The son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra VII Philopater is one of the most tantalizing what ifs in history. If he inherited a fraction of the good qualities from his famous parents, he would have been a force to reckon with in the ancient world and a thorn in Augustus Caesar’s side. However, his potential remains a question mark because to paraphrase George R R Martin, when you play the game of thrones, you win or die.
Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar was born to Cleopatra VII Philopater during Julius Caesar’s sojourn in Egypt after his pursuit of Pompey. Warring with her brother, Cleopatra was famously snuck into the palace at Alexandria to meet Caesar rolled in a rug. Caesar was impressed with the young woman’s pluck and soon she was sole ruler of Egypt as well as Caesar’s lover. Not long after, Ptolemy Caesar was born. Caesar never formally acknowledged the young man as his son, but allowed him to carry his name. The boy was nicknamed Caesarion, Little Caesar. Roman historian Suetonius said “the boy closely resembled Caesar in features as well as in gait.”
Cleopatra and Caesarion lived in Rome when he was small as she harbored ambitions that Caesarion would inherit his father’s legacy. These hopes were dashed when Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. They returned to Alexandria, where Caesarion was named co-ruler of Egypt. Although in name only as he was only three years old.
Caesarion leaves history’s limelight until he is eleven years old. His stepfather and father’s most trusted commander, Marc Antony, staged the Donations of Antioch. He and Cleopatra distributed Roman lands to Caesarion and his half brother and sister, Antony and Cleopatra’s children. They did again in the Donations of Alexandria two years later. At this later ceremony, Caesarion was declared a god, son of a god and “king of kings”. This made Rome uneasy, especially Octavian who was creating a power base based on his position as Caesar’s legal heir. A showdown was in the works.
Then after a waterfall of words and slander against the parentage and behaviors of both parties, the battle was waged at Actium in 31 BC. Antony and Cleopatra lost, and the slow decline of their empire began. By 30 BC, Octavian was at the gates of Alexandria. Antony marched out to meet him, but defeat was inevitable. Both Cleopatra and Antony committed suicide rather than be paraded in Octavian’s triumph in Rome.
Caesarion was sent to flee to India. For some reason, he lingered at the port. Whether he was lured back with the promise of Egypt or simply an unsure seventeen year old boy is not known. Octavian captured him and followed the advice of Arius Didymus, who paraphrased Homer saying “Too many Caesars is not good.” Caesarion was executed and buried in an unmarked grave.
Octavian consolidated his power and became Augustus Caesar architect of the Pax Romana and the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.