What Did Cleopatra Really Look Like? Author Stacy Schiff Discusses Her Theories on the Queen’s Ethnicity

When most people hear the name Cleopatra VII they think of Elizabeth Taylor thanks to the famous 1963 movie of the same title. But what did the real Cleopatra look like? Unfortunately, unless a lucky Egyptologist stumbles across Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony’s mummies and is able to identify them beyond a shadow of a doubt, no one will ever know for sure. However, author Stacy Schiff, who wrote Cleopatra: A Life, discussed what the legendary Queen probably looked like during her 2010 appearance on PBS’s Tavis Smiley Show.

Schiff notes that Cleopatra’s family descended from Alexander the Great’s general, who was a man named Ptolemy. Both were Macedonian Greek and, thanks to her family’s fondness for inbreeding, that was the main part of her genetic makeup. Schiff adds that one or two relatives may have married outside of the family, but it was rare. Therefore, Cleopatra VII was mostly Greek and could have had looks that ranged from dark hair and olive skin to being a pale redhead.

In the end, the real Cleopatra VII remains elusive, which may be for the best since half the fun of history is speculating about what the person in question may have looked like. It also makes the Queen adaptable and more relatable, as each person can imagine her looking a certain way in the manner they prefer best.

Top image by Ana Murakami.

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