There would have been a great deal of additional jewelry. Ornamentation was so much the order of the day that the walls of Cleopatra’s palace, the tumblers and goblets on her table, the couches in her receiving rooms were studded with gems. Egyptian taste ran to bright semiprecious stones—agate, lapis, amethyst, carnelian, garnet, malachite, topaz—set in gold pendants; intricately worked bracelets; long, dangling earrings. It has changed remarkably little: The cobra armlets we know today were in production in Cleopatra’s time. Of the countless beauty cures attributed to her—the asses’ milk baths, the gold facials, the mud treatments, the mint soufflé masks—we have not a shred of evidence whatsoever.
Two contradictory accounts of Cleopatra’s last days have come down to us. She met the Roman general who defeated her either groomed to perfection—superbly turned out in mourning robes, which, as the historian Cassius Dio had it, “wonderfully became her”—or frail and disheveled, clad in a simple tunic, without so much as a respectable mantle. When she died, days later, she did so majestically: in formal, sumptuous robes, meticulously made up and expertly coiffed, a diadem wound around her forehead, the traditional crook and flail of an Egyptian pharaoh tight in her hands. She was 39, and had ruled Egypt, mostly alone, from the age of 18.