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Cleopatra II (c. 183–116 BCE)

Cleopatra II (c. 183–116 bce)

Co-ruler of Egypt (176–130 bce and 118–116 bce) and sole ruler of Upper Egypt (130–118 bce). Name variations: Cleopatra II Philometor or Philomater ("Mother-loving"). Born around 183 bce; died in 116 bce; daughter of Ptolemy V Epiphanes and Cleopatra I (c. 210–176 bce); sister of Ptolemy VI Philometor and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II; married brother Ptolemy VI Philometor, in 176 bce (died 145 bce); married brother Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, in 144 bce; children: (first marriage) Ptolemy Eupator; Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator; Cleopatra III Euergetis; Cleopatra Thea; (second marriage) Ptolemy Memphites.

The daughter of Ptolemy V Epiphanes and Cleopatra I , Cleopatra II had two brothers, Ptolemy VI Philometor and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II. She was probably the middle of the three siblings. Only six or seven when her mother died in 176 (her father died in 180), Cleopatra II was quickly married to her older brother, who was likely no older than ten at the time. This under-age marriage was arranged by Eulaeus (a eunuch) and Lenaeus (an ex-slave), two regents who, in lieu of anyone better situated, assumed their authority after Cleopatra I's death. Brother-sister marriages were common in ancient Egypt, and this one was quickly devised because the regents' lowly status and the monarchs' young ages called into jeopardy the stability of the Ptolemaic court and the peace of Egypt. Since the most compelling support of the new regime was its association with the popularity of Cleopatra I, it followed that a union of her daughter to her older son could have the potential to strengthen the dynasty's staying power. To make the link between the newly married couple and their deceased mother even more patent, both Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VI began to be designated as "Philometor," that is, "Mother-loving."

Although this policy seems to have won Egypt over to the regency of the two underage monarchs, the precariousness of the new arrangement encouraged the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (enthroned, 175) to invade Palestine in 171 to recover that region when Egypt was least able to defend it. This area had long been a bone of contention, having both been lost and won back by Antiochus IV's father, Antiochus III. Although Antiochus III had recovered Palestine in war (200), he endowered his daughter Cleopatra I with Palestine when he gave her in marriage to Ptolemy V, and the region reverted back to Ptolemaic control.

When Antiochus IV decided to exploit the weak reign of his nephew and niece to reclaim Palestine, he was opposed by Ptolemy VI (170). Declaring himself and his sister-wife Cleopatra II no longer subject to a regency (although he was still in his mid-teens), Ptolemy VI followed with an attack of his own on Palestine. This campaign, led as it was by an inexperienced general, was a disaster. Defeated by Antiochus IV, Ptolemy VI fled Palestine in such confusion that he did not even trust in his ability to return to Egypt. Rather, he headed for sanctuary on the sacred Aegean island of Samothrace—a destination he never reached, for the fleet of Antiochus captured him anyway. The military failure, all the more damaging because of Ptolemy VI's "cowardly" flight, led to a revolution in Alexandria where the population briefly replaced Ptolemy VI, both as king and as the husband of Cleopatra II, with their brother Ptolemy VIII.

After the capture of Ptolemy VI, Antiochus seems to have had ambitions on the Egyptian throne for himself until he learned of the accession of Ptolemy VIII. Thereafter, he invaded Egypt to return his recent antagonist, Ptolemy VI, to the throne. Initially successful, Antiochus left Egypt in 169 with Ptolemy VI reunited with Cleopatra and reinstalled on the throne, and with a strong Seleucid garrison in Pelusium (the fortress that defended Egypt's frontier from Syria). For Antiochus, there was influence to be gained through a manipulation of the rivalry engulfing the Ptolemaic house, that is, until more calculating heads held sway in Alexandria. Knowing that they needed a foreign champion to check Antiochus IV's ambitions in Egypt, Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II sent an embassy to Rome to request protection from Seleucid Syria. Responding favorably to the request, in 168 the Romans sent an embassy under Gaius Popillius Laenus to demand that the newly returned Antiochus IV leave Egypt for good. Knowing that the Romans had already soundly defeated his father, and also knowing that they had recently crushed the Macedonians in Europe under Perseus, Antiochus caved in to the Roman ambassador and left Egypt permanently. In the next year, his garrison on Cyprus was also expelled and that island was returned to its Ptolemaic masters. With the foreign threat eased, Rome then worked out a compromise intended to keep Syria out of Egypt's affairs: it was agreed that Egypt should be ruled by the trinity of siblings—Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra II, and Ptolemy VIII. This Roman action began a long association between Rome and the Ptolemies, which had the effect of establishing Rome's right to intercede in Egyptian affairs—a right that was to grow until Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire.

Cleopatra II was initially cited as a full equal of her husband in the original petition against Antiochus IV before the Roman Senate, and her status was confirmed in Egyptian documents shortly thereafter. This made Cleopatra II the first Ptolemaic queen to gain full political equality with a reigning king—actually, in this case, with two kings. Exactly why she became so established is a matter of conjecture, but most likely she had a talent for political affairs and was considered by all concerned as essential to the continued collaboration of Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII. In addition, Cleopatra II clearly was more popular among her subjects than either of her brothers, thus conjuring up images of her mother whose memory was a significant legitimizing factor behind this generation of Ptolemies.

The three monarchs collectively ruled all of Egypt's possessions until violence flared between Ptolemies VI and VIII in 164. This forced Ptolemy VI—never popular with the inhabitants of Alexandria after his early failures in Palestine—out of Egypt proper until Rome brought him back to Alexandria and Cleopatra. Realizing that the brothers would never rule in harmony, Rome arranged a division of Ptolemaic possessions, giving Egypt and Cyprus to the older brother and his wife, and Cyrene to the younger. Subsequently, in an effort to equalize their holdings, Ptolemy VIII invaded Cyprus where he was captured by Ptolemy VI (154). Under Roman pressure, however, Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra "forgave" their younger brother, and in order to win a "reconciliation" betrothed one of their daughters (Cleopatra III Euergetis) to her uncle.

Back in Egypt proper, with all opposition to their rule overcome, Cleopatra and Ptolemy VI ruled peacefully and apparently with competence as joint monarchs until Ptolemy VI's death in 145. His death occurred as a result of Egypt's reinvolvement in the affairs of the Seleucid Empire. Hoping to improve their standing through a deft manipulation of marriage politics, Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra initially betrothed their daughter Cleopatra Thea to a pretender, Alexander Balas, who had seized the Syrian throne from its king Demetrius I (150). When that marriage proved to be politically barren, the same daughter was forced to abandon her first husband to marry Demetrius II (145), the son of Demetrius I and thus the enemy of Alexander Balas. The latter took both personal and political affront at the Egyptian change of heart. Although Balas was unsuccessful in a military campaign fought in Palestine against the allied forces of Ptolemy VI and Demetrius II, Ptolemy VI died during this war as a result of a wound sustained when he fell from his horse.

Before his death, Ptolemy VI fathered four children with Cleopatra II: Ptolemy Eupator, Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator, Cleopatra III Euergetis, and Cleopatra Thea. The first of these predeceased both of his parents. Of the remaining children, Cleopatra III was promised to Ptolemy VIII (154), Cleopatra Thea became enmeshed in Seleucid politics, and Ptolemy Neos Philopator was established as the heir to his parents' joint throne.

As a result of Ptolemy VI's demise, Cleopatra II served briefly as regent for Ptolemy Neos Philopator, the younger of her sons. However, this arrangement did not last for long because Ptolemy VIII returned to Egypt to reclaim it as his own. Although Cleopatra II (with the help of a band of Jewish mercenaries) attempted to hold out against her brother, the Greek citizens of Alexandria weighed in decisively behind the return of Ptolemy VIII. As a result, Cleopatra II married her brother Ptolemy VIII (144), and the life of her younger son with Ptolemy VI was forfeited. Ptolemy VIII arranged for his murder.

Life at the Ptolemaic court became even more surreal. Not long after his return to Egypt and his marriage to Cleopatra II, Ptolemy VIII married the long-promised Cleopatra III (142), the daughter of his wife. Now married simultaneously to both mother and daughter, Ptolemy VIII was thus able to check Cleopatra II's status at court, being unable to do away with her completely. Although he certainly preferred the company of Cleopatra III, Ptolemy VIII nevertheless had a son (Ptolemy Memphites) with Cleopatra II. (In addition, the number of Ptolemy VIII's mistresses were legion, with their offspring granted positions of authority.) Eventually, tensions at court erupted into civil war (132), and Ptolemy VIII was driven temporarily to Cyprus with Cleopatra III and his children. Not the type to miss an opportunity for vengeance, while in exile Ptolemy VIII sent as a birthday gift to Cleopatra II the dismembered body of their son, Ptolemy Memphites.

Loathe to reconcile with Ptolemy VIII, Cleopatra II was forced to defend Egypt against his efforts to return. He finally engineered a successful return in 127, driving her to Syria and the shelter of her son-in-law, King Demetrius II. Cleopatra II, however, managed to abscond with most of the Egyptian treasury. After Demetrius' domestic fortunes flagged, Cleopatra II—not one to abandon the prerogatives of a royal life—made her peace with Ptolemy VIII and returned home to her husband and daughter (124). Since Cleopatra II had the Egyptian treasury in hand, and since important regions in Upper Egypt remained loyal to her alone even after Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III controlled Lower Egypt, Cleopatra II was made "welcome" by her brother and daughter. Thereafter, a balance reigned between the interests and factions of Cleopatra II and of Ptolemy VIII-Cleopatra III. The greatest achievement of this period came in the Edict of 118 (collectively ordained by Ptolemy and both Cleopatras), which constituted a serious reform of Egyptian law, which had been long neglected amid the various plots and gambits of the royal house.

Although Cleopatra II died in 116 exhausted by years of trials and tribulations, she had the satisfaction of outliving Ptolemy VIII by a few months.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California

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