15 February 2007

Cleopatra Thea or Cleopatra VII?

When Zenobia was hailed as the 'New Cleopatra', which Cleopatra was meant?

Cleopatra Thea (c. 164-121 BC), whom she claimed as her ancestress, and about whom we wrote last week, or

Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC)? Cleopatra VII may have herself recalled the earlier queen in her titles (shown on this coin from Antioch, issued jointly with Mark Antony in 36-33 BC): BACILICCA KLEOPATRA QEA NEWTEPA Queen Cleopatra Thea (or Goddess) the Younger.

If this does refer to Cleopatra Thea, it is her last trace in history. Whereas (as I wrote) statues of Cleopatra VII were still being cared for in Egypt well into the Christian period. It's one thing for Zenobia to remember her own ancestors, quite another for others to do so too. So, I'd bet a silver tetradrachm that those who praised her as the 'New Cleopatra' were harking back to Cleopatra VII.

I'd like to hear your views. Vote: Cleopatra Thea or Cleopatra VII (or indeed, Cleopatra II ... but I'm not going to be side-tracked into that, not now).

Next week, I'll return to Julia Soaemias and her son, the bizarre Elagabalus.


  1. Not to be a jerk, but couldn't it be both?

  2. Certainly, with time, the names could elide into one (as, today, when you say 'Cleopatra', the public thinks only of Cleopatra VII), but I doubt that that would have happened while the temples of Egypt were still open. All the major temples contained a 'House of Life', a kind of library and scriptorium where sacred books and ancient manuscripts were kept and studied. Quite good records of even the oldest kings and queens were thus preserved.

    Whether or not this knowledge would have survived in any way in Syria, too, is simply unknown.

    on the House of Life:

    (by the way, a jerk doesn't ask a question: he already knows all the answers :-)


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