Many people may answer this question with “one” or “none.” That’s because movies about Cleopatra, including the popular 1934 and 1963 films, do not emphasize Cleopatra’s children. She actually had four. Three boys and one girl. In order from oldest to youngest, they are:
- Ptolemy XV Caesar – born June 23, 47 BCE
- Alexander Helios & Cleopatra Selene – born December 25, 40 BCE
- Ptolemy Philadephus – born c.August, 36 BCE
Ptolemy XV Caesar is more commonly referred to as Caesarion (little Caesar). This was the nickname given to him in ancient times. He was fathered by Julius Caesar and makes an appearance in the 1963 and 1999 films. Cleopatra’s children by Marc Antony often go ignored. Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene were twins. Their second names mean Sun and Moon respectively. The youngest, Ptolemy Philadelphus, was born just six years before his parents’ suicides.
Caesarion was killed by Octavian’s men shortly after Cleopatra’s death. Her two other sons disappeared from historical records shortly thereafter. Most historians believe Octavian had them executed to prevent a future uprising. Cleopatra Selene was the only child to survive into adulthood. She even ruled as the Queen of Mauretania following her marriage to King Juba II. They had at least two children together: a son named Ptolemy and a daughter whose name remains uncertain. Please visit the Cleopatra’s Immediate Family page to see their family tree and learn more about the last generations of Ptolemies.
I have often contemplated the reasons for leaving 75% (sometimes 100%) of Cleopatra’s children out of movies, tv shows, and plays. Why is visual media so opposed to portraying Cleopatra as a mother? I have since settled on three possible reasons. The first is timing. Theater, television, and movies about Cleopatra usually emphasize sexuality and drama. Pausing to see three births and moments between a mother and her children would bring that flow to a halt and increase the production’s running time. I imagine many directors didn’t want to make this sacrifice.
The second possible reason is Cleopatra’s age. She is often shown much younger than she actually was at the time of her death. Showing one child instead of four makes her youth more believable despite its historical inaccuracy. Likewise, the 1963 film shows Caesarion around 12 years old (above left). He looks even younger, a boy of maybe 5, in the 1999 movie (right). In reality, Cleopatra was 38 years old and Caesarion was 17 in 30 BCE.
The last reason is precedent. Cleopatra’s story is often advertised as a sexual spectacle starring a young femme fatale. The general audience has never been exposed to Cleopatra the mother. In fact, many portrayals of Cleopatra go out of their way to showcase exoticism and lewd behavior. The 2005 TV Series “ROME” is a perfect example. I’m sure many people behind the scenes of popular media are uncomfortable tampering with the well-established image of Cleopatra, as inaccurate as it may be.
Fiction books, on the other hand, have generally been more accurate than their visual counterparts while still maintaining more popular aspects of Cleopatra’s story. The header image above is taken from one such novel: Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. As the title suggests, the book follows the story of Cleopatra Selene and her siblings (I have compiled a list of other great books on the Recommended Reading page). In the meantime, I long to see a movie or tv series which correctly portrays the many faces of Cleopatra: politician, lover, and mother. *fingers crossed*