Cleopatra VII Philopator (69 BCE–30 BCE), later Cleopatra Thea Neotera Philopator kai Philopatris, was queen of Ptolemaic Egypt; she was the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty and hence the last Hellenistic ruler of Egypt. Although many other Egyptian queens shared the name, she is by far the best known – indeed the others are mostly forgotten – and she is usually known simply as Cleopatra.
Julius Caesar was in Egypt in 48 BCE and Cleopatra shored up her reign by becoming his lover, bearing him a son Ptolemy Caesar (known as Caesarion). Cleopatra and Caesarion later visited Rome and were present when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. In 42 BCE she became the lover of Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled Rome in the power vacuum following Caesar’s death. In 40 BCE she gave birth to twins, who were named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Anthony probably married Cleopatra according to the Egyptian rite although he was married to Octavian’s sister. In late 34 BCE Antony was crowned co-ruler of Egypt. Outraged and threatened, Octavian convinced the Senate to levy war against Egypt. When Octavian invaded Egypt in 30 BCE following the Battle of Actium, Antony committed suicide, followed a few days later by Cleopatra. Caesarion was captured and executed but Anthony’s children by Cleopatra were spared and reared by Antony’s wife, Octavia.
Cleopatra’s look is uncertain: contemporary portrayals show her as both Greek and Egyptian. The curious thing about Cleopatra’s makeup in the movies is how of-its-time each portrayal appears when you look back on them: Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup and hair was very of-the-1960s and some of her less formal looks could have come straight out of The Sandpiper or Reflections In A Golden Eye – one of her wigs even looks remarkably like a swimming cap she wore in a beach scene in Suddenly, Last Summer; Claudette Colbert actually wore the same hairstyle in other non-period movies: and Theda Bara looks like exactly what she was – a silent movie star.
If anyone can help me with images from the BBC TV mini-series The Cleopatras, please email themakeupgallery.