Pompeia Plotina – d.121/122 – Rome

Ancient Rome


Pompeia Plotina Claudia Phoebe Piso – or just Pompeia Plotina for short – was an influential and intellectual Roman Empress.

Raised in Escacena del Campo in the romanised Hispania province, Plotina was the daughter of Lucius Pompeius Plotia, a politician. In around 91 she married Trajan, a soldier who had recently been elected a roman Consul.


The couple never had any children of their own, but were adoptive parents to the future emperor Hadrian and his sister, who had become orphaned at a young age. Trajan became emperor in 98, and in 100 he gave his wife the title of Augusta (Empress), which she did not accept until five years later.

Plotina was well read, and took a deep interest in philosophy – particularlyBust_of_Pompeia_Plotina,_from_the_Baths_of_Nepture_at_Ostia,_110-120_AD,_Palazzo_Massimo_alle_Terme,_Rome_(12453374733) the Epicurean school, which promoted modesty and moderation as well as gaining knowledge of the world. The empress and her husband became known for their simplicity, their philanthropy and their kindness.

Rather than concerning herself with increasing her power as so many empresses before her, Plotina used her influence to help others. She worked for fairer taxation, better access to education and poverty relief. She became beloved by Roman society and Trajan became known as one of the ‘five good emperors’.

When Plotina died, she was deified (made a goddess) and Hadrian built a temple in her honour at Nîmes, in Provence.


A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women – Marjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman

The Women of Pliny’s Letters – Jo-Ann Shelton

Women in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook – Bonnie MacLachlan

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Plotina – sestertius – RIC 0740” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Bust of Pompeia Plotina, from the Baths of Nepture at Ostia, 110-120 AD, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome (12453374733)” by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany – Bust of Pompeia Plotina, from the Baths of Nepture at Ostia, 110-120 AD, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons




Pamphile – 1st Century – Epidaurus, Greece

Ancient Greece


Pamphile (or Pamphila) of Epidaurus was a historian during the first century.

Her family was probably Egyptian in origin, though she was brought up in Epidaurus, Greece. She married a man called Sorteridas who was very cultured and filled their home with interesting and intelligent visitors.

Pamphile was inspired by the many interesting people she met and the fascinating stories they had to share, so she began to write everything down. According to Photius, Pamphile wrote down everything she heard from the conversations taking place in her home, as well as things she learnt for herself in private study.

First page of an early print edition of the Suda

First page of an early print edition of the Suda

Her main work was known was the Historical Commentaries, which comprised of 33 books telling the history of Greece. The most interesting aspect of Pamphile’s work is the way she presented her histories. Rather than arranging the information by order of subject or chronology, Pamphile laid down each anecdote or fact just as she had heard it, or as it had come to her attention.

This was deliberate, as she felt that the variety of information would make the work more enjoyable to read.

Pamphile’s Historical Commentaries was a much admired text, praised not only by Photius, but historians Aulus Gellius and Diogenes Laërtius. The Suda describes Pamphile as a ‘wise woman’ and notes that she authored further texts On DisputesOn Sex and many others.



The Suda is a huge 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world. It contains 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often derived from medieval Christian compilers.



Suda Online: http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin/search.pl

Bibliotheca Cod. 175 – Photius

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Suda“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Amanitore – Reigned c.1 BCE – c.12 CE – Meroe, Kingdom of Kush

Kingdom of Kush


CW: Suicide

Following in the steps of Shanakdakhete, Amanirenas and Amanishakheto, Amanitore was a Nubian Kandake (queen) of the ancient Kushitic Kingdom of Meroë (Sudan and Ethiopia).

The Kingdom of Kush bore many resemblances to Egypt, including language, religion and pyramid building. It was an immensely wealthy state in Amanitore’s time, with successful trade routes throughout the classical world.

Kandake Amanitore is generally accepted as co-regent with Quore (king) Natakamani, who may have been either her husband or son. Kandake was a prominent position, as mothers could both create their sons as rulers or depose them. A Kandake could even order the king to commit suicide in order to end his own rule.

Evidence shows that Amanitore was a prolific builder, one of the last Kushite rulers to focus on construction. She restored the temples of Amun at Meroë and Napata following its destruction by the Romans and built two further temples at Naqa and Amara. As well as taking care of the spiritual health of her people, the queen also built reservoirs to retain water for her kingdom during drought.

Amanitore was buried in her own pyramid (rather than sharing with her husband or son) in Meroë.


Dictionary of African Biography, Volumes 1-6 – Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, Mr. Steven J. Niven

Nubian Pharaohs and Meroitic Kings: The Kingdom of Kush – Necia Desiree Harkless

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Aegyptisches Museum Berlin InvNr7261 20080313 Barkenuntersatz Natakamani Amanitore aus Wad Ban Naga 1” by Sven-Steffen Arndt – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Amanitore” by The original uploader was Lassi at Hungarian Wikipedia – Transferred from hu.wikipedia to Commons by Istvánka using CommonsHelper.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Amanitore pyramid” by The original uploader was Lassi at Hungarian Wikipedia – Transferred from hu.wikipedia to Commons by Istvánka using CommonsHelper.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons



Musa – Reigned 2 BCE – 4 CE – Parthia

Ancient Iran


A woman of humble beginnings who rose to queen, we do not know anything about Musa’s life before she was presented as a gift to King Phraates IV of Parthia (modern day Iran) by Emperor Augustus. It is likely that she was an Italian slave girl.


Parthia (orange) shown in relation to the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic Empire, c. 200 BCE

Phraates grew very fond of Musa and she became his favourite concubine. He even appointed their son, Phraates V (or Phraataces – ‘little Phraates’) as heir and successor, despite having legitimate sons.

Seeing an opportunity, Musa persuaded Phraates to send his four legitimate sons to Rome for their education, as pledges of his fidelity to the Empire. With them out of the picture, there was no one to challenge her own son’s path to the throne.

The story goes that Musa and Phraataces then conspired against the king, poisoning him and taking the throne. They ruled together, and appear on Parthian coins as co-regents – Phraataces even gave his mother the title of Goddess.


Bust of Queen Musa from the National Museum of Iran

The historian Josephus wrote that Phraataces was in love with his mother and even married her, resulting in his being overthrown by the people of Parthia. We cannot say whether or not this is true and it seems very unlikely.


Antiquities of the Jews 18.1.4  Josephus

A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women Marjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman

ParthiaGeorge Rawlinson

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Parthian Queen Bust” by درفش کاویانی – Own work‏.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Rome-Seleucia-Parthia 200bc” by Talessman – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Consort Ban (班婕妤) – c. 48 BCE – 6 BCE – Chang’an, China

Ancient China, China


Consort Ban (also known as Ban Jieyu 婕妤 or Lady Ban) was the title of a woman who was a third-ranking wife to Emperor Chengdi in Han Dynasty China. We do not know her personal name.

She began palace life as a junior maid (similar to the later European position of lady-in-waiting), and became a concubine to the emperor, a more prominent position.

Consort Ban was admired as a great scholar who was able to recite beautifully from the Shi Jing (the Chinese classic poetry). She was also very demure, and famously refused to ride in a palanquin (a covered litter) with Chengdi as she did not want to distract him from matters of state.


Consort Ban declining to ride with Emperor Cheng on his palanquin. The painting is from the bottom panel of a Northern Wei screen.

However, her poetry and modesty were not enough to secure her position with the emperor. Though she bore him two sons, both of them died shortly after birth. As the Empress Xu, Chendi’s first wife, had not produced an heir either, his mother the Empress Dowager Wang Zhengjun asked him to take more concubines.

In around 19 BCE, the Emperor was visiting Princess Yang’a when he first saw her dancing girls, sisters Zhao Feiyan and Zhao Hede. He at once became infatuated with them and had the sisters brought back to his palace where he made them concubines.

Feiyan and Hede soon became Chengdi’s favourites, and he became less and less interested in Empress Xu and Consort Ban.

In 18 BCE the Zhou sisters accused both the empress and Consort Ban of witchcraft.

The empress was deposed from court and placed under house arrest, but Consort Ban took a stand. She made a speech before the emperor to plead her case, using citations from her studies of Confucius. The speech so impressed Chengdi that he permitted her to stay at court.

Not happy to remain in the palace which had now been taken over by the sisters who persecuted her, Consort Ban chose to become lady in waiting to the Empress Dowager instead. Another story tells of Consort Ban saving her brother Ban Zhi, father of the Chinese historian Ban Biao, from a charge of treason.

Two well-known Chinese poems are credited to Consort Ban and she was included in Liu Xiang’s Biography of Exemplary Women.


Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism – Kang-i Sun Chang, Haun Saussy, Charles Yim-tze Kwong

Autumn in the Han PalaceMa Zhiyuan

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Consort Ban and Emperor Cheng, Northern Wei painted screen” by Michael Sullivan’s The Arts of China (1999).

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons



Hortensia – fl. 42 BCE – Rome

Ancient Rome, Italy


Hortensia was celebrated in the final years of the Roman Republic for her oration (public speaking) and in particular an impassioned speech she gave before the three most important men of her generation.

Public oratory was central to the life of a Roman citizen. Careers were built and destroyed based on a politician’s ability to speak in public and persuade the people with eloquence and reason. Courts of law held rhetoric in high esteem, and having a lawyer who could speak well was often more important than evidence and justice.

Hortensia’s father, Quintus Hortensius, was a highly skilled orator, and rival to Cicero, the greatest speaker of the time. He ensured that his intelligent daughter received an education unusual for women at the time. A keen student, Hortensia read Greek and Latin, learning rhetoric by reading the speeches of great orators.

She likely married her second cousin, Quintus Servilius Caepio, who left her widowed in 67 BCE. The marriage produced a daughter, Servilia, and Caepio also adopted his nephew Marcus Junius Brutus – who became one of Julius Caesar’s assassins.

In 42 BCE, Rome was being managed under the uneasy triumvirate of Octavian, Marc Antony and Lepidus, who were at war with Caesar’s assassins. The campaign required almost all of Rome’s legions and was becoming very expensive. A tax was needed – and the three rulers decided that it should be levied against Rome’s most wealthy women.

The women, including Hortensia, were outraged. They had not caused the war, nor were they permitted to vote under Roman law. Many of them had lost husbands, brothers and sons in the fighting – and now they were being forced to pay for it, too!


Medieval woodcarving of Hortensia leading the women of Rome to the Sentate (source)

They chose Hortensia to plead their case, and a group of women marched to the senate to protest the tax. The historian Appian records Hortensia’s speech:

“You have already deprived us of our fathers, our sons, our husbands, our brothers on the pretext that they wronged you, but if, in addition, you take away our property you will reduce us to a condition unsuitable to our birth, our way of life and our female nature.

If we have done you any wrong, as you claim our husbands have, proscribe us as you do them. But if we women have not voted any of you public enemies, nor torn down your house, nor destroyed your army, nor led another against you, nor prevented you from obtaining offices and honours, why do we share in the punishments when we did not participate in the crimes?

Why should we pay taxes when we do not share in the offices, honours, military commands, nor in short the government for which you fight between yourselves with such harmful results? You say ‘because it is wartime’. When have there not been wars? When have taxes been imposed on women, whom nature has set apart from men? Our mothers once went beyond what is natural and made contributions during the war against the Carthaginians, when danger threatened your entire Empire and Rome itself. But then they contributed willingly, not from their landed property, their fields, their dowries, or their houses, without which it is impossible for free women to live, but only from their jewelry. 

Let war with the Celts or Parthians come, we will not be inferior to our mothers when it is a question of common safety. But for civil wars, may we never contribute nor aid you against each other.”

Angry and embarrassed at being told off by a group of women, Octavian, Antony and Lepidus tried to no avail to dismiss the women. Still, the crowd found in their favor. The very next day the number of women subject to tax reduced from 1400 to 400.


The Civil Wars , Book 4Appian

Institutio OratoriaQuintilius

On Wikipedia:

Livia Drusilla – 58 BCE – 29 CE – Rome

Ancient Rome

Mother of an empire…

LiviaDrusilla - Copy

The phrase ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ has rarely been truer than in the case of Livia Drusilla. An intimidatingly powerful woman in life and a goddess in death, she helped to lay the foundations of the Roman Empire.

Born the daughter of a wealthy citizen of the Claudii family, Livia was married to her first husband, Tiberius Claudius Nero, who was also her cousin, when she was fifteen. Her family was at the time embroiled in the civil war between the assassins of Julius Caesar and Caesar’s heir, Octavian – the Claudians were on the side of the assassins.

Bust of Livia circa 31 BCE

Bust of Livia circa 31 BCE

Her father committed suicide during the Battle of Philippi, but her husband continued to fight, now on the side of Marc Antony. Livia’s first son, Tiberius, was born a year into their marriage. When he was two years old, the family fled to Greece to escape the Triumvirate formed between Octavian, Antony and Lepidus.

Once peace was finally declared, Livia and her family returned to Rome where, at nineteen years old, she was introduced to Octavian. The young politician was twenty-five and married. Both his wife, Scribonia, and Livia were pregnant, but apparently nothing would stop him.

Octavian quickly divorced Scribonia and instructed Tiberius Claudius Nero to divorce Livia. Only three days after she had given birth to her second son, Drusus, Livia was married to the most powerful man in Rome.

Life with Augustus:

Despite unusual beginnings, it was a marriage that would last for 51 years. After Marc Antony’s defeat at Actium in 31 BCE, Octavian changed his title to Augustus and ruled as Emperor – with his wife as his most trusted advisor.

The couple styled themselves as role models for the ideal Roman household. They lived modestly despite their immense wealth, presenting themselves as humble and pious. Livia in particular dressed plainly, rarely wore jewelry and acted as a dutiful and faithful wife in all things, even making Augustus’ clothes herself.

In a world dominated by men, Livia’s role as equal to her husband was highly unusual. She was given control over her own finances, influenced Augustus’ policies and petitioned him on behalf of others. Everyone in Rome knew that the Emperor listened to his wife, and she soon commanded a great deal of power.

They had no children together, though Augustus’ first wife had given birth to a daughter, Julia. Livia did not hesitate in pushing her two sons forward into powerful roles. The younger Drusus became a general and married Augustus’ niece, Antonia Minor. Tiberius was married to Julia and later adopted by Augustus and named heir.

Contemporary sources portrayed Livia as a very proud and dignified woman 800px-Altes_Museum_-_Statue_der_vergöttlichten_Kaiserin_Liviawho was a worthy consort to the Emperor. Her poise is demonstrated in one particular incident which recorded that some naked men once crossed her path (goodness knows why they were naked) and her guards wanted to put them to death for indecency. Livia however saved their lives by claiming that as she was a chaste woman, the men’s bodies were no different to her than statues.

Other writers were not so kind. Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio both suggest that Livia’s greatest ambition was to place her sons in positions of power, and that she was ruthless in her tactics.

Rumors circulated that she murdered Marcellas, Augustus’ favorite nephew and heir by poison – also that she orchestrated the circumstances which led to Agrippa Posthumous, Augustus’ other adopted son, to being exiled and later killed.

Tacitus and Cassius Dio (both of whom were born many years after Livia lived and died) even go as far as to accuse Livia of having poisoned and killed Augustus himself.

Augustus died in 14 CE, leaving a third of his property to Livia and the rest to Tiberius.

Life with Tiberius:

Livia had an often troubled relationship with her eldest son, Tiberius. His reign seemed to get off to a positive start – he made speaking against his mother treason in 20 CE, and in 24 he gifted her an honorary theatre seat amongst the vestal virgins.

However, as Livia continued to exercise the same powers she had held under Augustus, Tiberius began to turn against her. A particular sore spot for him was the public opinion that he owed his throne to his mother.

Livia’s friend, Plancina was saved from execution by the empress after being accused of murdering Drusus’ son Germanicus. In 22 Livia commissioned a statue to Augustus in the centre of Rome and put her own name before her sons on the inscription. These examples and others have been used to perceive Livia as overbearing – when Tiberius retired to his summer home in Capri, historians infer that it was to get away from his mother.

When Livia died in 29 at the grand age of eighty-seven, her son did not come to her funeral, instead sending his grand-nephew Caligula to give the oration.

Achieving Divinity:

Livia was a direct ancestor of the three Emperors who followed Tiberius; she was great grandmother to Caligula, grandmother to Claudius and great-great-grandmother of Nero.


Tiberius vetoed all of the honours Livia had been granted by the Senate after her death and stopped her will from being carried out – perhaps a final ‘screw you’ from a bitter son.

It would be her grandson Claudius, thirteen years later who made sure that Livia became Diva Augusta, the Divine Augusta. A statue was erected to her in the Temple of Augustus and races were held in her honor.

In Fiction:


The popular historical fiction novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves is based on Tacitus’ writings and portrays Livia as a Machiavellian, scheming political mastermind.

The comic Distant Mirrors – August by Neil Gaiman features Livia.

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran has Livia as a character portrayed as a kind of wicked stepmother to the young Julia.

In the short story The King of Sacrifices by John Maddox Roberts Livia hires Decius Metellus to investigate the murder of one of Julia the Elder’s lovers.

Livia plays an important role in two Marcus Corvinus mysteries by David Wishart, Ovid (1995) and Germanicus (1997). She is mentioned posthumously in Sejanus (1998).

Livia is a central character in Luke Devenish‘s Empress of Rome novels.

In Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough, Livia is portrayed as a cunning and effective advisor to her husband, whom she loves passionately.

Films and TV:

In the 1976 BBC television series based on the book I, Claudius Livia was played by Siân Phillips who won a BAFTA for her portrayal:

In the 1968 ITV television series The Caesars, Livia was played by Sonia Dresdel.

Television series Xena: Warrior Princess presents another heavily-fictionalized version of Livia (played by Adrienne Wilkinson) as Xena’s daughter in season 5.

A 2007 episode of the TV series Rome features Augustus’ first meeting with Livia played by Alice Henley.

The television series, The Sopranos, originally dealt with the relationship between the scheming mother, named Livia, and her crime boss son, Tony Soprano.


I, Livia: The Counterfeit Criminal: the Story of a Much Maligned Woman – Mary Mudd

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce E. Salisbury

Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome – Anthony Barrett

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Altes Museum – Statue der vergöttlichten Kaiserin Livia” by Anonymous – Ophelia2.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Livia Drusilla Louvre Ma1233” by Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2007.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Livia Drusila – Paestum (M.A.N. Madrid) 03” by Luis García.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Salome Alexandra – 141 – 67 BCE – Judea

Kingdom of Judea

She defied the odds to become the most powerful woman in Judea’s history.


Salome Alexandra (or Alexandra of Jerusalem) was one of the only women to rule over ancient Kingdom of Judea and was the last to die as the ruler of an independent Judea.

The Talmud describes Alexandra’s reign as a golden age of peace and prosperity, and she orchestrated a number of religious reforms that shaped the Judaism of today.

Salome Alexandra married King Alexander Jannaeus in a political match when she was twenty-nine and he in his mid-teens. It was not a good match.

Alexander Jannaeus was, by many accounts, one of the cruellest and most bloodthirsty kings in Judean history. Determined to expand his Kingdom, the young monarch instigated a reckless campaign of relentless warfare on neighbouring states, resulting in devastating losses.

His brutality was not exclusive to those outside of his Kingdom – during his reign Jannaeus killed more than 50,000 of his own people. When he finally died in 76 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus was hated far and wide. Perhaps his only good decision was to name his wife, Salome Alexandra, as his successor, rather than one of their sons.

It is suggested that while Alexander was away on his military campaigns, Salome Alexandra must have acted as regent for Judea. This may be the reason that her husband thought she would be a suitable ruler. The queen’s reputation was the opposite to Jannaeus’. She was seen as kind, measured and supportive of her people who willingly accepted her as a ruler despite the fact that she had two adult sons.

As Alexander Jannaeus had strived for war, so Salome Alexandra worked for peace. She reconciled with her husband’s enemies within and without while maintaining a strong military and hiring additional foreign troops to use as a deterrent against invasion.

Salome Alexandra also made peace with the Pharisees, a religious faction which had been persecuted by her husband in favour of the rival Sadducees. The Pharisees were popular among ordinary Judeans, emphasising piety and simple living and championing the Oral Law which made life easier for the common people.

With the help of the Pharisees, Salome Alexandra reformed the court system and introduced the ketubah—a marriage contract that specified the obligations of the groom toward his bride in order to protect women. She also decreed that all children attend school.

The Talmud describes Salome Alexandra’s reign as so prosperous that “the rains would come down from Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve, until the wheat became like kidneys, the barley like olive pits, and the lentils like golden denars. The sages gathered some of them and put them aside for the coming generations.”

Salome Alexrandra died at the age of 73 after ruling for nine years. Her two sons were left to fight each other for the throne and at this point Rome saw their chance to invade. The late queen’s elder son, Hyrcanus was permitted to act as high priest, but not as king. Four years after Salome Alexandra’s death, Judea was declared a Roman possession. It would not become a sovereign nation again for more than two thousand years.

[Salome Alexandra] was a woman who showed none of the weakness of her sex; for being one of those inordinately desirous of the power to rule, she showed by her deeds the ability to carry out her plans, and at the same time she exposed the folly of those men who continually fail to maintain sovereign power. – Josephus


Talmud – The central text of Rabbinic Judaism.


Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century BCE – Kenneth Atkinson

The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman WorldPeter Schafer

On Wikipedia:

Shanakdakhete – Reigned c.177 – 155 BCE – Meroë, Kingdom of Kush

Kingdom of Kush

Earliest known ruling queen of ancient Nubia


Queen-of-MeroeShanakdakhete (or Shanakdakheto) was a ruling queen of the Kingdom of Kush (also known as Nubia – modern day Sudan).

The term ‘Kush’ or ‘Kushite’ is particularly used to describe the Nubian cultures that had major contact with ancient Egypt. Kush survived longer than Egypt, and invaded Egypt under King Piye in the 8th Century BCE, with Kushite kings ruling as Pharaoh’s for almost a century.

Kush shared many cultural practices with Egypt, including religion – we know that Shanakdakhete called herself ‘Son of Re, Lord of the Two Lands’. Bas-reliefs dated to about 170 BCE depict Shanakdakhete dressed in armor and wielding a spear in battle.

Unusually for a female ruler of this time, Shanakdakhete did not rule as queen regent or queen mother, but as a fully independent ruler. Equally unusually, she did have a husband, who acted as her consort.


In carvings found in the ruins of building projects she commissioned, Shanakdakhete is portrayed alone as well as with her husband and son, who would inherit the throne upon her death.


The Black Pharaoh’s – Robert Draper for the National Geographic

Nubian Pharaohs and Meroitic Kings: The Kingdom of Kush Necia Desiree Harkles

On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Sudan Meroe Pyramids 2001 N11“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Commons

Queen-of-Meroe” by Udimuderivative work: AnnekeBart (talk) – Nubia_Queen_of_Meroe_in_Cairo_Museum_1989.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons –

Cleopatra II – c.185 – 116 BCE – Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt

Ancient Egypt


The Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt was defined by infighting and incest as every member of the family battled fiercely for power and sole rule of the country.

Cleopatra II (not to be confused with Cleopatra VII) is a prime example of this turbulent era as a queen (and briefly sole ruler) who married two of her brothers, saw her daughter marry her Uncle and survived the murders of several of her children.


The young princess was married to her elder brother Ptolemy VI when she was 10. They had their first child together, Ptolemy Eupator when she was 19. He was followed by three sisters and a brother; Cleopatra Thea, Cleopatra III, Berenice and Ptolemy.

Cleopatra, her brother-husband and her second brother, Ptolemy Euergetes Physkon (Potbelly) ruled jointly together for seven years, until younger brother Potbelly deposed his siblings temporarily.

Ptolemy Eupator and his wife did regain power, but once Eupator died, Cleopatra wasted no time in remarrying immediately – this time to Potbelly.

By this time, Cleopatra II was 39, and while she did have a son with Potbelly – Ptolemy Memphites – the Pharaoh began to look elsewhere and married Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra III, three years later.

Ptolemy family tree

The two Cleopatra’s and Potbelly attempted to share power for a little while – but this was not a happy family. In 131 BCE Cleopatra II led a rebellion against her husband-brother and her daughter, driving them out of Egypt.

In retaliation, Potbelly murdered both his stepson and his son by Cleopatra, had them dismembered and sent the parts to Cleopatra as a birthday present.

Cleopatra II’s rule lasted only three years, from 130 BCE to 127 BCE when she was forced to flee to Syria, to join her other daughter, Cleopatra Thea, and her son-in-law Demetrius II Nicator.

A public reconciliation of Cleopatra and Ptolemy VIII was declared in 124 BC. After this she ruled jointly with her brother and daughter until 116 BC when ‘Potbelly’ died, leaving the kingdom to Cleopatra III. Cleopatra II herself died shortly after.

Other Ptolemy women in this project are: Arsinoë IIArsinoë III, Bilistiche


Ptolemy VIII Euergetes was popularly known as “Physkōn“, meaning sausage, potbelly or bladder, due to his obesity.

In Fiction:

Played by Elizabeth Shepherd in the 1983 BBC drama ‘The Cleopatras’ (on youtube).


The House of Ptolemy E. R. Bevan

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World Joyce E. Salisbury

On Wikipedia:

Image Credits:

Wall relief Kom Ombo15” by I, Rémih.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ptolemy family tree – by myself