Cleopatra Selene (c. 130–69 BCE)

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Cleopatra Selene (c. 130–69 bce)

Queen of Egypt and Syria. Born around 130 bce; died in 69 bce; youngest daughter of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and Cleopatra III Euergetis (c. 155–101 bce) of Egypt; sister of Cleopatra IV (c. 135–112 bce) and Cleopatra Tryphaena (d. after 112 bce); married Ptolemy IX Philometor Soter II, in 115 bce (divorced 107 bce); married Antiochus VIII Grypus, 103 bce (killed 96 bce); married Antiochus IX Cyzicenus, in 96 bce (killed 95 bce); married Antiochus X Eusebes Philopator; children: (first marriage) probably two sons, possibly Cleopatra Berenice III ; (third marriage) two sons, including Antiochus XIII Asiaticus.

Cleopatra Selene was the youngest daughter of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and Cleopatra III Euergetis of Egypt, and she was the sister of Cleopatra IV . Selene's sister was married to their brother Ptolemy IX Philometor Soter II until their mother decided to limit the influence of Cleopatra IV by replacing her as Ptolemy's wife with Selene. Thus, Selene married her brother Ptolemy IX in 115 bce and the marriage lasted until 107, when their mother Cleopatra III finally ousted Ptolemy IX from Egypt in favor of his younger brother, Ptolemy X. From his base on Cyprus, Ptolemy IX thereafter began to make common cause with the Seleucid Antiochus IX Cyzicenus in his wars against the Jews of Palestine and Cyzicenus' royal rival for the Seleucid kingdom, Antiochus VIII Grypus. By 103, Ptolemy IX's military success in these conflicts was such that Cleopatra III feared his imminent return to Egypt; to forestall that eventuality, she weighed in heavily on the side of Antiochus VIII—securing his allegiance through a marriage to Cleopatra Selene.

While she probably had two sons with Ptolemy IX before his exile, Cleopatra Selene had no children with Antiochus VIII though they remained married until 96, when he was assassinated by Heracleon, an overly ambitious military aide. This murder caused Cleopatra Selene to abandon her previous Seleucid commitments in order to marry her former enemy, Antiochus IX. This union lasted only about a year, for in 95 Seleucus VI, the son and heir of Antiochus VIII and Cleopatra Tryphaena (sister of Selene), seeking his father's royal status, defeated Antiochus IX in battle. Immediately thereafter, Cleopatra Selene's third husband was either executed or committed suicide.

Into this picture (made even more complicated by the intrigues of Cleopatra Selene's exhusband Ptolemy IX) came Antiochus X Eusebes Philopator—another son of Antiochus VIII and Cleopatra Tryphaena. To enhance his claim, Antiochus X married Cleopatra Selene, his much older aunt-stepmother. Despite the difference in their ages, Cleopatra Selene had two sons with Antiochus X, although we know the name of only one: Antiochus XIII Asiaticus. With Cleopatra Selene's support, Antiochus X routed Seleucus VI, after which he was forced to do battle with other dynastic claimants. These were the least of his worries, however, because in 89 Antiochus X was forced on the defensive in the east by an invasion of the Parthian king, Mithradates II. Not up to the challenge, Antiochus X died a victim of Parthian arms in 88.

After this death of her fourth husband, Cleopatra Selene then retreated to the coastal fortress of Ptolemais and sanctuary so that she could foster the royal claims of her young sons by Antiochus X. Amid the general chaos into which the Seleucid kingdom was swept, Selene bided her time. However, her time never came, for in 75 the Roman Senate (without whose help, Selene's sons had little chance against their innumerable rivals) refused to back the royal claims of her children. Antiochus XIII would eventually rule Syria between 69 and 64 at the whim of the Roman general Lucullus, but when Pompey, Lucullus' replacement in the east, rearranged Seleucid affairs to his liking, he decided to dethrone Cleopatra Selene's son in favor of converting Syria into a Roman province.

Regardless, by this time Cleopatra Selene was dead. The king of Armenia, Tigranes, taking advantage of the region's chaos, had swept down upon Palestine and captured the fortress of Ptolemais in 69. Along with the city, Tigranes had taken Cleopatra Selene. Although his success in this area was short-lived, when Tigranes returned eastward he deported Selene to the city of Seleucia on the Tigris River, where he shortly afterwards had her executed.

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

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Cleopatra Selene (c. 130–69 BCE)

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