The first modern biography of one of the most fascinating, and unjustly neglected, female rulers of the ancient world: Cleopatra Selene. Princess, prisoner, African queen – and surviving daughter of Cleopatra VII. In 1895, archaeologists excavating a villa at Boscoreale, outside Pompeii, uncovered a spectacular hoard of high-quality Roman silverware.
In the centre of one especially fine gilded dish was a bust of a female figure with thick curly hair, deep-set eyes, a slightly hooked nose and a strong jaw, sporting an elephant’s scalp headdress. Modern scholars believe it likely that she represents Cleopatra Selene, one of three children born to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and the Roman triumvir Mark Antony. Using the Boscoreale discovery as her starting-point, Jane Draycott recreates the life and times of a remarkable woman – the sole member of the Ptolemaic dynasty to survive following her parents’ defeat at the Battle of Actium.
Unlike her siblings, who were either executed as threat to Rome’s new ruler, Augustus, or simply forgotten, Cleopatra Selene not only survived but prospered. Brought up in the household of Octavia the Younger, Augustus’ sister, she married a north African prince, Juba II of Numidia, and became co-ruler with him of the Roman client kingdom of Mauretania. Cleopatra Selene was a princess who became a prisoner; a prisoner who became a queen; an Egyptian who became Roman; and a woman who became a powerful ruler in her own right at a time when most women were marginalised.
Her life shines new and revelatory light on Roman politics, society and culture in the early years of the Empire, on Roman perceptions of Egypt, and on the relationship between Rome and one of its most significant allied kingdoms.