Cleopatra had four children, one with Julius Caesar and three more with Mark Antony. The children lived with her and Antony in Egypt and were raised as princes. But after Cleopatra killed herself, what happened to them?
Caesarion was Cleopatra’s eldest child. On top, two statues that probably represent Caesarion. Bottom, a relief showing Caesarion (center) with his parents: Julius Caesar (left) and Cleopatra (right). The relief is from the Hathor Temple at Dendera, Egypt. Cleopatra commissioned it. (Photo: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World/CCBY2.0)
Caesarion is by far the best known of Cleopatra’s children.
Julius Caesar and Cleopatra began an affair in late 48 BC. And, most probably, Caesarion was born in June 47 BC, in Alexandria, Egypt. Cleopatra always claimed the boy was Caesar’s, even if not everyone believed her.
In 46 BC, Cleopatra arrived in Rome with her son Ptolemy XV, nicknamed Caesarion (Little Caesar). And they stayed in one of Caesar’s houses just outside the city. That caused quite the scandal in Rome since both Caesar and Cleopatra were married to other people.
Two years later, in 44 BC, Caesar was killed. Cleopatra waited in Rome until his will was read. She hoped that the powerful Roman had made Caesarion his heir. But that was not the case. Caesar made his grand-nephew Octavian his heir instead and adopted him. And he did not mention Caesarion at all.
So one month after Julius’ death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt with her almost three-year-old son. In September of that same year, Cleopatra made him her co-ruler.
Not much is known of Caesarion’s life in the following years. He grew up in the palace of Alexandria, Egypt’s capital. He received a Greek education like his ancestors. And when he was about 17, he joined the ‘gymnasium.’ That meant he was now an adult, according to Greek custom.
The gamble: Reaching for Rome’s throne
When Caesarion was about 6 years old, her mother began an affair with another powerful Roman: Mark Antony.
Antony spent many years in Egypt and eventually became Caesarion’s stepfather.
When Caesarion was about 14, his mother and stepfather orchestrated an infamous event in Alexandria. They celebrated a Roman triumph there. And Antony gave lands that belonged to Rome to Cleopatra and her children.
Cleopatra and Caesarion, who were co-rulers, received Cyprus, Libya, and Coele Syria.
And Caesarion was named King of Kings, an ancient Persian title that meant he ruled over other kings. That was an unprecedented move during Roman times since Rome was bent on weakening other kingdoms and turning them into its ‘clients.’
But Antony did not stop there. During the ceremony, he also announced that Caesarion was Julius Caesar’s true son and heir. Now, that was quite problematic since Octavian had built his entire career on being Caesar’s heir.
Octavian and Antony had had a fragile alliance for years. They were the two most powerful men in Rome, and they had partitioned the empire between them.
By announcing Caesarion was Julius’ rightful heir, Antony was attacking Octavian. He was most likely announcing, too, that Caesarion, king of Egypt, had a claim to the throne of Rome.
War broke out. Octavian was on one side, Cleopatra and Antony on the other.
Octavian won the war in 31 BC in Greece. Antony and Cleopatra had gambled and lost. So the duo fled back to Egypt to wait for the unavoidable.
The outcome: Caesarion’s fate
In August 30 BC, Octavian marched on Alexandria and took the city. Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves a few days later.
Caesarion, on the other hand, was not in Alexandria at the time. Wisely, Cleopatra had sent him away, to the east, ladened with riches.
The 17-year-old boy was to get to Berenice, a port in the Red Sea, and sail to Arabia or India. There, he would be out of Octavian’s reach.
But. After Cleopatra killed herself, Octavian sent messengers to Caesarion. The Roman claimed that he would spare Caesarion’s life. And that Caesarion would be a client-king of Rome, like his mother had been.
Caesarion’s Greek tutor, Rhodon, advised his pupil to believe Octavian and to turn back. The boy did, and he was killed by Roman soldiers midway in late August 30 BC -mere days after his mother had killed herself.
After Ptolemy XV Caesarion’s death, Egypt ceased being a kingdom and became a province of the Roman Empire.
Cleopatra Selene II
Cleopatra had twins with Mark Antony: Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. This statue represents either Cleopatra or her daughter Selene. Most likely, it is Selene. Marble bust, 1st. century BC. Archeological Museum of Cherchell, Algeria. (Photos: Hichem algerino/CCBYSA4.0)
After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra returned to Egypt. Some years later, in 41 BC, she began a relationship with Mark Antony, another Roman power-player.
Soon, in 40 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to twins: Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.
‘Selene’ means ‘moon’ in Greek, while ‘helios’ means ‘sun.’
The daughter, Cleopatra Selene, grew up in Alexandria. She received a Greek education and was brought up like a powerful Ptolemaic princess.
But that was not enough for the likes of her ambitious parents. They made Selene queen of Cyrenaica, Egypt’s neighbor, when the girl was six years old.
Yet, when Selene was nine, disaster happened. Her parents lost the war they had been waging against Octavian, another powerful Roman. And the following year, Selene’s parents killed themselves.
The victor, Octavian, took Selene to Italy. And he paraded her in his triumph, through the streets of Rome, in chains.
But then the girl had a respite. Octavian’s sister, Octavia, asked to raise Selene. Octavia was a good woman and she was, actually, Selene’s stepmother since she had been married to Antony. Octavian agreed and gave the girl to Octavia.
Selene spent the next five years of her life in Octavia’s house She was treated like one of Octavia’s own children, and she received a thorough Greco-Roman education.
When she was fifteen, she was married off to a North African prince: Juba of Numidia. Juba, too, had been orphaned young and had been raised in Rome by Octavian’s family.
Octavian had grown fond of Juba and Selene. So he gave Juba part of his kingdom back, and he gave Selene the neighboring Kingdom of Mauretania as a dowry.
The newlyweds left Italy for their new kingdom. They united their territories and called it Mauretania. They co-ruled.
They turned out to be good administrators and monarchs. The duo made Mauretania wealthy through trade. They built cities and propelled the arts and culture.
Selene ruled successfully for at least two decades. Some think she died in 5 BC when she was 35 years old. But she may have died later.
After Juba and Selene died, their son Ptolemy of Mauretania became king.
That makes Cleopatra Selene the most successful of Cleopatra’s children. By far.
This sandstone statue probably represents the twins. Selene is on the left under a moon. Alexander Helios is on the right with a sun above his head. The statue dates from c. 40 BC and was found in Dendera, Egypt. It is on display at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
Alexander was Selene’s twin brother, so his first years mimick hers. He was the son of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
This new Alexander, Cleopatra’s son, was born in 40 BC in Alexandria. He met his father in 37 BC. That same year, his father officially recognize him and Selene as his.
Alexander grew up in the court of Alexandria. When he was about six, his father and mother celebrated a triumph in Egypt. And during the ceremony -known as the Donations of Alexandria-, Antony gave territories to all his children.
To Alexander Helios, he gave Armenia, Media, and Parthia. Now, here Antony was being optimistic since he had not actually conquered Media or Parthia yet.
Prince Alexander lived in Egypt until he was 10. Then, after his parents’ dramatic deaths, he was taken to Rome and displayed in the triumph along his sister Selene.
But then, what?
Then Octavia took him in, but what happened to him after that is a bit of a mystery.
Another ancient author, Cassius Dio, adds that Octavian spared them as a favor to Selene and Juba.
According to this, Alexander lived in Octavia’s house until he was fifteen, and then accompanied his sister to Mauretania. Nothing else is known of him after that.
Some scholars believe Alexander Helios may not have made it to Mauritania, dying in Rome instead.
Child mortality was high at the time. Also, Octavian could have had him killed.
Even though the three ancient authors say he spared the boy, modern scholars are less trusting.
Alexander was heir to Egypt and the legitimate child of powerful Roman Antony. That could mean trouble for Octavian later on if Alexander turned out to be ambitious or vengeful.
In any case, he disappears from the historical record; he likely died young.
Ptolemy Philadelphos II
Ptolemy’s parents: Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Ptolemy was Cleopatra and Antony’s youngest child.
Cleopatra and Antony began their affair in 41 BC, then they were apart for three years and resumed their romance in 37 BC. From then on, they were a solid couple until they died in 30 BC.
Ptolemy Philadelphos was born in this period of stability, one year (36 BC) after his parents rekindled their affair.
He, too, like his siblings, got a grandiose name. The original Ptolemy Philadelphos was one of Cleopatra’s ancestors. During his reign, the kingdom of Egypt had been at its greatest territorial extent.
So there is little doubt at what Cleopatra was aiming at. And she succeeded too. Thanks to Antony’s donations, she had almost all the territories that Philadelphos had ruled.
This younger Ptolemy Philadelphos, Cleopatra’s son, was three years old when his parents celebrated their Roman triumph in Alexandria. He, too, received territories. He was luckier than his brother, though, since the nations he got had already been conquered by Rome: Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia.
Ptolemy lived in the Egyptian court in all splendor until he was seven. Then, he was taken to Rome and was probably displayed in Octavian’s triumph with the twins. After that, he went to live with Octavia.
His later fate is, like his brother’s, unknown.
The three ancient authors -Dio, Suetonius, and Plutarch-, say that Octavian spared Ptolemy. And Dio adds that the boy was given to Selene.
If that was the case, he went to live in Mauretania when he was 11.
But there is no further news of him. Ptolemy, too, may have died in childhood, either in Rome -aided or unaided- or in Mauretania.
So those were the fates of Cleopatra’s four children. The three sons died young or fell into obscurity. Only the daughter, Cleopatra Selene, flourished. She became a queen on her own right -and a capable queen at that- and had known descendants.