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libralady 16 May 2009

Cleopatra: the last Pharaoh of Egypt

Cleopatra had close associations with Turkey during her relationship with Marcus Antonius but not as pleasant was one would hope............

Cleopatra: the last Pharaoh of Egypt


When searching for holidays and places to stay in Turkey, you will invariably come across hotels and apartments bearing the name of Cleopatra or Kleopatra (the Greek spelling).  You will find numerous gület trips and even hiking tours claiming some association with Cleopatra.  When you embark on a 12-island trip from Fethiye you will be introduced to  Afrodit koyu (Cleopatra’s bath house) (or one of them!).  According to myth, Cleopatra’s friends built the bath for her as a gift because they found a hot water spring in this area.  You are able to walk around the ruined bath house or take a dip in the sparkling, refreshing waters which is said to be very good for the skin.

 Cleopatras Bath - Afrodit koyu

On a trip to Pammukale you could take a dip in what is claimed to be Cleopatra’s pools but it is also stated that these pools (which should not be confused with the travertines) have nothing to do with Cleopatra.    There are two claims to Cleopatra’s beach, one beach near Alanya to the west of the historical peninsula, in front of Damlataş Cave. According to mythology, during a voyage in the Mediterranean, Cleopatra stopped at Alanya and had a swim in this bay.


Cleopatra´s bath, Alanya
Cleopatra´s Beach - Alanya

Take a holiday around the coast from Bodrum to Marmaris, and you may well end up on the other of Cleopatra’s beaches, which is said to be on Sehir Adalari (Sehir Island) located in the Gulf of Gökova near Marmaris.  Local lore tells of how Mark Antony brought sand from Egypt for his love Cleopatra to this island.  It is recognised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Turkey and scientific evidence also suggests that the sand is nothing like that found anywhere else in Turkey.  The island is also an ancient Roman site. Ruins of an ancient Roman bath can still be seen here.

Sehir Adalari is located in the Gulf of Gökova, is washed by sparkling waters, has rocky headlands and secluded coves, with the Taurus Mountains in the distance. You are led to believe that the situation was idyllic. Certainly the location is; beautiful sands, clear waters framed by pine trees in the hills, the perfect place for a honeymoon.  Part of the Turkish coastline; a truly magnificent wedding gift from Mark Anthony to Cleopatra.


Sehir adalari

Cleopartra´s Gift from Mark Anthony - Sehir Adalari

But all was not well in this beautiful setting.  Was she such a person to deserve this wonderful gift to be bestowed upon her?  She has been portrayed as a ruthless murderer, an incestuous and power crazy woman.

Cleopatra, debatably born in Macedonia with her main language being Greek, was the last Pharaoh of Egypt. She lived a short eventful life from 69BC to 30BC coming to the throne when she was around 18 until her suicide allegedly by the bite of an asp age 39.  She originally shared the throne with her father and brothers / husbands Ptolemy XII, XIII and XIV.  (She had incestuous relationships with her two brothers).

She had a liaison with Julius Caesar, who helped her gain sole control of the throne until his assassination, with whom she bore one child, (Ptolemy Caesar later renamed as Caesar Augustus whom she had executed).  She then aligned with Mark Antony and bore a further three children, twins and one son.

She has always been portrayed as beautiful striking woman, with numerous art works and dramatisations about her, probably the most famous being the film Cleopatra, where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton played Cleopatra and Mark Antony.  But the pictures on coins depicting her suggest something different and show her with a hooked nose and not the porcelain beauty suggested in the arts.


Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

The Beautiful Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Bust depicting Cleopatra
A bust depicting Cleopatra

As mentioned, Cleopatra was quite ruthless and during her days with Mark Anthony, she got Anthony to order the death of her sister Arsinoe, who was living in a temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which at that time, was under Roman control. It is said that Arsinoe was murdered to prevent any attempts on the Egyptian throne. It appears that Arsinoe was banished to Turkey after a power struggle with against Cleopatra and Julius Caesar her lover at the time. 

Reports suggest that The Octagon at Ephasus, a vaulted burial chamber on a rectangular base, was the resting place of a young woman of around 15 -18 who was laid on a marble sarcophagus.  According to an interpretation Octagon was a monument to Ptolemy Arsinoe IV, the youngest sister of Cleopatra.  Arsinoe was put to death on the steps of the Artemis temple in 41 BC.

Arsinoe was born around 69-60BC with variations of this date of 68-65BC or 63-61BC, the daughter of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V.  She was declared joint ruler of Cyprus with her brother Ptolemy XIII (very confusing as all the men were called Ptolemy) and declared queen of Egypt around 48BC but later in the year became coregent with her brother in opposition to their sister Cleopatra VII.  She was eventually exiled to Ephesus in 46BC.

The Austrian archaeologist Hilke Thür entered the tomb in the 1990’s and found the headless skeleton, whom she has maintained was that of Arsinoe’s.  The tomb was first entered in 1926 and a skeleton found and the head was removed, examined and measured but was lost in the upheaval of the Second World War.  In recent months, archaeologists and forensic experts believe they have found the skeleton of Arsinoe and fellow experts are also now convinced that this is the case.

The tomb (in the Octagon) itself is dated to the period 50-20 BC by the style of the decoration of the mausoleum with associated pottery dating to the 20s BC.  No inscription has been found and the tomb has been plundered of most antiquities.  The prominence of the tomb suggests it was for someone of a very high status of which Arsinoe was.  There were decorative elements of the tomb that were well known in Alexandria and the octagonal shape familiar to Pharaohs in Egypt where Arsinoe was associated.

Octagon Tomb at Ephesus
The Octagon Tomb at Ephesus

These various pieces of evidence suggested the skeleton is that of Arsinoe as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb was much like a lighthouse in Alexandria with which Arsinoe was closely associated and this led Thür to come to her decision.  The likely age of Arsinoe is strongly debated which has thrown some doubt and questions have been raised on the likely of the identity of the skeleton.

Cleopatra’s ethnicity has been strongly debated; most believing she was of Greek or Macedonian origin as were the previous Ptolemaic dynasty.  A recent reconstruction based on the original measurements of the skull from the 1926 find, a forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson concluded that evidence obtained from studying the dimensions of Arsinoe’s skull suggest that she had characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans indicating that Cleopatra would most probably have been of mixed race too.  They were half-sisters, daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives.

Kanz, an anthropologist did his best to try and exclude the skeleton from being that of Arsinoe. He employed carbon dating and the skeleton was dated from 200BC – 20BC.  Kanz had examined somewhere in the region of 500 other skeletons from the ruins of Ephesus.  He was certain that the bones were that of a healthy young woman around 15-18 without any evidence of illness or malnutrition evident, or any violence (considering it is said that Arsinoe was murdered) had died a sudden death.  But with this finding Thürs theory gained credibility.

Face of Arsinoe   

The Face of Arsinoe??

No one authority can distinctly claim that the skeleton is that of Arsinoe, because of the elements of doubt and contradiction.   Historical events make it unlikely she was as young as estimated, for instance had she been born in 63BC that would have put her at 15 during the Alexandrian war but other probable birth dates put her at around 10 or 11 which seems rather unrealistic for someone to be ruling at such an age.  Further doubt is thrown on her likely birth date as she had authority to order the execution of the commander of the Alexandrian army Achillas in December 48BC which would have put her at 12.

In conclusion, Thür maintains that the skeletal remains of a young female aristocrat found in the Octagon tomb in Ephesus are those or Arsinoe.  With the original examination of the remains putting the age at death of about 20, matches the estimates quite well.  The only real evidence would be if the skull was available and dental remains could confirm the age of the skeleton.  The case for the skeleton in the Octagon at Ephesus is circumstantial but it is quite reasonable to suggest this is in fact Arsinoe.  If the identification is correct and the skeleton is that of Arsinoe, she would be the only member of the dynasty whose remains have survived until modern times.

A further examination of the remains has been announced in 2009 and has led to conclusions about the age, condition and ethnic group of the skeleton. These appear to be somewhat consistent with previous examinations and conclusions.

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