Queen Cleopatra Selene – Cleopatra’s forgotten daughter




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Cleopatra Selene is the forgotten daughter of the infamous Cleopatra VII. She was an Egyptian princess and was proclaimed by Marc Antony as Queen of Cyrenaica and Libya. After the death of her mother, Cleopatra, she reigned as queen of Egypt alongside her brother, Alexander Helios, for two weeks before it was annexed by the Roman Empire. She became a Roman prisoner and lived in the household of Emperor Augustus’s household. She married Juba II of Mauretania and ruled alongside her husband.

Cleopatra Selene was the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. She and her twin brother, Alexander Helios, were born in the autumn of 40 B.C. It was not until Cleopatra Selene was three years old that Marc Antony, who had finally separated from his wife Octavia, formally acknowledged the twins as his own in Antioch.[1] Marc Antony then bestowed upon them their names Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. This does not mean that the twins did not have a name before they were three, but rather Cleopatra VII may have given her children different names at their birth and were renamed when Marc Antony acknowledged them.[2]

When Cleopatra Selene was six years old, she made her first recorded public appearance in 34 B.C.  The event would become known as the Donations of Alexandria. In a grand ceremony, large crowds witnessed Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII sitting on golden thrones with Caesarion, Cleopatra Selene, Alexander Helios, and Ptolemy Philadelphos sitting on smaller thrones just below them.[3] Marc Antony proclaimed Cleopatra to be the Queen of Kings. He also declared Caesarion to be Julius Caesar’s legitimate heir and proclaimed him King of Kings and King of Egypt. Alexander Helios was named King of Armenia, Media, and Parthia. Cleopatra Selene was named Queen of Cyrenaica and Libya. The youngest Ptolemy Philadelphus was named King of Syria and Cilicia.[4]

The Donations of Alexandria and an alleged copy of Marc Antony’s will, which stated that Marc Antony would rather be buried with Cleopatra VII in Alexandria instead of Rome with Octavia, broke away with his breach with Octavian.[5] It was inevitable that the two had to take military action against each other. Marc Antony and Octavian came face to face at the famous Battle of Actium in September 31 B.C.[6] Marc Antony was defeated and retreated to Alexandria. It was only a matter of time when Octavian caught up with them in Alexandria.

When Octavian caught up with Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII in Egypt, they had already sent their children to safety. Caesarion was sent to India. However, en route he was betrayed by his tutor, intercepted by the Romans, and was executed. Cleopatra Selene and her two brothers went south to Thebes.[7] However, the death of Cleopatra VII and Caesarion made Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios in charge of Egypt, and they were brought back to Alexandra to reign in name only until Egypt was officially annexed by the Roman Empire two weeks later.[8]

When Octavian arrived back in Rome, he brought Cleopatra Selene and her brothers back with him. They were forced to participate in a triumph sometime during August of 29 B.C., to celebrate Octavian’s victories over Egypt. Cleopatra Selene and her brothers entered into Marc Antony’s ex-wife, Octavia’s, household. This is the last recorded mention of Cleopatra Selene’s brothers. We do not know what happened to them, but it is most likely that they died of natural causes before they reached adulthood.[9] 

When Cleopatra Selene reached the age of maturity, Augustus began to think of a suitable match for her. His choice settled on the Numidian prince Juba II. Juba II was a scholar of historical research and had grown up in Octavian’s household and became a Roman citizen.[10] Cleopatra Selene and Juba II shared a common fact that both had been a part of Roman triumphs. Juba II’s father, King Juba I of Numidia, had committed suicide in 46 B.C. after he was defeated by Julius Caesar at the Battle of Thapsus. Juba II was a baby when he was brought to Rome and participated in the African section of Julius Caesar’s triumph. Juba II proved to be a smart man and accompanied Augustus on a number of campaigns. Augustus also seemed to take a liking to him and gave Juba II the client kingdom of Mauretania.[11]

Cleopatra Selene married Juba II sometime around 20 B.C.[12] Evidence for this is shown on the commencement of their joint coinage.[13] One face of the coin shows “Rex Juba” and the other side of the coin is “Basilissa (queen) Cleopatra” in her divine persona as Isis.[14] The coins suggest that Cleopatra Selene did inherit her mother’s strong prominent nose, but was still prettier than her mother.[15] 

A contemporary poet, Crinagoras of Mytilene, also wrote a poem to commemorate the marriage. The poem goes:

“Great neighbouring regions of the world, which the Nile, swollen from black Ethiopia, divides, you have created common kings for both through marriage, making one race of Egyptians and Libyans. Let the children of kings in turn hold from their fathers a strong rule over both lands.”[16]

When they arrived in Mauretania, they found ruling to be a hard task. The kingdom of Mauretania was a vast territory. It encompassed modern-day Algeria and Morocco rather than today’s Mauretania.[17] Because they were once two territories combined into one vast territory, there were two capital cities. The kingdom also contained a few Greek and Roman colonies.[18]

However, Cleopatra Selene was capable of ruling the kingdom. While Juba II was king of Mauretania, he never had any prior experience in ruling. Cleopatra Selene was once declared queen of Cyrenaica and Libya, and for a short time, Egypt. Therefore, her prestige allowed her to rule alongside her husband as a queen in her own right.[19] She even issued coins in her own name and often referred to her Greek and Egyptian heritage.[20] 

Mauretania needed to be modernized. Thus, they renamed the capital of Iol to Caesarea in honor of Augustus. They built many grandiose buildings that had both Roman and Alexandrian architecture.[21] They also built a lighthouse that resembled the Lighthouse of Alexandria.[22] They also filled their court with scholars and artists who were from all parts of the Roman Empire. Therefore, Mauretania was a cosmopolitan kingdom mixed with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture.[23]

Cleopatra Selene and Juba II ruled Mauretania for almost two decades until her death at the age of 35. Based on her eulogy composed by the poet, Crinagoras of Mytilene, her death seemed to coincide with a lunar eclipse, which took place sometime around 23 March 5 B.C.[24] 

The poem goes:

“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.”[25]

This was a fitting death for a queen who was named after the moon. Her son, Ptolemy co-ruled with his father, Juba II. Once Juba II died in 23 A.D., Ptolemy became the sole ruler. However, in 40 A.D., Ptolemy was executed under the orders of Emperor Caligula. The reason for his execution is unknown.[26] Emperor Caligula’s successor, Claudius, took advantage of Mauretania’s situation. He annexed the kingdom and turned them into Roman provinces.[27]

While not much is known about this largely forgotten figure, it is clear that she was a capable queen. She had coins engraved with her image and poems written about her. She, alongside her husband, ruled for twenty years over a large kingdom. Thus, she was obviously a smart, competent ruler who died while in the prime of her life. While she never got the recognition of her infamous mother, she may well have have been a more successful queen in her own right.

Sources:

Draycott, Jane. Cleopatra’s Daughter. vol. 63, History Today Ltd, London, 2013.

Roller, Duane W. The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome’s

           African Frontier. Routledge Ltd, Abingdon, Oxon, 2003;2004;,

           doi:10.4324/9780203321928.

Whitehorne, John. Cleopatras. Taylor and Francis, 2002, doi:10.4324/9780203036082.


[1] Roller, p. 77

[2] Roller, p. 78

[3] Draycott, para. 14

[4] Draycott, para. 14

[5] Draycott, para. 15

[6] Draycott, para. 15

[7] Draycott, para. 17

[8] Draycott, para. 15

[9] Roller, pp. 82-83

[10] Whitehorne, p. 199

[11] Whitehorne, p. 199

[12] Whitehorne, p. 199

[13] Whitehorne, p. 199

[14]Whitehorne, p. 199

[15] Whitehorne, p. 199

[16] Draycott, para. 19

[17] Draycott, para. 21

[18] Draycott, para. 21

[19] Draycott, para. 23

[20] Draycott, para. 24

[21] Draycott, para. 24

[22] Draycott, para. 24

[23] Draycott, para. 24

[24] Draycott, para. 25

[25] Draycott, para. 26

[26] Whitehorne, p. 201

[27] Draycott, para. 27






5 Comments

  1. I had heard of her yet did not know much about her life. This is very interesting and now will find more information on her as I am an ancient history buff. Thank you for this!

    • It’s thought that Selene had Ptolemy and then a daughter. The daughter’s name is technically unknown but is thought to be Drusilla. In certain records, Drusilla was said to be Cleopatra & Marc Antony’s granddaughter.Though Drusilla was also thought to be Ptolemy’s daughter’s name. Maybe Ptolemy did have a daughter who was named after his sister.

      • Thanks Meghaan and Lyla! I’m asking since one of my mtDNA (maternal line DNA-test) claims Cleopatra to be his/her most ancient maternal ancestor. I highly doubt the likelihood of that but still got curious and wanted to learn more. The question is if Drusilla had any daughter, and so on… 🙂

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