What happened to Cleopatra's children?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class, from HowStuffWorks.com.

Katie: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sara: And I'm Sara Dowdy.

Katie: And we are suffering through a long rainy week in Atlanta, and we've all been sharing playlists.

Sara: Yeah, so to try to cheer ourselves up, we've been listening to the Bangles, "Walk Like An Egyptian," and practicing a little bit too, to assume that physically impossible Egyptian pose.

Katie: Well, you have to keep yourself entertained in a cubicle somehow, so I think that's as good of a reason as any. But that brings us to Cleopatra, whose children are the subject of our podcast today. And this was a listener request from Molly, so thanks to Molly for this one.

Sara: So most of us obviously think of Cleopatra as kind of a femme fatal, embodied by Elizabeth Taylor, and there's always all these discussions of was she really beautiful, or what kind of ruler was she? And I think kind of lost in the discussion is this fact that Cleopatra actually was a mother to four children, and it just doesn't seem to play into her image.

Katie: So Cleopatra was born in 70 or 69 B.C. She is obviously Queen of Egypt - not at birth, but - she isn't of Egyptian ancestry. She's Macedonian, Greek, and they had been in power since the death of Alexander the Great!

Sara: And men start factoring into her life at a very early age when her father dies, and she becomes co-ruler of Egypt when she marries her brother, one of the many Ptolemy's.

Katie: Which this actually happens a few times. She marries more than one brother. All through our notes it says "brother/husband" in various parts.

Sara: Readers will be happy to know that none of her children are fathered by her brother.

Katie: No. And she was supposed to share power, but I don't think that really ended up happening, because Cleopatra very much liked her own way.

Sara: And she was much older than her brother too. She was a teenager when she assumed the throne. Her brother was under ten I think.

Katie: So she and this brother end up having a falling out. She's exiled and has to leave Egypt, and she wants to come back and face her brother and regain her throne. And that's when she realizes that a certain man may be able to help her.

Sara: A Roman ally, by the name of Julius Caesar.

Katie: And according to legend, Cleopatra shows up at Caesars rolled up in a Persian carpet, and has a servant unroll it. When she appears at the end, ta-da, to grand effect, which she turns out to be very good at.! And Caesar is smitten.

Sara: He is, and this gets Cleopatra some much needed help, and they eventually become lovers, which leads to the birth of Cleopatra's first child, Ptolemy Caesar, who is believed to be the son of Caesar, although Caesar never actually recognized him himself.

Katie: But Cleopatra does, and she tells everyone that it's Caesar's son, and celebrates his birth, and has him put on a coin?

Sara: Yeah. She puts him on a coin with her representing Aphrodite and her son as the infant Aeros. And it's no small matter she's recognizing her son, because after all, he is illegitimate, she's Queen. Some people see this as bringing shame on the Ptolemy family.

Katie: But also, if she plays her cards right, he could be the one that unites the east and west, to put everything together.

Sara: Exactly.

Katie: Cleopatra wants Caesarian named Caesar's heir, but instead he picks Octavian, who is his nephew.

Sara: And Caesar is married too, at the time, but Cleopatra ends up going to Rome on a state visit with her infant son, and takes up residence in Caesar's gardens. And Romans aren't too happy about this.

Katie: No, they hate her.

Sara: It's this luxurious foreign Queen living in Caesar's backyard basically.

Katie: While he's married. With her illegitimate son! They were not thrilled with the idea of Cleopatra at all.

Sara: But soon enough, Caesar is assassinated, and Cleo gets out of town.

Katie: It is time to go. Because all sorts of skirmishes for power start after Caesar's death, you know, because who's going to rule now? And the triumviri gets set up, and this is when another man comes into Cleopatra's life, Mark Antony.

Sara: So Mark Antony is initially interested in what role Cleopatra had in the aftermath of Caesar's death. Basically how did she play her cards?

Katie: whose side is she on?

Sara: Was she loyal - basically, Cleopatra hadn't done much, she had laid low. So Cleopatra knows how to impress these Roman statesmen though, doesn't she?

Katie: As I put in my notes, "Girl knows how to work it." She comes to Tarsus to see Mark Antony, she's been summoned there, and she is dresses as Isis, and comes in on a barge with just loads and loads of gifts for him.

Sara: And Antony already fancies himself as the modern Dionysus, so to see his counterpart the modern Isis is very exciting for him.

Katie: Totally works. So she gets her way, and he recognizes her as an independent monarch, which is more than she really could have hoped for.

Sara: Yeah, instead of a Roman puppet essentially.

Katie: And I think this is your favorite part. They start a society of inimitable livers, which when I read that, I kept thinking of the organ, but I think they mean more like people who live.

Sara: Yeah. Although, I don't know, judging by the debauchery they're known for, livers might be an important component.

Katie: I just keep reading about their dinners. They eat everything from peacocks to cranes and sturgeons and everyone wore wreaths of flowers and had dancing girls and it just sounds completely ridiculous. In a wonderful way!

Sara: Yeah, this is probably a cult dedicated to Dionysus. But during this exciting time they have together, they also conceive twins.

Katie: Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, but Antony is also married, let us add. A few times during this!

Sara: A few times. And by the time the twins are born, he's actually returned to Italy. His wife has died, but he's married in this political alliance to Octavian's sister, Octavia, and they settle in Athens. But meanwhile, things with the triumvirate start to crumble, and this political marriage, while it holds things together for a little while, Octavia actually mediates a dispute between her brother and Antony. Eventually, Antony realizes things are not going to work with Octavian, and consequently, there's no reason to stay with his sister then. So h e heads back to the east.

Katie: And has another child with Cleopatra, Ptolemy Philadelphus. So they have three together now. And after a big success in Armenia, Antony, instead of going home to Rome, heads to Alexandria, which was unusual. Usually you would go back to Rome and have the big, triumphant dinner, and he is possibly dressed as Dionysus - this is somewhat iffy with historians - and they stage something called the Donations of Alexandria.

Sara: Which is even more scandalous than the triumph in Alexandria? So on a platform of silver, Antony and Cleopatra sit on golden thrones, Cleopatra dressed as Isis. A lot of times she didn't dress in Egyptian clothing, she dressed in Greek styles or Roman styles; whatever - she knew how to dress the part, basically.

Katie: Pageantry.

Sara: But for this she goes for this incarnation of Isis, and the kids are all seated on the stage in little tiny thrones and Antony declares Ptolemy Caesar, Cleopatra's older son by Caesar, as a legitimate son, which is obviously bad news for Octavian if people are going to accept this. If Caesar has a legitimate son, what's Octavian doing in power?

Katie: Exactly. Then he's a usurper.

Sara: And he goes ahead and gives some lands to his own children. Alexander Helios is dressed as a Medean King - remember, these are little tiny kids -

Katie: They're all under the age of ten, I think.

Sara: Yeah, definitely. He's proclaimed a great King of Armenia, and all of the eastern provinces of Alexander the Great's empire that might be recovered as far as India. So these are lands - they're not their lands to give, basically. And Ptolemy Philadelphus is dressed as a Macedonian King. He's proclaimed Syria and Asia Minor. He's just a few years old.

Katie: He's two. It must have been a golden booster seat or something.

Sara: Cleopatra Selene is proclaimed Queen of Cyrenaica.

Katie: So this is huge and very scandalous too. Not only if he giving away land to all of these teeny tiny little children, it's stuff that doesn't even necessarily belong to him at all. And it's not even happening in Rome. So it starts some fishers in his public image.

Sara: And Antony divorces Octavia around this time too, which could make room for a legitimate alliance between him and Cleopatra. So Octavian - it's time for him to act and really do something about Antony and Cleopatra. So he finds a will.

Katie: Maybe a legit will, maybe not.

Sara: Yeah.

Katie: That he says he gets from the vestal virgins to turn public opinion, and says that, "Oh my gosh, look what Mark Antony wants to do. He wants to transfer our capital from Rome to Alexandria. He wants to give away our Roman lands to foreigners. Can you believe an upstanding Roman citizen would do this?"

Sara: But Octavian isn't too big on making a public conflict with Antony. He's more interested in going after the foreign Queen, Cleopatra. So the Roman senate declares war on her in 31 B.C.

Katie: And this leads to a naval disaster known as the Battle of Actium, which I think Candace and Jane talked about in an earlier podcast. But basically, they confronted the army, Cleopatra flees and Antony follows her, and it's just really did not work out as planned, to put things mildly.

Sara: And then as we all know from Shakespeare, we have our romantic conclusion to their live together. Antony receives false news that Cleopatra is dead, falls on his sword, and is taken to her and dies and her retreat.

Katie: And then she kills herself with either a snake or poison; no o ne's really sure. Early accounts say a snake, but we don't know. So now we have motherless, fatherless children. And what happens to them?

Sara: So 17 year old Ptolemy Caesar is obviously in a pretty risky position as the heir to the Ptolemy's, now that his mother is dead, and as Caesar's son, a huge threat to Octavian. So it's likely that before Cleopatra's death, he had been sent with this Greek tutor to escape to Berenice on the Red Sea coast, and Octavian's men followed them and killed the boy. We don't know if the tutor betrayed him or he wasn't a very good guy to escape with.

Katie: But either way, the threat to Octavian has been eliminated. Or, at least the biggest threat! The other three kids, Cleopatra's and Mark Antony's kids, are sent to Italy, and they're raised by Octavia.

Sara: Which seems rather awkward, but she actually takes in a lot of Antony's wives children, and raises them along with her own.

Katie: And this is Sara's very, very favorite part of the entire story. Cleopatra Selene gets married.

Sara: To Juba II.

Katie: Which we think is a really fantastic name, and I'm saving that up for my own future children. Maybe Juba III, I don't know.

Sara: So we don't quite know what happens to the boys, Ptolemy Philadelphus and Alexander Helios. There aren't any records documenting records, military service, deaths.

Katie: They just disappear.

Sara: So it's likely that they didn't make it to adulthood, but they probably did go with their sister, Cleopatra Selene and Juba II upon her marriage. And Juba II was King of Numidia, which is now Algeria and Tenesia, and Mauretania, which is Morocco and Algeria. And interestingly enough, he was also this sort of sad little orphan paraded through Rome as a kid, like his wife.

Katie: They're big on parades.

Sara: Yeah. But had gotten a Roman education and was in good with Octavian.

Katie: Which helped his politics, because hey, if you're in with Octavian, you're good, and Cleopatra Selene, Sara was saying, like a true Macedonian Queen, has a lot of influence on what he does.

Sara: We're actually going to take it one generation further to carry out this full line of Ptolemy's. Cleopatra Selene and Juba II have a son tougher, Ptolemy of Mauretania, and after a good Roman education, he ends up ruling jointly with his father until the father dies.

Katie: And then is the sole ruler of Mauretania, and a client King of Rome. A very loyal one at that!

Sara: So everything seems to be going pretty well for him, until about 40 A.D. when he's invited to Rome by the emperor Caligula, which -

Katie: Don't take Caligula's invitations.

Sara: No. So he's received well. This isn't like a scary visit, like, "Come see me in Rome." It's a good thing. So everything's going well until they go to a gladiatorial match together, and Ptolemy comes in in this really flashy purple cloak, and it seems like the crowd really likes it. And Caligula is super jealous, and has him executed on his way home. It's - this is according to the Roman historian Suetonius, so we don't know for sure. Caligula - I don't know, it doesn't sound that unlikely.

Katie: It sounds a lot like something he'd do.

Sara: But we should also say that Ptolemy had a lot of money, and it might have been more about that. Caligula might have just wanted his money. But any way you cut it, that's the end of the dynasty of the Ptolemy's and Cleopatra. I don't know, maybe that's why people have to say they're a reincarnation of Cleopatra; you can't say you're a descendant?

Katie: Well, exactly. The reader, who sent that in, Molly, was wondering if there were still any of her descendants still alive today. Like, anyone descended from the lineage of Cleopatra. And I'm going to say the Ptolemy's; they died out with Ptolemy of Mauretania.

Sara: So if you'd like to learn more about Cleopatra, come check out our article, Did Cleopatra Really Lose the Battle of Actium? And check out our blog while you're there on the homepage at www.howstuffworks.com.Announcer: For more on this, and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com. Let us know what you think. Send an email to podcast@howstuffworks.com and be sure to check out The Stuff You Missed in History Class blog on the How Stuff Works homepage.