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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
By the BBC's Molly Price-Owen
An exhibition at London's British Museum aims to debunk some of the myths surrounding Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt, who reigned during the first century BC.
The exhibition of her life and times also draws on her liaisons with the two great Roman leaders of the day, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Among the hundreds of exhibits are statues, vases and vessels, jewellery, marble reliefs, frescoes and paintings, and other artefacts, some of which have never before been on public display.
The exhibition brings together ancient images from museums all over the world.
There are also some items newly identified as representing Cleopatra herself.
"These have recently been identified as Cleopatra on various grounds," explains Peter Higgs, curator of the Museum's Greek and Roman Department.
"In some she has a wonderful head-dress which comprises three rearing cobras; in others she is holding up two cornucopias, the horns of plenty and the symbols of fertility."
The images are certainly royal and certainly date from the first century BC, but, says Mr Higgs, the clinching item is a tiny little gem - the smallest item in the exhibition - which comes from the British Museum's owns store rooms.
"This shows a portrait of Cleopatra, comparable with the coins that we know are definitely portraits of her, but has the three rearing cobras which only Cleopatra used," he says.
Recently identified statues in polished basalt, which gleams like black marble, show Cleopatra as a beautiful, curvaceous woman, who one could certainly imagine seducing emperors.
"These statues carved in the Egyptian style, show this wonderful curvaceous body, but, if you look at the face, it's not what we call beautiful by modern standards, although she may have been considered beautiful at the time."
The exhibition also includes a three-times larger than life head of Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion, the first time he has been on show.
He probably spent the last 1500 years under the murky waters of Alexandria harbour.
After its discovery a few years ago, by the French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, the statue was put in a desalination tank to rid it of impurities and this is the first time it has gone on public display.
Yet we still know very little about the last queen of Egypt and the politics of her time, and there are no contemporary descriptions of her.
Octavian, who defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, ordered the destruction of all images of her, but at the request of a wealthy Alexandrian a few were spared.
Antony fell on his sword and Cleopatra committed suicide by putting an asp to her breast.
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