EGMT 1520: Who Was Cleopatra

Few historical figures from antiquity excite as much interest as Cleopatra VII, last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Despite her enduring popularity, most of what people believe they know about her owes more to Hollywood than to historical evidence. This course examines the nature of historical knowledge by exploring a series of questions about Cleopatra. We will consider such issues as what constitutes historical evidence (What is Cleopatra’s story?), how historians interpret historical evidence in light of its known context (Who were Cleopatra’s enemies?), and how the biases and contexts of modern historians impact historical knowledge (Was Cleopatra Black?). Along the way, we will also consider the difficulties inherent to premodern historical reconstruction caused by the relative paucity of evidence and accidents of survival, as well as the difficulties historians face in reaching the public because of Hollywood-imposed preconceptions about antiquity.