Was Cleopatra the First Woman of Color to Wield Power, and What Lessons Can Be Learned from the Iconic Ruler?
By Roni Jacobs
There are some very notable women that have hailed from the ancient Egyptian civilization. Although, none more prominent than the iconic Cleopatra. The last pharaoh of Egypt is remembered for her romantic ties and military alliances with Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.
History books detail her unrivaled beauty and charm, but records show no mention of her skin color. This has led several experts to believe that Cleopatra may have been dark-skinned. Tracing her lineage presents the possibility that she had black African ancestry. However, there is simply not enough evidence to support this claim.
Even though there is no conclusive proof that Cleopatra was the first woman of color to wield power, there are still important takeaways from her reign that today’s female leaders would do well to take note of.
Eyes on the Throne
Cleopatra attempted to make herself the sole sovereign of Ancient Egypt before she was driven out of the palace by her brother and supposed co-ruler. When Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria, Cleopatra knew his diplomatic intervention could help her gain an upper hand. Because her brother’s forces stopped her return, she hatched a plan to sneak herself into the palace. Cleopatra’s plan involved having herself wrapped up in a carpet and smuggled into the Roman leader’s quarters. It’s a scene that has appeared on film and TV many times. This symbolizes her determination to gain power and her creative means to wield it.
When in Egypt
While Cleopatra may have been born in Egypt, her family origins were traced to Macedonian Greece. Because of this, most of her family only spoke Greek. Cleopatra was known to speak multiple languages, and thus was the only Ptolemaic pharaoh who bothered to learn the Egyptian language. Communication was as important then as it is today, and even more vital for her to establish a relationship with their followers. This is why any form of communication barrier, such as language, should be addressed.
We all know that Cleopatra was very image-conscious. Gold, which is intricately linked to the pharaoh’s identity, also stood the test of time as a beauty element. Beyoncé is not shy in her use of gold eye shadow, which she admitted to using to look awake. The Kardashian sisters use gold in a different way—as an opulent facemask to stop any inflammation of the face.
Additionally, British television presenter Holly Willoughby revealed that milk baths keep her looking young. Bathing in milk was Cleopatra’s secret weapon to soft supple skin. These are some of the ways Cleopatra’s beauty regimen have crossed boundaries and time. They will likely do so for the foreseeable future because they can work for all women, regardless of age and skin color.
The Queen cleverly presented herself as a divine gift from the goddess Isis who was chosen to rule Egypt. She showcased this mystique through depictions in pieces of art and Egyptian currency. While Roman texts mainly focused on her beauty and sex appeal, the Arab records noted her irresistible charm and intellect. It’s clear that Cleopatra commanded a strong presence, which is an important aspect for any leader. While we can’t deny that they Queen had her charms, it was also her intellect that got her the throne.
We’re not downplaying the beauty card, however. On this website, we seek to empower women in all aspects of life. Check out other helpful posts on beauty and fashion here.
About the Author: Roni Jacobs is a career woman who has been empowered by a number of strong black women over the course of her corporate career. Now she aims to give back in the form of mentoring and writing about some of the most iconic women throughout history who have lived their lives to inspire others.