Alexander the Great’s Sister: Cleopatra

Cleopatra of Macedonia was born around 354 B.C. to Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias of Epirus. She was a Macedonian princess and was a sister of Alexander the Great. Cleopatra had half-sisters named Cynane and Thessalonike and a half-brother named Philip III of Macedon.

Cleopatra grew up in Pella with her mother. In 338 B.C., her father married another woman named Cleopatra, creating hostilities between Philip, Olympias, and Alexander. Olympias went home to Epirus, where her brother, Alexander I, was king, while her brother went to Illyria. Meanwhile, Cleopatra remained in Pella. 

Not long after, Philip decided to form a political alliance with Alexander I, and so he offered him the hand of his daughter, Cleopatra. A grand wedding was soon arranged to be held in Aegae in Macedonia. Philip attended the wedding without body armor to look friendly to the Greek dignitaries in attendance. When he was about to enter the theater, an assassin stabbed him, leading to his death. Rumors went around that Olympias and Cleopatra’s brother was behind the murder.

After the assassination, Cleopatra and her new husband went back to Epirus where they eventually had two children, Cadmeia and Neoptolemus II. Cleopatra and her brother, Alexander, kept communicating even though Alexander was on his military campaigns, with the latter even sending his sister and mother treasures from plundered lands.

Cleopatra soon became preoccupied with official business involving grain shipments. This happened in 334 B.C. when her husband, Alexander I, headed over to the Italian peninsula to battle against Italic tribes. Cleopatra oversaw the receipt and dispatch of grain cargoes during a food shortage. An inscription from Libya states that 50,000 medimni (about 52 liters) of grain was received in her name, while the excess was sent over to Corinth. Meanwhile, her husband had been successful in his campaigns in Heraclea, Consentia, Terin, and Sipontum but was eventually killed in a clash in 331 B.C. An envoy was consequently sent from Athens to extend condolences to Cleopatra.

With Alexander I dead, Cleopatra’s son, Neoptolemus, was expected to assume the throne. However, the heir was too young, so Cleopatra assumed imperial duties in his stead. It was a tradition in Epirus that the woman necessarily took over the household when the husband died while their son was young. Cleopatra then took over Epirus and managed it like her home. She served as the religious leader for Molossans, acting as one of the “welcomers of sacred ambassadors.” This position enabled her to be aware of any significant event happening in Greece. 

When her brother, Alexander the Great, died, numerous generals of the fallen conqueror desired to marry Cleopatra. This was expected, as being married to the sister of the great conqueror would strengthen a general’s prestige and power. One of these generals was Leonnatus, an energetic general who knew how to command an army. Cleopatra agreed to be married to him not only because he was ambitious but she knew he could depose the new ruler of Macedon, Philip III. Before heading for the scheduled wedding, Leonnatus decided to enhance his name by trying to help out another general named Antipater, who was besieged by rebels in Lamia, Greece. Unfortunately, Leonnatus was killed in battle, and the marriage never happened.

Another general, Perdiccas, sought Cleopatra’s hand in marriage, but he failed. When Perdiccas died, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Antigonus made their advances toward Cleopatra, but she refused all of them. She escaped to the city of Sardis and eventually, was kept as a guest prisoner by the powerful general Antigonus, who was now in control of Asia Minor.

While Cleopatra was in Sardis, Antipater openly accused her of being involved with Perdiccas in the death of her sister, Cyanae. Cleopatra fought back against these accusations.

In 308 BC, Cleopatra was now nearing fifty years old and had been a guest prisoner of Antigonus for more than ten years in Sardis. Her father, mother, brother, and half-sisters were all dead. During this time, she heard of Ptolemy’s intention to marry her. Ptomely was one of her brother’s generals and a long-time friend who now has control of Egypt. Cleopatra had rejected several proposals of marriage, but now seemed the right time to accept one and be on her way to Egypt. She accepted his proposal and attempted to go away with him. Unfortunately, she was captured by Antigonus’ men and taken back to Sardis, where she was killed, probably on the orders of Antigonus. Antigonus had the assassins executed and granted an elegant funeral to Cleopatra.