Unraveling History: The Final Fates of the Children of Cleopatra VII?
Cleopatra VII had four children. One with Julius Caesar and three with Mark Anthony. Until 31 BC the family of the last Ptolemaic queen lived a magnificent life in a golden palace, one of the most luxurious places of the world. However, when Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were defeated by Octavian during the naval battle at Actium in 31 BC, this idyllic life came to a close. The future Roman Emperor, who was about to be known as Caesar Augustus, didn't give any mercy to his enemies. He hoped to defeat Mark Anthony and take Cleopatra as his trophy to Rome. According to the ancient resources, this didn't happen because in 30 BC both Cleopatra and Mark Anthony committed suicide. This act left their children with no one to protect them.
Hope for an Empire
The eldest son of Cleopatra was born June 23, 47 BC. As a son of Gaius Julius Caesar, he was called Caesarion, meaning ''little Caesar''. His full name was Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar and he was the last king of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. He reigned together with his mother from September 2, 44 BC. Cleopatra liked to believe that one day he would become as great an emperor as his father was. He took lessons from the best teachers, to prepare him to fulfill his future role.
Caesarion probably held the position as ruler after the death of his mother on August 12, 30 BC. However, he was murdered by Octavian’s orders just 11 days later. With his death, Octavian lost the only competition he had to the throne of Rome.
Caesarion, from the "Unravel the Mystery" Cleopatra exhibit ( CC0 1.0 )
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The Sons of Gods
Caesarion had two brothers: Alexander Helios (Greek “sun”) and Ptolemy Philadelphus. Alexander Helios was born as the second of Cleopatra's three sons. In 34 BC he received a title of “King of Kings.” His parents decided to make him the ruler of Armenia, Parthia, Media and all countries to be discovered between the Euphrates and Indus Rivers. In 33 BC, Alexander was engaged to Iotapa, Princess of Media Atropatene and the daughter of king Artavasdes I of Media Atropatene.
Cleopatra’s third son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, was born in August or September in 36 BC. In late 34 BC he became a ruler of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cicilia. No ancient resources mention the prince having served in military endeavors or his political career. There is no information about any marriage plans either - which suggests that he didn't survive to adulthood.
Alexander the Great as Helios. Marble, Roman copy after a Hellenistic original from 3rd–2nd century BC. ( Public Domain )
When Octavian conquered Egypt he spared Alexander, but took all the children of Cleopatra and Anthony to Rome. Celebrating his victory, he made a parade. One of the greatest trophies he presented to the Romans were the children of the Egyptian Queen in golden chains. They were paraded down the streets behind an effigy of their mother clutching an asp to her arm. Octavian gave the children to his elder sister and the former wife of Mark Anthony – Octavia Minor. There they lived with Octavia's children.
In the History of Rome , Cassius Dio mentions only twins arriving in Rome. This raises the question if Ptolemy Philadelphus survived the journey to Rome. He may have died from illness in the winter of 29 BC. Alexander Helios perhaps left Rome with his twin sister – Cleopatra Selene (Greek ''moon'').
A daughter of the moon
Surprisingly, the only daughter of Cleopatra became the greatest of all of the children of the last queen of Egypt. When Augustus arranged her marriage with the King Juba of Numidia in Rome between 26 and 20 BC, no one could have guessed that this couple would become two of the most important rulers of Mauretania in history. Augustus gave to Cleopatra a huge dowry as a wedding present, so she became an ally of Rome. As Juba's kingdom became a Roman province in 46 BC, he became a king without the kingdom. Due to this fact, the couple were sent to Muretania, which was an unorganized territory that needed Roman supervision.
Coin of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania. Juba II of Numidia on the obverse, Cleopatra Selene II on the reverse. ( Public Domain )
Cleopatra Selene was the only surviving member of Ptolemaic dynasty. In her new capital city, she cultivated her mother’s memory by building monuments and temples in her name. They called the new capital Caesarea (modern Cherchell in Algeria). During their rule, the Mauretanian Kingdom flourished by exporting and trading in the Mediterranean area. The architecture of the city was a mixture of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian styles.
Cleopatra Selene and Juba II had two children. One of them was a girl whose name has not been recorded. Some researchers believe that she was Drusilla of Mauretania, but the woman of this name could also be a granddaughter of the royal couple. Much more information survived about their son - Ptolemy of Mauretania. With his death in 40 AD, he closed the history of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
The tomb of Juba II and his wife Cleopatra Selene II in Tipaza, Algeria (CC0 1.0 )
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The date of Cleopatra Selene's death is unknown. The last coin with her name appeared in 17 AD. The epigram by Greek Crinagoras of Mytilene is considered to be Cleopatra’s eulogy. It puts a light on her possible date of death:
The moon herself grew dark, rising at sunset,
Covering her suffering in the night,
Because she saw her beautiful namesake, Selene,
Breathless, descending to Hades,
With her she had had the beauty of her light in common,
And mingled her own darkness with her death.
If the poem is an astronomical correlation, it can be used to find the date of Cleopatra's death. The lunar eclipses occurred in 9, 8, 5 and 1 BC and in AD 3, 7, 10, 11 and 14. According to the former Director of Egyptian Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, Cleopatra Selene died in AD 8. After death, she was buried in the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania in modern Algeria. Archeologists also discovered a fragmentary inscription dedicated to Juba and Cleopatra - King and Queen of Mauretania, there.
Featured image: Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. ( Public Domain )
Tyldesley J., Cleopatra: The Last Queen of Egypt, 2010.
Roller, Duane W, The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene, 2004
Fletcher, J, Cleopatra the Great. The Woman Behind The Legend, 2008.
Krawczuk, A., Kleopatra, 1969.