If there’s one entity that has consistently enamoured all of humankind, throughout the passage of time, it’s gemstones. But a love like no other is the kind that Queens had for their jewel stash. While amassing territories was the pursuit of kings, for queens, it was accumulating gems.
When speaking of queens, we cannot miss one of the most iconic figures of history, the Queen of the Nile herself, Cleopatra. She embodied both these characteristics; of a tactful leader, and a manic lover of jewels. Her whole life was riddled with political conundrums and dramatic love affairs. But we're going to explore her love affairs with gemstones.
Cleopatra- Egypt's Last Pharaoh
Cleopatra, born in 69 BC, was the last Pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Her personality was captivating, intelligent, and resourceful. She spoke multiple languages and was known for her irresistible charm. But there was one thing that she couldn't resist – jewels. Her fascination with gemstones was so profound that it has become an integral part of her legacy.
Cleopatra's Emerald Collection
Cleopatra’s most beloved gems were emeralds, and she had quite a collection of these green wonders. Cleopatra wore them not just as jewellery, but she would also ground them into powder, and use it for cosmetics! Her collection also boasted of colourful gemstones, like sapphires, amethysts, garnets, rubies and pearls.
Cleopatra and her Mythical Pearls
One cannot talk about Cleopatra's love for jewels without mentioning her exorbitant pearl collection. The Egyptian Queen was known to have dissolved a pearl worth an astonishing 10 million sesterces (a significant sum of money in ancient Rome) in a glass of vinegar as an expression of love for a Roman General, Mark Antony. The pearl, which was referred to as "the Incomparable Pearl," was of astonishing size and value!
Cleopatra and Her Lovers
Speaking of love, Cleopatra would often use her jewels as a beguiling tool to further her political aims. In her famous meeting with Julius Caesar, she is said to have been rolled up in a carpet and presented to him as a gift. As she emerged from the carpet, she was bedecked in her finest jewels. The sight of Cleopatra, in her gem-encrusted attire, left Caesar smitten. Similarly, when she met Mark Antony, she sailed to him in a grandiose barge with sails woven from gold cloth. Her entire entourage was decked in gold and precious gems, adding to the razzmatazz of her arrival.
The Symbolism of the Gemstones
In Egyptian culture and mythology, gemstones were associated with supernatural properties. Cleopatra was a staunch believer of these customs. She used the gems not just for their aesthetic appeal but also for their symbolic value. For instance, amethysts, which Cleopatra owned, were believed to bring protection and peace. It might be safe to say, her choice of gemstones may be driven by her desire to grow her own power.
The Legacy of Cleopatra's Jewels
Unfortunately, most of her priceless gemstones have been lost to time. However, some of them have resurfaced over the centuries. Like, one of her pearls found its way to the Persian Gulf, where it became known as the "Peregrina Pearl" and later found its way into the collection of famous actress Elizabeth Taylor. Some of her jewellery might also be scattered among various museum exhibits and private collections.
Cleopatra’s love for the bedazzlements adds another fascinating layer to her otherwise whirlwind of a life. Her queen-size gem collection, her use of jewellery as a manipulative tool to further her political ambitions, and her understanding of the symbolic value of gemstones in her culture, all make her a truly remarkable historical figure.