Here We Go Again: Upcoming BBC-One Documentary Says Cleopatra was Part-African

Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton believes this computer-generated image is that of Cleopatra VII as a young girl.  Remember that Greeks also borrowed a lot from the Egyptians--science, technology and philosophy--including the braiding and corn-rowing hair styles that we see in classical Greek art.

Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton believes this computer-generated image is that of Cleopatra VII as a young girl. Remember that Greeks also borrowed a lot from the Egyptians--science, technology and philosophy--including the braiding and corn-rowing hair styles that we see in classical Greek art.

You know when whites (mostly Europeans) start talking this way, after blacks have been insisting forever, jaws drop on the other side of the pond. That’s what happened when the Leakeys established that the first men walked out of Africa, not Europe (although some are now trying mightily to find out whether China is older). It must be that time: a black president, Jefferson acknowledged as the father of Sally Hemings’ children and now Cleopatra being acknowledged as having African ancestry…all these books are going to be rewritten.

Hilke Thuer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences studied the remains of Cleopatra’s sister, the royal Arsinoë IV, taken from her tomb in Ephesus, once a Greek colony in what is now Turkey. Arsinoë (pronounced “Ar-see-noi”) lost the power struggle between herself and the Queen when Marc Antony–by this time Cleopatra’s husband–had her whacked on the steps of the Temple of Artemis.  Arsinoë was exiled there by Julius Caesar after being paraded through the streets of Rome in triumph behind his chariot.

Previously, Cleopatra got rid of another sibling and her co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII, when her forces defeated his in battle–with Julius Caesar’s assistance.  After Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C., Cleopatra returned from Rome to wipe out another brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIV, and to place her minor son by Caesar on the throne with her.  While the BBC documentary calls Cleo a killer, if she hadn’t gotten rid of them, they would have done her in, too. It was simply palace politics and intrigue over who was going to have the throne, which hadn’t changed since the Pharaohs began. Familial ties didn’t mean jack, but in the process, none of Ptolemy XII Auletes’ children was left alive by the time Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC. Says the BBC News article:

“It’s almost impossible to remember they were real people and not the semi-mythical figures portrayed by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It was like a splash of cold water in the face to be confronted by them as human beings, ” [archaeologist Neil Oliver] continued.

“When I stood in the lab and handled the bones of Cleopatra’s blood sister – knowing that in her lifetime she touched Cleopatra and perhaps Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as well – I felt the hairs go up on the back of my neck.”

I’ve long come to feel, after looking at both arguments on the issue, that Cleopatra VII was a woman of color, a woman of both African and Greek lineage and culture. She wasn’t “pure” anything; there is no such thing. But people will refuse to see some truth, that she just couldn’t have been part-African because “the Ptolemies married each other” pro forma, as with all of the Egyptian royals.  In order for the Ptolemies to be considered royal, didn’t the Greek general have to marry a suitable Egyptian princess from the displaced royal house in order to found his dynasty?  Those princesses were almost certainly both royal and of mixed race, resembling Jennifer Beals, Halle Berry, Alek Wek, or Iman.

Cleopatra being a white European Queen ruling over all those colored Egyptians is a Sheena, Queen of the Jungle idea if I ever saw one, just like Tarzan being acknowledged as king of his. John Henrik Clarke, J. A. Rogers, Cheikh Anta Diop–whether autodidact, cultural nationalist or academy-trained–the list of scholarship supporting the alternate view is endless.  Unfortunately, as I remember reading from one of J.A. Rogers’ books, from the time modern American history was being made, certain people were busy destroying documents and other materials that might show some figure or event in a less flattering light.  So the same might be true for Cleo–those claims of ‘they married each other, and never those other people” sounds a lot like some of the history being touted by those who also promoted white supremacy and colonialism at the same time archaeology became a credible science.

Furthermore, Frank Snowden’s book, Blacks in Antiquity, poses that the Greeks and Romans were not as squeamish about blacks as later Europeans were. They incorporated Ethiopians in their mythology; had few if any problems with intermarriage, and in several declarations, felt that blacks were conversant with and “close to the gods.” The blacks that the ancients met in travels, trade, or in war were generals, statesmen, merchants, nobles, and kings and queens, or the literate representatives and trusted servants of such individuals. The Greeks and Romans saw blacks at their best and worst, and did not assign any difference in civilizations or cultures to moral, mental or physical defects.

So some of these European archaeologists may be revisiting the dusty books with the help of more modern techniques of assessing just who is what. If Arsinoë’s skeleton indicated that this was an woman of African descent, then of course, her sister and brothers, Cleopatra and Ptolemies XIII and XIV, could have been as well, though Arsinoë may not have had the same mother as the Ptolemies or their more famous sister.  (Mysteriously–or not so mysteriously, all information about who Cleopatra’s mother was has somehow disappeared, although some have suggested that she was a concubine and not a Royal Wife.)

It’s too bad that we don’t yet know for sure.  Cleopatra and Antony’s temple and tomb, it is said, fell into the sea off Alexandria from an earthquake centuries ago.  Another theory suggests that Cleopatra’s mummy was spirited away by Napoleon’s scientists during his occupation of Egypt, and buried in Paris. Ptolemy XIII or his brother may have to be sought next, if they have tombs. This all-Greek Queen of Egypt stuff, though, is going to die hard.

The documentary, Cleopatra, Portrait of a Killer, will be running March 23 at 9:00 p.m.(their time) on BBC One, NOT BBC America.  There might be the possibility that you could see it online on BBC One. Or, you may want to wait until it appears on the Discovery Channel. Check your listings.

~ by blksista on March 17, 2009.

3 Responses to “Here We Go Again: Upcoming BBC-One Documentary Says Cleopatra was Part-African”

  1. You should hear the incredulous roars of disapproval from SOME white people in the uk. some people will never change…… but then again maybe they face no choice.


  2. Yes, and she does look a bit like Malia Obama…


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