Tag Archives: ancient Greece


Was Cleopatra Really So Beautiful?

Ancient Roman historian Dio Cassius, who described the Egyptian queen Cleopatra as ”the most beautiful woman of all”, never saw the object of his admiration. In fact, he even lived more than 100 years after Cleopatra’s death.


Cleopatra and Julius Caesar(Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866)

To be honest, Cleopatra was not exceptionally beautiful in any way, at least according to present beauty standards. From portraits painted and coins issued during her reign, we can assume that Cleopatra had quite a long nose, protruding chin and that she looked ”rather majestic than beautiful”. Caesar’s and Mark Anthony’s passion for Cleopatra was probably evoked by her inner values; strong charisma and wisdom.

Ancient coins portraying Cleopatra(on the left) and Mark Anthony

Another common misconception is that Queen Cleopatra was of ancient Egyptian origin, when in fact, she was Macedonian Greek ancestry, descendant of Ptolemy, one of the Alexander the Great’s generals.

Due to sheer amount of incest in her family(16 roles of her great-great-grandparents were filled by only six individuals), some sources say there could be a connection between her looks and genetical inbreeding of her ancestors, however this currently belongs only to the realm of speculation.



Did Archimedes Really Invent the “Death Ray”?

Among many great deeds we attribute to Archimedes of Syracuse, there are some which probably never happened. One of them, frequently appearing in many famous history books, is a myth that during the Roman siege of the city of Syracuse, Archimedes allegedly burned roman warships by sunlight, reflected by complex system of mirrors.


Archimedes’ mirror burning Roman military ships(Giulio Parigi, 1600)

Modern engineers have proven during attempts to recreate this feat, that it’s impossible to burn ships with reflected sunlight, even when using present-time technologies. Even when the Mythbusters tested this myth in three full episodes of their show, they never achieved the desired effect of ships catching fire.

Greek historian Plutarchos, who depicted many other great inventions of Archimedes in his books, including catapults and special cranes, designed to drag roman ships to craggy coastal rocks, never mentioned the Death Ray in any way. It was mentioned for the first time in scriptures by Anthemius of Tralles, one of the architects of Hagia Sophia, and then another 600 years later in the Chronicles of the World by monk Johannes Zonaras.

File:Domenico-Fetti Archimedes 1620.jpg

Archimedes(Domenico Fetti, 1620)

Nevertheless, fire-starting mirrors were well-known by Archimedes’s time. Romans themselves often used them to start ceremonial fires in temples, and we can’t rule out the possibility that Archimedes really thought about aiming them on enemy ships. But even if he had thought about that before, he would most likely dismiss the idea, because it was impossible to achieve with the technologies in ancient Greece.