television channel ZDF.
“She probably took a cocktail of opium, hemlock and aconitum. Back then this was a well-known mixture that led to a painless death within just a few hours whereas the snake death could have taken days and been agonising.” [...]
Hopefully we’ll hear more about this … back in 2004 there was an item in the Times in which a forensic expert suggested it would have likely taken two hours for Cleopatra to die by the bite of an asp:
… and a year later there was an item in Acta Theologica Supplementum 7 (not sure who the author is; the link is a pdf) on the subject which also suggested aconite as a possibility.
We might be on the verge of another ancient-popculch-hybrid type thingy … a couple of weeks ago, Donna Estes Antebi wrote in the Huffington Post (inter alia):
The label Cougar conjures images not of women of merit and achievement, but of fountain-of-youth seeking desperation. “Cougars” are painted as wildcats armed with bottles of Botox, stiletto-stalking the kind of six-pack that doesn’t come in a can. What a sexist double standard. You know what they call successful men who keep the company of younger women? “Sir.” Or “damn lucky.” “Cougar” is never mistaken as a complement. It’s a term laced with underlying disrespect and derogatory inferences that minimize and objectify even the most successful of women.
I say enough with the denigrating cougar references. It is time to show women the respect they deserve. I coined a term in my upcoming book, The Real Secrets Women Only Whisper, which I use to describe women who dominate in a relationship through their education, power, or accomplishment. I refer to them as “Cleos.” Just like Cleopatra, the magnificent Egyptian queen herself, these powerful women rule. Women have indeed come a long way and modern-day incarnations abound. Famous American Cleos include such powerhouse women as Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Barbara Walters, Kelly Ripa, Paula Deen, Demi Moore, Christine Peters, Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachael Ray, Tyra Banks, Joan Rivers, Cheryl Tiegs, Halle Berry, Joy Behar and of course, Arianna Huffington. These women deserve our admiration. From bartenders to billionaires, a Cleo can bring home the bacon and share it with anyone she pleases!
Cleos are not cougars on the prowl looking for sex with younger men. Cleos don’t have to prowl! Cleos are highly desired – at any age. Cleos don’t need a powerful man to boost their self-esteem. Cleos have their own power. There are Cleos living all over the country who bring home the bacon, while their significant others are pouring them a glass of wine after a long day, or packing the school lunches in the morning.
And there was a followup:
Antebi is the author of The Real Secrets Women Only Whisper and she seems to be making the usual ’rounds’ … the Huffington Post seems to be the first non-gender-specific mainstream forum where this word has popped up, so we’ll keep our jaded eye open to see if it turns up elsewhere …
An excerpt from an otherwise ‘standard’ piece from ABC:
One of them is the last Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Legend has it that when the Romans entered Egypt in 30 BC and after losing the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra and her lover Mark Anthony took their own lives in order to avoid being captured by their enemies. The Romans scattered their belongings and their tomb has never been found. Archaeologists however have isolated three sites in Alexandria where they believe the tomb is located.
Three sites in Alexandria? Well, let’s be generous and say the Taposiris Magna site (some 50 km west of Alexandria) might be one of the three. Presumably another one is where that big pylon came from a few months ago. What would be the third?
While killing some time this weekend, I was poking around the archives of the New York Times via Google and in the October 12, 1884 edition I found this very interesting excerpt in an Arts column:
- at Cortona there was on view an encaustic image of Cleopatra
- it is said to be the word of Timomakos of Byzantium (a contemporary of Julius Caesar)
- it depicts the famous queen sporting jewellery reminiscent of that found by Heinrich Schliemann
- the queen is also holding an asp
We are told that a Mr. John Sartain would be writing a book all about this image and include an engraving. This is where the interwebs get all interesting because, as might be anticipated, that book is available online at the Internet Archive: On the antique painting in encaustic of Cleopatra, discovered in 1818 (1885 — there are apparently later versions) . The frontispiece includes the promised image:
Even though it’s a depiction of a depiction, I’m sure folks will readily recognize that ‘upward gaze’ as belonging to an later time in Roman art and it doesn’t seem to be the norm in wax encaustic paintings which we have, but I digress. Another version of the book at Google seems to be missing this frontispiece. The book only spends a few pages on this specific item, but it has an interesting provenance/backstory … especially in these days when we’re used to simply reading that something comes ‘from a Swiss collection’.
This is from pp 10 ff, after a section describing the ‘Muse of Cortona’, found in the same area:
The other example of ancient tablet painting is one of greater importance, and is preserved in the Villa of the Baron de Benneval at the Piano di Sorrento. This also is ingood hands but it ought to find a permanent resting-place in some national collection, where it should be forever safe. It represents Cleopatra receiving her death from the bite of an asp, and of course it cannot be claimed that it is a portraint from life, as it was obviously painted subsequent to her tragic end. It was discovered by Micheli, the well-known antiquary, under the cella of the temple of Serapis, at Hadrian’s Villa.
I haven’t been able to identify this ‘well known’ antiquary (is he someone associated with forgeries?); if folks can point me in a direction, that would be much appreciated … after a digression on the finding of the other painting we get more details on the discovery:
The history of the Cleopatra since its discovery is briefly this. Dr Micheli and his brother, who were associated in the ownership, endeavoured to secure a safe and permanent repository for their treasure in the famous Florentine Museum through a sale to the Grand Duke of Tuscany,but the large price demanded was refused, at a time so little removed from the political convulsions and great wars of the first French Empire, the finances of the Duchy requiring yet many years of economy for their re-establishment. Some years later, the business of the Micheli brothers falling into a decline, they realized funds by pledging the picture with some Jews, and soon after both died. The charges went on increasing with time, and the heirs finding themselves unable to redeem it, sold it to an acquaintance of the Baron de Benneval, subject to these accumulated charges, and he rescued it from the hands of the usurers at serious sacrifice. Subsequently the new owner also found he could not afford to keep it, and the present owner purchased it from him in the year 1860.
I omit a paragraph on times it was exhibited and a passing mention that it was placed “on an underbed of a peculiar cement” for stability purposes; it continues:
In 1869 the Emperor Louis Napoleon made an offer to purchase, which was reluctantly agreed to, and the picture was transported to Paris with the view to the fulfillment of the arrangement; but the war with Germany began, and just on the arrival of the picture in Paris there occurred the battle of Forbach, which caused hesitation as to risking its delivery. During the German siege of Paris and the Commune following, the painting was under the protection of the Prince Czartoryski, and after the liberation of the city the picture was returned to Sorrento, where it has remained ever since.
Now we get an ancient reference:
I have now only to relate what appears to have been the origin of the picture, and how it came to the place where it was found. Augustus Caesar being deprived of the presence of Cleopatra in person to grace his triumph (the Queen having evaded that humiliating exposure by suicide), decided on having at least a representation of her. It is on record that a picture was painted for this purpose, and was borne on a car or litter near his own, along with other objects of Egyptian interest and of great value, taken from the monument in which she died; and since it was carried on the attendant car, it was obviously a tablet picture. After it had answered this use, he placed it as an offering in the temple of Saturn at Rome. There can be little doubt that this is the Sorrento picture.
Before the rest, we should mention that Plutarch’s Life of Antonius (86.3) mentions an image being carried in the triumph. Dio (51.21) mentions an ‘effigy’ of Cleopatra on a couch in the procession. As often, we seem to be getting ambiguous/conflicting messages from our sources who are writing more than a century after the fact. In any event, the relevant bit of Sartain continues:
This painting has given rise to voluminous literary research, and some writers claim that it is the work of the famous Byzantine artist, Timomakos, who was the author of two pictures purchased by Julius Caesar at the enormous price of eighty talents ($350,000), which he presented as an offering to the temple of Venus Genetrix. One of these was of ” Medea,” the other “Ajax,” the former one unfinished. It is also asserted that this artist saw Cleopatra when she visited Greece, sum-moned thither by Mark Anthony, and Anthon places him as cotemporary with Caesar and the Egyptian Queen, although some authorities locate him at an earlier period. Be this as it may, by whomsoever done, it was doubtless painted about twenty-nine years before the Christian era — assuming it to be the identical picture known to have been produced for the use named. Some hundred and forty years later, the Emperor Hadrian removed from Rome a large amount of the choicest art treasures of the city to enrich and adorn the vast villa he had caused to be built near Tivoli (the ancient Tibur), and no doubt the Sorrento Cleopatra picture was among the objects thus gathered, and it found an appropriate resting-place in the temple of the Egyptian god Serapis, since that was the locality of its discovery.
Timomachus is, in fact, an encaustic artist of the time mentioned by Pliny the Elder (NH 35.136 … thanks to assorted folks on Twitter and Facebook for helping me track that down efficiently). The rest of Sartain’s book really has little of interest for us. My next foray was into a magazine/journal called Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (vol. 27; 1889). An article by one John Paul Bocock (pp. 537 ff) entitled “Some Artistic Conceptions of Cleopatra” has an interesting statement on p. 539:
Marvelous as it may seem, the authenticity of the Encaustic Cleopatra was questioned chiefly on account of the freshness of the colors, says Dr. R Schoener, the great German expert. Fragments from the slate have been ground up,however, and the age of the wax and resin colors verified.
I’m not sure what dating methods would have been in use in 1889 … anyone know?
Last, and certainly not least, I direct the reader to a very interesting page at Lacus Curtius (which I stumbled upon, archaeologist-like) while doing the ref to Plutarch above. It’s an extract from Sir Thomas Brown’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, which seems to be describing just such a painting back in the 17th century. The notes are more interesting, and seem to relate to the discovery of the encaustic under consideration by us. There are also some more references to ancient sources. What I find interesting — but not surprising — is that the author of the page (James Eason) has been unable to trace the whereabouts of this encaustic. He speculates that it’s possibly in a museum in Cortona. Does anyone know what happened to this? It seems very likely to be a fake — does anyone know of any scholarly literature debunking its authenticity? As far as I can find, the Popular Monthly item is the last mention, but it’s clear that there was skepticism about its authenticity by that time.
UPDATE (the next morning): while getting my five shots of espresso in me this a.m., I came across James Jackson Jarves, ”An Assumed Example of Greek Easel-Painting of the Best Period of Antiquity,” The Art Journal (1875-1887), New Series, Vol. 1, (1875), p. 177, which obviously predates Sartain’s work. A notable quote:
“Certain critics, however, considered it to be one of the experiments made in the last century by Count de Caylus to resuscitate the lost Art [sc. encaustic].”
Jarves doesn’t seem to have actually seen it; he goes on to talk about the Muse of Cortona. Anne Claude de Caylus (the Comte de Caylus) is suitably introduced in the relevant Wikipedia article. He does seem to have been trying to revive the encaustic technique.
Most of the press coverage this week comprised of variations on an AP piece on Franck Goddio’s explorations of the underwater ruins of Alexandria, with a special focus on Cleopatra’s palace (to coincide with the exhibition in Philadelphia). Here’s the incipit of a representative item:
Plunging into the waters off Alexandria Tuesday, divers explored the submerged ruins of a palace and temple complex from which Cleopatra ruled, swimming over heaps of limestone blocks hammered into the sea by earthquakes and tsunamis more than 1,600 years ago.
The international team is painstakingly excavating one of the richest underwater archaeological sites in the world and retrieving stunning artifacts from the last dynasty to rule over ancient Egypt before the Roman Empire annexed it in 30 B.C.
Using advanced technology, the team is surveying ancient Alexandria’s Royal Quarters, encased deep below the harbor sediment, and confirming the accuracy of descriptions of the city left by Greek geographers and historians more than 2,000 years ago.
Since the early 1990s, the topographical surveys have allowed the team, led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, to conquer the harbor’s extremely poor visibility and excavate below the seabed. They are discovering everything from coins and everyday objects to colossal granite statues of Egypt’s rulers and sunken temples dedicated to their gods.
“It’s a unique site in the world,” said Goddio, who has spent two decades searching for shipwrecks and lost cities below the seas.
The finds from along the Egyptian coast will go on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute from June 5 to Jan. 2 in an exhibition titled “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.” The exhibition will tour several other North American cities.
Many archaeological sites have been destroyed by man, with statues cut or smashed to pieces. Alexandria’s Royal Quarters — ports, a cape and islands full of temples, palaces and military outposts — simply slid into the sea after cataclysmic earthquakes in the fourth and eighth centuries. Goddio’s team found it in 1996. Many of its treasures are completely intact, wrapped in sediment protecting them from the saltwater.
“It’s as it was when it sank,” said Ashraf Abdel-Raouf of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is part of the team.
Tuesday’s dive explored the sprawling palace and temple complex where Cleopatra, the last of Egypt’s Greek-speaking Ptolemaic rulers, seduced the Roman general Mark Antony before they committed suicide upon their defeat by Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus. [...]
A few more examples (the Daily Mail has very nice photos of some of the finds; the Yahoo link is also slideshow):
- Divers Explore Sunken Ruins Of Cleopatra’s Palace | NPR
- Divers explore sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s palace | Herald Tribune
- Sunken treasure – divers recover the stunning artefacts of Cleopatra’s palace | Daily Mail
- Sunken ruins of Cleopatra’s temple excavated Play Slideshow | Yahoo
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer was hyping the exhibition with a piece that mentioned the above briefly, but then went on about Taposiris Magna, and included some more from Dr. Hawass, inter alia:
Outside the temple, a large Ptolemaic cemetery was unearthed. Some of its many mummies were gilded, and all their heads were turned toward the temple, which Hawass said could mean an important person, or persons, were buried inside.
He didn’t venture to estimate when the team might discover the tomb itself, but said the excavation project itself was significant: While many have searched for the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria and Siwa, no one has looked for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
“We know that Cleopatra built a palace and tomb . . . but both of these are now underwater in the harbor of Alexandria,” he said. “We know from ancient writers that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. This is why we have turned our focus to the Isis temple . . .. If they were buried inside the temple, they would be symbolic of the husband and wife, Isis and Osiris, buried together.”
Hawass’ favorite piece, which he found inside the temple, is an alabaster head of Cleopatra. “When I held the head in my hand,” he said, “I felt the magic of the queen, and I imagined what it would feel like if we found the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.” [...]
I guess we have to keep in mind the item I mentioned the other day as needing to be filed away for future reference, but we are now forced to ask in which ancient source we might read that Cleopatra was never buried in her tomb. Is any reader of rogueclassicism aware of such? Otherwise, we might want to ponder which cognitive bias we’re being presented with by Dr. Hawass …
An excerpt from a feature on Zahi Hawass in Speigel … I don’t think comment is necessary ….
Hawass reserves the right to announce all discoveries himself. Not everyone likes this. Some people feel that he is about as interested in serious research as Rapunzel was in having her hair cut.
He boasted that there were “10,000 golden mummies” at the cemetery in Bahariya, but only 200 were found. And he mistakenly declared a shabby find in the Valley of Kings to be the gravesite of a female pharaoh.
His own excavation efforts also appear to be somewhat bizarre. For some time, the master has been searching for the body of Cleopatra in a temple near Alexandria — based on an idea suggested to him by a lawyer from the Dominican Republic.
“Are you sure about this?” a journalist wanted to know. Hawass replied: “Completely, otherwise I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. After all, I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
When nothing was found, despite feverish excavation efforts, Hawass took a granite bust of Cleopatra’s lover, Mark Antony, from a museum last year and pretended that he had just pulled it out of the ground.
The Oxford University Press blog seems to be running a series of podcasts about Cleopatra over the next few days (?). In this first installment, we have an interviewish thing with Duane Roller, who, of course, has recently written a biography of our favourite Alexandrian.
I’ve really got to stop reading email … every time I open it, it seems, there’s something about Cleopatra’s tomb and it’s presented in such a way that I feel I HAVE to respond to it. The latest comes from the venerable Al-Ahram, whose reporter seems (as will be made clear later) to have been at the same news conference/presentation/whatever as our National Geographic correspondent from t’other day. We’ll begin this one a few ‘graphs in, whence comes the title of this post … seems Dr. Hawass was being lowered down one of the shafts at Taposiris that we’ve been hearing about. Ecce:
By this time Hawass, in his Indiana Jones hat, was enclosed inside a red iron cage hung on an anchor which suspended him on a thick wire from an electronic engine. Hawass went downwards, and when he had almost reached the bottom he gave the order for the engine to stop as he had found subterranean water covering the bottom of the shaft. After a few moments of thought, and under the spell of his passion for archaeology, Hawass decided to take the plunge because, he said, he believed that underneath the water there would most probably be a monument or a collection of artefacts. However, when the team on top resumed their drilling, the engine refused to operate and Hawass was trapped inside the cage which swung bashing Hawass against the rough sides of the stony shaft. This went on for 20 minutes until, following several failed attempts, workmen pulled the cage out manually.
“It’s Cleopatra curse!” one of the workers cried out. Hawass laughed, and said that it was not the first time he had been in such a position. “I always face circumstances like this when I am up to something special,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. “When I was digging inside the Valley of the Golden Mummies I got an electric shock from a lamp I was holding. The shock threw me two metres away and I hit the floor of the tomb. And an hour before my lecture at the opening of the Tutankhamun exhibition in the United States, the light of the gallery went out and the computer didn’t work. “I think this wasn’t the Pharaohs’ curse but Hawass’s curse,” he said with a huge grin.
If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s sense of humour. The report goes on:
He went on to say that the ancient temple site might hide the tomb of the legendary lovers Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Anthony as it was a perfect place to hide their corpses, especially since Egypt was in a very bad political situation at the time of the war with Octavian — later the Roman Emperor Augustine.
… we’ll forgive the typo; they get it right later on … but again we see the ‘hiding the corpses’ scenario. It continues:
“Searching for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony is very exciting,” Hawass said. He pointed out that his fondness for Cleopatra blossomed in his early youth, when at 16 years old he began to study Graeco-Roman archaeology in the Faculty of Art’s Greek and Roman Department at the University of Alexandria. He once asked Fawzi El-Fakharani, professor of Greek and Roman archaeology, about the place that he thought might be the location of the tomb of Cleopatra. Fakharani told him at the time: “To our knowledge and information Cleopatra was buried in a tomb beside her palace, which is now submerged under the Mediterranean Sea.”
Hawass relates that he forgot about the issue until four years ago, when Dominican archaeologist Martinez came to pay him a visit and tried to convince him of a theory that Cleopatra and Anthony were buried in Taposiris Magna, near Alexandria.
“When actually you look at such a temple and remember the Osiris myth, you will be convinced by such a theory,” Hawass said. He explained that the temple was dedicated to the worship of the god Osiris, who according to ancient Egyptian myth was killed by his brother, the god Seth, who cut his corpse into 14 pieces which he spread over the Earth. Egypt has 14 temples dedicated to Osiris. Each temple is known in hieroglyphics as Per Oser, or the place of Osiris, and each contains one of these pieces. And that, according to Hawass, is why such a temple could be a perfect resting place for the legendary lovers. We know from the Greek historian Plutarch, he says, that the pair were buried together.
I don’t get it. Yes, the place does sound like a perfect place for burials — and as will be seen below, it clearly was — but again (and again and again) we have to ask why would Tony and Cleo have any special connection to this place? And if it’s such a great place for burials, why don’t we hear of other pharaonic types being interred in such milieux? And as long as we’re claiming Plutarch as a source, we should confirm that in the life of Marcus Antonius 84 we read (via Lacus Curtius):
But Caesar, although vexed at the death of the woman, admired her lofty spirit; and he gave orders that her body should be buried with that of Antony in splendid and regal fashion. Her women also received honourable interment by his orders.
Again, we stress that it is Octavian directing the funerary matters here and, if the reader does explore the section of Plutarch dealing with Cleo’s final days (book 80 and following) there is no indication of any of the events happening anywhere other than Alexandria and although an argument e silentio, I think we might reasonably expect at least one ancient source to mention the burial site if it were in an ‘irregular’ place. But even if we avoid such arguments (as I’d prefer to do) as before, we can again wonder whether the body of one or both would have undergone mummification — I have had no enlightenment in regards to the burial practice of the Ptolemies and the sources seem confused in regards to the treatment of Antony’s remains. Timelines for ‘traditional’ mummification may or may not have been possible. Now we can skip a bit and bring up something that occurred to me while stuck in traffic today … writing about that recent statue find:
The statue is very well preserved, and is was one of the most beautiful statues ever found carved according to the ancient Egyptian style as it bore the traditional shape of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh wearing a collar and kilt. “I believe that the statue may have been an image of King Ptolemy IV, the founder of the temple,” Hawass suggested. Inside the temple, Hawass continued, the mission found a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, mythical sister and wife of Osiris.
One of the things that always seems to be brought up as evidence that Tony and Cleo were buried here are the various statues and coins we mentioned quite a while ago. By that same logic, should we not think/postulate that Ptolemy IV is buried here?
Skipping a couple of graphs:
The mission began excavating at Abusir five years ago with the goal of discovering the tomb of the famous lovers Cleopatra and Anthony. According to Hawass, there is evidence to prove that Cleopatra was not buried in the tomb built for her beside the royal palace — which now lies under the waves in the Eastern Harbour on the Mediterranean coast of Alexandria.
And what is that evidence? Apparently that very statuary, along with something WAY more interesting:
Hawass pointed out that over its years of excavations the mission had unearthed a number of headless royal statues, which might have been destroyed during the Christian Byzantine era. A number of heads featuring Cleopatra VII were also uncovered, along with 24 metal coins bearing an image of the queen’s face and one of Alexander the Great. All these objects suggest that Queen Cleopatra once built a religious chapel for her cult inside the temple of Osiris at Taposiris Magna. Outside the temple, at its back courtyard, a necropolis containing mummies from the Greek and Roman eras has been discovered. Hawass describes it as the largest ever Graeco-Roman cemetery to be found, stretching for more than half a kilometre. “Up to now the mission has succeeded in uncovering 22 rock- hewn tombs with stairs inside the necropolis,” Hawass told the Weekly. He went on to explain that skulls and mummies were also unearthed inside, two of which were gilded. On the west side of the temple another cemetery was located. “Early investigations show that the mummies were buried with their heads turned towards the temple, which indicated that the temple housed the tomb of a significant royal personality,” Hawass said, pointing out that if this were not so nobles would not have dug their tombs near the temple because, according to ancient Egyptian traditions, nobles always built their tomb near their kings and queens as demonstrated in the Valley of the Kings and Queens on Luxor’s west bank.
So it is the statuary. Outside of that, though, we’ve had hints that there were other burials here, but I don’t think we’ve heard of how huge this necropolis is or anything about these ‘gilded mummies’ before (perhaps we have and I’ve missed/forgotten about it … we did hear about the rock cut tombs etc. a year ago last summer). That said, we have to ask: did any “nobles” have tombs near the mausoleum of the Ptolemies? Do we have any evidence that burial practices in Ptolemaic times mirrored those of Valley of the Kings times? Or better, let’s ask: What pharaoh is buried at the Bahariya Oasis where all those gilded Greco-Roman mummies were found — they’re clearly “nobles and dignitaries”? It’s interesting that Dr Hawass makes no suggestion of pharaonic burials at Barhariya in any of his pages about the site. It’s even more interesting that he believes (probably not unreasonably) that the Greco-Roman burials were in that area because of their proximity to a temple to Alexander the Great. Should we not be using the same logic as we’re using at Taposiris Magna and suggest that Alexander is buried at Bahariya? (and no, I don’t think Alexander is buried there).
We then get something similar to what was said in the National Geographic piece:
A radar survey carried out in the area revealed three anomalies or locations inside the temple, and it is possible that one of them could be the entrance of a tomb that goes down 20 metres below ground. “We are hoping that it could be of Queen Cleopatra and Mark Anthony,” Hawass said. “But as I always say, archaeology is based on theories and here we are experiencing one of them. If we succeed in discovering such a tomb it will be the discovery of the 21st century, and if not we still unearth major objects and monuments inside and outside the temple which shed more light on the history of the era and this mythical queen.”
After a few paragraphs with Kathleen Martinez reiterating that ‘political situation in Egypt’ claim, the journalist lets his imagination run a bit in his conclusion (note the leap in logic in regards to the gilded mummies; I wonder if that’s what Martinez was alluding to in July of 2009):
Hawass promises that next week he will travel to Alexandria in an attempt to explore the shaft. But first the water must be pumped out of it. As for now, searching for the lost tomb of Cleopatra and her beloved Mark Anthony is still in full swing, but can the mission find the tomb of the legendary lovers who, according to Plutarch, took their lives in 30 BC after losing a power struggle between Mark Anthony and his rival Octavian, who later, as Emperor Augustus of Rome, ordered that Cleopatra be buried in a splendid and regal fashion along with Anthony? The question is, where? Could the gilded mummies recently found of a man and a woman have been the two lovers? Or perhaps the three shafts found inside the temple will reveal their tomb; or does it house more anonymous skulls and bones? Nothing is in hand, and we must wait and see what the days hold.
I suspect we all really know why there’s all this hype and this desire for a ‘big find’ in the next week or so … on June 5th, the Cleopatra exhibition is opening at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Interesting, though, that Action News is heading to the harbour at Alexandria … Okay … now unless Hawass and Martinez find something REALLY spectacular when they pump out that tunnel, I’m declaring a personal moratorium on anything related Taposiris Magna for at least the long weekend.
In my mailbox this a.m. is an interesting little piece from National Geographic which seems to be answering some of the questions I raised (again) a few days ago about the continuing claims about Taposiris Magna as the site for Tony and Cleo’s tomb (or mostly the latter, I suppose). The post is, ostensibly, about that headless statue find, but goes further. Here’s the first excerpt of interest:
The newfound black granite statue—which stands about 6 feet (1.8 meters) without its head—is thought to be of King Ptolemy IV, because a cartouche carved of the same stone and bearing his name was found near the figure’s base.
Ptolemy IV was one of several Greek royals who ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic period, from 332 to 30 B.C.
In addition to the headless statue, the Egyptian-Dominican dig team found an inscription, written in Greek and hieroglyphics, in the foundation deposits of one of the temple’s corners. The writing says Ptolemy IV—who ruled from 221 to 205 B.C.—commissioned the temple.
Previously experts had thought that the temple was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, who ruled from 282 to 246 B.C.
“If you are arguing for it to be a burial place for Cleopatra, then the later it is built, the more chance we have to have connections with her—the greater the possibility it was still active during her lifetime,” said Salima Ikram of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, who is not associated with the Taposiris digs.
… not sure I’m being nitpicky, but the difference between Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy II in terms of ‘proximity’ to Cleopatra VII really isn’t significant … anyhoo, we then get some more interesting stuff at the end:
So far, the temple’s cemetery has been found to contain at least 12 mummies, 500 skeletons, and 20 tombs. The bodies were buried facing the temple, which could mean the building contains the tomb of an important figure, Martinez said.
Inside the temple, the team found a place for a sacred pool, rooms likely used for mummification, and chapels dedicated to the gods Osiris and Isis. The powerful pair were husband and wife in Egyptian mythology—a fact that could have inspired the couple to chose the temple as their burial site.
“Cleopatra could [represent] Isis and Marc Antony could be Osiris,” said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who is supervising the digs.
And in 2008 the team unearthed an alabaster bust of Cleopatra, coins bearing her image, and a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, among other artifacts.
“After excavations, we have uncovered what belongs to this temple, to this huge complex, proving it really was one of the most sacred temples in Alexandria” during the Ptolemaic period, said archaeologist and dig leader Kathleen Martinez.
“And because of the solemnity of this temple, and it was so sacred at that time, I believe it could have Cleopatra’s tomb.”
“Perfect Place” to Hide the Dead
Hawass added that Taposiris Magna is a good candidate site for the tombs of Antony and Cleopatra because the legendary couple would have wanted to be sure Roman conquerors couldn’t find and desecrate their graves.
Marc Antony likely suspected that Octavian would have paraded the dead bodies around Rome to show off his military might. The couple would have therefore wanted to be buried in a sacred but secret location outside Alexandria’s royal quarter.
About a year ago the SCA allowed Martinez to start using ground-penetrating radar inside Taposiris Magna. The results show a series of tunnels and as many as eight underground chambers that are still being explored.
“It’s the perfect place to hide their tombs,” said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
Excavation leader Martinez added that the sheer size of Taposiris Magna would have made any tombs there hard to find.
“This temple complex is five square kilometers,” or roughly two square miles, Martinez said. “We have been searching with new technology—how would the Romans have found them?”
Okay, so it is clear now that we are dealing with a theory based on a genuine example of ‘begging the question’. We are to believe that the Romans — especially in Augustus’ time — had a history of ‘desecrating burial sites’, which, as far as I’m aware, is utterly foreign to the superstitious Roman mindset. Even if examples of same can be found, for this theory to have any legs, one has to totally ignore the testimony of our ancient sources in regards to the corpses of both Antony and Cleopatra, both of which Octavian clearly would have had access to if he was of a ‘desecration mindset.’ Most damning, of course, is the line in Suetonius Aug. 17 which we’ve mentioned before:
Ambobus communem sepulturae honorem tribuit ac tumulum ab ipsis incohatum perfici iussit.
Octavian ALLOWED them to be buried together and clearly knew the site of the tomb. Martinez and Hawass REALLY have to explain the MAJOR discrepancy between our ancient sources and their apparent ‘argument’ for continuing to claim this site as the “secret” burial place of Cleopatra. “Solemnity” and vague ‘conspiracy theories’ don’t cut it.
With a Cleopatra exhibition about to hit Philadelphia and plenty of hype to be associated with it (if it isn’t already), it seems like a good time to see what — if any — developments there have been in the search for Cleopatra’s tomb. To bring folks up to speed, after finds of statuary linked to Cleopatra and (purportedly) Marcus Antonius, the folks at Taposiris Magna were forced to shut down operations last July because the President was summering in the area vel simm. Digging resumed (apparently) in October. In November we had a semi-coherent piece about the woman in charge of this particular dig — Kathleen Martinez — and it seemed to be treading a fine line between a link to Ptolemy and ‘Cleopatra’s Tomb’. Our November update also had links to most of our previous coverage.
Now we can get to some ‘new’ stuff. Back in December, I never got around to posting about the discovery/raising of some monumental gateway associated with Cleopatra’s palace complex from the waters off Alexandria. Here’s a bit from the Guardian:
A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.
They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC.
“As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door,” Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. “There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good.”
Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple’s dying hours which has long eluded historians.
In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was “hoisted with chains and ropes” to the building’s upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window.
Plutarch wrote, “when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again”. The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian’s line. Tzalas said: “For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer.
“Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn’t do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn’t open such a heavy door.”
The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface.
The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. “We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra’s palace,” said Zahi Hawas, Egypt’s top archaeologist. “This is an important part of Alexandria’s history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city.”
Here’s a bit more detail from al Ahram:
Ibrahim Darwish, head of museums in Alexandria and one of the archaeologist-divers, said the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias and was located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s mausoleum stood near this temple. A door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered there in 1998.
Archaeologist Harry Tzalas, who headed the 1998 underwater archaeological mission, told the Weekly that the lifted pylon was the most important artefact found in the submerged Royal Quarter as it is a symbol of an amalgamation of Greek and Pharaonic architectural styles. Tzalas pointed out that since the pylon, which is cut in the ancient Egyptian architectural style, was found at the entrance of the Greek temple of Isis Lochias, and shows that some of the monuments of Alexandria were not only in the Graeco-Roman style but Pharaonic as well.
Although the Eastern Harbour is the place where Mark Anthony died after being defeated by Octavian, and where Cleopatra tragically ended her life, Tzalas said, the couple were not buried there. He explained that the Cleopatra mausoleum was being built near the Isis temple but was not ready when she died, and she was not buried there.
The AP coverage — which has largely disappeared from the interwebs, alas — included a nice little paragraph, inter alia:
Hawass has already launched another high-profile dig connected to Cleopatra. In April, he said he hopes to find the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra – and that he believes it may be inside a temple of Osiris located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Alexandria.
- Egypt lifts huge ‘Cleopatra temple’ block from sea | BBC
- Sunken artifact reveals Pharaonic influence | Reuters
- Pharaohs’ temple tower raised from the sea | Scotsman
- Monument Lifted from Cleopatra’s Underwater City in the Mediterranean Sea | Art Daily (nice photo)
Now here’s where I was confused — and was hoping for clarification (which is why I didn’t immediately post all that) which never came — because it appeared that we had one archaeologist saying they had found something known to be near the actual tomb of Cleopatra while the Supreme Council of Antiquities head was still saying things about Taposiris Magna. Further adding to the confusion was an excerpt from Dr. Hawass’ blog at the time:
The Greek expedition was able to recognize the artifacts, and they worked in cooperation with the Department of Underwater Antiquities of Alexandria at the coastal area of Chatby. The two most important of the 400 the Greek mission found are the 9-ton pylon tower, and the 15-ton threshold of a door. Both are made of granite and are of great historical importance in reconstructing the great city of ancient Alexandria. Ancient authors such as Plutarch and Strabo write about Cleopatra’s palace being located in this area, with her mausoleum and a temple of Isis right next to it. It seems likely that this pylon tower was for that temple of Isis, since it was the only temple in the area, and the threshold, which was found very near to it, could be for the door of Cleopatra’s tomb.
… and one from an associated press release:
According to Harry Tzalas who headed the 1998 mission, the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s Mausoleum was near this temple – a door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered in 1998.
At the eastern harbor is where Mark Antony died after being defeated by Octavian. It is also where Cleopatra tragically ended her life. However, we do not think the couple was buried here.
Why not? Why not? Why not? Much of the coverage mentioned below also claims ‘evidence’ that the couple wasn’t buried in Alexandria, but the details are lacking.
In any event the ‘latest’ discovery at Taposiris Magna is being touted as the latest ‘evidence’ of Cleo’s tomb being there. Indeed, just a quick overview of some of the headlines might give you the impression that it has definitely been found, e.g.:
- Queen Cleopatra’s tomb discovery | Monsters and Critics
- Cleopatra’s tomb discovered, says Egyptian archaeologists | People’s Daily
What has been discovered in the past week or so is a headless statue of one of the Ptolemies (Ptolemy IV is apparently the likeliest candidate). The Independent’s reportage is more representative of the more reasonable coverage of this find:
Archaeologists excavating at Taposiris Magna, a site west of Alexandria, have discovered a huge headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king, and the original gate to a temple dedicated to the god Osiris.
In a statement issued by the SCA, Dr Zahi Hawass says that the monumental sculpture, which is a traditional figure of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt, could represent Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed the Taposiris Magna temple. He added that the statue is very well preserved and might be one of the most beautiful statues carved in the ancient Egyptian style.
The joint Egyptian-Dominican team working at Taposiris Magna discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side. In pharaonic Egypt the temple was named Per-Usir, meaning ‘A place of Osiris’. Legend has it that when the god Seth killed Osiris he cut him into fourteen pieces and threw them all over Egypt. This is one of fourteen temples said to contain one piece of the god’s body.
The team also found limestone foundation stones, which would once have lined the entrance to the temple. One of these bears traces indicating that the entrance was lined with a series of Sphinx statues similar to those of the pharaonic era.
The team, led by Dr Kathleen Martinez, began excavations in Taposiris Magna five years ago in an attempt to locate the tomb of the well-known lovers, Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony. There is some evidence that suggests that Egypt’s last Queen might not be buried inside the tomb built beside her royal palace, which is now under the eastern harbour of Alexandria.
Dr Hawass pointed out that in the past five years the mission has discovered a collection of headless royal statues, which may have been subjected to destruction during the Byzantine and Christian eras. A collection of heads featuring Queen Cleopatra was also uncovered along with 24 metal coins bearing Cleopatra’s face.
Behind the temple, a necropolis was discovered, containing many Greco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations, said Dr Hawass, show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned towards the temple, which means it is likely the temple contained the burial of a significant royal personality, possibly Cleopatra VII.
- 2,000-year-old Ptolemaic statue found in Egypt | Telegraph
- Egypt finds Ptolemaic statue in hunt for Cleopatra tomb | AFP via Yahoo
- Search for Cleopatra yields Ptolemy instead | IOL
- Looking for Cleopatra | Al Ahram
- Archaeologists Find Headless Statue of Ancient Egyptian King | Bloomberg
- Headless Statue Hints at Tomb of Cleopatra: Hawass | Discovery.com (video)
- Quest for Cleopatra’s tomb reveals statue(video)
A related report in VOA includes a paragraph which gives us a glimpse, I think, of why folks might be tenaciously clinging to this Taposiris theory:
The idea of Taposiris as the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who killed themselves rather than submit to Antony’s rival Octavian, was proposed by a young Dominican archeologist, Kathleen Martinez. She tries to evoke the couple’s last days, the end of Egypt as an empire. “She has to choose a place that she must be safe after life,” she says, because “the Romans hated her so much, they will search for her body and they will destroy it.”
… which, of course, is interesting insofar as the Romans (at the official level) don’t seem to have ever had a problem with allowing burials. It was the mob who did the inter Tiberim sort of thing. But getting back to the ‘responsible coverage’ , much of it echoes what is found in a press release at Hawass’ blog. What’s more interesting, however, is the concluding paragraph in the aforementioned Independent piece, which includes something not in the press release:
Dr Hawass has already hailed the dig as a success, whatever the outcome: “If we discover the tomb… it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century. If we do not discover the tomb… we made major discoveries here, inside the temple and outside the temple.”
Seems like Dr. Hawass is leaving the door open to back away from the Taposiris-as-tomb-site theory, no? Whatever the case, it’s increasingly starting to look like the ‘evidence’ that is preventing them from choosing the more logical site for Cleo’s tomb (in Alexandria) is the ‘non evidence’ from Taposiris Magna. I seem to hear the sound of hammers being applied to evidence …
Article in Canada’s Maclean’s magazine … nothing really new here for most of us, but a good little summary:
Tony Perrottet ponders Cleo’s attractiveness in the Smart Set:
Renowned archaeologist Franck Goddio talks with podcast host Steve Mirsky [below] about his efforts to recover artifacts from the ancient cities of Alexandria, Heracleion and Canopus, with special attention to discoveries related to Cleopatra and her reign.