Cleopatra Selene II

Sculpture of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene at Dendra Photo Credit - Google Images

Sculpture of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene at Dendra Photo Credit – Google Images

The affair between Cleopatra and Marc Antony was one of the biggest scandals of the ancient world.  Reports of how Antony had given up Roman ways for the decadent East was the talk of Rome.  Eventually, in 40 BCE, Antony went back to Rome to marry Octavia and try to forge a peace with her brother, Octavian.  What he didn’t know was he left Cleopatra pregnant.  Later that year, the twins were born-  Alexander Helios (Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (Moon)

Antony did not acknowledge his children until he met with Cleopatra in Antioch three years later.  The family then returned to Egypt much to Octavian’s chagrin.  A year later, Ptolemy Philadelphos was born.  The twins already had one half brother, Caesarion, from their mother’s previous marriage to Julius Caesar and five half siblings from the father’s various marriages.  Cleopatra Selene spent her early life in Alexandria living as normal a life as a princess could.  In 34 BCE, her parents held a formal ceremony called the Donations of Alexandria and she was made ruler of Cyrenaica and Libya.  These were ostensibly Roman provinces and many people, Octavian included, did not feel Antony could just give them away to his foreign born children.  Tensions were beginning to fray.

The situation between Antony, Cleopatra and Octavian boiled over into open conflict.  In 31 BCE, Antony and Cleopatra lost a major naval battle at Actium.  Octavian was coming.  It was just a matter of time.  

Cleopatra Selene in the elephant crown of Mauretania Photo Credit - Google Image

Cleopatra Selene in the elephant crown of Mauretania Photo Credit – Google Image

Octavian took Alexandria a year later and both Cleopatra Selene’s parents committed suicide rather than be taken by Octavian’s forces.  Caesarion had been captured and killed, so the three younger children were left alone at their enemy’s mercy.  However, Octavian did not kill them.  Antony still had adherents in Rome, however quiet they were at this point, and it is never good public relations to kill children.  If Octavian was anything, he was a master at public relations.  The children were taken to Rome and given to his sister, Octavia, to raise in a good Roman home.  What she thought of raising the children of her husband with the woman who took him away is not known.

One more humiliation was left to the children.  Since Cleopatra had killed herself, she deprived Octavian of marching her in his triumph.  So he paraded her children instead.  What a terrifying and humiliating experience it must have been to walk behind the wheels of Octavian’s chariot and listen to the jeers of the Roman crowd.

Cleopatra Selene stayed in Rome until her marriage at fifteen or sixteen to Juba II.  Juba was also a Roman hostage after the death of his father, and knew the humiliation of walking in a triumph.  He was also intelligent and a renowned scholar, and eventually wrote fifty books and discovered a new type of sea sponge.  Busts from the time also show him as handsome.  All in all not a bad match.  There are some indications that Octavia encouraged the match, so it is possible she sensed feelings between the two.  However, this is speculation.

Coins with Juba II and Cleopatra Selene Photo Credit - Wikipedia

Coins with Juba II and Cleopatra Selene Photo Credit – Wikipedia

In any case, marrying Cleopatra Selene to a Roman would have been politically dangerous as a Roman grandson of Antony could rise to challenge Octavian.  About this time all mention of Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphos stop.  Their fate is not known.  It could have been natural causes, but Octavian was not above getting his hands dirty and was notoriously cautious.

What we do know is the pair were married and made client king and queen of Mauretania.  They dutifully named their capital Caesaria, but it was a mixture of Egyptian and Greek building influences. It seemed as if Cleopatra Selene was making Alexandria in miniature.  Evidence shows that the two may have ruled jointly as coins were issued in both their names.  It was an amiable enough marriage and at least two children were born-  Ptolemy, born in 10 BCE, and Drusilla.  There are some reports of a third child, but it is not known for sure.

After a turbulent life, Cleopatra Selene died in 5 or 6 CE.  A poem by Crinagoras of Mytilene describes Cleopatra Selene as having died during a lunar eclipse.  If this is true, it is fitting for a child named after the moon.  After a disastrous second marriage, Juba joined her in Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania in 23 CE.

ER

Sources available on request