While Antony and Cleopatra have been immortalised in history and in popular culture, their offspring have been all but forgotten. Yet their daughter, Cleopatra Selene, became an important ruler in her own right. Jane Draycott tells her story.
The love affair of Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt (69-30 BC), and Marcus Antonius, Roman triumvir (83-30 BC) is legendary. During their own lifetimes their liaison quickly became infamous, the subject of gossip, innuendo and outrage throughout the ancient world. It has remained a source of fascination for over 2,000 years, recorded first as fact in historical treatises and biographies written by Greek and Roman scholars and then as fiction in poems, plays, novels, television programmes and films. What is less well-known is that they had three children together: the fraternal twins Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios and their younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphos.
The two sons Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphos disappeared from the historical record without explanation early on, probably falling victim to illness during childhood. Cleopatra Selene, however, not only survived into adulthood but became an important and influential political figure in her own right. She claimed descent from the mythological figure of the Greco-Roman demi-god Herakles / Hercules and the historical heroes Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphos, as well as kinship with the Julio-Claudian emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Over the course of her eventful life she was first an Egyptian princess, then a Roman prisoner and finally an African queen. Ironically, unlike her mother and the contemporary female rulers Cartimandua of the Brigantes, Boudicca of the Iceni and Zenobia of Palmyra, who have been remembered for the domestic strife, civil wars and rebellions of their regimes, the reason little is known of Cleopatra Selene is because she was successful.
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