Ptolemy of Mauretania
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Bust of Ptolemy of Mauretania, c. 30–40, Louvre
|King of Mauretania|
|Reign||20–40 (20 years)|
|Successor||None (Kingdom annexed by Rome)|
|Born||13 x 9 BC|
|Died||40 AD (age 49–53)|
|Issue||Drusilla, Queen of Emesa|
|House||Ptolemaic dynasty (female line)|
|Mother||Cleopatra Selene II of Egypt|
Ptolemy of Mauretania (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος, Ptolemaîos; Latin: Ptolemaeus; 13 x 9 BC–AD 40) was the last Roman client king and ruler of Mauretania for Rome. He was a member of the Berber Massyles tribe of Numidia; via his mother Cleopatra Selene II, he was also a member of Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty.
Ptolemy was the son of King Juba II and Queen Cleopatra Selene II of Mauretania. His birth date is not certainly known, but must have occurred before his mother's death, which has been estimated to have taken place in 5 BC. He had a sister (possibly younger) who is evidenced by an Athenian inscription, but her name has not been preserved. She may have been called Drusilla of Mauretania.
His father Juba II was the son of King Juba I of Numidia, who was descended from the Berbers of North Africa and was an ally to the Roman Triumvir Pompey. His mother Cleopatra Selene II was the daughter of the Ptolemaic Greek Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and the Roman Triumvir Mark Antony. Ptolemy was of Berber, Greek and Roman ancestry. Ptolemy and his sister were the only known children of Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II to reach maturity and were among the younger grandchildren to Mark Antony. Through his maternal grandfather, Ptolemy was distantly related to Julius Caesar and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Ptolemy was a first cousin to Germanicus and the Roman Emperor Claudius and a second cousin to the Emperor Caligula, the Empress Agrippina the Younger, the Empress Valeria Messalina and the Emperor Nero.
Ptolemy was most probably born in Caesaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Mauretania (modern Cherchell, Algeria) in the Roman Empire. He was named in honor of his mother's ancestors, in particular the Ptolemaic dynasty. He was also named in honor of the memory of Cleopatra VII, the birthplace of his mother and the birthplace of her relatives. In choosing her son's name, Cleopatra Selene II created a distinct Greek-Egyptian tone and emphasized her role as the monarch who would continue the Ptolemaic dynasty. She by-passed the ancestral names of her husband. By naming her son Ptolemy instead of a Berber ancestral name, she offers an example rare in ancient history, especially in the case of a son who is the primary male heir, of reaching into the mother's family instead of the father's for a name. This emphasized the idea that his mother was the heiress of the Ptolemies and the leader of a Ptolemaic government in exile.
Through his parents, Ptolemy had Roman citizenship and they sent him to Rome to be educated. His mother likely died in 5 BC and was placed in the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania, built by his parents. In Rome, Ptolemy received a good Roman education. He was part of the remarkable court of his maternal aunt Antonia Minor, an influential aristocrat who presided over a circle of various princes and princesses which assisted in the political preservation of the Roman Empire's borders and affairs of the client states. Antonia Minor, the youngest daughter of Mark Antony and the youngest niece of Emperor Augustus, was a half-sister of Ptolemy's late mother, also a daughter of Mark Antony. Antonia Minor's mother was Octavia Minor, Mark Antony's fourth wife and the second sister of Octavian (later Augustus). Ptolemy lived in Rome until the age of 21, when he returned to the court of his aging father in Mauretania.
When Ptolemy returned to Mauretania, Juba II made Ptolemy his co-ruler and successor. Coinage has survived from Juba II's co-rule with his son. On coinage, on one side there is a central bust of Juba II with his title in Latin ‘King Juba’. On the other side there is a central bust of Ptolemy and the inscription stating in Latin ‘King Ptolemy son of Juba’. Juba II died in 23 and was placed alongside Cleopatra Selene II in the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania. Then Ptolemy became the sole ruler of Mauretania.
During his co-rule with Juba II, and into his sole rule, Ptolemy, like his father, appeared to be a patron of art, learning, literature and sports. In Athens, Greece, statues were erected to Juba II and Ptolemy in a gymnasium in Athens, and a statue was erected in Ptolemy's honor in reference to his taste in literature. Ptolemy dedicated statues of himself on the Acropolis. The Athenians honored Ptolemy and his family with inscriptions dedicated to them, and this reveals that the Athenians had respect towards the Roman Client Monarchs and their families which was common in the 1st century.
In the year 17, the local Berber tribes, the Numidian Tacfarinas and Garamantes, started to revolt against the Kingdom of Mauretania and Rome. The war had ravaged Africa and Berber forces included former slaves from Ptolemy's household who had joined in the revolt. Ptolemy through his military campaigns was unsuccessful in ending the Berber revolt. The war reached the point where Ptolemy summoned the Roman governor of Africa, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, and his army to assist Ptolemy in ending the revolt. The war finally ended in 24. Although Ptolemy's army and the Romans won, both parties suffered considerable losses of infantry and cavalry.
The Roman Senate, impressed by Ptolemy's loyal conduct, had sent a Roman senator to visit Ptolemy. The Roman senator recognized Ptolemy's loyal conduct and awarded him an ivory scepter, an embroidered triumphal robe, and the senator greeted Ptolemy as king, ally, and friend. This recognition was a tradition which recognized and rewarded the allies of Rome.
Ptolemy, through his military campaigns, had proven his capability and loyalty as an ally and Client King to Rome. He was a popular monarch with the Berbers and had travelled extensively throughout the Roman Empire, including Alexandria, Egypt and Ostia, Italy.
In Caesaria, prayers were offered for the health of Ptolemy at the Temple of Saturn frugifer dues. Mauretania was a region that was abundant in agriculture and a god considered equivalent to Saturn was the god of agriculture. This cult was an important one in the kingdom. A temple and a sanctuary were dedicated to Saturn in Caesaria by 30 and, throughout Mauretania, various temples were dedicated to Saturn.
Ptolemy's parents descended from backgrounds that had strong endemic traditions in claiming their descent from Hercules (see Heracleidae). His mother originated from Egypt where there were various imperial cults dedicated to the Pharaohs and their relatives, and there is a possibility that his father's Royal Numidian ancestors may have had imperial cults dedicated to them.
A surviving inscription in Mauretania hints that either Juba II or Ptolemy established an imperial cult honoring Hiempsal II, a previous Numidian King and paternal grandfather of Juba II. According to inscription evidence, Ptolemy may have established a Royal Mauretanian cult honoring himself and his late parents (see Berber mythology). One inscription is dedicated to his genius and another inscription expressed wishes for his good health.
Evidence suggesting that Ptolemy could have deified Juba II after his death is from the writings of the Christian author of the 3rd century Marcus Minucius Felix. In Felix's Octavius, the writer records a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan from Cirta. This dialogue was part of a Christian argument that divinity is impossible for mortals. Felix lists humans who were said to have become divine: Saturn, Jupiter, Romulus and Juba. Further literary evidence, suggesting the deification of Juba II by Ptolemy, is from the brief euhemerist exercise entitled On the Vanity of Idols by the 3rd-century Christian saint Cyprian. In his exercise in deflating the gods, Cyprian observed and stated that the Mauretanians were manifestly worshiping their kings and did not conceal their name by any disguise. According to the surviving evidence there is a strong probability that Juba II and Ptolemy were deified by the Berbers after their deaths.
Coinage from Ptolemy's sole reign is very different from those during the time Ptolemy co-ruled with Juba II. His royal title on coinage is in Latin ‘King Ptolemy’ and there is no surviving coinage that shows his royal title in Greek. On his coinage there is no Ancient Egyptian imagery. The coinage from his sole reign displays a variety of themes. Ptolemy personified himself as an elephant on coins. Elephant personification is an ancient coinage tradition in which his late parents did when they ruled Mauretania. The elephant has symbolic functions: an icon representing Africa and an iconic monetary characteristic from the Hellenistic period which displays influence and power. Another animal Ptolemy uses on coins is a lion leaping, which is a symbol of animal kingship and is another symbol representing Africa.
Other coins display Roman themes. A rare revealing gold coin, dated from the year 39, celebrates Ptolemy's ascent, his rule, and his loyalty to Rome. On one side of the coin, there is a central bust of Juba II and is inscribed in Latin ‘King Juba son of Juba’. Juba II is personified like a Greek Egyptian pharaoh from the Ptolemaic dynasty. The other side of the coin is an eagle with its wings displayed on a thunderbolt, and Ptolemy's initials are inscribed in Latin. Through his father's central bust and inscription, Ptolemy is celebrating and showing the continuation of his family and rule, while honoring his paternal ancestry. The personification of his father as a Ptolemaic Pharaoh, Ptolemy is celebrating his Greek Egyptian descent and possibly his links to Alexander the Great. Ptolemy through the eagle is celebrating the Roman Peace, honoring the rule of the Roman Empire, while he is showing his allegiance and loyalty to Ancient Rome. Another coin, dating from the year 40, celebrates his senatorial decree. The coin shows on one side, a curule chair upon which is a wreath and a scepter leaning against it. On the other side of the coin, Ptolemy is wearing a fillet on his head.
Ptolemy seemed to have had expensive tastes and enjoyed luxury items. He owned a custom-made citrus wood wine table. Mauretania had many citrus trees and produced many citrus wood tables, which were frequently sought out by aristocrats and monarchs.
Ptolemy married a woman named Julia Urania, who came from obscure origins. She is only known through a funeral inscription found at Caesaria through her freedwoman Julia Bodina. Bodina ascribed Julia Urania as ‘Queen Julia Urania’. There is a possibility that Julia Urania was a member of the royal family of Emesa (modern Homs, Syria). Ptolemy married Julia Urania at an unknown date during the 1st century. She bore Ptolemy, in about 38, a daughter called Drusilla.
The Kingdom of Mauretania was one of the wealthiest Roman client kingdoms, and after 24 Ptolemy continued to reign without interruption. In late 40, Caligula invited Ptolemy to Rome and welcomed him with appropriate honours. Ptolemy was confirmed as king and an ally and friend of the empire, but he was assassinated by order of Caligula. Caligula's motivation is unclear. Ancient historians claim envy of Ptolemy's wealth or of a theatrical crowd's admiration of Ptolemy's purple cloak. Later historians have suggested other motivations. Some of these are inspired by Suetonius's claim about the purple cloak, while others are independent of the claims of the ancient historians, for example the idea that Ptolemy may have been implicated in a plot by Gaetulicus or Caligula wanted to exert greater control over Mauretania.
After Ptolemy's murder in Rome, his former household slave Aedemon, from outrage and out of loyalty to his former master, wanted to take revenge against Caligula and started the revolt of Mauretania with the Berbers against Rome. The Berber revolt was a violent one and the rebels were skilled fighters against the Roman Army. The Roman generals Gnaeus Hosidius Geta and Gaius Suetonius Paulinus were needed to end the revolt. Mauretania was divided into two provinces which were Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis.
Much prior to Ptolemy's death, Caligula had sent a man to him with a message stating: "Do nothing at all, neither good or bad, to the bearer." Claudius tried a Roman senator called Gaius Rabirius Postumus for treason who before tried unsuccessfully to recover money from Ptolemy.
In popular culture
Throughout Algeria and Morocco, statues have survived that belonged to Ptolemy. There is a nude statue of him, dated from the 1st century, which is on display at the Rabat Museum in Morocco. His sculpted images are of a youthful appearance and particularly those first portraits created during the reign of Juba II virtually show his relations to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. This is evident by the arrangement of the comma shaped locks over the forehead. There is a seven-inch fine bronze Roman imperial bust of Ptolemy about age 15 which Sotheby's auctioned in New York for $960,000 in 2004.
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- various art from antiquity for sale
- ancient library article on Ptolemy
- coinage article and biography on Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II
- article on Cleopatra Selene II, Queen of Mauretania