top of page

CLEOPATRA VII'S TOMB FOUND!!!

Cover_Final_Final.png

Rom-Com

Cover_Final.png

Rom-Com

No. It hasn't been.

 

There are at least a half-dozen disappointing click-bait YouTube videos that start like this, string you along with exciting promises, fill-in with history, stretch it out with modern people and excavations, then at the very end tell you "maybe some day we'll find it."

 

They got you ... for nothing.

FinishedCover_v4.png

Rom-Com

However, we DO know about where it is. It just happens to be under 16' of water and about another 16' of sediment under the Alexandrian bay at the location of Antirhodos.

WHY?

Plutarch (LofAnt 74:1) tells us where it is. "... she had a tomb and monument built surpassingly lofty and beauti­ful, which she had erected near the temple of Isis."

WHY BELIEVE HIM?

Plutarch is more of a biographer than a historian, and unlike many others, he tells us who his sources were. Plutarch wrote about 130 years after Cleopatra VII's death but relied on oral history from Philotas of Amphissa (through Plutarch's grandfather Lamprias) who was a friend of Marc Antony's son Antyllus and provides descriptions of the banquets, and probably provides his Greek based opinion of her appearance (see CLEOPATRA APPEARANCE, below). Plutarch also relied on a biography of Cleopatra VII written by her personal physician Olympus (now lost), who was there in her last days. Later historians largely rely on Plutarch but some add other details (sources unknown).

So, Where Is It?

This is the modern major bay of Alexandria, known in the past as the Portus Magnus. It looks pretty empty because it's been subject to multiple earthquakes, tsunamis, and a natural recession of terrain within the harbor. There's an interesting paper that disputes the effect of the Stromboli volcanic eruption as a cause for "a" tidal wave, but core sampling has revealed there were more than one. Most of disastrous geologic activity seems to have happened starting in the 6th century ACE (600 years after the Romans took it over). Image by Franck Goddio.

Franck Goddio is the archaeologist in charge of doing a massive analysis of the bay over 25 years. He oversaw a geophysical survey of the floor of the bay using a variety of imaging technologies which penetrated up to 8m (24') under sea level. Image by Franck Goddio.

Ptolemaic structures over 2000 years old were revealed. Images by Franck Goddio.

This is the island of Antirhodos. Image by Franck Goddio.

SO WHAT?

We know that's the island of Antirhodos because Strabo (TheGeography XVII 9) tells us so:

"Below these lies the harbour that was dug by the hand of man and is hidden from view,​ the private property of the kings, as also Antirrhodos, an isle lying off the artificial harbour, which has both a royal palace and a small harbour."

He distinguishes it from another palace across the bay in the Lochias promotory, and from the palace complex on shore.

John, Bishop of Nikiu, was around (680-690 ACE) when the Pharos was still standing, so he might have witnessed the palace as well (Chronicle LXVII 3-4): "And she built in the confines of Alexandria a great (and) magnificent palace, and all that saw it admired it; for there was not the like in all the world. And she built it on an island in the quarter of the north to the west of the city of Alexandria, outside the city and at a distance of four stadia."

Again, so what? If it can be shown that the temple is an Isis Temple, it's the only one Alexandria possessed. If the palace can be shown to have been used by Cleopatra VII, then Occam's Razor tells us the mausoleum is somewhere in between.

The temple and the palace are solid archaeology. You can go to museums in Egypt and touch artifacts that have been hauled up from the bay. As for the temple, numerous votive items and some statuary clearly indicate a Temple of Isis (aka Iseum). The palace is a different matter.

Plutarch talks about "a" Temple of Isis. Why does it have to be THIS one?

 

All historians agree that once Octavian approached Alexandria, Cleopatra VII locked herself inside her mausoleum with a lot of treasure which Octavian feared she would destroy. The massive stone doors were locked from the inside and the Romans didn't seem to be able to breach them. Antony did a terrible job of suicide and, bleeding to death. was brought to the mausoleum either from "the palace" or a rowboat ride away in the Timoneum. Because of the locked doors, he was hauled up to the second floor (apparently outfitted with living quarters) by ropes (Cassius Dio says the ropes just happened to be there because of ongoing construction), and died in her arms. Eventually, Octavian's men used the same opening to get in with a ladder while distracting Cleopatra, and brought her to "the palace". Plutarch adds that she made one more trip with handmaidens to the mausoleum to pour libations for deceased Antony, then back to "the palace".

All this creates an air of proximity. Cleopatra VII is shuttling between "a" palace and the mausoleum close to the Temple of Isis. In my mind, it doesn't make sense that she makes a multi-mile trip to some other Temple of Isis outside Alexandria, leave alone bleeding Antony not being able to make such a trip alive (he didn't appear to last long in the mausoleum). It also doesn't make sense that she'd be trundling between the mausoleum and one of the other more distant palaces.

The evidence for "Cleopatra's" palace is really only twofold: the sphinx and the head. Goddio had help from Sally-Ann Ashton (UK), an expert in Egyptian and Hellenistic art (amongst other things) in identifying the pieces. Art analysis had to be done because there are no identifying inscriptions.

"The treatment of the face characterizes the royal effigies which blend the Pharaonic traditions with the Hellenistic portraiture style.  This mixed style of depicting the Alexandrian sovereigns is not manifested before Ptolemy VI. 

Moreover, it would seem that the particular treatment of the hair is characteristic of the numismatic portraits of Ptolemy XII Auletes Neos Dionysos. The sphinx could therefore depict a royal statue of the father of Cleopatra VII." -- Franck Goddio

I, personally, don't see hair as compelling. If you look at my CLEOPATRA APPEARANCE section, you will see how coins are a poor data source.

It's my opinion, of course, but in the same manner it could depict Ptolemy XII, it could also depict any of the preceding five Ptolemies. This is not a rock-hard tie-in to Cleopatra VII based on a coin's hairline.

I see a youthful face and the remainder of a uraeus (cobra) in his headdress. This means "boy king". Applying the previous art analysis, this places it in the time period from Ptolemy VI to XV. Ptolemies VI, VII, XIV, and XV (the Caesarion) are all possibilities.

"The similarity of this particular statue with others that are recognized as late Ptolemaic suggests that the subject is a late king of this period.." -- Franck Goddio. I agree.

"Since the subject of the Alexandrian statue is shown as king of Egypt, one possibility is that it represents Cleopatra’s eldest son." -- Franck Goddio. 

One possibility? Of course. I think it's also possible it could be Cleopatra VII's younger brother, Ptolemy XIV who was 15 at his last evidence on the throne. The other Ptolemies are 150 years too early ... I'm willing to let those go.

Things can get muddled up at that temple since, like every other construction, they utilized building materials from other sites. THIS temple has a block marked for Seti I. Some ready cut material was re-purposed from Heliopolis.

Given all that, I lean, magnanimously, to the excavators and admit that the head is either Ptolemy XIV or XV, making the building "Cleopatra's palace".

Note that anywhere else on the WWW, the sphinx is absolutely Ptolemy XII, and the head Ptolemy XV without any explanation. Yeah, I'm patting myself on the back.

FINALLY!

Cleopatra VII's mausoleum is somewhere right HERE! Theoretically, it could be on the other side of the causeway, but it makes more sense that it would be better protected on solid land. It needed to be close to the temple to take advantage of "sacred" land. When the causeway fell apart, the temple broke in half, one side on each of the causeway. Remember, the mausoleum is under at least 16' of water and possibly more than 16' of sediment. Image modified from Franck Goddio.

The Rumor

It goes something like this --

Loyal Egyptians, fearful that the hated Romans would defile Cleopatra VII's body, removed it from her elaborate tomb and spirited it away to a nameless hole in the ground near the Temple of Isis in Taposiris Magna.

Taposiris was a large religious center 30 miles from Alexandria, built by the Ptolemies. Where did this rumor come from?

Nowhere. It's made up out of thin air. There are exactly nine references in primary sources to the place spread out amongst Strabo, Pliny, Stadiasmus, Stephanus, Ptolemaeus, and Eusebius. None of them give a hint of any such thing. Was it an oral secret of some sort? Pretty hard to substantiate over 2000 years intact.

Why on earth would they fear the Romans about their queen? The Alexandrians were a rebellious lot. Ptolemy XI lasted two weeks as king before Alexandrians mobbed and killed him. Ptolemy XII (Cleopatra's dad) was exiled twice from Alexandria: the only way he got back was with 2500 Roman soldiers, who then stayed permanently. For goodness sake, while Ptolemy XII was away the second time, an Alexandrian mob murdered a Roman for accidentally killing a cat. Octavian was concerned with yet another rebellion after he destroyed the ruling family and took over the country.

This is what he did:

Plutarch (LofAnt 86:4): "But Caesar [Octavian], although vexed at the death of the woman, admired her lofty spirit; and he gave orders that her body should be buried with that of Antony in splendid and regal fashion. Her women also received honourable interment by his orders."

---

Suetonius (LofAug 17:4): "... He allowed them both the honour of burial, and in the same tomb, giving orders that the mausoleum which they had begun should be finished."

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 15:1): "... they were both embalmed in the same fashion and buried in the same tomb." [Dio claims earlier the mausoleum roof was previously incomplete.]

 

Octavian made a big show of it. "I honor your queen" [me]. Why else would he complete the mausoleum? Alexander the Great's tomb in Alexandria was a tourist trap for the elite for about 700 years. I find it hard to imagine Romans didn't sell tickets for Cleopatra. The mausoleum was splendid, royal and proper, a symbol to the nation to keep them quiet, and protected by Romans. Why would anyone be motivated to move her, and stick her in a nameless hole in the ground? She's right THERE. Did people forget Egyptians were fond of making votive offerings to the dead?

What's In Cleopatra VII's Tomb?

Gold? Jewels? Intricate jewelry? A hoarde greater than Tutankhamun's? Certainly, Cleopatra and Marc Antony themselves, right?

Let's just suppose that, while the building may have been tumbled, her sarcophagus is miraculously intact. What's inside? Possibly, a mummy of Cleopatra VII (with a small amount of personal jewelry) and an urn of Marc Antony's ashes. It's not clear.

Plutarch (LofAnt 84:2): "After Cleopatra had heard this, in the first place, she begged Caesar  [Octavian] that she might be permitted to pour libations for Antony; and when the request was granted, she had herself carried to the tomb, and embracing the urn which held his ashes ..."

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 15:1): "... they were both embalmed in the same fashion and buried in the same tomb.

There's a little bit of a quandary here. *I* would expect Cleopatra VII to be mummified like all her ancestors (they make better displays that way). After Romans took over, some were still getting mummified for a while, until the practice died out ACE (except for the tourist trade). It's not clear that Octavian hung around for the 70 days required to mummify Cleopatra ... but maybe he didn't stay around for the burial. Dio's "embalm" could go a couple of ways:

1) Cleopatra VII is in an urn as ashes just like Antony, or

2) it's mummy plus urn just next to each other, or

3) whatever state they're in, they reside in different burial containers (same tomb still counts).

The only clarity I can add is that sometimes Dio just makes up what he doesn't know ... especially if he can wring some kind of irony out of it.

What about TREASURE?!! 

Plutarch (LofAnt 74:1-2): "...she had a tomb and monument built surpassingly lofty and beauti­ful, which she had erected near the temple of Isis,  collected there the most valuable of the royal treasures, gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, ebony, ivory, and cinnamon; and besides all this she put there great quantities of torch-wood and tow, so that Caesar  [Octavian] was anxious about the reason, and fearing lest the woman might become desperate and burn up and destroy this wealth ..." 

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 11:1-3): "She accordingly kept herself within the building, in order that, even if there should be no other motive for her preservation, she might at least purchase pardon and her kingdom through his fear for the money. ... At all events, she kept at hand fire to consume her wealth ... Now Caesar was anxious not only to get possession of her treasures but also to seize her alive and to carry her back for his triumph."

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 16:6-8): "So much for these events. In the palace quantities of treasure were found. For Cleopatra had taken practically all the offerings from even the holiest shrines and so helped the Romans swell their spoils without incurring any defilement on their own part. Large sums were also obtained from every man against whom any charge of misdemeanour were brought. And apart from these, all the rest, even though no particular complaint could be lodged against them, had two-thirds of their property demanded of them. Out of this wealth all the troops received what was owing them, and those who were with Caesar [Octavian] at the time got in addition a thousand sesterces on condition of not plundering the city.  Repayment was made in full to those who had previously advanced loans, and to both the senators and the knights who had taken part in the war large sums were given. In fine, the Roman empire was enriched and its temples adorned."

Octavian took it all. He took her personnel wealth, emptied the treasury, and took 2/3's of the property of wealthy citizens. He used this to pay off his troops (long in arears) and to pay off his Roman debtors who were praying he would win the civil war. After all that, he hauled back enough Egyptian wealth to Rome to depress the world price of gold and drop interest rates.

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 4-8): "and later he discharged the debt out of the spoils of Egypt."
--- 

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 7-8): "On the second day the naval victory at Actium was commemorated, and on the third the subjugation of Egypt. Now all the processions proved notable, thanks to the spoils from Egypt, — in such quantities, indeed, had spoils been gathered there that they sufficed for all the processions, — but the Egyptian celebration surpassed them all in costliness and magnificence"

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 21:5): "So vast an amount of money, in fact, circulated through all parts of the city alike, that the price of goods rose and loans for which the borrower had been glad to pay twelve per cent. could now be had for one third that rate."

---

Cassius Dio (RomanHistory LI 22:3): "Thus Cleopatra, though defeated and captured, was nevertheless glorified, inasmuch as her adornments repose as dedications in our temples and she herself is seen in gold in the shrine of Venus." ["Her adornments" suggests nothing was buried with her. Julius Caesar had the gilt statue of Cleopatra VII carved for his Temple of Venus Genetrix at least 14 years earlier.] 

Note that Octavian was clever enough to make the masses of peasants happy with a royally buried queen, but stripped the wealthy of property (What are THEY gonna do? Take to the streets with the ... with the ... PEASANTS?!).

Sorry. No treasure in Cleopatra VII's tomb. There's more to archaeology than shiny things.

Cover_Final_Final.png

Rom-Com

quill.jpeg

REFERENCES

NOT WHAT YOU THINK

Head_VI.png

APPEARANCE

dinos.jpg

FAMILY TREE

SmallTimeline.png

TIMELINE

MISCONCEPTION  SOURCES 

CLEOPATRA JULIO-CLAUDIAN

FinishedCover_v4.png

Rom-Com

Cover_Final.png

Rom-Com

bottom of page