Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cleopatra VII and her children, the last of the Ptolemies

Cleopatra was not only the last queen to rule over Egypt before the country fell in Roman hands; she also was the last of the Ptolemaic Dynasty founded by Ptolemy I, a prominent general in the army of Alexander the Great.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided among his generals after a long feud and endless wars that lasted for forty years. From the onset, Ptolemy had his eyes set on Egypt and apparently none of his competitors contested his territory. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt for about three hundred years, putting Alexandria as its glorious new capital on the world map.

In 53 BC, the 17-year-old Cleopatra VII co-reigned with her brothers Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator and Ptolemy XIV, whom she both married following the Egyptian tradition and she desperately tried to keep Egypt out of Roman grip. It is known that Cleopatra was ambitious and she arranged for her brothers to be eliminated in order to become sole ruler.

So, when Julius Cesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC, Cleopatra went through great efforts to gain his support. They became lovers and she bore him a son, Caesarion in 47 BC. Three years later she left for Rome with her son, but within a year Caesar was murdered by a group of Roman senators. At this stage, Rome was divided by supporters of Octavian and Marc Antony and since the later was more popular Cleopatra concentrated on gaining Marc Antony’s favours. This chagrined the Romans, and more so when Marc Antony gave away parts of his empire to Cleopatra in 34 BC. Meanwhile, they became lovers and Cleopatra gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, Alexander and Cleopatra in 40 BC. Their names were changed to Alexander Helios (Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (Moon) three years later when the queen joined Marc Antony in Antioch (modern Turkey). This name-giving happened on the day of an eclipse, which may have led to choosing a mythological name for the twins. Another son was born in 36 BC and he received the name of Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Meanwhile in Rome Octavian declared war on this foreign queen and he won the Battle of Actium over Marc Antony. A year later, in 30 BC, Octavian landed in Alexandria to face Marc Antony personally, but rather than being killed by his adversary Marc Antony committed suicide. With Cleopatra at his mercy, Octavian refused negotiation of any kind and Cleopatra, feeling that there was no way out killed herself – allegedly using poisonous snakes. With her death the Ptolemaic Dynasty came to an end.

Caesarion or Ptolemy Caesar was then 17 years of age and he was killed by Octavian only ten days after his own mother. From now on Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire ruled by Octavian who promoted himself to Emperor Augustus.

The three children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony were spared by Octavian and taken to Rome instead. By then the twins were 10 years of age and the little brother four. Their care was entrusted to Octavia, Octavian’s sister who was ironically the widow of Marc Antony. The boys disappeared from history a few years later but the girl, Cleopatra Selene went on to marry King Juba II of Mauretania. As far as we know, she had at least one son whom she called Ptolemy Philadelphus, probably in memory of her little brother. It seems she ruled as an equal with her husband since both their images were minted on the local coins.

Fate has added a little twist of its own. Recently an Italian Egyptologist has dusted off a statue from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo portraying Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene as small children. The sculpture was discovered as early as 1918 near the temple of Dendera on the banks of the Nile and was acquired by the museum to be stored away. The ten meters-high statue shows two naked children of identical size, one male and one female, standing within the coils of two snakes. They are holding each other with one arm around the shoulder of the other, while with their other hand they are grasping the snake. They were identified thanks to the sun-disc around the head of the boy and the lunar disc and crescent held by the girl. On each disc we also find the Horus eye, a typical symbol in Egyptian art. The faces are not very clear but the boy appears with curly hair and a braid on the right side of his head as was customary. The girl’s hair is cut according to the fashion of the Ptolemaic dynasty and of Cleopatra in particular.

It is nice to see that at least a picture of these poor children has survived for 2,100 years onward. What history they could have written!


  1. I have been as engrossed in Cleopatra VII as you have in Alexander whom I also admire. Please note - her two brothers were still alive when Caesar reached Alexandria ! Caesar despatched the older one to whom she was married back to his army. He was drwoned in the Nile during the fighting against the Roman army. In no way was Cleopatra responsible. ( Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar )
    The second brother she was made to marry by Caesar after her union with him began to accord with Egyptian tradition. This second brother vanishes after Caesar's death but no Roman or Greek writer accuses her. It is Josephus who makes the assumption 100 years later. neither was she accused of the death of Arsinoe her treacherous sister, despite recent attempts to name Arsinoe as the body in the octagonal tomb in Ephesus. That Antonius did so is plainly stated by all ancient chroniclers. Please remove the repetition of her enemies' slander.
    The son of Cleopatra Selene was named Ptolemy of Mauretania. Ptolemy Philadelphus was the name of her brother.
    What a treasure trove of information is your wonderful site ! Thank you

  2. ps
    on another page there is a photo of a head which many claim is Cleopatra. The sulky mouth and petulant expression is unattractive. So I am convinced this is Berenice IV Epiphaneia the sister who briefly became pharaoh in rebellion against Ptolemy XII. nevertheless she did rule from 58 to 55 BC, a considerable time during which her image would have been made. the family likeness to her father is strong. Octavian kept the gold statue of Cleopatra VII in the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Julius Caesar's forum where Caesar had placed it. Now sadly lost. Coins are now the only images left.

  3. Thank you for your precious information about Cleopatra and her family. It is an excellent contribution to "the whole picture".
    I found history at that stage pretty confusing more so since Cleopatra has been put on a pedestal as a sexy queen of beauty (in the 20th century or even before?). I was very disappointed when I first saw her head in Berlin - a very far cry from Hollywood's idyllic images ;-)
    It is quite revealing though that Octavian kept Cleopatra's golden statue in place at the Temple of Venus Genetrix. I suppose he was afraid of her ghost after all! Well, rightfully so, don't you think?