Juba II (c. 48 BCE - 23 CE) was a Numidian prince and the king of Mauretania from c. 25 BCE until his death in 23 CE. He was raised in the household of Julius Caesar (c. 100-44 BCE) and married Cleopatra Selene II (40 - c. 17/5 BCE), the daughter of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE). His nearly 50-year reign was characterized by his loyalty to Rome and his promotion of Greco-Roman culture. He faced numerous uprisings by his subjects in Numidia and Mauretania, partly due to the unpopularity of his pro-Roman policies. Nevertheless, Mauretania became very prosperous under his rule and exported goods like Tyrian purple and timber to the Roman Empire.
Modern historians have paid more attention to Juba II’s scholarly activities than to his reign. He was a man of many talents: an explorer, historian, geographer, and botanist. His scholarly contributions on the geography and inhabitants of Africa and Asia helped to inform Roman authors for generations.
Juba II was born c. 48 BCE, as the only son of King Juba I of Numidia (60-46 BCE). Juba I was an ally of Pompey the Great during the Civil War between Pompey and Julius Caesar (49-48 BCE). Juba I was defeated by Caesar at the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BCE, and subsequently committed suicide. The orphaned prince Juba II was taken captive and led in Caesar’s triumph in Rome to represent the victory over Numidia.
Despite this bleak start to his young life, Juba II’s fortunes quickly improved. Julius Caesar chose to foster the young boy in his own household. Growing up in Caesar’s family, he was treated with the same care as his adoptive siblings. Despite not being Roman by birth, he received Roman citizenship early in life and was fluent in Greek and Latin. After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, Juba II was cared for by Caesar’s relatives; eventually ending up in the household of Caesar’s grandniece Octavia Minor (69-11 BCE). Octavia already had three small children of her own, and she adopted several other children after Juba II.
As a young man, Juba II produced some of his earliest literary works; mainly on history and linguistics. His books Roman Archaeology and Resemblances both focused on Rome’s cultic traditions and may have been part of a larger work on Roman history, linguistics, and religion. By the time Juba II was in his early twenties, he had already cemented his reputation as a notable scholar, and his works were circulating in Roman literary society.
Juba II was nicknamed “rex literatissimus” by his contemporaries (Latin for “the scholarly king”) and is considered one of the foremost scholars of his era. In doing so, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather Hiempsal II (88 - c. 62/50 BCE), who was also a historian.
In addition to being a scholar, Juba II was a military veteran and served in many campaigns under Octavian (the future emperor Augustus). He proved himself as a commander at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, which ended in the defeat of Cleopatra VII and her lover Mark Antony. In 28 BCE, Augustus briefly restored Numidia to Juba II as a reward for his service. Numidia returned to direct Roman control in 25 BCE when it became an official province.
Marriage to Cleopatra Selene II
Augustus and Octavia arranged for Juba II to marry Antony and Cleopatra's daughter Cleopatra Selene II when she came of age in 25 BCE. Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II had both reached marriageable age and were of equal status as the children of kings and queens. They also had much in common such as a passion for knowledge and an appreciation for Greek culture. That both of them had been orphaned by Roman warfare, only to be raised by their parents' enemies, was also not lost on their contemporaries.
Augustus gave Cleopatra Selene II the kingdom of Mauretania as a dowry upon her marriage so that she and her husband could rule jointly. Krinegoras of Mytilene (70 BCE - 18 CE), a Roman court poet from Lesbos, was commissioned to write an epigram celebrating the marriage of Cleopatra Selene II and Juba II.
Great lands of the earth, whose borders touch, which the Nile with waters swelling separates from the black Aethiopians, you have got sovereigns in common by marriage and you make one race of Egypt and Libya. From generation to generation may the sceptre pass from father to son, firmly established forever over both lands. (Greek Anthology 9.235., translated by Macurdy)
The couple had at least one son, Ptolemy of Mauretania (r. 20 CE - 40 CE), who succeeded them as king.
King of Mauretania
When Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II arrived in Mauretania c. 25 BCE, the once formidable kingdom was in a state of anarchy. The young rulers found themselves in charge of a disorganized territory on the fringes of the Roman Empire with no clear central administration. Mauretania had been divided by a civil war between Bocchus II (r. 49-33 BCE) and Bogud (r. 49-31 BCE), both of whom were dead by 31 BCE. When Bocchus II died, he left Mauretania to Rome in his will in the hopes that it would not fall into anarchy. Augustus chose not to fully annex the country, establishing a few small colonies instead. By appointing Juba II as king of Mauretania, Augustus ensured that Rome’s western border was protected by a king loyal to Rome. He proved to be a loyal ally of Augustus, and actively promoted Roman interests in Africa.
The royal court of Juba II was a fusion of cultures, including African, Greek, and Roman influences. He vigorously promoted the arts, founding public works like gymnasiums, libraries, and some of the oldest theatres in western Africa. The inhabitants of Mauretania mainly led a pastoral lifestyle, preferring a nomadic life to a sedentary one. During Juba II’s reign, Mauretania was urbanized; existing cities were greatly expanded and renovated, and new cities were established. Juba II’s ancestor Masinissa (202-148 BCE) had attempted to urbanize Numidia in a similar fashion. The economy of Mauretania prospered under Juba II. The kingdom produced Tyrian purple, grain, fish, garum, and timber which was exported to the Roman Empire.
Mauretania was far larger than any of the other Roman client kingdoms but was sparsely populated outside of its urban centres. Because of this, it was notoriously difficult to govern effectively. As a Roman client king, he was also obliged to protect the frontier zones from outside invaders.
Juba II’s rule was continuously challenged by the Gaetulians, a warlike pastoral people who inhabited the areas around the Atlas Mountains and northern edges of the Sahara. The Gaetulians had an ancestral claim to parts of Juba II's territory and resisted attempts to establish borders and taxation. Roman settlement in North Africa gradually pushed the Gaetulians out of their traditional territories. As Mauretania’s population increased, conflicts between indigenous pastoralists and agrarian settlers steadily escalated. When the Gaetulians revolted against his rule in 6 CE, Juba II required Roman assistance to maintain control.
Expedition with Gaius Caesar
Juba II was an advisor to Gaius Caesar (20 BCE - 4 CE), who commanded Rome’s eastern provinces in his uncle Augustus’ stead. Gaius and Juba II toured the eastern Mediterranean from 2 BCE to 2 CE, visiting Syria and Arabia. Juba II dedicated a book about their journey titled On Arabia to Gaius Caesar, who died of illness in 4 CE.
Sometime after his return from travelling with Gaius, Juba II married princess Glaphyra of Cappadocia (35 BCE - 7/8 CE). Juba II met Glaphyra in his travels with Gaius Caesar and quickly fell in love. It is not known whether Juba II was polygamous or if his wife Cleopatra Selene II had died by this time. His brief marriage to Glaphyra ended within a year, when she divorced him to marry Herod Archelaus, the king of Judea (r. 4 BCE - 6 CE).
Juba the Geographer
Juba II explored parts of Africa and Asia unknown to Mediterranean peoples. He also founded trading colonies on the west coast of Africa and authored several works on the geography and peoples of Africa and Asia. His body of work became a major source for Roman authors who lived after. Excerpts from Juba II’s bibliography largely survive through these later authors, who have become primary sources on the history of the early Roman Empire.
His extensive literary output exists today only in fragments, but is the basis of modern understanding of the ancient comprehension of the southern half of the known world, the vast stretch from the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa to India. (p. ix, Roller, 2004, The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene)
One of Juba II's expeditions sailed down the west coast of Africa, through the Pillars of Hercules (now known as the Strait of Gibraltar) and along the Atlantic coast. This expedition reached as far as the Canary Islands, which were uninhabited at the time. During these voyages, he established factories on the island of Essaouira in modern-day Morocco for the production of purple dye.
Juba II’s Works
Juba II was a prolific author throughout his life and produced books on topics which include natural history, archaeology, medicine, botany, and geography. These writings are cited by ancient scholars such as Galen, Plutarch, and Pliny the Elder. Around 25 BCE, he wrote The Wanderings of Hanno, a chronicle of the 5th-century BCE Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator’s voyages along the coast of West Africa. On Euphorbion documented the discovery of Euphorbia, a plant in the Atlas Mountains with medicinal properties.
Juba II wrote critical works on the arts in the period between 30-25 BCE. These include On Painting, which critiqued Roman art, and the aptly titled Theatrical History. His art criticism was likely derivative of older Greek works and did not receive the same literary attention that his works on Roman history did. He is also credited with penning several plays and poems over the course of his life.
Among Juba II’s known works are:
- Roman Archaeology (c. 30-25 BCE) - Juba II’s first publication, and one of the earliest extant works on archaeology. The book was a history of Rome from its mythological foundations to at least the 2nd Century BCE.
- Resemblances (c. 30-25 BCE) - An attempt to prove the Greek origin of the Latin language, which was a subject of keen interest in Augustan Rome.
- The Wanderings of Hanno (c. 25 BCE) - A chronicle of the travels of Hanno the Navigator.
- On Painting (c. 30-25 BCE) - A treatise and critique on the art of Rome.
- Theatrical History (c. 30-25 BCE) - A history of Roman theatre, especially musical productions.
- Epigrams (c. 25 BCE) - A collection of poetry.
- On Euphorbion (c. 25-5 BCE) - A book on botany and medicine describing the discovery and applications of Euphorbia.
- On Libya (c. 25 - 5 BCE) - A general treatise on North Africa, referred to collectively as “Libya”.
- On Arabia & On Assyria (c. 2 BCE - 5 CE) - A pair of geographical works about Arabia and Assyria, based on his travels with Gaius Caesar.
Final Years & Death
In the final years of his life, Juba II ruled jointly with his son Ptolemy. He died of natural causes in 23 CE and was buried alongside Cleopatra Selene II in the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania, near Caesarea.
Juba II built the mausoleum as a lasting monument to the power of his dynasty and may have modelled it after the similarly built Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome. The mausoleum is still standing in present-day Algeria, although Juba II's remains have been lost to time. Ptolemy of Mauretania ruled after Juba II until 40 CE when he was executed by his first cousin, the Roman emperor Caligula.