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Bust of Ptolemy of Mauretania, c. 30–40, Louvre

Ptolemy of Mauretania, sometimes known as Ptolemy of Morocco (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος, Latin: Ptolemaeus, 1 BC-40) was a prince and the last Roman Client King of Mauretania.



Ancestry, Family and Early Life

Ptolemy was the son of King Juba II and Queen Cleopatra Selene II of Mauretania. He had a younger sister called Drusilla. [1] His father Juba II was the son of King Juba I of Numidia, was of Berber descent from North Africa and was an ally to the Roman Triumvir Pompey. His mother Cleopatra Selene II was the daughter to the Ptolemaic Greek Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Roman Triumvir Mark Antony. Ptolemy was of Berber, Greek and Roman ancestry.

Ptolemy and his sister Drusilla were the only grandchildren to Juba I of Numidia, Cleopatra VII and were among the younger grandchildren to Mark Antony. Through his maternal grandfather, Ptolemy was a distant relative to Dictator Julius Caesar and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Ptolemy was a first cousin to Roman General Germanicus, his brother the Roman Emperor Claudius and a second cousin to Roman Emperor Caligula, Roman Empress Agrippina the Younger, Roman Empress Valeria Messalina and Roman Emperor Nero.

Ptolemy was most probably born in Caesaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Mauretania (modern Cherchell, Algeria) in the Roman Empire. Ptolemy was named in honor of his mother’s ancestors in particular the Ptolemaic dynasty. He was also named in honor of the memory of Cleopatra VII, the birthplace of his mother and the birthplace of her relatives. Cleopatra Selene II choosing this name for her son, she created a distinct Greek Egyptian tone and wanted to emphasize her role as the monarch who would continue the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Cleopatra Selene II by passed the ancestral names of her husband. She naming her son Ptolemy, instead of a Berber ancestral name is a rare example in Ancient History because instead reaching into the father’s family for a name; Cleopatra Selene II reached into her family to name her son. This is in particular if the son is the primary male heir. Ptolemy being named after his mother’s ancestors reveals his mother was the heiress of the Ptolemies and the leader of a Ptolemaic government in exile.

Ptolemy was sent to Rome by his parents to be educated. Through his parents, Ptolemy had Roman citizenship. His mother died in 6 and was placed in the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania, which by built by his parents. In Rome, Ptolemy was well educated, received a Roman education and became Romanized. During his years living in Rome, Ptolemy was a part of the remarkable court of Antonia Minor. Antonia Minor was the youngest niece of the first Roman Emperor Augustus and youngest daughter to Roman Triumvir Mark Antony. Antonia Minor was a maternal aunt to Ptolemy who was a half-sister to his late mother. Cleopatra Selene II and Antonia Minor shared the same father but their mothers were different. The mother of Antonia Minor was Octavia Minor, the fourth wife of Mark Antony and the second sister to Octavian (future Augustus). Antonia Minor was an influential noble woman who supervised her circle of various princes and princesses. Her circle assisted in the political preservation of the Roman Empire’s borders and affairs of the client states. Ptolemy lived in Rome until 21 and left Rome to return to Mauretania to the court of his aging father.

Reign as King

When Ptolemy returned to Mauretania, Juba II made Ptolemy his co-ruler and successor. Coinage has survived from Juba II’s co-rule with his son. On coinage, on one side there is a central bust of Juba II with his title in Latin ‘King Juba’. On the other side there is a central bust of Ptolemy and the inscription stating in Latin ‘King Ptolemy son of Juba’. Juba II died in 23 and was placed along side with Cleopatra Selene II in Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania. Then Ptolemy became the sole ruler of Mauretania.

During his co-rule with Juba II into his sole rule Ptolemy like his father appeared to be a patron of art, learning, literature and sports. In Athens Greece, statues were erected to Juba II and Ptolemy in a gymnasium in Athens and a statue was erected in Ptolemy’s honor in reference to his taste in literature. Ptolemy dedicated statues of himself on the Acropolis. The Athenians honored Ptolemy and his family with inscriptions dedicated to them and this reveals that the Athenians had respect towards the Roman Client Monarchs and their families which was common in the 1st century.

The local Berber tribes in 17, the Numidian Tacfarinas and Garamantes started to revolt against the Kingdom of Mauretania and Rome. The war had ravaged Africa and Berbers, including former slaves from Ptolemy’s household had joined in the revolt. Ptolemy through his military campaigns was unsuccessful to end the Berber revolt. The war had reached the point that Ptolemy summoned the Roman Governor of Africa, Publius Cornelius Dolobella and his army to assist Ptolemy to end the revolt. The war finally ended in 24. Although Ptolemy’s army and the Romans won, both sides suffered considerable losses of infantry and cavalry.

The Roman Senate impressed by Ptolemy’s loyal conduct, had sent a Roman Senator to visit Ptolemy. The Roman Senator recognized Ptolemy’s loyal conduct and awarded him an ivory scepter, an embroidered triumphal robe and the senator greeted Ptolemy as king, ally and friend. This recognition was a tradition which recognizes and rewards the allies to Rome.

Ptolemy through his military campaigns, had proven his capability and loyal as an ally and Client King to Rome. He was a popular monarch with the Berbers and had travelled extensive throughout the Roman Empire, including Alexandria Egypt and Ostia Italy.

In Caesaria, prayers were offered for the health of Ptolemy at the Temple of Saturn frugifer dues. Mauretania was a region that was abundant in agriculture and the God Saturn was the God of agriculture. Saturn became a prominent God in Mauretania and his cult became an important cult in the kingdom. A temple and a sanctuary cult were dedicated to Saturn in Caesaria by 30 and throughout Mauretania various temples were dedicated to Saturn.

Ptolemy’s parents descended from backgrounds that had strong endemic traditions in claiming their descent from Hercules (see Heracleidae). His mother originated from a country, that there were various imperial cults dedicated to the Pharaohs and their relatives and there is a possibility that his father’s Royal Numidian ancestors may had imperial cults dedicated to them.

In a surviving inscription in Mauretania hints that either Juba II or Ptolemy established an imperial cult honoring Hiempsal II, a previous Numidian King and paternal grandfather of Juba II. According to inscriptional evidence, Ptolemy may have established a Royal Mauretanian Cult honoring himself and his late parents (see Berber mythology). One inscription is dedicated to his genius and another inscription expressed wishes for his good health.

Evidence suggesting that Ptolemy could have deified Juba II after his death, is from the writings of the Christian author of the 3rd century Marcus Minucius Felix. There could have been a cult dedicated to Juba II. In Felix’s Octavius, the writer records a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan from Cirta. This dialogue was apart of a Christian argument that divinity is impossible for mortals. Felix lists humans who were said to have become divine: Saturn, Jupiter, Romulus and Juba. Further literary evidence, suggesting the deification of Juba II even Ptolemy, is from the brief euhemerist exercise entitled On the Vanity of Idols by the Christian Saint of the 3rd century, Cyprian. In his exercise in deflating the gods, Cyprian observed and stated that the Mauretanians were manifestly worshipping their kings and did not conceal their name by any disguise. According to the surviving evidence there is a strong probability that Juba II and Ptolemy, after they had died they were deified by the Berbers.

Coinage from Ptolemy’s sole reign is very different from the coins from the time Ptolemy co-ruled with Juba II. His royal title on coinage is in Latin ‘King Ptolemy’ and there is no surviving coinage that shows his royal title in Greek. On his coinage there is no Ancient Egyptian imagery. The coinage from his sole reign displays a variety of themes. Ptolemy personified himself as an Elephant on coins. Elephant personification is an ancient coinage tradition in which his late parents did when they ruled Mauretania. The Elephant has symbolic functions: an icon representing Africa and an iconic monetary characteristic from the Hellenistic period which displays influence and power. Another animal, Ptolemy uses on coins is a Lion leaping which is a symbol of animal kingship and is another symbol representing Africa.

Other coins display Roman themes. A rare revealing gold coin dated from the year 39 celebrates Ptolemy’s descent, his rule and his loyalty to Rome. On one side of the coin, there is a central bust of Juba II and is inscribed in Latin ‘King Juba son of Juba’. Juba II is personified like a Greek Egyptian Pharaoh from the Ptolemaic dynasty. The other side of the coin is an eagle with its wings displayed on a thunderbolt and Ptolemy’s initials are inscribed in Latin. Through his father’s central bust and inscription, Ptolemy is celebrating and showing the continuation of his family and rule, while honoring his paternal ancestry. The personification of his father as a Ptolemaic Pharaoh, Ptolemy is celebrating his Greek Egyptian descent and possibly his links to Alexander the Great. Ptolemy through the eagle is celebrating the Roman Peace, honoring the rule of the Roman Empire, while he is showing his allegiance and loyalty to Ancient Rome. Another coin dating from the year 40 celebrates his Roman Senatorial decree. The coin shows on one side, a curule chair upon which is a wreath and a scepter leaning against it. On the other side of the coin, Ptolemy is wearing a fillet on his head.

Ptolemy seemed to have had expensive tastes and enjoyed luxury items. He owned a custom made Wine Citrus Wood Table. Mauretania had many citrus trees and produced many citrus wood tables. Any item made from Citrus Wood was sought after by aristocrats and monarchs. Citrus wood was a sought after item because for its color and the complexity of its grain in its surface. The grain pattern can be wavy or hooked. The wood was treated with wax and wheat to protect the coating of the wood’s bark and it was very sensitive to clean and maintain.

Ptolemy married a woman called Julia Urania, who came from obscure origins. She is only known through a funeral inscription found at Caesaria through her freedwoman Julia Bodina. Bodina ascribed Julia Urania as ‘Queen Julia Urania’. There is a possibility that Julia Urania was a member of the Royal Family of Emesa (modern Hims Syria). Ptolemy married Julia Urania at an unknown date during the 1st century. She bore Ptolemy in about 38, a daughter called Drusilla.


The Kingdom of Mauretania was one of the wealthiest Roman Client Kingdoms and after 24; Ptolemy continued to reign without interruption.

In late 40, Caligula invited Ptolemy to Rome and welcomed him with appropriate honours. He then ordered Ptolemy’s assassination while he was in his quarters for reasons unknown.

After Ptolemy’s murder in Rome, his former household slave Aedemon from his outrage; to the memory and loyalty of his former master, Aedemon wanted to avenge Caligula and started the revolt of Mauretania with the Berbers against Rome. The Berber revolt was a violent one and the rebels were skilled fighters against the Roman Army. The Roman Generals Gnaeus Hosidius Geta and Gaius Suetonius Paulinus were needed to end the revolt. When the revolt ended in 44, Claudius assessed the kingdom and its future. He decided to divide Mauretania into two provinces which were Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis.

Much prior to Ptolemy’s death, Caligula had sent him a peculiar message stating: “Do nothing at all, neither good or bad, to the bearer.” Claudius tried a Roman Senator called Gaius Rabirius Postumus for treason who before tried unsuccessfully to recover money from Ptolemy.

Literature & Art

Ptolemy is a minor character in the novels by Robert Graves, I Claudius and Claudius the God.

Throughout Morocco and Algeria statues have survived that belonged to Ptolemy. There is a nude statue of him, dated from the 1st century which is on display at the Rabat Museum, Morocco. His sculpted images are of a youthful appearance and particularly those first portraits created during the reign of Juba II virtually show his relations to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. This is evident by the arrangement of the comma shaped locks over the forehead. There is a seven inch fine bronze Roman imperial bust of Ptolemy about age 15 which c. 5-20 was auctioned by the US Auction Group, Sotheby in New York. The imperial bust was auctioned on Friday 10 December 2004; it was estimated between US$300,000 – US$500,000 but was sold for US$960,000.


  1. ^ Burstein 2007 p. 77

References & Sources



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