Cleopatra had four children: one with Julius Caesar and three with Mark Antony. After Cleopatra killed herself, what happened to them?
1. Caesarion, the first born
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 the best known of Cleopatra’s children by far. And that is probably because she claimed Caesarion was Julius Caesar’s child. Not everyone believed her. But Caesar himself seems to have believe it.
The following year, in 46 BC, Cleopatra arrived in Rome with her son.
The boy’s real name was Ptolemy XV, but everyone called him Caesarion, which means ‘Little Caesar.’
Their arrival in the capital was a scandal. Both Cleopatra and Julius Caesar were married to other people and they were widely believed to be having an affair.
Despite the scandal, Cleopatra and her son stayed at one of Caesar’s houses, just outside the city.
Alas, two years later, in 44 BC, Caesar was killed. Ambitious 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 had made his grand-nephew Octavian his heir. And to add insult to injury, he had not mentioned Caesarion at all.
Now Rome was unsafe for her and her almost three-year-old son, so Cleopatra returned to Egypt. In September of that same year, Cleopatra made Caesarion 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.
Cleopatra’s gamble: Reaching for Rome’s throne
When Caesarion was about 6 years old, his mother began an affair with another powerful Roman: Mark Antony.
Antony spent many years in Egypt and 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, back in Rome, Octavian had built his entire career on being Caesar’s heir.
By announcing Caesarion was Julius’ rightful heir, Antony was attacking Octavian. He was also announcing 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.
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.
The 17-year-old boy was to sail to Arabia or India with his wealth. 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.
The boy believed Octavian and turned back. 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.
2. Cleopatra Selene II, the only daughter
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.
The daughter, Cleopatra Selene, grew up in Alexandria. She was brought up like a powerful and educated 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.
But three years later disaster happened. Selene’s parents lost the war against Octavian. And the following year, Selene’s parents killed themselves.
So the victor, Octavian, took Selene to Italy. He paraded her in his triumph, through the streets of Rome, covered in chains.
Luckily for Selene, there was Octavia, Octavian’s sister. Octavia asked to raise Selene, and the girl was entrusted to her.
Selene was now in good hands. Octavia had a reputation across Rome for being a good and wise woman. And she was also the girl’s stepmother, since she had been married to Mark Antony.
Selene spent the next five years of her life in Octavia’s house with her half-siblings. And Octavia treated her like one of her children.
When Selene 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 for their new kingdoms in Africa.
Selene co-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.
That makes Cleopatra Selene the most successful of Cleopatra’s children -by far.
3. Alexander Helios, the twin
This sandstone statue probably shows the twins. Selene is on the left under a moon. Alexander Helios is on the right under a sun. The statue is from c. 40 BC and was found in Dendera, Egypt. It is kept at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
Alexander was Selene’s twin brother, so his first years mimic hers.
His parents were Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
This new Alexander was born in 40 BC in Alexandria. By then, his father Antony had left Egypt.
So Alexander only met his father three years later. At that same time, Antony recognized the twins as his.
Alexander grew up in the court of Alexandria. When he was about six, his father Antony gave territories -that really belonged to Rome- to all his children.
Alexander Helios received Armenia, Media, and Parthia. Now, 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, kind Octavia took Alexander in and raised him. But what happened to him after that is a bit of a mystery.
Some scholars think Alexander may have lived in Octavia’s house until he was fifteen, and then after his sister married, he may have accompanied her to Mauretania.
Another ancient author, though, Herodian, seems to imply Octavian exiled the boys to an island, perhaps Sicily, and gave them funds to live comfortably there.
Despite all the ancient authors saying in unison that Alexander was spared, modern scholars are less trusting.
Some think Alexander Helios may have died in Rome. Octavian could have had him killed. Or the boy could have died of natural causes.
In any case, Alexander disappears from the historical record after Selene’s wedding. He likely died young, whether that was in Rome, Mauretania, or vanished on a Mediterranean island.
4. Ptolemy Philadelphus II, the baby
Ptolemy’s parents: Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Cleo and Antony issued these coins.
Ptolemy was Cleopatra and Antony’s youngest child.
The power couple began their affair in 41 BC. But after a few torrid months, Antony left Egypt to return to his duties, and so they split.
Three years later, they resumed their romance. They were a solid couple for the following seven years, until their suicides.
Ptolemy Philadelphus was born in this period of stability, one year (36 BC) after his parents rekindled their affair.
He, like his siblings, received a grandiose name. The original Ptolemy Philadelphus was one of Cleopatra’s ancestors. During his reign, the kingdom of Egypt had been at its greatest territorial extent.
This younger Ptolemy Philadelphus was three years old when his parents celebrated their Roman triumph in Alexandria. He, too, received territories, like his siblings.
He was luckier than his brother, though, since the nations he got had already been conquered by Rome: Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia.
Young Ptolemy lived in the Egyptian court in all splendor until he was seven and his parents died.
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 unknown.
The four ancient authors -Dio, Suetonius, Plutarch, and Herodian-, say that Octavian spared Ptolemy.
If that was the case, he may have gone to Mauretania with her 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-, in Mauretania, or on an island.
So those were the fates of Cleopatra’s four children. Only her daughter flourished. While her three sons died young or fell into obscurity.