A new docuseries about Cleopatra details an interesting, little-known fact about the ancient Egyptian queen. So if you’re wondering: Did Cleopatra marry her brothers? The answer is, yes — both of them.
The great female ruler of Egypt actually married her brother, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, after her father’s death when she was a teenager. When the first brother died, she then had to marry her other, even younger brother, Ptolemy XIV Philopator.
Although this sounds pretty wild by today’s standards, according to scholars interviewed in Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra docuseries, it was considered pretty normal back in ancient Egypt.
Why Did Cleopatra Marry Her Brothers?
“There has to be a male and female Pharaoh because Isis and Osiris were the major Gods in Egyptian religion, and since the male and female Pharaohs are also Gods, they have to reflect Isis and Osiris,” Shelley P. Haley, professor of Africana Studies and Classics at Hamilton College, explains in the docuseries Queen Cleopatra.
Basically, Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, put it in his will that Cleopatra would be the co-ruler of Egypt with her brother, Ptolemy XIII. But it was mostly just a symbolic marriage for the sake of upholding the Ptolemaic tradition of having both a male and female ruler on the throne at the same time.
“Gods marry their brothers and their sisters. That’s what Gods do,” Jacquelyn Williamson, Egyptologist and associate professor of art and archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean at George Mason University, says in the docuseries. “This was considered completely proper behavior, and certainly for a Ptolemaic ruler who wanted to support traditional religion, that was absolutely the way.”
When Cleopatra’s first brother, Ptolemy VIII, drowned after going overboard on a ship crossing the Nile, she then married her even younger, adolescent brother, Ptolemy XIV, who also ultimately died young.
But don’t worry — Cleopatra didn’t have any children with either of her brothers. Instead, she had her first child, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, with Roman ruler Julius Caesar, even though she wasn’t married to Caesar and they actually both had other spouses at the time. After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra had three more children with Roman general Mark Antony — two sons named Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus, and a daughter, Cleopatra Selene.
Executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Cleopatra begins streaming May 10 on Netflix.
Main Image: A still from Queen Cleopatra courtesy of Netflix.