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The Greco-Macedonian Cleopatra VII Philopator

Posted May 22nd, 2016 at 01:27 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga
Updated May 19th, 2018 at 08:51 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga

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Cleopatra as depicted in National Geographic

Cleopatra probably looked something like this picture, with hair probably Black, Brown or Auburn and eyes being coloured Brown or dark Blue, as was common in the Balkans and Anatolia since ancient times. She could have even had a lighter skin tone due to the very fair skinned Sogdians and Macedonians and the possibility that some of her ancestors from Upper Macedonia could have even been Molossians from Tymphaea.

Theories have been suggested that the revolts of Arsinoe and Ptolemy XIII could be indicative that Cleopatra VII was not seen as legitimate. Is there then, any reason to think that Cleopatra V Tryphaena was not the mother of Cleopatra VII? The inherent problem with this suggestion is that by that logic Ptolemy XII was also illegitimate because he was faced with native Egyptian revolts and an attempted usurpation by his daughter Berenice IV and Archelaos of Comana (a personal friend of Marcus Antonius). It took at least two legions, commanded by Aulus Gabinius, as well as bribes to the entirety of the Triumvirate faction to put him back into power. When his daughter Berenice IV was defeated Ptolemy XII chose Cleopatra VII as her replacement and heir. Caesar and Pompey were asked to be the executors of his will. The fact that Cleopatra VII was named as successor and Roman support was required to put her back into power is no different from Ptolemy XII's own reign.

There is also the fact that the Egyptian throne had been contested by members of the family since the reign of Ptolemy I and the expulsion of his son Ptolemy Keraunos. Incestuous marriage was conceived as a form of increasing the legitimacy of the two occupants of the throne. When Ptolemy IV married his sister Arsinoe III they served as co-rulers and their son Ptolemy V was able to inherit the throne as an infant. Ptolemy V however chose to marry Cleopatra Syra (a Seleucid princess). He was succeeded by his son Ptolemy VI (who married his sister Cleopatra II) and after this one's death his own son Ptolemy VII Neos Pholpator and his brother Ptolemy VIII Physcon fought over the throne (prompted by the unexpected death of Ptolemy VI's oldest son Ptolemy Eupator). Ptolemy VIII needed to increase his legitimacy so he chose to marry his sister and previous queen Cleopatra II and then when she died he married his niece and step daughter Cleopatra III. His other siblings also tried to take the throne after his death but eventually the throne passed to his son Ptolemy IX (son of his niece Cleopatra III who herself reigned after the death of her uncle husband) who married his own sister Berenice III and ever since then the incest tradition remained.

Cleopatra VII being required to marry her brother and then have Caesar kill him so that she could marry her other brother and remove legitimacy from her sister Arsinoe, who could not marry either brother now, is not indicative of any illegitimacy on the part of Cleopatra VII. We can also see that ever since Ptolemy VIII incest was practiced continually. The one case we know of in which a king had a mistress, Ptolemy IV, the mistress was made irrelevant and could not have made her children legitimate. In fact the mistress was used against his son Ptolemy V, who was claimed to be illegitimate as a political slander.

Theory A: Now we do not know for certain if Cleopatra V was actually the sister of Ptolemy XII by his father Ptolemy IX Lathyros or a cousin by his uncle Ptolemy X Alexandros and his sister Berenice III (being Ptolemy X's niece). But if Ptolemy XII did indeed have another wife after Cleopatra V and the reason we do not know about her is because of an attempt at memoria damnatio then Cleoptra VII being the daughter of Cleopatra V is still supported. If we have the memory of Cleopatra V preserved before and during the reign of Cleopatra VII then it suggests that Cleopatra VII erased the memory of the other woman. Which itself suggests that Arsinoe and her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV were the children of the other woman, assuming she exists of course. The idea that Cleopatra VII would have been less legitimate than her siblings is therefore shattered, even if we accept that Ptolemy XII had another wife.

Theory B: Cleopatra VII was an incest baby whether her mother was Cleopatra V or not. Assuming for a second that Ptolemy had another wife then chances are that this wife would have been his own family member and likely also called Cleopatra, because all sources state clearly that Ptolemy XII was married to a member of his dynasty called Cleopatra. Whether these sources are written histories or public monuments. If they conflated the two then the reason is likely because both women were called Cleopatra. Though that is assuming that there even was a Cleopatra VI and whether she was a wife or daughter of Ptolemy XII. It seems extremely possible that Cleopatra VII was actually incorrectly labelled by historians and that she should have been labelled Cleopatra VI. Though the existence of a Cleopatra VI is based entirely on the idea that Cleopatra V died around the time of Cleopatra's birth (meaning that Cleopatra VII was even likelier to be her daughter) or that Cleopatra V had another daughter called Cleopatra. Or even as I have suggested Ptolemy XII married another woman called Cleopatra. Either way Cleopatra VII would have been legitimate by Ptolemaic standards and she would not have been anything other than a Greco-Macedonian.

Here are family trees for Ptolemaios III Euergetes and Berenike II. Cleopatra's ancestors prior to the incest only policy.

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Ptolemy III

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Berenice II

While certainly my method is flawed because it doesn't take into account which traits were actually passed down to the offspring, it does give us a pretty good idea of what was happening within these two families.

As can be seen, where as Ptolemy III had consistently Macedonian, Eordaean and Thessalian ancestry (with Macedonian likely being dominant), Berenike II had a fairly diverse ancestry. By the time she was born Macedonian characteristics would have been dominant with her Sogdian blood being suppressed. Whether Spitamenes' family contained any Persians is almost impossible to say. Their children Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III (who were also married to each other) would have been mostly Macedonian, as would their own children Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I (who were also married to each other), and then their children (Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VIII, Cleopatra II and granddaughter Cleopatra III) and so on for another four generations. This much inbreeding would have increased the likelihood of the same traits being repeated within further offspring. Though we can't know for sure about the phenotype or what these people looked like exactly. It is quite surprising that someone as inbred as Cleopatra was not physically or mentally handicapped. She also seems to be descended from all of the main Diadochi (except Perdikkas and Krateros).
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  1. Old Comment
    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar
    I had to rework some of this. I also plan on addressing who Cleopatra's mother was, as per Stanley M. Burstein's "The Reign of Cleopatra". In a separate blog post of course.
    Posted May 19th, 2018 at 09:07 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga Lord Oda Nobunaga is online now
    Updated May 19th, 2018 at 11:00 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga
  2. Old Comment
    RomaVictrix's Avatar
    Excellent work, Oda. You're doing Zeus's work here.
    Posted May 20th, 2018 at 11:01 AM by RomaVictrix RomaVictrix is offline
 

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