The Italian Almanac


Cleopatra in Rome

The never-ending search for Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt whose controversial personality is still wrapped in mystery, is at the centre of a major show opening at Rome's Chiostro del Bramante. The exhibit showcases 180 works of art on loan from Italian and international museums including Turin's Egyptian Museum, the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris, some of which have never been shown to the public before, to focus on Cleopatra's relationship with Rome (46-44 AD).

Young princess Cleopatra VII, known today simply as Cleopatra, became queen of Egypt on 51 AD and ruled a country in turmoil on the verge of collapse under the mighty Roman empire. The objective of the exhibit "Cleopatra. Rome and the magic of Egypt" is to investigate the queen's relationship with the Eternal City and the depth of Rome's fascination for Egypt.

Only 17 when she took the throne, Cleopatra became one of Egypt's most powerful rulers, bonding on a political and personal level with two of ancient Rome's most powerful rulers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The queen was loved and adored as an incarnation of Isis, goddess of life and sea travel which was vital to Rome, and is represented as the goddess in a number of bas-reliefs showcased at the exhibit.

At first Rome was attracted by Egypt's "riches as the kingdom was the true granary of the Mediterranean", said the exhibit's curator Giovanni Gentili , stressing that Cleopatra represented at the time an emblem of independence. Some two decades after coming to power, the queen took her own life in an act of defiance against the Romans and their hunger for her kingdom.

Augustan historians gave a rough sketch of the queen and attempted to play down her impact on Rome, stressing her unparalleled love for luxury rather than her influence over Roman society.