Cleopatra: The Most Beautiful Woman in the History of the World
After the Persians were removed from Egypt in 332 B.C., the Ptolemaic Dynasty began its rule. They would continue to hold power for over 300 years until 30 B.C., after the death of Cleopatra VII. At one time, this dynasty was one of the greatest across the world, invading countries without any hesitation or difficulty. However, inclusion of the Romans into the dynasty led to a vast decrease in the dynasties held under its rule, although it was still able to preserve the great wealth and status of Egypt. By the time Cleopatra rose to power, Egypt was in shambles due to famine, loss of land and pressure from the Romans. Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, used her powers of persuasion, cunning, sexuality and, most importantly, her beauty, to seduce two of the world’s most powerful men in order to keep her empire free of Romans.
The name Cleopatra had been given to many Egyptian queens, yet the most notable was Cleopatra VII. She is most remembered for overshadowing predecessors and male opposition with her political knowledge, romantic life and pure beauty. Born in 69 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, her father was King Ptolemy XII Auletes. Little is known about the identity of her mother, but many speculate that she was most likely one of the King’s mistresses or maybe his sister.
In 51 B.C., after the death of her father, Cleopatra VII received the kingdom with Ptolemy XIII, her younger brother. Cleopatra was only 18 years of age at the time of the King’s death and was forced to marry her brother to take power. Egyptian law stated that a female ruler must have a male companion, a son or a brother, to co-rule with her. Ptolemy XII was only 12 years old at the time of the marriage, thus Cleopatra took full advantage of the situation and dropped her brother from documents. She had her own name and portrait placed on the legal tender, even though her brother had every legal right to be included as co-regent. For three years, Cleopatra ruled in this way until her brother’s advisers began to conspire against her. Finally, in 48 B.C., they removed her from power and forced her into exile with her younger sister. It was at this time that she began to comprise an army to overtake Egypt again.
Cleopatra wanted to meet Julius Caesar to assist her in resuming power, but it had to be done on her terms. She wrapped herself into a rug, which was smuggled into Alexandria and delivered to Caesar. When he opened the rug, Cleopatra immediately charmed the man, seducing him even though he was already married. More importantly, she used her beauty and sexuality to link herself with the Roman Empire. Caesar subsequently returned Cleopatra to her throne and she again married Ptolemy XIV, her youngest brother who was only 11 years old. It was around this time that she gave birth to Caesar’s son. Caesar was ultimately fatally stabbed at a Senate gathering and Cleopatra returned to Egypt.
In 42 B.C., Cleopatra was determined to meet Mark Antony, a triumvirate in control of the Romans. Again, she used her charm and beauty to ingratiate herself with this powerful man. During winters, Antony would spent time with Cleopatra, yet the Roman Senate was furious that he would devote his time to a woman other than his wife. The Romans declared war on Egypt and Cleopatra and Antony were quickly defeated. Later, Antony would stab himself and Cleopatra would commit suicide by allowing herself to be bitten by a cobra.
Cleopatra’s Beauty Secrets
Portraits of Cleopatra show that while she wasn’t necessarily a ravishing beauty, she was most certainly attractive enough to gain the attention of the most successful men in her time. Cleopatra was the first pioneer of an era of cosmetics, quickly becoming a standard for feminine beauty. Many beauty creams, gels, balms and salts have been based on her. Additionally, Cleopatra adored every aspect of beauty and had wig-makers, sandal-makers and perfumers at her disposal, as well as guardians of her wardrobe.
In Cleopatra’s time, the custom of anointing the body with oil was essential, particularly because of the hot climate. The use of ambrette oil, made from seeds of Hibiscus plants, was said to help protect the body against the scorching sun and sand. Cleopatra would wash her face several times throughout the day to keep it clean, using a cream comprised of oil and lime or chalk. A mixture of apple cider and vinegar was often used as a facial rinse, and she used honey as an antibacterial.
Cleopatra also included several facial masks in her typical beauty routine, and these masks were said to help give her skin a glowing condition. Composed of clay, yeast, honey, milk and cucumber, these masks help ensure that her skin was always fresh. Additionally, to keep skin exfoliated, Cleopatra would have her body polished with numerous scrubs, particularly a sea salt scrub. Other ingredients used in skin care included antimony, onions, red lead, sulfur, ginger, aloes, castor oil, turpentine, apple cider vinegar, juniper, goose-fat, mint, dill, calamine, cedar, beeswax and balsam.
To prevent winkles, Cleopatra prepared a mixture using finely ground Cyprus grass, maringa oil, gum of frankincense, beeswax and fermented plant juice. The “Balm of Mecca” was spoken of with fondness, as it was the product used by the Queen to make her skin incomparably silky smooth. Every night before retiring, Cleopatra would cover her face and neck with this balm. In the morning, thousands of tiny scales would detach from the skin from where she applied the balm. She would also use it at bath time, when her pores were warm and open, to leave her skin buttery soft.