The last pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy XV Caesar, was there when the powerful empire and civilization fell to the Romans. Also nicknamed Caesarion, he was the eldest son of the famed Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. He ruled Egypt until it was taken over by Rome.

Read this to find out how his reign came to an end, and how he ruled alongside his famous mother.

Who Was the Last Pharaoh of Egypt?

Ptolemy, or Caesarion, is the last pharaoh of Egypt and part of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the group of the last pharaohs of Egypt. His reign ended with the takeover from Rome and his eventual death at the hands of the Roman leader Octavian, but before that, his rule began in 44 BC, reigning alongside his mother, Cleopatra, until 30 BC. Born in 47 BC, he was only three years old when he was chosen to rule with his mother, and he was likewise still young when he was sentenced to death.

Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra told her son and everyone else that he was the son of Julius Caesar, with whom she had a long, romantic relationship with, and Ptolemy XV Caesar was given the nickname Caesarion because of his parentage.

But Julius Caesar never acknowledged his fatherhood of this young pharaoh, so it wasn’t clear whether this was true or not. He spent the first two years of his life in Rome, where his mother hoped that he would take over his father’s Roman rule one day as well as reign over Egypt.

But then Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Cleopatra and her son hurried to return to Egypt. Cleopatra named her son as the co-ruler, but she continued to act as the true ruler of Egypt. As Ptolemy grew older, he might have taken on additional responsibilities as his stepfather, Marc Antony, gave him more power over the land.

The Other Epithets of Caesarion: Who Was the Last Pharaoh of Egypt?

Like many rulers, Caesarion went by numerous other names. Because of his essential role and royal parentage, he was deserving of many titles.

These included

  • Iwapanetjer Entynehem, meaning “Heir of the God Who Saves”
  • Irmaatenre, meaning “Carrying Out the Rule of Ra” or “Sun of Righteousness”
  • Sekhemankhamun, meaning “Living Image of Amun”
  • Setepenptah, meaning “Chosen of Ptah”

The Family of Ptolemy XV, the Last Pharaoh of Egypt

Caesarion was the oldest son of Cleopatra and the last of the pharaohs. Cleopatra most likely had this son with Julius Caesar, making him Caesar’s only son. However, after Caesar’s death, his mother eventually married Marc Antony, so he had other half-siblings.

These included: 

  • The twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II
  • Ptolemy Philadelphus

As the stepfather of this mixed family, Marc Antony decided to use his power to split lands located in Rome and Parthia between his children. The law that he signed into place along with Cleopatra was called the Donations of Alexandria, and it was signed in 34 BC. Caesarion, as the oldest of Cleopatra’s children, was given extra titles.

He was given the title of a god, as well as the son of god, and a king of kings. This was a great threat to Roman power, or it could have been Marc Antony’s attempt to use Egypt to control Rome as well. Julius Caesar had no sons except for Caesarion, and because Julius Caesar didn’t acknowledge him, he took on an adopted son, his grandnephew, Octavian.

Octavian didn’t like Antony’s acknowledgment of Caesarion as Julius Caesar’s son because it threatened his rule.

The Beginning of War With Rome Against the Last Pharaoh of Egypt

Once Octavian heard of these actions, he was furious and decided to stir up dissent in Rome. He also began to form armies to fight against Antony and those in Egypt. In 31 BC, he brought his fleet to fight against the navy of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium. This was the result of about ten years of rivalry between Antony and Octavian and was not out of the blue.

Octavian was able to win some early victories in the earlier part of the year while Antony and Cleopatra were in Greece. Once they met in Actium, Antony’s fleet was just not prepared to handle Octavian’s much larger one. Octavian was able to finally defeat them, and he took over Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC.

The Deaths of Ptolemy XV Caesar, His Mother, and His Stepfather

After Antony and Cleopatra’s forces were defeated, some records state that Cleopatra was trying to prepare her young son to take over Egypt for her. She wanted him to finally be the sole ruler without his mother. It was thought that she might have wished to run off with Antony into exile to avoid the Roman repercussions, but once Octavian made his way into Egypt, that wasn’t really possible anymore.

Cleopatra sent her young son, now 17, away to safety, but eventually, Octavian was able to lure him back, perhaps with promises that he could take over Egypt. It was soon after this that Cleopatra and Marc Antony died. The story goes that Antony died first, after having received the note from Cleopatra that she had killed herself.

Cleopatra didn’t want to be led in an embarrassing march to triumph after Octavian’s victory, so she planned to kill herself. She was brought to Antony’s tomb where she embalmed his body before killing herself with a venomous asp, even though Octavian had ordered a guard to keep her from doing that.

Shortly after his mother’s death, Caesarion, the last Egyptian king, was murdered, so Octavian (later Augustus) eventually gained absolute rule over Egypt. It is unclear how Caesarion died, but reports allege that he was strangled to death.

The Last Pharaoh of Egypt in Artwork: Not Much To Work With

Because he had such a short and overall uneventful rule, Ptolemy XV Caesar didn’t have much artwork made of him. He was very unlike his beautiful and famous mother in that way, but some artwork still survives of the young pharaoh. Most of the artwork depicting Caesarion shows him and Cleopatra together.

These pieces of art include

  • A partial statue which was detected in the harbor of Alexandria in 1997
  • Two reliefs along with his mother in the Temple of Hathor at Dendera
  • Some bronze coins show him as an infant along with Cleopatra
  • A wall painting from Pompeii which was originally thought to be Venus and Cupid is likely Cleopatra and her son
  • A couple of small depictions at the Temple of Edfu

It seems as though mother and son were very close, as Cleopatra was said to describe her relationship with her son as similar to that between the goddess Isis and her son Horus.

Conclusion

Check out these interesting facts about Ptolemy XV Caesar, or Caesarion, covered in the article above:

  • Ptolemy XV, also nicknamed Caesarion, was the last pharaoh of Egypt
  • He was the eldest son of Cleopatra and probably Julius Caesar
  • Born in 47 BC, he had a short life, ending close to the time of his mother’s own death
  • Caesarion was never accepted by his father, but he was acknowledged as Julius Caesar’s true son by his stepfather Marc Antony
  • At the beginning of his young life, Ptolemy XV Caesar was living in Rome with his mother as Julius Caesar’s guest
  • When Julius Caesar was assassinated, the mother and son returned to Egypt
  • At the age of three, Caesarion became co-ruler along with his mother, who held all the ruling power
  • He grew and learned alongside her as she married Marc Antony and had three more children
  • Marc Antony split lands and titles among his children and stepchildren. He even called Caesarion a god, angering Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar
  • Octavian saw this as an act against Rome since he was the current leader, and he planned to get his revenge
  • Antony wasn’t quite prepared for the force that Octavian would bring, and he lost their battle
  • Octavian took over Alexandria, and both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide
  • Cleopatra killed herself with a venomous snake instead of being paraded around like a prize of Octavian’s victory
  • Octavian ordered the death of the young pharaoh Caesarion so he would have no rival to his leadership of Egypt
  • The manner of the last pharaoh of Egypt’s death is unclear; he was reportedly strangled
  • There isn’t much artwork remaining of the young leader, but there are a few pieces that are thought to be representing him, most often appearing with his mother

Ancient Egypt had a long, bloody and often beautiful history that continues to fascinate us, especially the life of the famous Cleopatra. Because of her fame, it is her son that is often overshadowed, when he, in fact, was the last pharaoh of Egypt.

He lived a short life, but if he had survived, what a life he could have had with two powerful figures as his parents: Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

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