Reliefs, Statues, and Statuettes





This beautiful, amazingly preserved statuette does not have "Cleopatra VII"

inscribed anywhere on it.

          1) As previously described, she wears the triple uraeus crown on top of a

              traditional tri-partite wig ... only Cleopatra did that,

          2) In her left hand, she carries a Greek double-cornucopia, only Ptolemaic

               queens did that starting with Arsinoe II (whom Cleopatra used as a role


          3) Her right hand would've held an Egyptian ankh from both her hand position

               and the style of the entire statuette:  it is very Egyptian from her tri-partite

               wig, to her delicate form-fitting dress (she is NOT naked), to her


There is still speculation about the meaning of the triple uraeus.  It is suspected that it signifies something new, something different in her reign.  It could reflect the relationship with Rome via Julius Caesar, it could reflect the possibility that her son Ptolemy Caesar could rule both the Two Lands and Rome, it could reflect the regaining of lands in the East rebuilding the empire (Clodius annexed Cyprus, Caesar gave it back).

IMHO: There's a lot of iconography, propaganda, and politics going on with images, but the Ptolemaic/Hellenistic period of Egypt combined 1000's of years of portraiture with artistic sensibilities of classical Greece.  My guess is that this shows a young Cleopatra true-to-life, possibly after the birth of Ptolemy Caesar but before she started wearing the complicated Nekhbet(vulture)/Isis/Hathor crowns.

Cleopatra, Ptolemy Caesar, and Ptolemy XIV went to Rome around 46 BC.  Caesar put them up in his villa right across the Tiber from his house.  Caesar's family 'tribe' (gens Julia) claimed ancestry back to Venus herself, and Caesar built his own temple of Venus Genetrix by the forum that he also built.  Caesar had a statue of Cleopatra carved from life, gilt, and placed in the temple.  It was described as Cleopatra-as-Isis-as-Venus.  It stood in the temple for over 400 years and was the model probably used by Roman writers when they described a Cleopatra that had died before their grandfathers were born.  There is some speculation that this statue is a small model of the Venus Genetrix statue (available for Cassius Dio & Appian).

Hermitage Museum, 

St. Petersburg, Russia

Rosicrucian Museum,

San Jose, California

This statue is life-size.  It's clear there was a crown (probably at least Hathor/Isis) that was broken off.  It's a very Egyptian-styled design: appropriate stance, sheer body-hugging dress, ankh in right hand (absent), wig, ... and the triple-uraeus of Cleopatra VII.

IMHO the body is more "mature" than the Hermitage one.  Possibly a later carving, particularly with respect to the clear evidence of a crown that's been broken off.  Maybe it comes from Marc Antony time ... after the twins.

This is Cleopatra VII with the triple-uraeus holding a ceremonial fly-whisk, next to Queen Tiye with the same thing, 1400 years earlier.  Cleopatra sometimes wore the two ostrich feathers crown on top of the Hathor/Isis crown.  Tiye sometimes wore the tri-partite wig.  Both are quite small, but IMHO the features are quite different, although others opinions may differ.  Cleopatra did make a determined effort to align herself with Pharaohs and Egyptian beliefs more ancient than the Ptolemies.

 Musée du Louvre

Paris, France

 Musée du Louvre

Paris, France

Metropolitan Museum,

New York

This Cleopatra VII was clearly made outside of Egypt: there's nothing "Egyptian" about it.  It's got the triple uraeus plus a cornucopia: those two symbols make it Cleopatra VII, but the rest is all wrong.  The wig is incorrect, she's wearing some kind of Roman drapey dress, but her breasts are exposed ... almost like a Minoan ... with fabric gathered up between them and pinned (Egyptians had no such thing).  She hasn't got legs, but it appears they're straight instead of one extended in the ceremonial pose.   It's Cleopatra, perhaps, as described by someone who dreamed about her in a distant country ... to a police artist. 

As far as this being the only statuette that has an inscription: "the cartouche actually reading 'Cleopatra' on this statue's arm would be a highly unusual occurrence, and is, moreover, incorrectly oriented, so that it is probably a modern addition."

--- Metropolitan Museum

I'm not qualified to call this a "hoax" ... I think it's more like a tourist souvenir.


Cleopatra VII images occur all over Egypt, unfortunately, most have not survived 2000 years of weathering very well.  The Temple of Hathor in Dendera just has a particularly good collection of images done throughout her life, and some consider it the best preserved temple in all of Egypt. 


Religious buildings in the Dendera complex were first constructed in the area under Pepi and Khufu, and maintained and upgraded by Amenemhat I, Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Ramesses II, and Ramesses III ... then, Ptolemies X, and XI.  It was Ptolemy XII that undertook construction of the Temple of Hathor and Cleopatra "decorated" it for the duration of her reign.  The Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Trajan, and Domitian all were involved with some additional building. 


Dendera is only a little north of Karnak/Luxor/Thebes: with all the massive temples there, why bother about Dendera?  Dendera was the center of the Hathor cult: one of the primary Egyptian goddesses involved with joy, feminine love, motherhood, marriage, and healing.  She was identified with the planet Venus in the night sky.  There was a sanatorium inside the complex for visiting pilgrims petitioning the goddess for cures.  Hathor was a very "present" god to every day peasants.  Romans considered her a flavor of their Venus.

When Ptolemy XII re-built the Temple of Hathor, the only Cleopatra alive was Cleopatra VII.  The reliefs on the outside walls all have identifying cartouches.  Curiously, besides the Hypostyle Hall, Room XX, and the crypts, interior cartouches are blank.  However, like every pharaoh before him, Ptolemy XII utilized building materials from collapsing structures ... consequently, Pepi and some previous Ptolemies appear inside the building.  If there's a Cleopatra with a named Ptolemy other that XII, it's not VII.  If her cartouche is blank, single, or she's paired with Ptolemy XII or XV (Ptolemy Caesar), it's Cleopatra VII.

This is the rear wall of the Temple of Hathor.  On the left is the relief that is most popularly reproduced: Cleopatra VII behind her son Ptolemy Caesar, each with two identifying cartouches: birth name and Horus name.  In classic Egyptian style, the right side of the wall is a mirror image, but in much poorer shape so it's rarely photographed.  Despite Ptolemy Caesar being a child at this time, he's presented as a young man (also consistent with Egyptian iconography).  The little guy, next to Hathor, is Hathor's son, Ihy (the sistrum-player).  There's some speculation that Cleopatra VII also appears to the left of the round thing (damaged giant Hathor cow-eared face) in the middle, with Arsinoe II on the right: neither have cartouches so this is artistic speculation.

A word about the "crypts".  At the turn of the 20th century, Germans were some of the top archaeologists in the world.  They were exploring, and excavating, and translating Greek and Latin manuscripts with a vengeance.  There's a word they use, "kryptahöhe", which has fallen out of use and basically means an enclosed room, maybe with a secret entrance (that isn't clear AT ALL).  The modern word is "krypta" which is equivalent to the English "crypt" ... except you can have a "kryptahöhe" on the second floor of a ship.  Keep the loose translation of "crypt" in mind with Dendera (there are crypts under the floor, and crypts within the walls across three floors).  Germans described them first: they got to name the crypts.

For my references, you also need to know about regnal numbering for Ptolemies.  This was completely invented in modern times by historians to keep ruling Ptolemies straight.  It appears that every royal male in Ptolemaic Egypt was named Ptolemy, while the females could use Arsinoe, Berenike, or Cleopatra.  There were a lot of kids (all Ptolemies, Cleopatras, etc.) running around, some married to foreigners, most just disappeared from history since they didn't rule.  Only the Ptolemies that actually sat on the throne of Egypt were given numbers BY MODERN HISTORIANS.  That being the case, even by the 1900's this was not straightened out.

At the time of writing "A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty", Mahaffy followed the standard of the time and included Ptolemy Eupator as "VI".  Modern historians have dropped him from the number scheme (Eupator was never Pharaoh in Egypt, but was king of Cyprus and died at 12-13 years old).  What this means is that Mahaffy's later Ptolemies are off by one: he refers to Cleopatra's father as XIII instead of XII.

There's a problem with Cleopatras, too.  Cleopatra's father (trying to avoid number) was married to Cleopatra V and Berenike was their recognized child (none of the others, however).  This Cleopatra completely disappeared from history around 69 BC.  When Cleopatra's father was exiled to Rome the second time, Berenike and "Cleopatra Tryphaena" came to power.  There is still speculation if there were one or two individuals: did one "retire" from public view and only reappear in a power vacuum, or did the first one die and the second jump on the throne from available relatives?  Mahaffy dismissed the two Cleopatra theory, and called the Cleopatra of Caesar and Marc Antony "Cleopatra VI" ... while modern scholars call her "VII".

There's a reason for all this lecturing.  This is arguably the best, most realistic image of Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator (mother of children to Caesar and Marc Antony) in the world.  It comes from one of the crypts in Dendera.

It's in a crypt built by Ptolemy XII, there's no other Cleopatras available for new building, there's no royal Horus cartouche so she's probably only co-regent, the birth name cartouche says "Cleopatra": Cleopatra VII at 17 years old (or thereabouts).

If it's such a great image, why does nobody talk about it?

Here is the source of the original picture.

This picture, which appears in many WWW webpages, was published in 1899.  The caption clearly says "Cleopatra VI".  People in a hurry looking for Cleopatra VII images just skip over it, despite "The Famous Cleopatra" at the top.  I have seen this picture labeled "Cleopatra VI" on the web.  Take a look at the text: the author clearly states the Cleopatra V-VI problem "some ... call her the VIIth".  Notice he refers to her father as Ptolemy XIII (now you understand all that number stuff).  An easy way to look at this is that the "Famous" Cleopatra is the last one (Mahaffy thinks that's VI, everyone else calls her VII).

Archaeology is a science, like any other science: as new things are discovered, it may change old theories.  "A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty" is dated but has some very interesting parts ... for example, his argument about Julius Caesar not burning down the Great Library of Alexandria.  He's also got a nice picture of the Dendera wall completely covered up to the necks of Cleopatra and Ptolemy Caesar.




Dendera Reading List



© 2020 by Marian Marion Kebab