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For the Rome episode, see Caesarion (Rome).

Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar[note 1] (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος ΙΕʹ Φιλοπάτωρ Φιλομήτωρ Καῖσαρ, Ptolemaios IEʹ Philopatōr Philomētōr Kaisar; Latin: Ptolemaeus XV Philopator Philomētor Caesar; June 23, 47 BC – August 23, 30 BC), better known by the nicknames Caesarion (/sɨˈzæriən/; Greek: Καισαρίων, Kaisariōn, literally "little Caesar"; Latin: Caesariō) and Ptolemy Caesar (/ˈtɒlɨmi ˈszər/; Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Καῖσαρ, Ptolemaios Kaisar; Latin: Ptolemaeus Caesar), was the last king of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, who reigned jointly with his mother Cleopatra VII of Egypt, from September 2, 44 BC. Between the death of Cleopatra, on August 12, 30 BC, up to his own death on August 23, 30 BC, he was nominally the sole pharaoh. He was killed on the orders of Octavian, who would become the Roman emperor Augustus. He was the eldest son of Cleopatra VII, and possibly the only son of Julius Caesar, after whom he was named.


Caesarion was born in Egypt on June 23, 47 BC. His mother Cleopatra insisted that he was the son of Julius Caesar. Caesarion was said to have inherited Caesar's looks and manner, but Caesar apparently did not officially acknowledge him. Caesar's supporter Gaius Oppius wrote a pamphlet which attempted to prove that Caesar could not have fathered Caesarion. Nevertheless Caesar may have allowed Caesarion to use his name.[1] The matter became contentious when Caesar's adopted son Octavian came into conflict with Cleopatra.

Caesarion spent two of his infant years, from 46 to 44 BC, in Rome, where he and his mother were Caesar's guests. Cleopatra hoped that her son would eventually succeed his father as the head of the Roman Republic as well as of Egypt. After Caesar's assassination on March 15, 44 BC, Cleopatra and Caesarion returned to Egypt. Caesarion was named co-ruler by his mother on September 2, 44 BC at the age of three, although he was King in name only, with Cleopatra keeping actual authority all to herself. Cleopatra compared her relationship to her son with the Egyptian goddess Isis and her divine child Horus.[1]

During the tense period of time leading up to the final conflict between Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Octavian (future Emperor Augustus), Antony shared control of the Republic in a triumvirate with Octavian and Lepidus, but Lepidus was forced into retirement by Octavian in 36 BC leaving Octavian and Marc Antony amicably in control of the Western and Eastern provinces respectively.

Nothing is known about Caesarion after 44BC until he appears in the historical record at the Donations of Antioch in 36BC and 2 years later at the Donations of Alexandria of 34BC. Cleopatra and Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) staged both "Donations" to donate conquered lands held by Rome and Parthia amongst Cleopatra's children: the 11 year old Caesarion (fathered by Julius Caesar) and the 4 year old twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II (fathered by Marc Antony) initially in 36 BC, and in 34 BC including the 2 year old Ptolemy Philadelphus. It is not yet widely appreciated that, in fact, the Donations of Antioch in 36BC enjoyed Octavian's full approval of an Antonian strategy to rule the East making use of Cleopatra's unique royal Seleucid lineage in the regions donated. This implies that the break between Antony and Octavian took place demonstrably after 36 BC.[2]

As stated, two years later, in 34 BC, Antony continued to grant various eastern lands and titles to Caesarion and to his own three children with Cleopatra in the Donations of Alexandria. Caesarion was proclaimed a god, son of god[disputed ] and "King of Kings". This grandiose title was "unprecedented in the management of Roman client-king relationships" and could be seen as "threatening the 'greatness' of the Roman people".[3] Most threatening to Octavian (whose claim to power was based on his status as Julius Caesar's grandnephew and adopted son), Antony declared Caesarion to be Caesar's true son and heir. These proclamations partly caused the fatal breach in Antony's relations with Octavian, who used Roman resentment over the Donations to gain support for war against Antony and Cleopatra.[4]

After the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Cleopatra seems to have groomed Caesarion to take over as "sole ruler without his mother."[1] She may have intended to go into exile, perhaps with Antony, who was hoping he would be allowed to retire, as Lepidus had but historical details are unclear.

After 34 BC, however nothing is known about Caesarion until he reappears in the historical record at the time when Octavian invaded Egypt in 30 BC and searched for him. It is not certainly known when (or if) Cleopatra sent Caesarion, at the time 17 years old, to the Red Sea port of Berenice for safety, with possible plans of an escape to India; he may have been sent years earlier, but either way historical sources are unclear. Octavian captured the city of Alexandria on August 1, 30 BC, the date that marks the official annexation of Egypt to the Roman Republic.

Around this time, by whatever means, Mark Antony and Cleopatra are both generally acknowledged to have died, recent speculations alleging not by suicide;[5] details of the narratives in Plutarch are generally challenged and not taken literally.[6] Caesarion's guardians, including his tutor, either were themselves lured by false promises of mercy into returning him to Alexandria or perhaps even betrayed him; the records on this as on so many other details about Caesarion are unclear. Plutarch does however say that Caesarion was sent to India, but also that he was falsely promised the kingdom of Egypt:

Caesarion, who was said to be Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, was sent by his mother, with much treasure, into India, by way of Ethiopia. There Rhodon, another tutor like Theodorus, persuaded him to go back, on the ground that [Octavian] Caesar invited him to take the kingdom.[7]

Octavian is supposed to have had Caesarion executed in Alexandria, following the advice of Arius Didymus, who said "Too many Caesars is not good" (a pun on a line in Homer).[8] It is popularly thought that he was strangled, but the exact circumstances of his death (or even whether he lived to old age in hiding under a reinvented identity) have not been documented.

Octavian then assumed absolute control of Egypt. The year 30 BC was considered the first year of the new ruler's reign according to the traditional chronological system of Egypt.


A relief of Cleopatra VII and Caesarion at the temple of Dendera, Egypt

Few images of Caesarion survive. He is thought to be depicted in a partial statue found in the harbor of Alexandria by Franck Goddio in 1997. He is also portrayed twice in relief, as an adult pharaoh, with his mother on the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. His baby image appears on some bronze coins of Cleopatra. [9]

Egyptian names[edit]

In addition to his Greek name and nicknames, Caesarion also had a full set of royal names in the Egyptian language:

  • Iwapanetjer entynehem
  • Setepenptah
  • Irmaatenre
  • Sekhemankhamun

These are usually translated as:

  • "Heir of the God who saves"
  • "Chosen of Ptah"
  • "Carrying out the rule of Ra" or "Sun of Righteousness"
  • "Living Image of Amun"[10]


Caesarion as fictional character[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Numbering the Ptolemies is a modern invention; the Greeks distinguished them by epithet (nickname). The number given here is the present consensus, but there has been some disagreement in the nineteenth century about which of the later Ptolemies should be counted as reigning. Since older sources may give a number one higher or lower, epithets are the most reliable way of determining which Ptolemy is being referred to in any given case.


  1. ^ a b c Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra: A Biography, Oxford University Press US, 2010, pp.70-3
  2. ^ Rolf Strootman, ‘Queen of Kings: Cleopatra VII and the Donations of Alexandria’, in: M. Facella and T. Kaizer eds., Kingdoms and Principalities in the Roman Near East. Occidens et Oriens 19 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2010) 139–158
  3. ^ Meyer Reinhold, Studies in classical history and society, Oxford University Press US, 2002, p. 58.
  4. ^ Stanley Mayer Burstein, The Reign of Cleopatra, University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, p. 29.
  5. ^ Pat Brown, The Murder of Cleopatra: History's Greatest Cold Case, Prometheus Books (February 19, 2013)
  6. ^ The Victorian scholar Arthur Hugh Clough, who updated the poet John Dryden's superb translation of Plutarch to give us the best available version in English, remarked in an introduction: "It cannot be denied that [Plutarch] is careless about numbers, and occasionally contradicts his own statements. A greater fault, perhaps, is his passion for anecdote; he cannot forbear from repeating stories, the improbability of which he is the first to recognise." Morrow, Lance. "Smithsonian Magazine", July 2004. Retrieved on 26 Feb 2015.
  7. ^ Plutarch, Life of Antony
  8. ^ David Braund et al, Myth, history and culture in republican Rome: studies in honour of T.P. Wiseman, University of Exeter Press, 2003, p. 305. The original line was "ouk agathon polukoiranie": "too many leaders are not good", or "the rule of many is a bad thing". (Homer's Iliad, Bk. II. vers. 204 and 205) In Greek "ouk agathon polukaisarie" is a variation on "ouk agathon polukoiranie". "Kaisar" (Caesar) replacing "Koiranos", meaning leader.
  9. ^ Sear, Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol. II.
  10. ^ Chronicle of the Pharaohs, by Peter Clayton (1994), ISBN 0-500-05074-0

External links[edit]

Born: 47 BC Died: 30 BC
Preceded by
Cleopatra VII Philopator
Pharaoh of Egypt
44–30 BC
with Cleopatra VII
Succeeded by
Egypt annexed by Rome