By Jack Beesley
Cleopatra II (c. 185 BCE – c.116 BCE) was a queen of Ptolemaic Egypt who ruled from 175 to 116 BCE with two successive brother-husbands and her daughter, Cleopatra III.
Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I. Being only six or seven when her mother died, Cleopatra was hastily married to her older brother, Ptolemy VI, in 176.
The marriage was devised by two regents, Eulaeus and Lenaeus. Their low status, coupled with the tender age of Cleopatra and Ptolemy, threatened the security of Egypt.
A union between the children of Cleopatra I, whose popularity remained paramount, was hoped to reinforce the dynasty’s grip on power. Although this strategy appeared to placate Egypt, the instability of the new regime encouraged the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, to invade Palestine in 171.
Ptolemy VI followed with an attack which was crushed by Antiochus. Ptolemy subsequently fled Palestine and was captured, culminating in a reshuffle of power in Egypt. Ptolemy VI was replaced with his younger brother, Ptolemy VIII, who Cleopatra then married. However, Ptolemy VI was later restored to the throne and reunited with Cleopatra.
Rome then worked out a deal whereby Egypt would be ruled by the trinity of siblings. This compromise made Cleopatra the first Ptolemaic queen to gain full equality with a ruling king. This concession, however, was not to last. Conflict ensued between the two brothers, which once again forced Ptolemy VI out of Egypt.
The Ptolemaic lands were subsequently divided. To secure a resolution, Cleopatra and Ptolemy betrothed their daughter, Cleopatra III, to Ptolemy VIII. Cleopatra and Ptolemy VI were then able to rule peacefully until the latter’s death in 145.
Ptolemy VIII then seized the throne, murdered Cleopatra’s heir, Ptolemy VII, and married Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra III. Wedded to both mother and daughter, Ptolemy was now able to limit Cleopatra’s power.
Successive conflicts ensued between Cleopatra and her husband and daughter. Anguished by years of plots and ordeals, Cleopatra died in 116, outliving Ptolemy VIII by just a few months.
Leigh North, Predecessors of Cleopatra (E-Artnow, 2018)
Martina Minas-Nerpel, “Cleopatra II and III: The Queens of Ptolemy VI and VIII as Guarantors of Kingship and Rivals for Power,” in Ägypten zwischen innerem Zwist und äußerem Druck – Die Zeit Ptolemaios’ VI. bis VIII. Internationales Symposion Heidelberg 16.–19. 9.2007. Philippika 45, eds., A. Jördens and J.F. Quack, 58-76 (Wiesbaden: Verlag, 2018).