The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – The Rise and Fall of Cleopatra II Selene, Seleukid Queen of Syria

Founded 10-Jul-2005
Last update 30-Oct-2013

Michael Burgess

Originally published in The Celator, Volume 18, No. 3 (March 2004), pp. 18-25.
© 2004 Michael Burgess; used by permission of the author and the publisher


The recent discovery of a third coin featuring the portraits of Queen Cleopatra II Selene and one of her sons will prove of great interest to the student of ancient Syrian history and Seleukid numismatics. For the first time, we have before us an example of a bronze coin with a full inscription of these rulers, and with complete and clear obverse and reverse images.

Brian Kritt’s distinguished essay in the April 2002 issue of The Celator, “Numismatic Evidence for a New Seleucid King: Seleucus (VII) Philometor,” carefully explored the extant references for the late history of classical Syria, and I shall try to avoid over-repetition of his citations here. Suffice it to say, all of the ancient sources for the history of early Syria are somewhat deficient, particularly in their accounts of the dynasty’s declining years. No specific history of the House of Seleukos has survived to modern times, if indeed one ever existed; and the remaining references, such as they are, contain numerous contradictions, both internally and with each other, as well as chronological problems in the delineation of the final decades of the ancient Syrian state.

What do we really know of these years?

The ancient historians regarded with evident disgust the series of civil wars that turned one Seleukid pretender against another, tearing apart the fabric of the state and making the continuation of the family’s rule ultimately impossible. The constant internecine warfare drained the region of its resources, and muted the attempts of each succeeding or competing monarch to control the surrounding areas, or to ward off attacks from the major regional powers.

King Antiochos IV’s invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt and his attempt to overthrow the ruling House of Lagos during the early 160s BC would have altered permanently the political climate of the Eastern Mediterranean region had it not been thwarted by a Roman ultimatum in the year 168. The Republic demanded that the king withdraw his forces from Egypt forthwith, a command which he had no choice but to obey. When his nephew, King Demetrios I, succeeded to the throne in 162, the stage was set for the dynasty’s ultimate ruination.

Egyptian King Ptolemy VI, the very monarch who had been forced to beg the Romans for help against Antiochos IV, arranged with Attalos II King of Pergamon to bring forward a pretender who claimed, with an irony that Ptolemy would certainly have appreciated, to be a long-lost son of Antiochos IV. The newly annointed King Alexander I, called Balas, was given King Ptolemy’s daughter, Princess Cleopatra Thea, as a token of the Egyptian monarch’s support, together with sufficient bullion to buy himself a mercenary army.

Demetrios I had spent much of his youth as a hostage in Rome, and was perceived by his Syrian subjects as stern and austere. However, despite his unpopularity at home, the king rallied his forces against Alexander, but was defeated and killed in battle against the upstart in 150. Demetrios’s two young sons fled the country.

Thus began the cycle that continued down to the final years of the dynasty, almost a century later, with pretender succeeding pretender, brother fighting brother, cousin combating cousin. During the time of Demetrios I, Syria was still a major power in the Middle East; at the deposition of the last Seleukid monarch, Antiochos XIII, in 64 BC, it had shrunk to the city of Antioch and an unknown (but small) number of outlying districts and cities lying at the heart of the old Syrian empire.

Ptolemaic interference with the governance of Syria continued throughout the seventy-year period from 150-70 BC, both overtly and covertly, and can be seen specifically with the intermarriage of the various Seleukid monarchs to four royal princesses of the House of Lagos.

Queen Cleopatra I Thea, the first of these imperious ladies, was successively wed to Syrian Kings Alexander I Balas, Demetrios II, Antiochos VII, and again to Demetrios II, before finally arranging to have her final husband and their oldest son, King Seleukos V, murdered within months of each other in 125 BC, whereupon she assumed control of the Syrian state herself. After four years of co-rule with another son, King Antiochos VIII Epiphanes (popularly called Grypos, or “Hook-Nosed”), she attempted to murder him with a poisoned drink, which he refused, forcing her to sip it herself (121/120 BC). She is the ancestress of all of the later Seleukid monarchs.

Queen Cleopatra I Thea had three nieces and first cousins, daughters of Egyptian King Ptolemy VIII (her father’s younger brother) and of her elder sister, Queen Cleopatra III: Tryphaena married Antiochos VIII Epiphanes; Cleopatra (IV) married Antiochos IX Philopator (Epiphanes’s half-brother), popularly called Kyzikenos, the man of Cyzikus; and Cleopatra Selene, the youngest of the three girls, married both Antiochos VIII and IX successively after her sisters’ executions during the ongoing civil war between the two royal siblings. Following her husbands’ deaths, she then wed Philopator’s only surviving son (her nephew), Antiochos X Eusebes, who was almost a generation younger than herself.

Queen Cleopatra II Selene, the focus of the present essay, was known by the ancient authors primarily under the latter name, to distinguish her from her many relatives named Cleopatra, but she did employ her full name officially. As Flavius Josephus states: “Basilissa gar Selênê hê kai Kleopatra kaloumenê,...” which is to say, “For Queen Selene, who [was] also called Kleopatra,...”1 Strabo similarly mentions “...Selênên epiklêtheisan Kleopatran...” (“...Selene surnamed Cleopatra...”). Her three surviving coins also record her reign name (in the genitive case) as “Basilissês Kleopatras Selênês” (“of Queen Cleopatra Selene”). The name “Selênê” in Greek refers both to the moon and to the Moon Goddess, who was said in Greek mythology variously to have been the daughter of Helios (the sun), or of Hyperion or of Pallas.

Selene was likely born in the mid- to late 130s BC2 to Egyptian King Ptolemy VIII and his wife and niece, Cleopatra III (daughter of his brother, Ptolemy VI, and sister of Cleopatra Thea). She was married about the year 115 to her own brother, Ptolemy IX, after her elder sister, Cleopatra IV, had been forcibly divorced from him by their mother. She may also have wed another brother, Ptolemy X Alexander, but this supposition is unproved (see Christopher Bennett’s website on the Ptolemies, cited earlier in this paragraph, for the evidence supporting this notion).

What is certain is that she was then sent by her mother to marry Syrian King Antiochos VIII “Grypos” circa the year 103 BC,3 as part of a political arrangement whereby Queen Cleopatra III attempted to enlist the Grypos faction to help her dominate or even murder her own two sons, and thereby rule Egypt in her own right; Grypos agreed to the arrangement in order to gain Egypt’s assistance in defeating his half-brother, Antiochos IX. After Grypos’s murder circa 98/97 BC by Minister Heracleon, his half-brother Antiochos IX assumed control of Antioch, but was himself dispossessed and killed by King Seleukos VI, Grypos’s eldest son, about the year 95.

Shortly thereafter, Selene married her stepson, Antiochos X Eusebes (“Pious”). As Appian4 tells us, “...emoi de dokousin epi gelôti autô poiêsasthai to onoma hoi Syroi; egême gar outos ho Eusebês Selênên, hê kai tô patri autou egegamêto tô Kyzikênô kai tô Grypô theiô genomenô,” which is to say, “My friends, I think the Syrians gave him the name as a joke; for this ‘Eusebês’ himself wed Selênê, who had been married [previously] to his own father, Kyzikênos, and [before that] to his uncle, Grypos.” In other words, Appian is stating, Antiochos X acted impiously in marrying his own stepmother, who had the legal status of a parent.

Impious or not, Antiochos X’s new wife promptly bore him a son and heir, Antiochos XIII Philadelphos (called “Asiatikos,” or the man of Asia), who became the last generally-acknowledged king of the Seleukid dynasty. He was deposed by Pompey in 64 BC when Rome annexed the kingdom as the newly-constituted province of Syria. A second, unnamed son is mentioned by Cicero in his polemic against Verres, when he notes that both boys had recently been visiting Rome (sometime during the late 70s BC).5 Kritt’s recent discovery of a coin depicting the boy King Seleukos VII Philometor establishes with certainty the name of that sibling.

Although Appian tells us that it was Antiochos X Eusebes whom Armenian King Tigranes II defeated circa 83 BC while assuming control over Syria, Josephus states that the young Seleukid monarch was actually killed, probably much earlier, fighting the Parthians, a more likely tale given the evidence of Antiochos X’s coinage; and most numismatists now accept Eusebes’s years of rule as occurring between 94-92 BC, with a brief break in the year 93, when his cousin Antiochos XI invaded Syria and seized Antioch, before himself meeting his death in a second battle outside the city.

If Josephus is right, then the two sons of Selene had to have been conceived and born no later than 92 BC, when the queen was in her early forties. This is certainly within the realm of physical possibility.

Eusebes had successively defeated three of his first cousins, Seleukos VI in 94 BC, and this king’s siblings, Antiochos XI and his twin brother, Philip I, in 93. After Eusebes’s death, a fourth son of Antiochos VIII, Demetrios III, stepped forward with Philip to claim the Syrian throne. Demetrios had already established himself in Damascus about the year 96 BC with Ptolemaic financial support (his first coins there are dated 97/96 BC).

Philip and his brother Demetrios soon split, however, following the pattern of their family, and continued to trade blows until Demetrios was captured about 87 BC by the Parthians. He was succeeded in Damascus by the youngest of the five brothers, Antiochos XII Dionysos. The latter monarch was killed in battle against a joint army of the Jews and Nabateans circa 83 BC (his last coins are dated 84/83 BC), about the same time that Philip apparently died of natural causes in Antioch (since none of the ancient authors specifically mention Philip’s end, we can only speculate that it was wholly unremarkable; indeed, his coins depict a man who ages very rapidly in little more than a decade). Philip left an underaged heir, Philip II Barypous, who is known to have lived in Cilicia during part of his youth.

We can reasonably assume that Philip Senior and his brother Antiochos XII died within a relatively short time of each other, because both cities, having no surviving adult Seleukids left to claim either throne, promptly turned to foreign monarchs as their saviors against the real threat of attack by the local desert tribes: Damascus to King Aretas III, the Nabatean monarch who had been the city’s sworn enemy just months before, and Antioch to King Tigranes II of Armenia.

But what became of Cleopatra Selene and her sons?

The ancient historians say very little about the fourteen-year reign of Tigranes over Syria from 83-69 BC, but we should not thus presume that the various Seleukid pretenders merely faded away into the dusky landscape. Undoubtedly, following the usual tradition of the House of Seleukos, the young princes were sent away to be educated at a distance, far from danger and the threat of assassination. The usual place for such training was Cilicia, although other, more distant climes were certainly possible (Grypos had earlier been dispatched to Athens).

We do know that Tigranes seized Damascus from Aretas III about the year 72/71, when the former’s dated silver coinage first appears there (Aretas apparently issued no tetradrachms, only scarce, undated bronzes). The ongoing war over the control of Asia Minor between Rome and King Mithridates VI of Pontus, Tigranes’s father-in-law, continued to flare throughout this period.

We also have the evidence of the three known coins of Cleopatra Selene as direct testimony that she made a bid for the Syrian throne on behalf of both herself and her two sons. Since these bronzes appear to depict boys of about the ages of 10-14, we can assume that they were issued shortly after the deaths of both Philip I and Antiochos XII, specifically in order to establish her and her sons’ claim to the unoccupied thrones.

The only corroboration from the ancient authors of her status as a ruling monarch occurs in Josephus, who states, following the passage quoted above, “...Selênê hê...tôn en tê Syria katêrchen...”6 (“...Selênê...who [then] ruled in Syria”). The verb used here, “katarchô,” had in the late classical era the meaning of “to rule” or “to govern,” but was earlier employed in the sense of “to strike someone” or even “to sacrifice”; perhaps Josephus would have been cognizant of this potential double meaning. Since the queen was the second ruling Seleukid monarch with the name Cleopatra, she should now properly be termed Queen Cleopatra II Selene, with her aunt becoming Cleopatra I Thea.

Her rebellion was not universally successful; it seems unlikely, for example, that she ever controlled Antioch for more than brief intervals, if ever, or we would probably have examples of tetradrachms providing some evidence of that fact. Instead, the only known silver coins issued by that city during this decade and a half were minted under the authority of King Tigranes. However, Selene may well have controlled one or more walled citadels along the coasts of Phoenicia or Cilicia throughout all or part of the period from 83-69 BC.

During the mid-70s Selene sent her two sons west to present their claims before the Roman Senate to rule both Syria and Egypt. According to Cicero, the Senate acknowledged the boys’ rights to the Syrian diadem by inheritance from their father, Antiochos X, but declined even to hear their petition to rule in Alexandria (the status of the reigning King of Egypt, Ptolemy XII, the princes’ first cousin, who had recently succeeded to the throne in 80 BC, was questionable due to his illegitimate birth, but he was a known Roman ally at a time when the Senate needed such support in the long fight against Mithridates VI of Pontus). Cicero claimed that the boys returned to the East by separate ships, but Antiochos unfortunately stopped in Sicily, where he was robbed by Roman Governor Verres.

Josephus also tells us of Selene’s ultimate fate. In the same passage mentioned above, the historian notes that early in 69 BC Tigranes was besieging Ptolemais, where he received a delegation from the ruling Queen Alexandra of Judea, who petitioned him not to proceed southward into the Jewish lands. The city fell soon afterwards, and Selene was taken prisoner and later executed, but Tigranes was abruptly called north by reports of the invasion of Armenia proper by Roman General Lucullus, who had been chasing Mithridates VI through eastern Asia Minor. In the ensuing battle the Roman forces prevailed, and the Armenian monarch was ultimately forced to capitulate to Pompey a few years later, his kingdom then being reduced to its traditional homeland.

Selene’s end is also mentioned by Strabo, who says that she was held prisoner for a time by Tigranes at Seleukeia in Commagene, and later executed there.

Within months of Selene’s capture, however, her eldest son, Antiochos XIII Philadelphos, called Asiatikos, had been allowed by Lucullus to take the Syrian throne. He was initially greeted with enthusiasm by the citizens of Antioch, and minted two small series of tetradrachms over the next several years, but soon his expedition against the Arabs went sour, and he found himself fighting a rebellion at home and enemies abroad. He was then kidnapped by King Sampsiceramus of Emesa; in Antioch his detractors brought forth the king’s young second cousin, Philip II, out of his hiding place in Cilicia to claim the vacant throne. Although Antiochos returned for another brief period of rule circa 64 BC, Roman General Pompey had had enough of the Seleukid circus, and annexed Syria outright during his settlement of the political affairs of the Middle East. King Antiochos XIII was deposed, and soon thereafter murdered, perhaps by Sampsiceramus.


The New Coin

The newly discovered bronze of Antiochos XIII and his mother was recently purchased by the author from a well-known Middle Eastern dealer, who in turn obtained it from a vendor located just south of the Jordanian-Syrian border. If the piece was discovered locally, this would imply a possible point of origin somewhere in Coele-Syria or Phoenicia, perhaps even near Ake-Ptolemais, the last known residence of Selene.

Æ 20 mm of Cleopatra II Selene and Antiochos XIII, obverse Æ 20 mm of Cleopatra II Selene and Antiochos XIII, reverse

(Enlarged photo by the author.)

The coin measures 19.5-20.0 mm, with a depth of 3 mm, weight of 9.15 g, and die axis of 12 o’clock.

Obverse. Female and male heads jugate, the female in front, veiled and wearing a stephane, the male behind, probably wearing a diadem, the front edge of which is barely visible above his forehead. Circle of dots.

Reverse. Nike striding l., holding wreath in extended right arm, her left arm hanging loosely behind her body. Circle of dots.

Inscription to the right of Nike, in three vertical lines:


Inscription between Nike’s draped wings and her body, just beneath her left hand, curved along the flank of her rear left leg:


Inscription to the left of Nike, in two vertical lines and one curved line along the left rim of the coin:


The inscription exactly parallels that of Kritt’s coin featuring Selene and Seleukos VII, right down to the epithet. The portraits also display the hooked noses and protruding chins common to the House of Lagos and the late Seleukids. The piece is beautifully designed and proportioned, a true masterwork of the celator’s art.

This bronze and the other two known examples of Selene’s coinage were likely issued as propaganda pieces, both to emphasize the princelings’ claims, and also to solidify the queen’s own rule over whatever portion of the ancient Syrian state she actually controlled. It is significant that all three pieces feature very traditional Seleukid themes: the tripod, the god Apollo, and (in this instance) the goddess Nike. Tigranes II had altered the usual appearance of the Syrian tetradrachms and large bronzes to feature Tyche on their reverses instead of Zeus or Apollo, with only a few pieces displaying more accustomed devices; even his own image would have appeared foreign to the citizens of Syria. Here, these new coins proclaim, here are portraits of the true rulers of Antioch, who look and act (and, by inference, will govern) in ways that the people can understand, as demonstrated by the bronzes themselves, with their comfortable, familiar themes.

We might expect eventually to discover a parallel Æ 20 issued by Selene for Seleukos VII, featuring one of the other common elements historically employed on the reverses of Seleukid coins. But until we do, we can only admire the quiet style and haunting grace of this surviving hallmark of the reign of another strong Ptolemaic and Seleukid monarch, Queen Cleopatra II Selene.


A Tentative Chronology of the Late Syrian Empire

103? Cleopatra Selene is sent by her mother, Queen Cleopatra III of Egypt, as a peace offering and wife to King Antiochos VIII Epiphanes (“Grypos”) of Syria, in return for presumed military, political, and financial considerations in her ongoing struggle for control of Egypt directed against her own sons, Ptolemy IX and Ptolemy X. Selene had been divorced from her previous husband, Ptolemy IX (and possibly also from Ptolemy X), by the order of Cleopatra III.
97? Antiochos VIII is murdered by Heracleon, his war minister; his half-brother, Antiochos IX Philopator (“Kyzikenos”), assumes control of Antioch, simultaneously marrying Grypos’s widow, Selene. Seleukos VI Nikator, eldest son of Antiochos VIII, proclaims himself king and begins an insurgency centered at Seleucia ad Calycadnum in Cilicia, where he issues large quantities of silver tetradrachms.
96? King Demetrios III Philopator, called Eukairos (“Well-Timed”), another son of Antiochos VIII, is prompted and supported by the Ptolemies to establish himself as King of Coele-Syria in Damascus; his first silver coins there are dated 97/96 BC.
95 Antiochos IX is killed in battle by Seleukos VI; the former king’s cause is taken up by his only son, Antiochos X Eusebes, who marries his father’s widow, Queen Cleopatra Selene.
94 Seleukos VI is driven out of Antioch by Antiochos X, and seeks refuge in the Cilician community of Mopsus, where after an indiscrete bout of overtaxation he is literally roasted to death in a lively civic celebration of an abrupt rollback in urban assessments. Antiochos XI Epiphanes Philadelphos, and Philip I Philadelphos, twin younger brothers of Seleukos VI, assume the mantle of Seleukid heirs to Antiochos VIII, and gather a mercenary army in Cilicia, where they issue silver tetradrachms bearing their jugate profiles. Antiochos XIII is probably born about this time.
93? Antiochos XI’s initial attack on Antioch is successful, and he begins issuing coins in his own name, leaving poor Philip out of the picture (possibly sleepless in Cilicia). Within a year or less, however, Antiochos X regroups his forces and retakes the capital. Antiochos XI perishes in the climactic battle, with Philip retreating to the north (or he may have remained there throughout this entire period).
92 Antiochos X responds to the petition of one Queen Iotape, and is killed fighting the Parthians in the east. Demetrios and Philip contest for the throne of Syria, the former from his base in Damascus (where he issues silver and bronze coins dated from 97/96-88/87 BC). Sometime during this period, or possibly earlier, Demetrios prevails for a long enough period to release a short series of tetradrachms from Antioch and bronze pieces from Seleucia Pieria, some featuring a beardless portrait and a variant set of epithets, Philometor Euergetes Kallinikos (compared to his much more common names, Theos Philopator Soter). Seleukos VII is probably born about this time.
87? Demetrios is besieging his brother Philip, when he is himself surrounded and captured by Philip’s Parthian allies, whom Philip has summoned from afar. His last tetradrachms are dated 225 SE or 88/87 BC. Demetrios later dies of illness in captivity. Antiochos XII Dionysos, the youngest of the five sons of Antiochos VIII, assumes the throne of Damascus; his first silver tetradrachms there are dated 226 SE or 87/86 BC. The absence of a coin bridging the two Seleukid dates suggests either a brief interregnum between the two reigns, or that Demetrios’s capture occurred right at the end of the year (late Summer).
86? Philip I briefly takes control of Damascus through a ruse, while Antiochos XII is campaigning in the field, but loses the city shortly thereafter, when his basic ungraciousness causes the city governor abruptly to change sides (again), literally locking him outside the walls.
83? Antiochos XII is defeating the Jewish and Nabatean kings in battle when a stray arrow strikes and kills him. His last dated coin appears in 229 SE or 84/83 BC.7 The citizens of Damascus offer the empty throne to their former enemy, Nabatean King Aretas III. Philip I of Antioch dies, probably of natural causes (no ancient author mentions his passing); the citizens of that city offer the Syrian throne to Armenian King Tigranes II (or, alternatively, the Armenia monarch conquers Antioch by force, driving out or killing Philip). The deaths of the two Seleukid kings appear to occur almost simultaneously, since neither throne is offered to the other as the sole surviving adult male of his family.
82? Queen Cleopatra II Selene raises the banner of rebellion in either Cilicia or in Phoenicia (or both), and issues a series of bronze coins promoting her sons’ claims, with herself in the forefront as Queen Regnant. These pieces achieve very limited circulation, suggesting a small mintage. Nonetheless, Selene maintains some control over a fortress or fortresses in Syria during the ensuing decade, possibly centered at Ake-Ptolemais in Phoenicia. Her sons are probably educated in Cilicia or elsewhere in Asia Minor, following the family tradition (and giving Antiochos XIII the nickname of “Asiatikos”).
75? The two sons of Antiochos X and Selene are sent West to gain the Roman Senate’s recognition of their claims, both to the Syrian throne (which the Roman Republic acknowledges, in the right of their father) and to Egypt (in the right of their mother; this plea is denied). The fact that the boys are allowed to press their case themselves implies that Antiochos, at the least, has either attained his majority, or is very close to it. They spend two years traveling in the west, according to Cicero.
73? Antiochos XIII and his brother Seleukos return to the Middle East.
71? Tigranes II forces Aretas III out of Damascus, and begins issuing his own silver tetradrachms there, still using years from the old Seleukid era (his first issue is dated 241 SE or 72/71 BC).
70? Selene is besieged by Tigranes in her fortress of Ake-Ptolemais.
69 Ake-Ptolemais falls to Tigranes and Queen Cleopatra II Selene is taken captive, being eventually imprisoned at Seleukeia-on-the-Euphrates, where she is later executed. Tigranes must suddenly race north to meet the army of the Roman general Lucullus, who has invaded Armenia proper while chasing King Mithridates VI. There Tigranes is defeated in battle, and he is ultimately forced to give up much of the land which he has added to the traditional Armenian state during the previous fourteen years. Antiochos XIII Philadelphos, called Asiatikos (“the man from Asia”), is recognized as King of Syria by Lucullus, and issues several small series of silver tetradrachms, perhaps over the next two years.
67? While campaigning against Arab tribesmen, Antiochos XIII is captured and held by King Sampsiceramus of Emesa. The citizens of Antioch bring young King Philip II Philoromaios, called Barypous (“heavy-footed”; i.e., “heavy-handed”), son of the late Philip I, out of hiding in Cilicia and proclaim him King of Syria. No coins are known to exist of this monarch. Sampsiceramus and a tribal supporter of Philip, Azizos, plot to kill the two monarchs and divide Syria between them.
65? Antiochos escapes captivity (or is deliberately released by Sampsiceramus) and returns to Antioch, where he once again assumes the diadem, expelling (but not killing) his cousin, Philip II.
64 Pompey deposes Antiochos XIII and annexes Syria as a Roman province, as part of his political reorganization of the Middle East.
63? Antiochos XIII is murdered, possibly by Sampsiceramus.
58? Antiochos’s brother and presumed heir, Seleukos VII Philometor, called Kybiosaktes8 (“Fishmonger” or “Stingy”), marries the new Egyptian Queen, Berenike IV (elder sister of Cleopatra VII), who has recently deposed her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes. Seleukos is strangled at the order of his bride (or dies of illness) shortly thereafter.
57? Philip II Barypous negotiates with Queen Berenike for a new treaty of marriage, but his participation is vetoed by the new Roman Governor of Syria, Aulus Gabinius. This is the last mention by the ancient historians of a living Seleukid heir.
55? Gabinius defeats the forces of Berenike IV and restores her father Ptolemy XII to the throne of Egypt. The Roman Province of Syria begins issuing silver tetradrachms bearing the same image and titles of the late King Philip I that had been featured on his own coinage, some twenty-eight years after the monarch’s presumed death. By inference, all of the direct male Seleukid heirs to the Syrian throne are probably dead or imprisoned at this time, since it seems unlikely that the very pragmatic Romans would promote a connection to the royal house if anyone was left to exploit it. Also by implication, the late King Philip I must have either received financial support from the Romans during his lifetime, or otherwise collaborated with them; the silver issue would thus generate a subtle propaganda message to the citizenry (one that every Antiochian would understand): “act as your late king acted.”
16 After forty years of almost continuous issue, the last known tetradrachms displaying the image of Seleukid King Philip I are released, marked with the Caesarian Era date, year 33 (17/16 BC).


1 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XIII, Paragraph 420.

2 Christopher J. Bennett, Ptolemies (website),, first paragraph of main text and Note #4. The necessity of reducing the age of Selene to the point where she could realistically have borne children to the much younger Antiochos X in the mid-90s BC, as well as to her own brother, Ptolemy IX, in the mid-110s BC provides us with a relatively narrow window of possibility for her own birth, from about 130-137 BC, the likeliest date being about 133 BC.

3 The plot is described in detail in Justin’s History, Book XXXIX, Paragraph 4, translated by John Selby Watson (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902), in which he notes that “Cleopatra [III], fearing lest her elder son Ptolemy [IX] should be assisted by [Antiochos IX] Cyzicenus to re-establish himself in Egypt, sent powerful succours to [Antiochos VIII] Grypus, and with them Selene, Ptolemy [IX]’s wife, to marry the enemy of her former husband.”

4 Appian, Syrian Wars, Book XI, Paragraph 69.

5 Cicero, The Second Speech Against Gaius Verres, Book IV, Paragraph 27: “Nam reges Syriae, Regis Antiochi filios pueros, scitis Romae nuper fuisse; qui venerant non propter Syriae regnum, nam id sine controversia obtinebant, ut a patre et a maioribus acceperant, sed regnum Aegypti ad se et ad Selenen matrem suam pertinere arbitrabantur.” = “You know that the princes of Syria, the young sons of King Antiochos, were recently in Rome. They were not petitioning [the Senate] on account of the kingdom of Syria, since they already possessed it without controversy, acknowledged because of their father and their ancestors; but they petitioned to be recognized [as rulers] over the kingdom of Egypt, both for themselves and for their mother Selene.” This statement reinforces the pattern we have already seen displayed on the three known bronzes issued by Selene, in which she clearly claims joint rule over Syria with her two sons.

6 Josephus, op. cit.

7 Although as yet apparently unpublished, at least three examples of tetradrachms of Antiochos XII dated 229 SE (84/83 BC) are now known, the latest being offered for sale by the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., in its Triton VI sale, lot #467, closing date January 13, 2003. These pieces suggest that the king’s reign likely extended into the fighting season (Spring or Summer) of 83 BC, thus putting an end point to his rule about a year later than previously considered, or at about the same time as that of his elder brother, King Philip I.

8 The later application of this Alexandrian epithet for the Roman Emperor Vespasian, a notorious skinflint of his day, suggests an implication of “stingy” or “mean.” The word was originally used to refer to peddlers of small cubes (“kyboi”) of salt fish, perhaps the “pelamys” or young tuna fish--clearly a profession not highly regarded in ancient Alexandria.


About the Author

Michael Burgess, a retired professor in the California State University, is the author of over 100 published books and some thirteen thousand short pieces. His novella, “Occam’s Treasure,” published in December 2002 in the anthology, Crusade of Fire, edited by Katherine Kurtz (Warner Books), features a tetradrachm of Philip Philadelphos as a central plot element.