Review: The Cleopatras by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

Posted January 8, 2024 by Stephanie in 3 Stars, ancient egypt, Ancient History, History, Nonfiction, Review / 11 Comments

Title: The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt
Author: Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones
Publication: May 21, 2024 by Basic Books
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Ancient History
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Blackwell’s | Google Play | Kobo | Waterstones
Rating: 3/5★

The definitive story of the seven Cleopatras, the powerful goddess-queens of ancient Egypt  

One of history’s most iconic figures, Cleopatra is rightly remembered as a clever and charismatic ruler. But few today realize that she was the last in a long line of Egyptian queens who bore that name.

In The Cleopatras, historian Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones tells the dramatic story of these seven incomparable women, vividly recapturing the lost world of Hellenistic Egypt and tracing the kingdom’s final centuries before its fall to Rome. The Cleopatras were Greek-speaking descendants of Ptolemy, the general who conquered Egypt alongside Alexander the Great. They were closely related as mothers, daughters, sisters, half-sisters, and nieces. Each wielded absolute power, easily overshadowing their husbands or sons, and all proved to be shrewd and capable leaders. Styling themselves as goddess-queens, the Cleopatras ruled through the canny deployment of arcane rituals, opulent spectacles, and unparalleled wealth. They navigated political turmoil and court intrigues, led armies into battle and commanded fleets of ships, and ruthlessly dispatched their dynastic rivals.

The Cleopatras is a fascinating and richly textured biography of seven extraordinary women, restoring these queens to their deserved place among history’s greatest rulers.


The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt was one of my most highest anticipated books of the year but for me, personally, it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read about ancient Egypt. However, I would still recommend it to people who want to learn more about the extraordinary Ptolemy dynasty and the amazing Cleopatras that stood out among the men.

I don’t think I’m mistaken if I say that most people only know of one Cleopatra in particular, which is Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator. She was the (obvioiusly) 7th Cleopatra and the last queen of Egypt. I knew a bunch of other Cleopatras came before her but I never really delved into their stories before nor do I think there are any books that are just about these seven women in one book (although I could always be mistaken). But that’s why I’m glad that Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones has written this book because all of the Cleopatras deserve the attention.

Three star rated books are always the hardest for me to review so with this one it isn’t an exception. It’s always a kind of struggle for me. I liked this book but I didn’t end up loving it as much as I would’ve wanted. It was fascinating for sure. I just felt like it didn’t start out very strong but as the book went on and I read chapter after chapter I must say that it did gain strength.

The Cleopatras is divided into three parts. Part one is called Beginning, part two is called Expanding Horizons and part three is called Terminal Decline. The third part, which contained the last five chapters + epilogue, was my favorite part. I thought those chapters were the most interesting and the ones that read quicker for me. Maybe because I finally got used to the mention of so many Cleopatras and Ptolemy’s. I knew this going in, of course, that in ancient Egyptian dynasties there were many queens and kings with the same name but even with this in the back of my head I still somewhat struggled with keeping everyone straight. By the time I reached part three I think I finally got a handle on them.

This was my first book by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones and although I didn’t end up fully devouring and loving the book, I still want to read some of his other books because I could definitely feel the enthusiasm he has for the ancient world. This was something that I could clearly tell from his writing. I would love to read his book on the Persians. I think it sounds highly fascinating!



About the author:

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff University and a specialist in the histories and cultures of ancient Iran and Greece. He also works on dress and gender in antiquity and on the ancient world in popular culture, especially Hollywood cinema.

11 responses to “Review: The Cleopatras by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

      • Funny thing … I have never heard of this author before. I was watching a British TV-series on Queens in Antiquity Egypt. Three episodes covering queen Tiye (married to Amenhotep III) of which I never heard although I lived 3,5 years in Egypt and visited most important monuments, Cleopatra II and III and Cleopatra Selene. Excellent series. It is one of those series that mix filming with historians commenting on what is happening. For the second episode covering Cleopatra II and II Lloyd L-L was one of the historians. I might read his book nevertheless, since the story of C II and III was very interesting.

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