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The Sciences

Will We Ever Find Cleopatra’s Tomb?

Dive deep into the allure of the Queen of the Nile as we embark on one brave woman's personal quest to find Cleopatra’s tomb.

By Jeremy HillpotJun 7, 2023 8:00 AM
Illustration of ancient city from kingdom of Cleopatra
(Credit: Declan Hillman/Shutterstock)

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Renowned for her intellect, political strategy and irresistible charm, Cleopatra was also the lover of Julius Caesar and the mother of his child. She married Marc Antony, bearing three of his children as well.

Most importantly, she was the last and most famous queen of ancient Egypt — seen by her people as the human embodiment of Isis, the Goddess of healing and magic — and according to legend, she took her own life with the bite of a poisonous snake to escape being captured by Rome.

But of all the mysteries and legends that continue to surround Cleopatra, the greatest is the location of her tomb. Countless historians and archeologists have searched in vain to find her resting place — yet no one has discovered her remains.

Who Was the Queen of the Nile?

Born in 69 B.C., Cleopatra lived at the crossroads of time during the last years of the Ptolemaic dynasty and the end of the Roman Republic. She ascended to the throne of Egypt at the age of 18 and ruled with her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII.

Of course, she wasn’t just known for being a powerful and intelligent monarch. She was equally famous for her enchantment of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, by many accounts the two of the most powerful men in Rome at the time.

Because of her immense position of importance — at the intersection of love, wealth, power, politics and diplomacy — there is perhaps no other person in history to achieve her level of intrigue and allure.


Read More: What Did Cleopatra Really Look Like?


Searching for the Tomb of Antony and Cleopatra

Despite her tremendous importance at the time, no one knows precisely where Cleopatra was buried. History tells us that Mark Antony and Cleopatra were buried together, meaning that the finder of her tomb will also discover Antony — an exciting proposition, indeed.

Most archeologists assume that Cleopatra’s grave is in ancient Alexandria. But this would mean that it’s submerged underwater. A large portion of ancient Alexandria now lies beneath the Mediterranean Sea.

Underwater archeologist Franck Goddio explored the waters around Alexandria extensively in the early 2000s. The goal was not to find Cleopatra’s tomb, and for that matter, no signs of Cleopatra were found — but most mainstream archeologists still believe that the Queen of the Nile lies somewhere inside a watery Alexandrian grave.

Robert Gurval, professor emeritus of classics at University of California, Los Angeles, told LiveScience, "Even if untouched by human hands, earthquakes and seawater would have buried or submerged it. Her palace is certainly underwater. Maybe her mausoleum, too."


Read More: Ancient Egypt's Fiercest Female Rulers


Where Is Cleopatra’s Tomb?

Fortunately, some archeologists still retain hope, enthusiasm and optimism in their relentless search for Cleopatra’s tomb. Since 2009, a criminal lawyer-turned-archeologist — Kathleen Martinez — has channeled all her passion into finding Cleopatra, her personal hero.

In a recent National Geographic interview, Martinez described Cleopatra as follows: “She threatened Rome and Romans were afraid of her. She thought she could conquer the world. Even though she was a woman. She was a warrior. And she achieved the impossible. This is why she is my heroine and I will do everything I can to find her tomb.”

Taking clues from history — that Cleopatra was likely buried at a temple of Isis — Martinez makes a strong case that Cleopatra wasn’t buried in Alexandria at all. Instead, she believes Cleopatra is at the temple of Isis at Taposiris Magna, about a 45-minute drive west of Alexandria.

In another interview with the Daily Mail, Martinez said, “Cleopatra negotiated with Octavian to allow her to bury Mark Antony in Egypt. She wanted to be buried with him because she wanted to reenact the legend of Isis and Osiris. The true meaning of the cult of Osiris is that it grants immortality. After their deaths, the gods would allow Cleopatra to live with Antony in another form of existence, so they would have eternal life together.”


Read More: Three Ways Cleopatra Contributed to Science and Medicine


The Tunnel to Cleopatra

These perspectives led Martinez to begin excavations at Taposiris Magna, the largest known temple of Siris and Osiris in the vicinity of Alexandria. Using new technologies like ground-penetrating radar, satellite imagery, LIDAR, and remote sensing, Martinez has already made astonishing discoveries at the temple.

Since 2009, her digs produced a trove of unexpected relics, multiple mummies (including one with a golden tongue), statues, jewelry, coins, pottery and other artifacts. More recently, Martinez discovered a 6.5-foot-tall, 4,300-foot-long tunnel, approximately 43 feet underground at the temple.


Read More: Secret 30-Foot Long Chamber In The Great Pyramid Discovered


Has Cleopatra’s Tomb Been Found?

Martinez may not have found Antony and Cleopatra (yet), but her journey offers the most promise when it comes to finding Cleopatra’s resting place. As one of the most famous women from ancient history, the finding of her tomb would be an Earth-shattering and history-altering event.

In this sense, Martinez’s work has ignited and inflamed our fantasies about the extravagant and alluring life of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, the powerful Roman men she loved, and the secrets that lie inside her tomb.


Read More: 7 Groundbreaking Ancient Civilizations That Influence Us Today


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