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What colour clothes did cleopatra wear?

Cleopatra VII, the last active pharaoh of ancient Egypt, is one of the most famous female rulers in history. She was renowned for her intelligence, ambition, political acumen and personal charm, which she used to further Egypt’s interests. Cleopatra’s fashion choices were an important part of her public image and propaganda, used to convey various meanings and associations. Although no contemporary paintings or colored sculptures of Cleopatra exist today, clues about her clothing can be gleaned from the historical record and artistic depictions after her reign.

The Color Purple

One of Cleopatra’s signature colors was purple, a shade associated with royalty and divinity in ancient Egypt. Purple dye was extremely expensive to produce in antiquity, so the color purple was reserved for the upper echelons of society. As a Ptolemaic queen, Cleopatra would have worn the color purple to emphasize her noble status and association with the gods. Surviving written records note Cleopatra’s fondness for the color. The Roman poet Horace described her as “purple-clad” and she was known to have gifted purple fabrics and dyes as diplomatic gifts.

Evidence Source
Described as “purple-clad” Horace, Roman poet
Gifted purple dyes as diplomatic gifts Historical records

Artists in later centuries commonly depicted Cleopatra in purple clothing, like the purple cloak she wears in paintings by Michelangelo and Tiepolo. These artists were inspired by Cleopatra’s known affection for the color purple, which became an iconic part of her image. The associations with royalty and divinity that purple conveyed were important for Cleopatra’s propagandistic representation.

White Linen

Another material commonly associated with Cleopatra was linen. Made from the flax plant, linen was the most widespread fabric in ancient Egypt and was worn by people across all social classes. Fine white linen was especially valued. As a ruler in an era when public appearances were an opportunity for propaganda, Cleopatra likely wore simple yet high-quality white linen garments to connect herself to traditional Egyptian values. The Greek historian Plutarch mentioned Cleopatra’s appreciation for traditional Egyptian dress made of “the finest linen.” White linen had associations with purity and cleanliness across many ancient Mediterranean cultures. For Cleopatra, it allowed her to emphasize her connection to her Egyptian subjects.

Evidence Source
Wore simple, high-quality white linen Plutarch, Greek historian
Linen associated with purity Mediterranean cultural associations

However, ancient sources make it clear Cleopatra did not limit herself just to traditional Egyptian dress. As a Greek-descended Ptolemaic queen, she also embraced cosmopolitan foreign fashions.

Foreign Fabrics and Jewels

According to Plutarch, Cleopatra was “not at all intimidated by wearing clothes considered foreign.” She likely wore garments made from imported fabrics like silk and cotton, which were prized luxuries in the Mediterranean at the time. Jewelry discoveries from Cleopatra’s time show significant Greek and Roman influence in the preference for gold, gems and engraved coins used as adornments. Cleopatra was known to appreciate luxurious decorations for her personal use and as gifts. Her lavish tastes were one way she lived up to her epithet as “Golden One.”

Displaying foreign fabrics, styles and jewels conveyed Cleopatra’s multi-cultural identity as both Egyptian and Ptolemaic queen. But it also had a political motivation. Cleopatra used these expensive, exotic fashions as part of her propaganda and public charm offensive aimed at winning greater power for Egypt through her relationships with powerful Romans.

Evidence Source
Wore clothes “considered foreign” Plutarch
Appreciation for Greek/Roman jewelry Archeological discoveries
Lavish gifts of jewelry mentioned Historical records

The Egyptian Blue Pigment

Cleopatra may have also worn the ancient Egyptian blue pigment known as Egyptian blue. Made from ground limestone, sand and copper, this vivid blue was used for decorative purposes in ancient Egypt. It was not as expensive purple dye, but still associated with elite status. Egyptian blue would have been a visually striking color choice for someone of Cleopatra’s political ambition. Blue was not commonly worn in classical Mediterranean societies. For Cleopatra to wear vibrant Egyptian blue would have emphasized her uniqueness. It linked her to Egyptian culture yet also marked her as exotic and foreign in the eyes of visiting Romans who were unfamiliar with the pigment.

Evidence Source
Egyptian blue pigment existed Archeological evidence
Associated with elites Egyptian artistic record
Striking and exotic to Romans Cultural contrast

Theatrical Costumes

Cleopatra was also known to don theatrical costumes and exotic garments when making public appearances designed to awe spectators and communicate her divine royal power. For instance, she dressed as the goddess Isis during a procession through Alexandria described by several ancient historians. This costume sent a clear visual message equating Cleopatra with the imagery of the goddess. The Roman senator Cicero derided her public appearance in an Isiac costume as indecent, which underscores how shocking and powerful it was.

During her famous first meeting with Mark Antony, Plutarch describes Cleopatra as dressed in the outfit and character of Venus/Aphrodite when she arrived to see Antony in Tarsus. Her calculated adoption of a goddess’ costume was intended to associate herself with ideals like love and fertility. Costumed displays like these were a garment-based extension of the cult of personality Cleopatra cultivated.

Evidence Source
Dressed as Isis in Alexandria Ancient historians
Dressed as Venus to meet Antony Plutarch
Linked self to goddesses Interpretation of symbolic acts


In summary, Cleopatra used clothing as an important tool of public communication and power. Her choices in fabric, color, style and adornment conveyed carefully crafted messages about her status, identity and divine authority. She embraced both traditional Egyptian elements, like white linen and Egyptian blue, alongside foreignluxuries and theatrical costumes to cultivate a public image that served her political aims. While we lack definitive archaeological evidence of what she wore, the written sources make it clear her fashion was an integral part of her sophisticated self-presentation and propaganda as one of history’s most intriguing figures.