From Roman Prisoner to African Queen
by Jane Draycott
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Pub Date 23 May 2023 | Archive Date 31 Mar 2023
W. W. Norton & Company, Liveright
The first biography of one of the most fascinating yet long-neglected rulers of the ancient world: Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Antony and Cleopatra.
Years ago, archaeologists excavating near Pompeii unearthed a hoard of Roman treasures, among them a bowl depicting a woman with thick, curly hair and sporting an elephant-scalp headdress. For decades, theories circulated about her identity—until, at last, she was ascertained to be Cleopatra Selene, the only surviving daughter of Roman Triumvir Marc Antony and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII.
Using this discovery as her starting point and creating a narrative from mere fragments in the archaeological record, historian Jane Draycott reconstructs the exceptional life of this woman who, although born into royalty and raised in her mother’s court, was held captive by Augustus Caesar and his sister, Octavia, after her parents’ demise. Yet, as Draycott shows, Cleopatra Selene was destined to emerge as an influential ruler in her own right, as queen, alongside King Juba II, of Mauretania, an ancient African kingdom.
A long-overdue historical corrective, Cleopatra’s Daughter reclaims a mighty regent—and her infamous family—for posterity.
About the Author: Jane Draycott is a lecturer in ancient history at the University of Glasgow. A Roman historian and archaeologist, she has excavated sites ranging from Bronze Age villages to World War I trenches.
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Average rating from 22 members
From an academic classicist, this is a smart examination of what is known (and what we can know) about Cleopatra Selene, the only surviving child of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, whose subsequent life is a window into the melding of Roman and Hellenistic power. Cleopatra Selene, trusted to leave Octavia's household as the wife (and joint ruler with) Juba of Mauritania, another captive royal child, spent twenty years carefully threading the needle of recognizing her Egyptian and Hellenistic heritage but remaining a close friend, ally and family member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, building up her kingdom as an economic success producing luxury goods, and creating a "brand" for herself that appears in the material record in striking and poignant ways. Draycott has found an example of the original meaning of "well-behaved women never make history"--Cleopatra Selene fulfilled Augustus' purpose as a client ruler, neither providing reasons for her heritage to be weaponized as it had against her mother, nor challenging Roman authority. However, as Draycott points out, in these glimmers of a life, there's an outline of someone whose charisma, judgement and rule were worth supporting and remembering.
In her most recent book, Draycott discusses the life of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony and the only one of their three children to survive to adulthood. Continuing research she began over a decade ago, Draycott uses historical and archaeological discoveries and information to unravel the mysteries around Cleopatra Selene’s life. Draycott discusses the myriad of female and foreign influences on Cleopatra Selene’s life, even going so far as to discuss whether Cleopatra VII and Cleopatra Selene were Black African princesses. Draycott brings in a substantial amount of historical evidence and analyzes these artifacts and documents in an attempt to draw conclusions about Cleopatra Selene. Draycott’s clear familiarity with the period and the multitude of tensions in Octavian Augustus’s empire adds to the uncertainty surrounding the facts about Cleopatra Selene; yet this uncertainty makes Draycott’s work more legitimate and groundbreaking given the greater focus on Cleopatra Selene’s mother. Draycott organizes the book into clear chapters organized around periods or themes of Cleopatra Selene’s life, which makes the book more readable. She conveys her information, analysis, and conclusions through clear prose, and her expertise on the topic makes this book a very credible source.
¡ requested cleopatra's daughter on a whim and ended up completely fascinated by a historical figure i previously knew nothing about. cleopatra selene was the only daughter of cleopatra and antony; following their deaths, the young princess and her brothers were taken from egypt to rome, where they disappeared from the historical record while she went on to marry a king and become queen of mauretania.
i really appreciate the way draycott theorizes about cleopatra selene's life despite the limited source material available to her. her passion is evident in her writing and research, and she does an excellent job of exploring not just one historical figure, but providing context including the societies cleopatra selene lived in, the people who might have played significant roles her life, and the heavily debated question of cleopatra's (and therefore, her children's) race/ethnicity. despite my lack of knowledge of this era, i was never lost and actually struggled to put this book down at times.
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