King Juba II of Numidia and
Queen Cleopatra Selene of Mauretania

With particular attention to coinage of the time

Note: The following began as a simple "Compare two historical figures" report for an HIS100 class, which I based around their coinage. This has gradually been evolving since. If you have any suggestions or comments, please email me via the link the the bottom of this page.

The Roman late republic period was a time of civil wars, with other countries and kingdoms giving aid to various sides. Since Rome was the dominant power, these countries knew that their future lay intertwined with Rome, and siding with the eventual victor would hopefully increase their chances for favorable dealings with this power. Cleopatra Selene and Juba II were each offspring of rulers who ended up on the losing side.

King Juba I of Numidia

Juba’s father, King Juba I of Numidia, fought on the side of Pompey during the Roman civil war following the breakup of the First Triumvirate. After their loss at the battle of Thapsus in 46 BCE, he and a Roman officer, M. Petreius, had an elaborate banquet together, and then committed suicide by dueling to the death rather than be displayed in Julius Caesar’s triumphal parade in Rome. His young son Juba II, was instead taken by Caesar and displayed in the African portion of the elaborate 4-part triumph (Gaul, Pontus, Egypt, Africa.) Caesar's grand-nephew Caius Octavius (later the emperor Octavian Augustus) also proudly marched in this spectacle as one of the victors.

Interestingly, in the Egyptian portion of this same triumphal parade marched Arsinoë, the sister of Cleopatra VII ("the Great".) She was roughly 20 at the time, and was originally co-ruler of Egypt since 50 BCE. By some accounts she should have been the rightful Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt due to the fact that she was the oldest surviving child of Ptolemy XII, probably by being co-ruler with one of her brothers. She had been involved in the 4-way power struggles in Egypt which led to her capture by Caesar. After her display in the triumph she was exiled to Ephesus. She was executed by order of Antony in 41, probably at the request of Cleopatra.

At the time it was customary to imprison and execute the captured leaders displayed in the triumphs, with the Arverni ruler Vercingetorix being an example from this same triumph. He had been the leader of the Celtic opposition during the genocide of the Celts in Gaul by the Romans, and languished in a Roman prison for 5 years before being displayed and then publicly beheaded. It is unknown why Caesar chose to spare the infant Juba. Perhaps it was due to his age, as he was possibly less than two years old at the time. Another possibility is because of the questionable morality of Caesar's African war, as prominant Romans died on both sides of the battle. What ever the cause, little Juba's life was spared, and he was probably raised in a Julian household. It's doubtful that Caesar raised Juba himself, but it was likely one of his relatives. The most likely would have been Octavia, his grand-niece and the sister of Octavian. She later helped run the "royal orphanage" under her brother, so her raising of the infant Juba seems logical.

Selene’s parents were the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII (whose name means "Father's Glory"), and her consort/husband the Roman general Marc Antony. After the breakup of the second triumvirate and the wars that followed, they were losing to Octavian, more due to the political maneuverings and bribes by Octavian rather than military leadership or ability. Watching the Egyptian fleet defect to Octavian in 30 BCE, Antony feared that Cleopatra had betrayed him and committed suicide. Knowing that her cause was lost and the fate of Egypt and her children, and therefore her dynasty was no longer in her control, she also killed herself.

Coin of Antony while Triumvir

The oldest child of Cleopatra, Ptolemy XV Caesar (also known as Caesarion) was tricked into returning to Alexandria, and was captured and killed by Octavian, knowing that a child of Caesar still living threatened his rule. The three children of Cleopatra and Antony - Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene (born in 40 BCE), and Ptolemy Philadelphus - were taken by Octavian and marched in his triumph. The twins were 10 years old, and Philadephus just 4. The golden chains the children were forced to wear during this parade were reportedly so heavy that they could barely walk. Fortunately Antony had begun the practice of sparing rulers lives after the triumphs, and Octavian followed suit. The children were raised in his household, a virtual royal orphanage.

Octavian, his wife Livia, and his sister Octavia (who was one of Antony’s ex-wives) raised a houseful of children. Besides the three Ptolemaic children, there was the 10-year old Julia (daughter of Octavian and Scribona), Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus (13 and 9, both sons of Livia), Marcellus and Marcella (mid-teen children of Octavia and Marcellus), Antonia Major and Antonia Minor (9 and 6, daughters of Antony and Octavia), and the 13-year old Julius Antonius (son of Antony and Fulvia).

History is silent on the fate of two sons of Cleopatra and Antony, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus, except that they entered the household of Octavia along with their sister. Execution would have been illogical, as Octavian had already spared their lives. No mention is made of any military service or marriage plans, and if they had been involved in any sort of intrigues it certainly would have been noted. Duane Roller (see references below) has suggested that they simply died from illnesses relatively soon after being brought to Rome, certainly reasonable considering the drastic change in climate. It is virtually certain that if either had survived to adulthood some mention would be made as they would have been politically important, so Roller's theory explains their fate quite logically.

While growing up, Juba often accompanied Octavian on military campaigns, gaining valuable experience as a leader. Upon reaching adulthood, Juba was given Roman citizenship. Later as a friend of Octavian (now the emperor Augustus) he was placed as a Roman client-king over his ancestral homeland of Numidia in 25 BCE. He was the key player for Rome in North Africa, and needed a wife to match his stature.

About 5 years later Augustus gave Juba a wife - the 20-year old Cleopatra Selene. With Selene he gave a huge dowry, appointing her the Queen of Mauretania. The royal couple seems to have relocated to Mauretania right away, and it has been suggested that there was unrest in Numidia perhaps due to the native population not approving of their thoroughly Romanized king. What ever the reason, the couple made their capital at Iol, which they renamed Caesaria (modern-day Cherchel, Algeria.) In fine Roman fashion they began extensive construction projects, though it developed as a mix of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian architectural styles.

Juba II and Selene

The two started from the same types of circumstances, but became very different individuals. Though of African origin, Juba embraced the Roman civilization that he was raised into. Coins are very revealing in that they show the propaganda of the rulers, and present them the way they wish to be seen. His coins follow the typical Roman patterns with a central bust and his name and title in Latin. Only rarely do his coins stray from Roman models of the time and show him with the headdress of Herakles or show the bust of Libya (personification of Africa), but even here his name and title are still shown in Latin - REX IVBA. No coin has been found thus far showing his name Neo-Punic, and only a single type has been found showing his name in Greek "IOBA BACILE" around a crocodile. The reverse shows a headdress of Isis surmounted by a crescent with the name "CELENE" below. This very rare type demonstrates the enormous influence Selene must have had on her husband, for the typical representation of his bust to be replaced with an Egyptian symbol. Some numismatic researchers have dated this coin to the 25th - 29th years of Juba’s reign, when he travelled to the troubled eastern Mediterranean area as part of the advisory staff of the young Gaius Caesar (grandson of Augustus). If this is the case Selene would have been in control of the country and therefore the mint, however by some accounts these dates might have been after her death.

The reverses of his coins which do not show Selene display a variety of themes, but still follow traditional Roman patterns. Astrological themes are presented, such as a crescent moon and star, or a capricorn (birth sign of Octavian Augustus). Dolphins and tridents refer to the bounty of the sea, and perhaps to his role as a military leader. Cornucopiae refer to the bounty of the land, especially evident in the grain harvests that were so important to the Empire. Some native North African themes are seen such as a lion or elephant. Another type was a simple club, a common attribute seen on Roman coins representing Herakles. These might be seen as an attempt to connect with his subjects, as the Berbers felt that they were descended from Herakles.

Coin of Mauretania
Coin issued by Augustus
and Agrippa

In contrast, the coins of Selene depict strictly Egyptian themes, and without fail show her name and title in Greek (the language of the Ptolemaic rules of Egypt), such as "BACILICCA KLEOPATPA", the same title used by her (in)famous mother. Religious items perhaps promoting the cult of Isis are the most common features, such as the sistrum and the headdress of Isis. Another common theme is the crocodile, the Roman symbol for Egypt. Ironically, a coin of this time for Augustus and Agrippa show a crocodile chained to a palm tree, representing the capture and submission of Egypt. This coin was issued in Colonia Augusta Nemausus (modern Nimes, France), a colony founded by veterans of the Egyptian wars.

In the Donations of Alexadria Antony had placed in her theoretical rule Kyrene and Crete, and being the oldest remaining female of the House of Ptolemy she was arguably the rightful queen of Egypt. Combining all of these lands together, she might have considered herself the rightful ruler of most of the Roman lands on the continent of Africa, excepting perhaps the small Roman province of Africa, centered around Carthage. Such an attitude surely would have been regarded as treasonous, yet Selene clearly was broadcasting her relation to the Ptolemaic dynasty and their hereditary rule of Egypt, a land which was not included in her rule as queen of Mauretania.

The effect that this propaganda had on Rome, and how Augustus must have thought about it are unfortunately unknown. Did he simply tolerate it, or did he feel he was indulging a child he had raised? The Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt in general, and Cleopatra VII in particular, had been demonized during the civil wars by Octavian’s propaganda machine. To now have a descendant publicly proclaiming her ties to that land and to the dynasty must have been a cause for great concern, yet there is no record of any sort of reprisal and no numismatic evidence that it was stopped during her lifetime.

Juba was a historian and author, and by some accounts published 50 books during his lifetime, mostly written in Greek (the language of the scholar, at that time) but with a few in Latin. These books covered a wide range of topics, from a history of Rome to the flora and fauna of North Africa, as well as books on the theater, language, painting, and antiquities of various Mediterranean countries. Though none of his books survive, they are quoted often in books from that time. He was also an explorer, and launched expeditions to the Canary Islands, which he named after finding particularly ferocious dogs (canaria) there. He also explored the coast of Africa, as well as going on the trip to the Roman eastern territories around 2 BCE - 2 CE mentioned above.

Semis of Carthago Nova
Obv: Isaic crown
Rev: Priestly items CN ATELLIVS PONTI II V Q

The kingdom of Mauretania, and therefore Juba's rule, was of great importance to the Empire. Garum, the staple fish sauce long used as a condiment in the Roman kitchen, was a major industry in Mauretania. Purple die was harvested from certain shellfish, being important for clothes dieing - for example, the purple stripe on senatorial robes. Other commodities include grapes, figs, pearls, and wooden furniture. By far the most important though was the grain - North Africa produced a major portion of the grain supplies for the Empire. This trade doubtless added greatly to the Mauretanian economy.

Tingis, a town at the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar) became a major trade center. Juba's role as Duovir of the Spanish cities of Gades and Carthago Nova (modern Cartagena) were probably related to trade, also. A Duovir was a chief magistrate in a Roman colony or town, and since Juba was not physically there the role was probably honorary, but serves to illustrate his importance in the Roman western Mediterranean. Carthago Nova had been a Carthagean colony, and besides being a Duovir (with Cn. Attellius, ca. 9 BCE) he was also Patronus Coloniae. In Athens statues were erected in his name.

No surviving documents tell us about Selene’s life or way of ruling, but judging from the numismatic evidence she must have inherited the iron will and perseverance which exhibited themselves so often in women of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She and Juba each came from families which had been destroyed by Rome yet while Roman culture assimilated Juba, Selene carried on the Greco-Egyptian Ptolemaic line, to the extent of ignoring her father’s Roman heritage.

Juba died in 23 or 24 CE, having been co-ruler with his son (by Selene) Ptolemy for around 4 years. The date of Selene's death is not certain, and guesses vary from 5 BCE to 11 AD. An epigram by Krinagorasis thought to be a eulogy of Selene:
The moon herself grew dark, rising at sunset,
Covering her suffering in the night,
Because she saw her beautiful namesake, Selene,
Breathless, descending to Hades,
With her she had had the beauty of her light in common,
And mingled her own darkness with her death.
Assuming this is indeed a eulogy it would appear to date Selene's death with an eclipse at sunset. Possible matches occur in 9, 8, and 5 BCE, 7, 10, 11, and 14 CE. Juba and Selene were buried in a magnificent mausoleum, later known to the Arabs as Kubr-er-Rumia (Tombeau de le Chretienne). The early Arabs had used "Roman" to designate people of Christian (non-Muslim) origin. The monument is about 200' in diameter, and was probably originally 130' in height, and is in the form of a circular building topped by a cone or pyramid. A spiral passage circles in for about 500', ending in two vaulted chambers. It was probably plundered very early on by people in search of treasure, and has suffered much damage since then. In 1555 the Pasha of Algiers gave orders to pull it down, which were discontinued after large black wasps swarmed out and stung some of the workers to death. In the 18th century the tomb was used for target practice by the local navy.

It is generally said that the Hellenistic age begins with the death of Alexander, and ends with the death of Cleopatra VII, yet clearly the coinage portrays Selene’s attempt to retain the legacy of the Ptolemaic line. Selene and Juba had a son named Ptolemy who ruled Mauretania from 23 CE until his murder in 40 CE by order of his cousin, the Roman emperor Caius Caesar, known as Caligula. With his death the royal lines of Numidia and Egypt-relocated-in-Mauretania end.


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All coins from the author's collection. Not a commercial site, these coins are not for sale.

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Juba II & Cleopatra Selene
last modified: 7 Mar 2006