The Cleopatra Out Of Africa Theory

The news services seem to be awash at the moment with a large pile of steaming hype about Cleopatra being part African. This is on the basis of an extremely tentative identification of a headless skeleton in Ephesus, which might be her sister Arsinoe, and an even more tentative suggestion from skeletal measurements that this skeleton might be part African.

The skull to that skeleton used to exist, and was measured in the 1920s, after which they lost the skull and it's never been recovered. The measurements they're using to decide ethnicity are based on the missing skull, so nothing can be checked. Terrific. To cap it off, skeletal measurements are not exactly reliable indicators of race, so the most polite thing you can say about this claim is it's unproven.

My immediate reaction was, so what? (yawn) But it seems people care a lot, I guess because of the political correctness thing. A very modern political correctness that had no place in the ancient world. Ancient Greeks and Romans fought and squabbled with their neighbors over all sorts of geopolitical issues (think Greece/Persia) and more rarely over genuine repugnance (think Rome/Carthage...the Romans were horrified that the Carthaginians practised ritual child sacrifice), but mostly they squabbled simply because they could. You'd be hard pressed to find any examples of racism in the modern sense, as far as I'm aware (if you know of any, I'd be fascinated to hear). So whether Cleopatra or her sister was black, white, or rainbow colored stripes, it's unlikely an ancient writer would have paid much attention or cared in the least, an attitude I think we moderns would do well to emulate. It's what she did that matters.

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