Is Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra Based on a True Story? How Accurate is it?

Netflix’s ‘Queen Cleopatra’ is part of the ‘African Queens‘ that follows some of the most prominent female monarchs from Africa’s history. Cleopatra VII Philopator, who is mostly referred to by her first name, is perhaps one of the most well-known queens from across the world whose story is not only historically significant but also remains surrounded by mysticism.

After all, her influence within the rising Roman Empire was nothing to scoff at. However, many in the public have been quite skeptical about the events shown in the historical show and are curious just how much of it is actually based on real-life events. Luckily, we are here to explore the same!

Queen Cleopatra: Partially Inspired by Historical Events

‘Queen Cleopatra’ is partially based on a true story. The documentary series primarily follows the reign of the Egyptian queen after she ascended the throne following the death of her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes. Her troubles with her co-monarch Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, and her relationships with Roman generals Julius Caesar and Mark Antony are some of the many topics covered in the show. However, not every detail depicted in the series can be considered to be the undisputed truth.

One of the biggest reasons why certain events can’t be considered absolutely true to life is the fact that even contemporary historians do not have matching accounts of specific happenings. For example, the first meeting between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra did take place in secret, but whether the queen was smuggled in using a sack or was dressed attractively remains a topic of debate. Indeed, it is these minute details that cannot be easily verified and hence remain shrouded in mystery.

What is indisputable is the fact that Cleopatra was an influential figure in both Egyptian and Roman politics. Her ascension to the throne was far from simple, given the conflict between herself and Ptolemy XIII, which lasted for years until he fled after the Battle of the Nile and is said to have drowned. Whether or not this was an accident is, again, something that historians can only speculate on.

Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar was indeed quite well-balanced, though whether or not their feelings and conversations were similar to what we see in the show is hard to prove. As such, considering the show to be entirely truthful is not a wise course of action. More or less, ‘Queen Cleopatra’ follows the established turn of events that are well documented by history, including the various conflicts, dethronings, deaths, and children.

How Accurate is Queen Cleopatra?

Like most of the historical shows, ‘Queen Cleopatra’ is not completely accurate. However, there are certain elements in the show that have become a special point of contention for the viewers and experts. The biggest objection raised against the documentary series is the casting choice for the last Egyptian pharaoh and those around her. The decision to cast a black artist to portray Cleopatra has received massive criticism, with people claiming that this could not be further from the truth.

As viewers of the show might know, the Ptolemaic dynasty, of which Queen Cleopatra was a part, adopted the practice of incestuous marriage. The wedding of brother and sister was a long-held tradition among Egyptian rulers in order to truly represent their gods, Osiris and Isis, who were also siblings. However, the Ptolemaic dynasty was Greek in origin, and such a practice was frowned upon in Greece.

While one can consider this as them embracing the Egyptian traditions, the ruling class itself was not Egyptian. Even when the Ptolemys got married to someone outside the family, it was usually to noble family members of Greece or Syria (specifically the Seleucid Empire). Hence, most records indicate that Cleopatra was ethnically Greek, with traces of Persian and Iranian ancestry. However, there are many who claim that Cleopatra was most probably half Egyptian, given that the identity of her mother is not set in stone.

Most believe that her mother was Cleopatra V, who was niece, cousin, and wife to Ptolemy XII. This also means that she was very much a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which meant that her children could not have been half-Egyptian. If one were to believe that Cleopatra was born to an Egyptian woman, an argument could still be made against how she has been depicted in the show. Most native Egyptians in the present world do tend to have darker skin tones than Caucasians.

While the skin tones apparently change as one goes upstream of the Nile River, going progressively darker. It is a highly held belief that the appearance of Egyptian people today is not much different from the time of Cleopatra, which means that a significant part of the Egyptian population would not be as dark-skinned as depicted in the Netflix show. Additionally, the Ptolemaic dynasty was based in the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which was founded on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

If Cleopatra’s mother was indeed hailing near the then-Egyptian capital, it is possible that she would not have a very dark skin tone. These facts indicate that Cleopatra most likely had Mediterranean looks. Combined with the fact that the Ptolemaic dynasty, including Cleopatra herself, tended to style themselves in a Greek manner, her depiction as a black woman has sparked much outrage and has been deemed inaccurate. The same arguments have also been extended to some other casting choices.

Read More: Is Netflix’s African Queens Based on a True Story?