Cleopatra VII & Her Children

Written by: Emma aka M. Harris

A rundown of the history

What comes to mind with the name Cleopatra (Greek: Famous in Her Father)? Of course, the most famous Cleopatra of all time was the 7th Cleopatra. She and Mark Antony had a most legendary affair, and Cleopatra bore three children, by Mark Antony. Their names were Alexander Helios (name meaning: The sun), Cleopatra Selene (Name meaning: The moon), and Ptolemy Philadelphus(Name meaning)loving one’s brother from philein, to love + adelphos, brother.) However, these were not her only children, for she had a child through her lover Julius Caesar as well. His name was Caesarion (Meaning Little Caesar).

Years later, while a Roman republic conquest of Egypt appeared imminent, she sent her son, Caeserion by Julius Caesar, to the East for his presumed safety; however, the Romans executed him by order of Octavian. Additionally, she worried about her three other children and decided to send them to Thebes, yet they too fell to the Romans and her sons Helios and Philadelphus vanished from history, and there are no other historical accounts of them. The only child of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony that survived through the historical account was their daughter Selene.

To better understand the plight of Selene and her siblings, it is necessary to delve into the structure and life in the Roman Empire. It should be noted that it was the Roman Republic until Caesar Augustus aka Octavian became the first Emperor and ushered in the Imperial era in 31 B.C. the entire Roman Empire ended with the Eastern empire (Byzantine Empire,) fall of Constantinople modern-day Istanbul, Turkey in 1453 A.D.

Political Changes

In Rome Cleopatra VII felt vulnerable and terrified after, Julius Caesar, was killed March 15 44 B.C. aka The Ides of March by factions opposed to him, because, they believed he had too much power and was undermining the aristocracy. She fled Rome with Caeserion, for Alexandria. There was much turmoil in her life, and she knew she had to take control of Egypt and not allow it to fall to complete Roman rule. However, the political climate rapidly changed in the Roman government after Julius Caesar’s assassination. Later, (42 B.C.), Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus formed a new Triumvirate together. This led them to pursue Caesar’s conspirators Brutus and Cassius in the Macedonian Battle of Philippi of 42 B.C. They won the battle and decided to divide the Roman Empire between each other. The resulting division gave the East to Mark Antony where the hub of his power resided.

The bust of Cleopatra you see above is from the video on the Royal Ontario Museum site, and that is the bust that is on display at the museum. You can also access the video at the bottom of this page.
A head-on shot of the Bust of Cleopatra at the Royal Ontario Museum

In 41 B.C. Cleopatra was summoned by Mark Antony to Tarsus where she arrived on a barge dressed as Isis-Aphrodite. He told her he intended to base his navy in Egypt to fight against Rome’s enemies in Asia. Additionally, he needed a great deal of wealth to conduct these campaigns against Asia, and Egypt was abundant in great wealth. Each of them saw something they needed from the other. Cleopatra wanted the same power in Rome as she held in Egypt, and Antony saw an alliance with the enormously prosperous client state of Egypt would be desirable for his campaign against Persia. At this point, history records Antony and Cleopatra fell in love with each other. They both returned to Alexandria, and in 40 B.C. their twins Selene (named after the moon) and Helios (named after the sun) was born sometime in autumn.

However, the Parthians, better known as Persians, decided to invade during this time, so before their twins were born, Antony left for Tyre around February or March in preparation to battle the Parthians.  

An Unexpected Pairing

Mark Antony was married to an influential aristocrat named Fulvia. Trivia, she was the first living woman ever to have her face on a Roman coin. However, though Octavian and Antony had a stressed friendship at best due to the issue of the rightful heir to the republic, to make things even worse Fulvia took arms against Octavian in a civil war and lost resulting on her fleeing the city and wanted to meet up with Antony; however, Octavian’s men killed her along the way. This opened another avenue for Antony and Octavian to patch their relationship. Octavian suggested Antony marry his recently widowed half-sister Octavia. Antony agreed to do so, and now there was peace between them, and they decided to split the Empire into East, with a more significant portion of the West for Octavian  Antony keeping the East and they gave Lepidus some Southern lands.

Antony goes back to the East to plan a battle between the Parthians (Persians) He was angry with there conquest of Syria and wanted to get that territory back and avenge the death of Crassus who died in the  Battle of Carrhae against the Persians years earlier. However, when Octavian refused to give him the military power he required, he went to Cleopatra for help, and she gave him the troops he needed. Nevertheless, it was a failed endeavor, and he lost the invasion to the Persians in 36 B.C. This was also the same year Lepidus was removed from the triumvirate by Octavian who wanted more power thus it became a division of two. In 33 B.C. Antony recovers from his disastrous endeavour earlier to invade the Parthians and finally succeeded in winning back some territory over the Arminian King and experiences conquest in the East.

The final controversy of Mark Antony

A bust of Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), from the Vatican Museums.

It was after his conquest that he returned to Alexandria to be with his lover Cleopatra and their children. He had a big celebration over his win and made a controversial speech known as the Donations of Alexandria. A celebration of this scale over a conquest was traditionally Roman. When he did this in Egypt, they felt as if Antony was drifting from Rome and becoming Egyptian. This behavior angered the Romans and found Octavian outraged. Rumors on the streets of Rome were shaped into Antony planning on moving the capital to Alexandria. The last straw was when Antony distributed conquered lands ruled by Rome to his children of Egypt which should have gone to the armies of Rome. Then he proclaimed Julius Caesar’s son with Cleopatra, Caeserion, the King of Egypt and King of Kings. He was also proclaiming him the true heir of Julius Caesar. This, of course, angered Octavian even more since Julius Caesar in his will proclaimed Octavian his adopted son, which in turn made Octavian his true heir.

The civility between Octavian and Mark Antony deteriorated, and Octavian and his men plotted the fall of Egypt, Cleopatra, her heirs and Mark Antony himself. It was war! The smear campaign had begun!


Their Children

During the upheaval and small segments of peace Selene and her brothers hardly ever saw their famous father, for they lived with their mother in Egypt and he spent most of his time in Rome.

 Selene met her father for the first time at age 3 in Antioch when he summoned her mother there. During Cleopatra’s time with Antony in Antioch, she conceived her third child by him Philadelphius. It was not until The Donations of Alexandria that Selene saw him again along with her siblings.

 As said previously, Octavian’s anger led to planning the demise of Mark Antony and the annexation of Egypt on September 2, 31 B.C. through the battle of Actium, which saw Octavian as the victor. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Alexandria to join their children. This was when Cleopatra sent Caeserion to India for safety, and her other children to Thebes, for she did not want them in the middle of the eminent war that was coming from Octavian and his men. Though they had lost, Antony and Cleopatra still plotted against Octavian in hopes to win.

However, on Caeserion’s trip to India, he was killed by Octavian’s men. Cleopatra Selene and her other brothers were forcibly taken from Egypt to Rome by order of Octavian, for they were the new rulers of Egypt because their parents were now dead.

Octavian wanted them to witness the annexation of Egypt to the Roman Empire. Neither one of them had lived anywhere but Egypt until this time and they would never return. The children were given to Octavian’s sister Octavia to raise as her own. However, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus are lost in history, for there is nothing more known about what happened to them. We can assume the worst.

Selene’s Rise To Be Queen!

Cleopatra Selene grew up in the household of Octavia and when of age married by Agustus to king Juba II of Mauretania. Mauretania was one of the client states of Rome. Due to Selene’s mother Cleopatra being highly educated, it was reflected in Selene by her encouraging her husband to learn more about the arts, science and history. That was an easy task for he knew a great deal about history being a scholar himself. They were married in 20 B.C. One main reason to believe this date is correct is the commencement of their joint coin. On one side is king Juba II and on the other is Basilissa (queen) Cleopatra” in the divine presence of Isis. A presence her mother claimed as well.

They found the vast territory hard to rule. It covered the areas of Libya and Morocco. It had two capitals due to it being two territories brought to one. It also came complete with several Greek and Roman colonies. However, difficult it was, they ruled to success for nearly two decades,  for the country became a cosmopolitan hub where Greek, Roman and Egyptian scholars, artists and architects gathered, which brought a diverse ethos together. Cleopatra Selene named her son Ptolemy after her mother’s family line. He went on to rule after his parent’s deaths and unfortunately was murdered by his first cousin the malevolent Caligula, and his reasons he never disclosed.

Ptolemy of Mauretania, Son of Cleopatra Selene & Juba II

Historians are not sure about the date she died, but there is speculative data it was around 5 A.D. due to her being named after the moon, and her death corresponded to a Lunar eclipse. Archaeologists believe due to all of those things a poet by the name of Crinagoras of Mytilene was inspired to write a beautiful poem for her eulogy as follows.

“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.”

The royal mausoleum of Mauritania in Tipaza, Algeria. It is thought that Selene and her husband were buried there. I use the past tense, because, their bodies were reportedly never found. More than likely they were removed by looters. It is a rounded, stone mausoleum that sits on a square base. It had what is thought to be either a pyramid or a cone on the top. Through the centuries, erosion has taken its toll on the structure. Once it rose tall to a height of 40 meters 131′.2″ and now is 30 meters 98′.4″ high. Juba II and his wife Selene commissioned it built in 3 A.D.

Well, that’s all for now. I shall return with another site update. Stay tuned and bookmark my site for future articles, art, game news etc

Explore the World

~Emma aka M. Harris

Further reading and video sources

For more information about Cleopatra’s palace read my article HERE

Learn more about the Byzantine Empire through my article HERE

To learn more about archaeology read more of my articles HERE

From the Royal Ontario Meuseum
Roman Empire timelines



Battle of Philippi


Cleopatra Selene


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