Weird History
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Facts We Just Learned About Cleopatra That Made Us Say 'Really?'

Updated September 24, 2020 24.1k votes 4.0k voters 357.8k views13 items

List RulesVote up the things you're excited to know about Cleopatra.

Cleopatra has been depicted in Hollywood for decades as one of the most decadent and powerful women of ancient Egypt. But how much of that is actually true? And how much more is there we don't know? While some facts about her life are well known - like her affair with Julius Caesar or her romance with Mark Antony - others aren't so publicized, like her intelligence or her heritage.

Check out these interesting facts about Cleopatra and vote up the ones you're glad to have learned!

  • Photo: Cleopatra VII and ancient scribes / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There Is A Document With Her Handwriting

    From Redditor u/Captain-Janeway:

    TIL in 2010, a papyrus document featuring Cleopatra's handwriting went on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. The document refers to a tax break for a friend of her husband Mark Antony. Cleopatra signed it with a Greek word meaning "make it happen."

    Context: There were two bits of parchment paper found with writing on it that they believe to be Cleopatra's given the time period and context of what else is on the paper. The Greek word for "make it happen" is on the bottom of the parchment, which is the text suspected of belonging to Cleopatra.

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  • 2

    Cleopatra Spoke A Dozen Languages And Was Well Educated

    From Redditor u/OMG__Ponies:

    TIL:That Cleopatra, while born Egyptian, traced her origins to Greece, may have been more renowned for her intellect than her appearance. She spoke as many as a dozen languages, was well educated, and was later described as a ruler “who elevated the ranks of scholars and enjoyed their company.”

    Context: Often the Egyptian queen is remembered by her promiscuous ways, when in reality her intelligence far surpassed her sexual prowess. She was multi-lingual, studied numerous subjects, and was even said to have authored a few works on herbs and cosmetology. Given that Ptolemaic Alexandria was the greatest seat of learning in the ancient world, she would have had ample opportunity to educate herself.

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  • 3

    Cleopatra Was Greek, Not Egyptian

    From Redditor u/Amcal:

    TIL that Cleopatra was not Egyptian. While Cleopatra was born in Egypt, she traced her family origins to Macedonian Greece and Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy took the reins of Egypt after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. and he launched a dynasty of Greek-speaking rulers that lasted for three centuries

    Context: Cleopatra was in fact Greek, not Egyptian. Members of the dynasty founded by her ancestor Ptolemy were Greek-speakers who were generally uninterested in learning the native tongue of the country they ruled. Cleopatra was one of the few in that family tree who learned the Egyptian language, which made her beloved.

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  • 4

    Her Eyeliner Was Medicinal

    From Redditor u/channel_hopper:

    TIL Cleopatra’s eyeliner wasn't just for beauty purposes - the lead salt found in it helped protect her against eye disease

    Context: Much of the make-up available in ancient Egypt was composed with lead salts. While lead is often seen to be a health hazard, recent studies have shown that in small doses around the eyes, it may have had health benefits. According to a lead researcher, the lead compounds in make-up may have been used to promote immune cells and prevent eye illnesses.

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