Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cleopatra's Sister Found - Rebuttal by Mary Beard

My previous post on the subject. From The Times On Line A Don's Life Mary Beard March 16, 2009 The skeleton of Cleopatra's sister? Steady on. There were enthusiastic reports this weekend that archaeologists had found the skeleton of the younger sister of Queen Cleopatra -- and that the bones suggested that Cleopatra herself was not ethnically Greek or Macedonian (as most people have assumed), but of mixed race, at least part African. The woman's name was Arsinoe , and she was put to death as a potentially dangerous rival in Ephesus in 41 BC, on the orders of Cleopatra and Antony. The skeleton in question was found in a large tomb there, now known as the Octagon (on the right). The argument is that the shape of the skull shows that she had African blood. So Cleopatra too was part African. Does it all add up? Well, no, sorry -- it's not quite so simple. The facts are something like this. First, Arsinoe was indeed supposed to have been murdered on the steps of the temple of Diana in Ephesus, and the Octagon (which was found in the 1920s) is a rather grand tomb which can be dated stylistically to the first century BC. But there is nothing more than that to link the tomb and the princess. There is no surviving name on the tomb and the claims that the shape was meant to evoke the shape of the lighthouse of Alexandria (and so hint at an Egyptian occupant) don't add up for me. Second, the skeleton itself doesn't survive intact. The crucial skull, on which the ethnic arguments are based, was lost in the second world war. The new conclusions (including a mock up of Arsinoe's face) rely on the measurements of the skull left by the first excavators. The remaining bones are said to be those of a 15-18 year old; Arsinoe may well have been in her mid-20s when she died. Third, we don't actually know that Cleopatra and Arsinoe were full sisters. Their father was King Ptolemy, but they may well have had different mothers. In that case, the ethnic argument goes largely out of the window. The truth is that the BBC has a documentary coming up in a week's time, Cleopatra: portrait of a killer, and this 'scoop' is effectively a trailer for it. I don't blame the archaeologists -- after all, think of what was made of my 'discovery' of last week. For a similar line on this story, I now see that you should take a look at Rogue Classicism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finally some sense! The documentary seeme to think that killing families was unusual, when in fact it was commonplace in those days and they seemed to completely ignore the timeline, as well as the numerous wives and concubines the Pharoahs had. The report of the killing also seemed to be based on an account written 300 years later.

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