How a very expensive pearl is lost in a bet? When people are so rich that they don’t know what to do with their money, they start doing strange things. There is a story of Cleopatra losing one of the most expensive pearls in the world. Just to win a bet with her boyfriend Marc Anthony. Let me tell you more about this strange bet.
How Cleopatra tricked her boyfriend
Cleopatra is a very smart and powerful, but also very rich lady. She is the pharaoh of Egypt long in the century BC and dates with a high Roman general, Marc Anthony. There is a legend or maybe a fact, written down by Pliny, a historian. And the pearl plays an important part in this story.
Marc Antony and Cleopatra are a couple. Both are very dominant and powerful. And for a lady in those days, Cleopatra is politically important and does not want to be inferior to the Roman general. She is Egyptian and the owner of the land. Marc Anthony wants to be bossy too. And he can since he conquered Egypt.
One day Cleopatra boasts that she is so rich that she can spend ten million sestertii on a dinner. Marc Anthony takes the bet since according to him such an expensive dinner is impossible to organize. Cleopatra orders her staff to prepare the dinner for the next evening.
In the first course, Cleopatra offers ordinary and cheap food. And Marc Anthony starts laughing: ‘see, you cannot do it’. The second course is a cup of vinegar with water. Cleopatra takes a very very expensive pearl from one of her earrings and tosses it in the vinegar. After a little while, she drinks the vinegar with the pearl of at least ten million sestertii worth. And she wins the bet. Marc Anthony has no words for this ‘trick’. He leaves the dinner and does not want to finish his meal.
How does she do this?
A lot of people throughout history think that dissolving a pearl in vinegar is not possible and the story cannot be true. Professor Prudence Jones of the Montclair State University tries to dissolve a 5-carat specimen in vinegar and water and it dissolves in around 24 -36 hours. Professor Jones explains: ‘The calcium carbonate in this gem reacts with the acetic acid in vinegar and consequently there is calcium acetate, water, and carbon dioxide. The Romans and Egyptians know a lot about chemistry, therefore an educated person like Cleopatra may have known this ‘trick’.
Is it likely that the two lovers dine 24-36 hours?
That’s not likely. It is possible that the historian Plinius shortens the story a bit. But even then: is it possible to dissolve such a big pearl faster than 24-36 hours. Professor Jones tries that out too. First, he cooks the vinegar, which makes the concentration of vinegar lower and the dissolving process faster. Besides that, you need a certain amount of water to get the necessary chemical reaction. And when he pulverizes the ‘white gold’, it dissolves in the cooked vinegar/water solution in ten minutes.
So it seems that a long-told legend can be a historical fact!
The value of the pearl earrings of Cleopatra
Cleopatra uses very very expensive pearls to prove that she is rich. Pliny, the historian, and author of this story calculates that the cost of them is about 60 million sestertii or roughly $29 million in today’s dollars. They are the largest know pearls at the time!
About the popularity of pearls by Cleopatra he states “The first place and the topmost rank among all things of the price is held by pearls … Their whole value lies in their brilliance, size, roundness, smoothness, and weight … There have been two that were the largest in the whole of history; both were owned by Cleopatra … they had come down to her through the hands of the kings of the East.”
What happens to the other one
You might wonder what happens to the other pearl. Cleopatra uses only one from one earring, so there is one very expensive one left. That has a value of about 30 million sestertii or $29 million dollars.
According to Pliny, the Elder, people cut the other pearl in two. Remembering that special dinner that is only eaten half. The two halves are used to decorate the ears of the statue of Venus in Rome in the temple of Pantheon.
Cleopatra and her jewelry
Cleopatra was a descendant of Alexander the Great and of Greek-Macedonian origin but became the Pharaoh of Egypt (long story, great for another blog). Historians mention her ‘beauty’, but actually meaning with beauty her intelligence, her style, her strategic capacities, and the talent to wrap every man around her finger. Especially the rich and powerful men were her favorites.
When she became the Pharaoh she immediately started to send an army and workers to every gemstone mine in Egypt. She wanted to be the owner of every gem in her kingdom. She especially loved the green emeralds. The mines were called the Cleopatra mines and the entrance is hidden by temples, to keep that secret and the emeralds all to herself. The entrance of the emerald Cleopatra mines is now in the Wadi el Gemal National Park (East of Aswan on the coast of the Red Sea).
According to a certain list, Cleopatra is the 22nd richest person ever in history. Even 3 times richer than Queen Elisabeth II, who is not a poor woman as you might know.
Since the Cleopatra mine was the only mine in the world where you could mine emeralds, she owed every emerald in the world. And a lot of them were used for her jewelry, or to decorate her enormous palace. That palace was one enormous gemstone treasure. Everything was made of gemstones, like mosaics on the floor made of topaz, garnet, and gold. The ceilings were studded with pieces of agate and lapis lazuli. There were couches, made of jasper, ivory hallways, and doors decorated with mother of pearl, gold, and silver.
Cleopatra loved emeralds, but also pearls were her favorite. And those pearls were expensive because they were hard to come by. The pearls were even more expensive than emeralds in those days. She wore them as long strands around her body, as decoration for her hair and clothing. Even her shoes were bejeweled with precious gemstones and pearls.
There is so much to say about pearls, their shapes, and their qualities. Fun stories and facts or information.
So many ladies have earrings or pearl necklaces. Do you know what pearls they are? How do you have to treat them to keep them beautiful? What pearls to choose from when you want to buy some? A lot of questions! FlorenceJewelshop published an e-book about pearls and in that book, all your pearl questions will be answered. And if there is still a question unanswered, just react to this blog post and I will answer a.s.a.p.
Do you want that information, in this great ‘pearl’ e-book? It is free of charge. Just let me know where I can send it to.
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