Cleopatra Selene of Syria
Obverse: Cleopatra Selene depicted in the foreground with her son Antiochus XIII in the background
|Queen consort of Egypt|
|Queen consort of Syria|
|Queen regnant of Syria|
|Co-king||Regent for her son Antiochus XIII|
|Born||c. 135–130 BC|
|Dynasty||Ptolemaic (by birth)
Seleucid (by marriage)
Cleopatra Selene (Greek: Κλεοπάτρα Σελήνη; c. 135/130 – 69 BC) was the monarch of Syria as Cleopatra II Selene (82–69 BC). She was the daughter of Ptolemy VIII of Egypt by his niece-wife Cleopatra III. Cleopatra Selene was favored by her mother and became a pawn in Cleopatra III's political maneuvers. In 115, Cleopatra Selene became the queen of Egypt when she was married to her brother king Ptolemy IX by Cleopatra III as a replacement for the strong Cleopatra IV, who was also a daughter of Cleopatra III. Tension between the king and his mother grew and ended with Ptolemy IX's expulsion from Egypt, leaving Cleopatra Selene behind; she probably then married the new king, her other brother Ptolemy X.
In 103, Cleopatra III decided to establish an alliance with Antiochus VIII of Seleucid Syria; Cleopatra Selene was sent as his bride and stayed with him until his assassination in 96 BC. The now widowed queen decided to marry her previous husband's brother, Antiochus IX, but she lost her new husband in 95 BC. She then married her stepson, Antiochus IX's heir, Antiochus X; this was Cleopatra Selene's last marriage. Antiochus X disappeared from the records and is presumed to have died in 92 BC; Cleopatra Selene hid somewhere in Syria with her children until 83/82 BC,[note 1] when the Seleucid thrones in Antioch, ruled by Philip I, and Damascus, ruled by Antiochus XII, became vacant.
Cleopatra Selene had many children by several husbands. In c. 82 BC, she declared Antiochus XIII, her son by Antiochus X, king, and seems to have declared herself co-ruler. But the people of both Antioch and Damascus, exhausted by the Seleucids' civil wars, invited foreign monarchs to rule them: Tigranes II of Armenia took Antioch, while Aretas III of Nabataea took Damascus. Cleopatra Selene controlled several coastal towns until 69 BC, when she was besieged by Tigranes in Ptolemais; the Armenian king captured the queen and later executed her.
By the second century BC, the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Kingdom were weakened by dynastic feuds, constant wars against each other (known as the Syrian Wars), and Roman interference. To ease the tension, the two dynasties intermarried; Cleopatra I of Syria married Ptolemy V of Egypt in 193 BC, and her grand-daughter Cleopatra Thea was married to three Syrian kings in succession starting in 150 BC. Those intermarriages helped Egypt destabilize Syria which was especially fragmented between different claimants to the throne; brothers fought between themselves and Egypt interfered by supporting one claimant against the other.
Family and name
Cleopatra Selene was born between 135 and 130 BC to Ptolemy VIII and his niece-wife Cleopatra III. Cleopatra Selene had many siblings, including Ptolemy IX, Ptolemy X, and Cleopatra IV. Ancient writers, such as Cicero and Appian, mention that the queen's name is Selene, and Strabo clarified that she was surnamed "Cleopatra". Coins struck in her name record her as Cleopatra Selene. Selene was the name of the Greek moon goddess and it is connected to the word selas (σέλας), meaning "light". "Cleopatra" was a Ptolemaic dynastic name; it means "famous in her father" or "renowned in her ancestry". As a queen of Syria, she was the second to rule with the name 'Cleopatra', and hence, she is termed "Cleopatra II Selene" to differentiate her from her predecessor and aunt Cleopatra I Thea,[note 2] who was also the mother of Cleopatra Selene's husbands, Antiochus VIII and Antiochus IX. Classicist Grace Macurdy numbered Cleopatra Selene as "Cleopatra V" within the Ptolemaic dynasty and many historians have used this convention.
Queen of Egypt
Sibling marriage was known in ancient Egypt, and although it was not a general practice, it was acceptable for the Egyptians; the Ptolemaics practiced it, perhaps to consolidate the dynasty. In 116 BC, Ptolemy VIII died and his will left Cleopatra III to rule alongside a co-ruler of her choice from between her two sons; she wanted to choose Ptolemy X but the people of Alexandria (the capital of Egypt) opposed this, forcing her to accept Ptolemy IX's ascension to the throne. The new king had married his sister Cleopatra IV before the death of their father. Shortly after his elevation, Cleopatra III forced Ptolemy IX to divorce Cleopatra IV; the 2nd-century historian Justin implied that Cleopatra III made this a condition of accepting Ptolemy as co-ruler. Cleopatra Selene, favored by her mother Cleopatra III, was chosen as the new queen consort in 115 BC. In 107 BC, the relationship between Ptolemy IX and his mother deteriorated; Cleopatra III forced him out of Egypt, and he left his wife and children behind.
The same year, 107 BC, Cleopatra Selene was probably married off to the new king, her younger brother, Ptolemy X. In 103 BC, Ptolemy IX was fighting in Judea. The queen mother feared an alliance against her between Ptolemy IX and his friend Antiochus IX of Syria, who was fighting a civil war with his brother Antiochus VIII; this led her to send troops to Syria. According to Justin, Ptolemy X abandoned his mother and ran away and Cleopatra III then decided to marry Cleopatra Selene to Antiochus VIII, as a step to bring Antiochus VIII to her side in order to counter an alliance between Ptolemy IX and Antiochus IX. If it is accepted that Cleopatra Selene married Ptolemy X, then Cleopatra III divorced her from him after he deserted.[note 3]
Queen of Syria
Details of Cleopatra Selene's life with Antiochus VIII are not clear; no known offspring resulted from the marriage, though six of Antiochus VIII's children from his previous marriage are known. In 96 BC, Herakleon of Beroia, a general of Antiochus VIII, assassinated his monarch and tried to usurp the throne, but failed and retreated to his home-town Beroia.[note 4] The capital of Syria, Antioch, was part of Antiochus VIII's realm at the time of his assassination; Cleopatra Selene probably resided there.[note 5]
The queen held out in the capital for a while before marrying Antiochus IX. The manner in which Antiochus IX took control of Antioch and his new wife in 95 BC is not clear; he could have taken the city by force or it could be that Cleopatra Selene herself opened the gates for him. In the view of historian Auguste Bouché-Leclercq, Cleopatra Selene had little reason to trust the five sons of her previous husband; the queen needed an ally who would help her control the capital while Antiochus IX needed a wife and Cleopatra Selene's influence over the city's garrison and her late husband's officials. It is unlikely that this marriage was received well by Antiochus VIII's sons. The first of them to act was Seleucus VI who was established in Cilicia. Within a year of his marriage to Cleopatra Selene, Antiochus IX marched against his nephew but was defeated and killed. Soon afterwards, Seleucus entered the capital. Cleopatra Selene probably fled before the new king's arrival. Alternatively, she might have been sent to Arados by Antiochus IX for protection before he marched against Seleucus.
In 95/94 BC, Antiochus X, the son of Antiochus IX, proclaimed himself king in Arados, and married Cleopatra Selene, who was his step-mother. Antiochus pushed Seleucus VI out of Antioch in 94 BC. The marriage was scandalous. Appian wrote an anecdote concerning the epithet of Antiochus X, "Eusebes" ("the pious"): it was given to him by the Syrians to mock his show of loyalty to his father by bedding his widow. The rationale for the marriage might have been pragmatic: Antiochus X sought to be king, but had little resources and needed a queen. Cleopatra Selene was in her forties and could not simply marry a foreign king. Furthermore, the Seleucid dynasty had a precedent of a son marrying his stepmother: Antiochus I had married his stepmother Stratonice, and this might have made it easier for Cleopatra Selene. The last evidence for the reign of Antiochus X is dated to 92 BC, and he is generally assumed to have died at around this date, but ancient sources contain contradictory accounts and dates, and the numismatist Oliver D. Hoover suggested the date of 89/88 BC for Antiochus' demise.
Queen regnant and regent
Cleopatra Selene's location during the reign of Antiochus' successors in Antioch, such as Philip I (one of Antiochus VIII's sons), is unknown. She evidently hid with her children somewhere in Syria, and possibly fled to Coele-Syria or Cilicia. Antiochus XII, another son of Antiochus VIII who was ruling in Damascus, died in 83/82 BC, and it seems that Philip also died the same time. Cleopatra Selene then pushed her children to claim the right of Antiochus X on the vacant throne,[note 6] with herself as the regent, based on the evidence of jugate coins which depict her alongside her ruling son. Three of Cleopatra Selene's jugate coins have been found,[note 7] and they depict her son Antiochus XIII in the background and herself in the foreground, in the style of a queen regnant, where the queen's name is written before that of the king's. The children probably remained in Cilicia or somewhere else in Asia Minor for protection, which would explain Antiochus XIII's nickname, "Asiaticus".
Cleopatra Selene's claims of authority were not generally accepted by the Syrians, who were frustrated by the Seleucids' constant civil wars. In 83 BC, the people of Antioch invited Tigranes II of Armenia to rule Syria, while the people of Damascus invited Aretas III, King of the Nabataeans. Tigranes never controlled the entire country and took Damascus only in 72 BC. When she declared her son king, Cleopatra Selene controlled lands in Cilicia or Phoenicia or both. The archeologist Alfred Raymond Bellinger suggested that she was in control of several coastal Syrian cities from a base in Cilicia; she certainly controlled Ptolemais and probably Seleucia Pieria. The 1st-century historian Josephus wrote of "Selene ... who ruled in Syria", indicating her continued influence despite her never controlling the capital Antioch.
Based on her coins, Hoover suggested that Selene operated from Damascus; those coins used a broken-bar Alpha, cursive Epsilon and squared Sigma. This typography appeared in the Damascene coins of Demetrius III and Antiochus XII and is otherwise rare in the Hellenistic world. If her currency was minted in Damascus,[note 8] then it dates to the period between 83 BC and Tigranes' occupation of the city in 72/71 BC; Damascus' history is obscure in this period and Hoover suggested that Aretas III's rule in the city did not last long before Cleopatra Selene took control.[note 9]
In 75 BC, Cleopatra Selene sent Antiochus XIII and his brother to Rome, where they stayed until 73 BC, then returned to Syria; they claimed the throne of Egypt based on their mother's birthright. To impress the Roman Senate, the queen endowed her children with sufficient assets, which included a jewelled candelabrum that was dedicated to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The Senate refused to hear their petition for the Egyptian throne, but, according to Cicero, their de jure right to the Syrian throne which they had inherited from their ancestors was already acknowledged.
In 69 BC, Tigranes besieged Cleopatra Selene in Ptolemais; the city fell according to Josephus, but Tigranes had to move north fast as the Romans started attacking Armenia. According to Strabo, Tigranes imprisoned the queen in Seleucia and later had her killed. The historian John D. Grainger explained Tigranes' action as a consequence of Cleopatra Selene's political importance; she was a winning card in the hands of her husbands, and Tigranes sought to deny other ambitious men from acquiring influence through her. Others see Cleopatra Selene as a pawn in political schemes who later evolved into a schemer in her own right, one who decided her actions effectively based on her own benefit.
By Ptolemy IX
- Cleopatra Berenice (Berenice III), whose mother's identity is not certain, might have been a daughter of Cleopatra Selene, but Cleopatra IV is also a candidate and is favored by modern scholarship.
- According to Justin, Cleopatra Selene and Ptolemy IX had two children; the historian John Whitehorne noted that the existence of those two children is doubted and they might have died at a young age. In 103 BC, Cleopatra III sent all her grandsons and treasures to the island of Kos for protection in preparation for the queen mother's war with Ptolemy IX. In 88 BC, Mithridates VI of Pontus captured all the Egyptian royals in Kos; the two children of Cleopatra Selene mentioned by Justin, if they actually existed and were sent to Kos by Cleopatra III, would have been among the captured.
- Ptolemy XII, the father of Cleopatra VII, and his brother Ptolemy of Cyprus. Ptolemy XII's legitimacy was historically questioned;[note 10] his father was certainly Ptolemy IX but his mother's identity is vague. Cicero wrote that Ptolemy XII was royal "neither in birth nor in spirit", but the classicist John Pentland Mahaffy noted that Cicero's words indicate that Ptolemy XII's mother was not a reigning queen at his birth, and so could be Cleopatra IV, whose marriage to Ptolemy IX can be considered morganatic (a marriage between people of unequal social rank).[note 11]
Historian Christopher J. Bennett considered Ptolemy XII and his brother identical with the two children mentioned by Justin,[note 12] but proposed that they were the children of Cleopatra IV, considered illegitimate because of their parents "morganatic" marriage. Hence, Cleopatra Selene was not the biological mother, rather, she was the official mother, thus explaining her attempt to raise one of her sons to the throne of Egypt in 75 BC by repudiating Ptolemy XII's legitimacy.[note 13] Whitehorne, citing Cleopatra Selene's denial of Ptolemy XII's illegitimacy, refused to identify Ptolemy XII and his brother as the two children mentioned in Justin's work.
By Ptolemy X
Cleopatra Selene possibly bore Ptolemy X his son Ptolemy XI but her maternity can not be confirmed; Cleopatra IV might have been the mother instead, but this is also an assumption and the identity of Ptolemy XI's mother remains a mystery.
By Antiochus X
Identifying Antiochus X and Cleopatra Selene's children is problematic; Cicero wrote that the queen had two sons, one of them named Antiochus. More children, perhaps a daughter, might have resulted from the marriage, but it can not be confirmed; according to Plutarch, Tigranes II "put to death the successors of Seleucus, and [carried] off their wives and daughters into captivity". Thus, it is possible that Cleopatra Selene had a daughter captured by Tigranes.
- Antiochus XIII: this son is the Antiochus of Cicero, who, as a sole monarch following his mother's death, appears on his coins as Antiochus Philadelphos ("brother-loving"), but on coins where Cleopatra Selene is depicted along with her ruling son, the king is named Antiochus Philometor ("mother-loving"). This has led scholars to propose various theories: Kay Ehling, reasserting the view of Bouché-Leclercq, suggested that Cleopatra Selene had two sons, both named Antiochus. But Cicero, who left one of the brothers unnamed, is clear that only one of them was named Antiochus; for Ehling's proposal to be valid, Antiochus Philometor should be the Antiochus mentioned by Cicero, then he died and his brother, who had a different name, assumed the dynastic name Antiochus with the epithet Philadelphos, but this scenario is complicated and remains a mere hypothesis. Thus, Antiochus XIII bore two epithets: Philadelphos and Philometor.
- Seleucus Kybiosaktes: the second son of Cleopatra Selene, who was unnamed by Cicero and does not appear in other ancient sources, is generally identified by modern scholarship with a character named Seleucus Kybiosaktes, who appeared c. 58 BC in Egypt as a husband of Berenice IV of Egypt. Kybiosaktes was never associated with Cleopatra Selene in the ancient sources; solid evidence is lacking and the identification remains a theory.[note 14]
- Seleucus VII: in 2002, the numismatist Brian Kritt announced the discovery and decipherment of a coin bearing the portrait of Cleopatra Selene and a co-ruler; Kritt read the name of the ruler as Seleucus Philometor and, based on the epithet, identified him with Cleopatra Selene's son, unnamed by Cicero. Kritt gave the newly discovered ruler the regnal name Seleucus VII, and considered it very likely that he is identical with Kybiosaktes. The reading of "Seleucus VII" was accepted by some scholars such as Lloyd Llewellyn Jones and Michael Roy Burgess, but Hoover rejected Kritt's reading, noting that the coin was badly damaged and some letters were unreadable; Hoover read the king's name as Antiochus and identified him with Antiochus XIII.
|Ancestors of Cleopatra Selene of Syria|
- Some years in the article are given according to the Seleucid era. Each Seleucid year started in the late autumn of a Gregorian year; thus, a Seleucid year overlaps two Gregorian ones.
- In the Prosopographia Ptolemaica, Selene's entry is numbered 14520.
- Justin wrote that Cleopatra III "made two daughters husbandless by marrying them to their brothers in turn". This, in Christopher J. Bennett's view, indicates the divorce of Cleopatra Selene and Ptolemy X; it directly claimed that each of Cleopatra III's sons was forced to divorce his sister by the queen mother. It is known that Ptolemy IX was forced to divorce Cleopatra IV, who, afterwards, was never in a position where the queen mother could force her to be divorced from Ptolemy X. This leaves a forced divorce between Cleopatra Selene and Ptolemy X as the only possible option to explain Justin's remark.
- The numismatist Arthur Houghton suggested the year 97 BC for Antiochus VIII' assassination because the coins of his son Seleucus VI suggests an earlier date than 96 BC. This is contested by the numismatist Oliver D. Hoover who noted that Houghton's reason for lowering Antiochus VIII' death year was Seleucus VI' unusually high coin production, but it was not rare for a king to double his production in a single year at times of need; hence, the year 96 BC remains more possible.
- In the view of John Whitehorne, Cleopatra Selene stayed in the palace under Herakleon then fled to Antiochus IX in Antioch after realizing that Herakleon would never be accepted as king. There is no evidence that Herakleon ever controlled Antioch, and the place where he assassinated his king is not known.
- Oliver D. Hoover suggested that Tigranes invaded Syria only in 74 BC, with Philip I ruling until 75 BC in Northern Syria allowing Antiochus XIII to claim the country unopposed for a while. In a paper presented at the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Nikolaus Overtoom, based on Hoover's chronology, suggested that Cleopatra Selene was in control of the south while Philip I ruled the north until 75 BC; his death meant that Cleopatra Selene's son was the strongest candidate to the throne but Philip's faction, being opposed to Cleopatra Selene, offered the crown to Tigranes who invaded and conquered the country in 74 BC.
- In 1949, one of them, from the collection of Henri Arnold Seyrig, was dated by Alfred Raymond Bellinger to 92 BC leading some modern historians, such as Kay Ehling, to propose that Cleopatra Selene ruled Antioch in the interval between the death of her last husband and the arrival of Demetrius III who is known to have taken the city after Antiochus X. Bellinger himself had doubts regarding his own dating which he expressed in 1952; this coin is dated to c. 82 BC by many twenty first century numismatists.
- Brian Kritt and Michael Roy Burgess suggested Ptolemais.
- This scenario might actually have been reversed: Cleopatra Selene took Damascus after Antiochus XII's death and was replaced by Aretas before 73 BC.
- The Romans generally accepted Ptolemy XII as legitimate. Many ancient writers questioned Ptolemy XII's legitimacy: Pompeius Trogus, who called him a "nothos" (bastard) and Pausanias, who wrote that Berenice III was Ptolemy IX's only legitimate offspring. Michael Grant suggested that Ptolemy XII's mother was a Syrian or a partly Greek concubine while Günther Hölbl suggested that she was an Egyptian elite. Robert Steven Bianchi declared that "there is unanimity amongst genealogists that the identification, and hence ethnicity, of the maternal grandmother of Cleopatra VIII is currently not known".
- Ptolemy IX might have married Cleopatra IV while a prince ruling Cyprus; no other Ptolemaic king married his sister before ascending the throne. Christopher J. Bennett suggested that Ptolemy IX's marriage to Cleopatra IV breached important rules of the dynasty: incest was not part of Greek culture and Ptolemaic brother-sister marriages were justified by the divinity of the king; a prince marrying his sister was an act of claiming divinity enjoyed only by the king, and any children born to a prince and his sister before his ascension were likely to be considered illegitimate by the royal family.
- Ptolemy XI, son of Ptolemy X, was among the princes captured by Mithridates VI and escaped, but it is known that Mithridates still had two Egyptian princes in his hands. Ptolemy XII and his brother Ptolemy of Cyprus were in Syria before being called to Egypt following Ptolemy XI's death; according to Whitehorne, this could be explained with them being the two children of Cleopatra Selene who made it to Syria from Pontus when Mithridates' son in law Tigranes II conquered it. But Whitehorne then noted that the tradition of Ptolemy XII's illegitimacy is mentioned by contemporary authors and that Cleopatra Selene confirmed it when she tried to oust Ptolemy XII from Egypt in the 70s BC and replace him with one of her legitimate children.
- Walter Gustav Albrecht Otto and Hermann Bengtson also argued that Ptolemy XII and his brother were the two children of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra Selene mentioned by Justin; they explained the illegitimacy claims as a tool exploited by influential Romans who were hoping to benefit from Ptolemy XI's will which allegedly bequeathed Egypt to Rome.
- Cassius Dio mentioned a certain "Seleucus" who appeared in 58 BC as a husband of Berenice IV whom she had killed, while Strabo mentioned that the Syrian husband had the epithet "Kybiosaktes" ("salt-fish dealer") and pretended to be of Seleucid lineage before being killed by the queen. Thus, Bellinger named Berenice IV's short-lived husband Seleucus Kybiosaktes. Eusebius, who took the information from Porphyry, wrote that Antiochus X himself asked for Berenice's hand but died of a sudden illness, and he is suspected to be the same as Kybiosaktes by Edwyn Bevan. The parallels between the accounts of Cassius Dio and Strabo suggest that those historians were writing about the same person, and modern scholarship has come to identify Cleopatra Selene's unnamed son with Seleucus Kybiosaktes but this remain a theory.
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