|Detail from The Finding of Moses by Lawrence Alma-Tadema|
It's an intriguing and potentially controversial question: Was Cleopatra a redhead? Egypt's most famous queen has been imagined as everything from a fair-skinned blonde to a dark-skinned Black African. But I never considered the possibility of a ginger Cleopatra until recently, when an anonymous reader left a comment about it on my post about Cleopatra's appearance.
He (or she?) mentioned the book Cleopatra the Great by Egyptologist Joann Fletcher. I was immediately interested, since Dr. Fletcher is an expert on an unusual subject: hair in the ancient world, and in particular ancient Egypt. When I was at the bookstore, I happened upon the book and flipped through. I was very happy to find that she had included a color photo of a fresco from Herculaneum that she believes is a posthumous portrait of the legendary queen. The woman, who wears what appears to be a royal diadem wrapped around Cleopatra's signature melon hairdo, has unmistakeably red hair.
Some ancient and modern Egyptians did and do have naturally dark red/auburn hair. In pharaonic times it was fashionable to dye one's hair red with henna. The mummy of Ramses the Great had dyed red hair with a little bit of natural white at the roots. Fletcher confirms that red "was a shade favoured by fashionable Alexandrian women, including some in the royal household. Perhaps Cleopatra's own auburn hair had set the trend, maybe enhanced with a vegetable colorant such as henna (Lawsonia inermis)" (Fletcher 238).
The contemporary images that exist of Cleopatra are unreliable at best; almost all of them serve a propaganda function, and none of them have any surviving paint. I know of no written descriptions of the particulars of Cleopatra's appearance. All I know is that Cleopatra had many faces, and redheaded fashion plate could certainly have been one of them.