Chasing Mummies: A Cleopatra Update?

History (Australian television channel)
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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:

Death of Cleopatra Revisionism Followup

Death of Cleopatra
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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’s Death: Another Theory

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.” [...]

via Cleopatra died of drug cocktail not snake bite – Telegraph.

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:

Feature: Cleopatra and the 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.

File This One Away for Future Reference

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.

via Zahi Hawass: Egypt’s Avenger of the Pharaohs | Speigel Online.

Citanda: Cleopatra Podcast Series: Day 1

Black basalt statue of Ptolemaic queen Cleopat...
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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.

More Cleopatra Tomb Stuff

Reliefs of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius...

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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?”

via: Headless Egypt King Statue Found; Link to Cleopatra’s Tomb?

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.