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Cleopatra a cross-dresser?

A newly found image, carved on an Egyptian stone slab, shows her dressed as a man.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2005 20:12 IST

Cleopatra has for long been considered the epitome of beauty and she used her looks to seduce Julius Ceasar and Mark Antony for power. But a newly discovered stone slab depicts her as a man raising speculations about her being a cross dresser.

A relief image carved about 2050 years ago on an ancient Egyptian stone slab shows Cleopatra dressed as a man, recent analysis shows.

The object is only one of three known to exist that represent Cleopatra as a male. The other two artefacts also stone slabs, or stelae, that date to around the same time, 51 BC, at the beginning of Cleopatra's reign.

Researchers theorise that the recently discovered 34 by 25 centimetre stela was probably first excavated in Tell Moqdam, an Egyptian city that the ancient Greeks called Leonton Polis, meaning 'city of the lions'.

"It shows Cleopatra dressed as a male pharaoh with the [characteristically male] double crown offering the hieroglyph of a field to a lion crouching on a pedestal," Professor Willy Clarysse, who conducted the analysis, was quoted by ABC on line, as saying.

However, Clarysse, an egyptologist and classics scholar at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, says that Cleopatra's apparent sex change was probably due to the artist's laziness.

"Up to 51 BC, Ptolemaios XII, the father of Cleopatra, was king over Egypt," he says. "When he died, some of the stelae were already carved. The stone cutter then added the name of the new sovereign in the cartouche, but he did not change the picture of the male pharaoh into a female because this was too difficult or too much work."

Clarysse adds that one of Cleopatra's legs had been re-carved, so perhaps someone started to redo the initial image "but then gave up".

The findings will be published next year in the German publication Antique World. However some researchers believe that the male representation of Cleopatra was a way of showing authority, in a time when women seldom wielded any power.

First Published: Sep 26, 2005 17:28 IST