The Most Beautiful Women of the Ancient World

The women in the ancient world renowned for beauty

Myth, history, and legend provide evidence of ancient women who were considered beautiful, but for most of them, we have no reliable portraits. Of course, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, but these women all had a reputation for being extremely physically attractive. 

01
of 07

Phryne

Copy of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos.
Copy of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos. Public Domain. Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Aphrodite, the goddess who won the goddesses' beauty contest that led to the Trojan War should be counted among the all-time world-class beauties. However, this is a list of mortals, so Aphrodite (Venus) doesn't count. Luckily, there was a woman so beautiful she was used as the model for a statue of Aphrodite. Her beauty was so great it brought about her acquittal when she was put on trial. This woman was the courtesan Phryne whom the famed sculptor Praxiteles used as his model for the Aphrodite of Knidos statue.

02
of 07

Helen

Helen of Troy at the Louvre. From an Attic red-figure krater from about 450-440 B.C.
Helen of Troy at the Louvre. From an Attic red-figure krater from about 450-440 B.C., by the Menelaus Painter. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Helen of Troy's face famously launched a thousand ships; it was her beauty that led to the Trojan War. With so many men were willing to put their lives on the line to go to battle for her, it's clear even without a contemporary portrait that Helen had a very special type of beauty. 

03
of 07

Neaira (and Other Courtesans)

painting from an Ancient pot
Thargelia. Wikimedia Commons

Neaira was a famous, expensive Greek courtesan who, like other hetairai, including Thargelia and Lais of Corinth, probably owed her successful career to her good looks. 

04
of 07

Bathsheba

David and Bathsheba, by Jan Matsys, 1562. At the Louvre.
David and Bathsheba, by Jan Matsys, 1562. At the Louvre. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bathsheba may or may not have been beautiful, but she was seductive enough to capture the attention of David, king of the Hebrew people during the United Monarchy. The Biblical passage from II Samuel says that David killed Bathsheba's husband so he could marry her himself.

05
of 07

Salome

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Titian, c. 1515.
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Titian, c. 1515. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The seductress Salome's name is associated with the Head of John the Baptist. The story goes that she agreed to perform a dance in exchange for the head. Salome is said to be the daughter of Herodias. She is named by Flavius Josephus and appears in the Bible at Mark 6:21-29 and Matt 14:6-11.

06
of 07

Cornelia

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, by Noel Halle, 1779 (Musee Fabre)
Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, by Noel Halle, 1779 (Musee Fabre). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, was a model of Roman womanly virtue. This meant she was a one-man woman and a perfect mother, wife, and daughter. Cornelia Scipionis Africana (c. 190-100 B.C.) was the daughter of Scipio Africanus and the wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, with whom she produced 12 children, three of whom survived to adulthood: Sempronia, Tiberius, and Gaius. 

07
of 07

Berenice of Cilicia or Julia Berenice

bust of Bernice
Wikimedia Commons

Berenice (28 A.D. - at least A.D. 79) was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I and great grand-daughter of Herod the Great. She was a Judaean client-queen of Rome, married frequently and accused of incest, whom Titus fell in love with. Despite hostility on the part of Rome, Titus lived openly with her nearly until his succession. He sent her away shortly before, but she returned to Rome in 79 A.D. when he succeeded his father to the throne. She was soon sent away again and disappears from the historical record.

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Gill, N.S. "The Most Beautiful Women of the Ancient World." ThoughtCo, Oct. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/most-beautiful-women-116952. Gill, N.S. (2017, October 13). The Most Beautiful Women of the Ancient World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-beautiful-women-116952 Gill, N.S. "The Most Beautiful Women of the Ancient World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/most-beautiful-women-116952 (accessed January 16, 2018).