Walking in the Footsteps of Cleopatra

Montclair State University Professor Prudence Jones featured in a documentary about Cleopatra

Photo: Brian Biffin

On location in Egypt, Professor Prudence Jones (with backpack) and archeologist Neil Oliver study a large relief of Cleopatra and Caesarion making offerings to the Egyptian gods on the rear wall of the Temple of Hathor in Dendera.

Prudence Jones, assistant professor in the Department of Classics and General Humanities spent a week in December 2008 with a camera crew traveling to Egypt and Scotland to film a documentary about Cleopatra. A noted Cleopatra scholar, Jones was invited by Lion Television UK to be the principal on-camera expert for the documentary which will air in the UK on BBC TV and in the US on the Discovery Channel.

“In my scenes, I relate the basic story of the early part of Cleopatra’s reign and discuss the nature of the archaeological remains in Egypt from Cleopatra’s time,” explains Jones. “In Scotland, we filmed at the University of Dundee, in the lab of Dr. Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist who has studied skeletal remains which may be connected with Cleopatra’s reign.”

According to Jones, the title of the documentary, “Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer,” is historically justifiable. “We have fairly good evidence that Cleopatra was responsible for a number of deaths and Plutarch tells us she used condemned prisoners to test poisons,” she says adding, “This sort of ruthlessness was not, however, unusual in ancient monarchies.”

The filming in Egypt took place at the archaeological sites of Dendera and Karnak, and on a boat on the Nile River. Since the locations are also popular tourist attractions, the film crew had to shoot around the tour groups and  retakes were common. Jones recalls having to repeatedly shoot a scene in Dendera involving climbing some steps, in part because a Russian tour group wouldn’t stay out of the shot. “They were trying to be funny,” laughs Jones. “We finally had to wait for them to get bored and move on, and then I climbed the steps several more times.”

The author of two books and a number of journal articles on Cleopatra, Jones has had an interest in the Egyptian queen since high school. “I loved classics and ancient history and some of my favorite figures to learn about were women like Cleopatra,” she says. She is currently teaching “Selected Topics in Ancient History” with Cleopatra as its topic, and is working on her third book on the subject. “Cleopatra is an endlessly fascinating figure,” she says. “And there is plenty more about her out there waiting to be discovered.”