Who Was Who

The Ptolemaic Royal Family: from Alexander the Great to Ptolemy of Mauretania


It is thought that the genes we inherit may have more to do with the make-up of our personalities than our environment … We have some knowledge of Cleopatra’s forebears – not at all a promising start!

Julia Samson, Nefertiti and Cleopatra1

By 69, the year of Cleopatra’s birth, her increasingly dysfunctional family had ruled Egypt for two and a half centuries. They had created and lost an empire whose influence was felt throughout the Mediterranean world and far beyond, ruling from a purpose-built city widely acknowledged as the world’s most advanced seat of learning and culture. And, in marked contrast to Egypt’s native kings, whose private affairs went unrecorded, they had lived recorded lives of extraordinary complexity and violence. Reviewing the personal histories of Cleopatra’s immediate forebears, a confusing mixture of Ptolemies, Arsinoës, Berenices and Cleopatras, it becomes increasingly difficult to regard the Ptolemies as real people with anything approaching real feelings. To be born a Ptolemy was to be born into a family where survival of the ruthless was the cardinal rule and self-preservation a matter of overwhelming importance. Those Ptolemies who did survive had strong, larger-than-life personalities and, their deeds suggest, extremely thick skins. But repeated tales of murder, adultery, rebellion, lynchings, incest and uncontrollable ambition are the stuff of third-rate crime fiction and television soap operas; they fascinate and repel in equal measure, but do not necessarily inspire the sympathy that they should. Reading of so many untimely and unnatural deaths in so short a period somehow blunts our appreciation of the reality – one is tempted to say the horror – of Ptolemaic family life. Yet read these stories we must, albeit in abbreviated form, as they form the immediate background to Cleopatra’s own story. And, as the Ptolemies owed their throne to Alexander the Great, it seems appropriate to start with his brief reign as king of Egypt.2

Alexander III the Great, King of Egypt 332–323

Son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias of Epiros

In the winter of 332/1 Egypt surrendered to Alexander the Great without a struggle, ending almost two centuries of intermittent Persian rule. History tells us that the Egyptians welcomed Alexander as a liberator and cheered him on his way to Memphis. This history, written by Greeks and therefore heavily pro-Greek, is hardly unbiased, but the number of recorded rebellions and harsh reprisals during the Persian periods does suggest that the Egyptians, who hated any form of foreign domination, had a particular dislike of the Persians.

Alexander had ambitious plans for his new land. Already Alexandria had been established, and there had been some bureaucratic reorganisation. But there was no need to hurry. Time was on Alexander’s side, and there were other battles yet to fight, other Persian territories to conquer. In May 331 Alexander marched northwards from Memphis to confront his old enemy, Darius III. He died in Babylon on 10 June 323, his unexpected death variously attributed to fever, to excessive drinking and to poison.

Philip III Arrhidaeos, King of Egypt 323–316

Son of Philip II of Macedon

With Alexander dead, his half-brother assumed nominal control of an empire stretching from Macedon to India, becoming uncrowned king of Egypt by default. Philip Arrhidaeos was the son of a Thessalian woman of humble birth; unkind rumour held that she was little better than a dancing girl, and everyone agreed that her son was, at best, half-witted. Half-witted or not, Arrhidaeos had managed to survive the violent family struggle which followed the assassination of his father, Philip, and which saw the elimination of all other potential rivals to the throne. Supported by his forceful wife, Adea, Arrhidaeos ruled his empire for just six years, his reign ending with an invasion of Macedon led by the dowager Olympias of Epiros. With Olympias triumphant, Arrhidaeos was executed and Adea, offered the choice of a dagger, a noose or poison, hanged herself.

Alexander IV, King of Egypt 316–304

Posthumous son of Alexander III the Great and Roxanne

Alexander the Great was just thirty-three years old and childless when he died. However, his Sogdian (Iranian) wife, Roxanne, was pregnant with a child who, if a boy, was destined to share the throne with Alexander’s half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeos. The child was indeed a boy, and at Arrhidaeos’s untimely death the throne passed unchallenged to his nephew, Alexander IV. The younger Alexander would never see Egypt; both he and Roxanne were murdered in Macedon in 310. The remains of a ‘young prince’, discovered in a silver funerary urn in the Macedonian royal cemetery of Vergina, may well be those of Alexander IV. For the last six years of Alexander’s ‘reign’, as recorded in Egypt’s official lists, Ptolemy son of Lagos acted as uncrowned king.

Ptolemy I Soter I (Saviour), King of Egypt 304–284

Son of Lagos of Eordaea and Arsinoë

Ptolemy I was born in Macedon in 367. His father, Lagos, was a man of respectable but unexceptional Macedonian descent who had made a good marriage; his mother, Arsinoë, was second cousin to Philip II. Like many of Egypt’s commoner-born kings, Ptolemy was not overproud of his humble origins. Soon after the death of Alexander III he would spread the rumour that his mother had been one of Philip’s many mistresses and that he himself was half-brother to the late, great king.

As a Macedonian general, Ptolemy witnessed Alexander defeat Darius III of Persia at the battle of Issus in November 333. A year later he was present when Alexander took Egypt, and he was almost certainly present when Alexander marched to the Siwa Oasis. Other military successes followed. In 329 he captured Bessus, satrap of Bactria and assassin of Darius III, and in 327 he campaigned in India, commanding a third of Alexander’s army.

In 323 Ptolemy took control of Egypt, governing first on behalf of Philip Arrhidaeos, then on behalf of Alexander IV. It was Ptolemy who, in Philip’s name, supervised the temple improvements at Karnak and Hermopolis Magna, and in Alexander’s name built at the Elephantine temple of Khnum. He extended Egypt’s territories to create a buffer zone around his land and masterminded the kidnapping and subsequent display of Alexander’s body in Alexandria. In 304 the situation was regularised. In a coronation ceremony held at Alexandria, General Ptolemy was transformed into King Ptolemy I Soter I. As Ptolemy’s Greek profile – hook-nosed, sharp-chinned, sunken-eyed and topped with a mop of unruly curls – started to appear on her coins, Egypt became an independent realm with Alexandria as her capital.

Alexander’s enormous empire was by now irretrievably fragmented and his own dynastic line had ended. The Wars of the Successors (321–285) left the Mediterranean world dominated by three rival Macedonian-based kingdoms: the Antigonid empire of Macedon and mainland Greece, ruled by the descendants of Antigonos ‘the One-Eyed’; the Seleucid empire of Syria and Mesopotamia, ruled by Seleucos I; and the Lagid or Ptolemaic empire of Egypt and Libya, whose territories included Cyprus and much of Palestine (including much of the modern states of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and southern Syria; a region known as Coele-Syria, or ‘Hollow Syria’). There would be frequent small-scale skirmishes – borders would expand and contract, alliances form and break, loyalties wax and wane – but the situation would remain more or less constant until a new superpower emerged to challenge the status quo.

Ptolemy was an imaginative economist and a competent scholar. Keen to promote Alexandria as an international centre of learning, he established the Museion and its world famous library. Outside Alexandria new temples were raised to ancient gods at Terenuthis (Hathor), Naukratis (Amen), Kom el-Ahmar (Osiris) and Tebtynis (Soknebtynis). The vast and highly efficient Egyptian bureaucracy was left more or less untouched, but the new city of Ptolemais Hormou was founded to counteract the influence of the ever-rebellious ancient southern capital, Thebes.

His personal life was less well organised. Already divorced from his first wife, the Persian princess Artakama, he had married Eurydice of Macedon some time between 322 and 319. Eurydice bore her husband four or five children: two sons (Ptolemy Ceraunos and Meleager; both destined to rule Macedon), two daughters (Lysandra and Ptolemais) and a third possible daughter (Theoxena). A simultaneous relationship with Berenice I yielded three children. Eventually Eurydice was divorced and Ptolemy married his long-term mistress.

Berenice I

Daughter of Magas (?) and Antigone, wife of Ptolemy I

Berenice, widow of Philip II of Macedon, already had a son, Magus, who was to become king of Cyrenaica. Initially the mistress of Ptolemy I, she displaced Eurydice, married Ptolemy and became queen of Egypt. She bore Ptolemy two daughters (Arsinoë II and Philotera) and a son (Ptolemy II).

Ptolemy II Philadelphos (Brother-Loving), King of Egypt 285–246

Son of Ptolemy I and Berenice I

Ptolemy II had ruled alongside Ptolemy I as co-regent for three years; it was obvious that he was his father’s chosen successor. Nevertheless, his accession did not go unchallenged. There were those who felt, with some justification, that Berenice’s children should not have precedence over Eurydice’s offspring. Having secured his throne, Ptolemy’s reign developed into one of internal peace and sporadic foreign campaigns which initially saw an expansion, followed by a setback, of Egypt’s territories.

Back home, Ptolemy made significant improvements to the state bureaucracy and the banking system, refining the taxation structure until it became one of the most sophisticated, and punitive, in the world. Some of the revenue raised was used to complete his father’s unfinished building projects, including the Museion of Alexandria and the Pharos lighthouse. His own building works included the naos (inner sacred area) of the Philae temple of Isis, improvements to the Karnak temple complex (the temple of the goddess Mut and the Opet temple), and an extension to the birth house at the Dendera temple of Hathor. He restored the canal, silted up since Persian days, which linked the eastern Delta to the Gulf of Suez, and founded the city of Arsinoë – just one of many cities that he founded or renamed Arsinoë – at its southern end. Land reclamation and improvements to irrigation in the Faiyum led to a significantly increased agricultural yield, and the papyrus and grain industries flourished.

Ptolemy II used the memory of his deceased parents and his sister-wife, Arsinoë II, to promote the legitimacy of his dynasty and provide his people, both Greeks and Egyptians, with a unifying royal cult. But perhaps his greatest legacy was the commissioning of a history of Egypt, to be written in Greek for a Greek readership by the Egyptian priest Manetho of Sebennytos. Manetho’s work, now lost but surviving in valuable fragments in later histories, forms the basis of our modern division of Egyptian history into a sequence of ruling dynasties.

Arsinoë I

Daughter of Lysimachos of Thrace, wife of Ptolemy II

Arsinoë I bore Ptolemy II two sons (Ptolemy III Euergetes and Lysimachos) and a daughter (Berenice II) before she was banished from court, accused of plotting against her husband. She took up permanent residence in the southern Egyptian city of Koptos.

Arsinoë II

Daughter of Ptolemy I and Berenice I, sister-wife of Ptolemy II

The sixteen-year-old Arsinoë had been married to the elderly Lysimachos of Thrace, becoming stepmother to Arsinoë I. Several years later, hoping to promote the cause of her own two sons, she masterminded the death of Lysimachos’s heir, Agathocles, husband of her half-sister Lysandra. This tore the royal family apart, and Lysimachos died in battle in 281, fighting his dead son’s supporters. Arsinoë next married her half-brother Ptolemy Ceraunos. But Ceraunos, self-proclaimed king of Macedon, had her sons by Lysimachos murdered, and Arsinoë fled first to Samothrace and then to her brother’s court in Egypt. Ceraunos ruled Macedon for two years before dying in battle; his brother Meleager succeeded him but was deposed after a mere two months.

Arsinoë II next married her younger brother, Ptolemy II. She was queen of Egypt for less than seven years, yet had an enormous influence on the developing role of the queen. Deified after her death, her statue stood in all of Egypt’s temples.

Ptolemy III Euergetes I (Benefactor), King of Egypt 246–221

Son of Ptolemy II and Arsinoë I

The ending of the Third Syrian War (246–241) saw Ptolemy III, having captured the port of the enemy capital, Antioch, ruling an eastern Mediterranean empire whose influence stretched from the River Euphrates to Cyrenaica, as far north as Thrace and as far south as northern Nubia.

Ptolemy III was a successful and hard-working king whose building achievements include the founding of the temple of Horus at Edfu and the construction of the Alexandria Serapeum, but the end of his reign was marred by an unprecedented series of native uprisings, a response to the high levels of taxation and the growing economic differences between the Egyptian peasants and the immigrant Greeks.

Berenice II

Daughter of Magus of Cyrenaica, wife of Ptolemy III

The classical authors admired Berenice II as a strong and independently wealthy consort who, not content with ruling Egypt in her husband’s absence, rode into battle alongside him. Less admirable, and equally unlikely to be true, is the rumour that the hot-tempered Berenice had murdered her first fiancé, the Macedonian prince Demetrios the Fair, because she had found him in bed with her mother, Apame. Ptolemy III and Berenice II seem to have been genuinely fond of each other and their marriage produced six children. Berenice was murdered during her son’s reign.

Ptolemy IV Philopator (Father-Loving), King of Egypt 221–205

Son of Ptolemy III and Berenice II

The reign of Ptolemy IV heralded the beginning of the end of the Ptolemaic empire. The eldest son of Ptolemy III, Ptolemy IV has gone down in history as a pleasure-seeking drunkard who chose to stand silent as the highly influential, multi-talented athlete, priest and courtier Sosibios purged the royal family, murdering Ptolemy’s brother Magas, his uncle Lysimachos and his mother, Berenice II. Guided by Sosibios, Ptolemy took his younger sister, Arsinoë III, as his queen, but his affections lay with his mistress Agathoclea, who was herself the daughter of his father’s mistress. This formidable lady bore him at least one child before (allegedly) poisoning first Ptolemy IV and then Arsinoë III.

Private life aside, Ptolemy’s reign was by no means all bad. He successfully and most surprisingly armed his people and defended his country against an attempted takeover by Antiochos III of Syria. In winning the battle of Raphia on 22 June 217 he became the first Ptolemy to use native Egyptian troops. He improved and extended many temples, and completed the temple of Horus at Edfu. An enthusiastic scholar, he endowed a temple and cult to Homer at Alexandria. He even composed a tragedy, Adonis. Nevertheless, he was a deeply unpopular king, and his reign saw continuing native revolts that included the emergence of an Egyptian counter-pharaoh, Harwennefer, who ruled from Thebes in 206–200.

Arsinoë III

Daughter of Ptolemy III and Berenice II, sister-wife of Ptolemy IV

The mother of Ptolemy V was murdered soon after her husband’s unnatural death.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes (Manifest God), King of Egypt 205–180

Son of Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III

Ptolemy V had been named co-regent alongside his father as a baby. He became solo king at just six years of age. But the purge that had followed his father’s succession, and his mother’s murder, meant that there was no one suitable to act as regent on his behalf. His father’s (almost certainly forged) will named Sosibios and Agathocles, brother of Agathoclea, as guardians. When Sosibios died suddenly, Agathocles became sole guardian – until, that is, in 203 his entire family was murdered; torn apart by an angry mob determined to avenge their king and queen.

The mob may have supported the young Ptolemy V, but away from Alexandria the Egyptian people remained deeply unhappy with their Macedonian rulers and with the expensive after-effects of their seemingly endless military campaigns. Ptolemy IV had armed the Egyptian people to defeat Antiochos III in the battle of Raphia; they now realised just how powerful they could be. In 200 the Theban counter-pharaoh Harwennefer was succeeded by a second counter-pharaoh, Ankhwennefer, who held power in southern Egypt until 186. Meanwhile, a simultaneous rebellion in the Delta threatened the security of Alexandria. In order to secure his throne, Ptolemy reached an agreement with the Egyptian priesthood. The details of this agreement were carved on the bilingual Rosetta Stone, used in Champollion’s decipherment of the hieroglyphic script.

A sensible diplomatic marriage to the ten-year-old Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochos III of Syria, ensured that Ptolemy V remained on good terms with his most influential neighbour. But his reign saw the loss of many foreign territories and the empire contracted until it essentially comprised Cyprus, Cyrenaica and a handful of Aegean outposts. Greek immigration into Egypt, a constant stream since the reign of Ptolemy I, now slowed to a trickle and, deprived of constant renewed contact with their homeland, the Greeks within Egypt finally started to accept a more assimilated culture.

Following a threat to levy heavy taxes on Egypt’s Greek elite – the money was needed to finance military campaigns that, it was hoped, would restore the lost territories – Ptolemy V was poisoned by his generals in 180.

Cleopatra I

Daughter of Antiochos III of Syria, wife of Ptolemy V

Cleopatra I bore two sons (Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII) and a daughter (Cleopatra II). Although a foreigner (Cleopatra, nicknamed ‘the Syrian’, was of Macedonian-Persian descent), she managed to achieve what few members of the Ptolemaic dynasty could: a position of importance and respect within the royal family, both within Alexandria and the wider Egypt. After her husband’s death her influence grew even stronger as she acted as both regent and guardian for the five-year-old Ptolemy VI. While she lived, Egypt sensibly showed little interest in foreign affairs and remained on good terms with her native Syria. But Cleopatra I died a mere four years after Ptolemy V.

Ptolemy VI Philometor (Mother-Loving), King of Egypt 180–164, 163–145

Son of Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I

The orphaned Ptolemy VI, still too young to rule alone, came under the control of the eunuch Eulaeus and the Syrian ex-slave Lenaeus. It is not clear how such a curious couple came to be chosen as regents, although we may speculate that Cleopatra I died unexpectedly, before she had appointed a suitable guardian. Eulaeus and Lenaeus decided that the young king should marry his slightly older sister Cleopatra II. Soon after, in a move which was presumably intended to strengthen national unity but which had precisely the opposite effect, they announced that the kingship was to be a triumvirate, with the two young Ptolemies (VI and VIII) plus Cleopatra II as corulers.

Their next decision – in hindsight an extremely foolish one – was an attempt to reclaim Egypt’s lost territories by provoking a new Syrian war. This almost brought about the collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Egypt suffered a humiliating invasion, Ptolemy VI was captured by his uncle Antiochos IV, Eulaeus and Lenaeus disappeared, and the people of Alexandria proclaimed the twelve-year-old Cleopatra II and her younger brother, Ptolemy VIII, their queen and king. For a time Egypt had two rival courts, based at Memphis (Ptolemy VI under the control of Antiochos IV) and Alexandria (Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II), but the situation was untenable and the triumvirate was resumed at Alexandria. Antiochos, angered by the defection of Ptolemy VI, marched west; only direct Roman intervention prevented Alexandria from falling to the Syrians. Antiochos departed from Egypt in 168, leaving the siblings ruling from Alexandria, and Egypt greatly indebted to Rome.

The people outside Alexandria were unhappy. In 164, with Ptolemy VI distracted by civil unrest, Ptolemy VIII seized the throne and, as his brother fled first to Rome and thence to Cyprus, ruled alongside Cleopatra II from Alexandria. The Alexandrian mob quickly turned against their new king, and in 163 Ptolemy VI, with the full support of Rome, was invited home to rule with Cleopatra II. Increased stability brought increased prosperity to Egypt, and there was an impressive programme of temple restorations. In 145, having regained many of Egypt’s lost territories, Ptolemy VI died in battle in Syria.

Ptolemy Eupator ([Born] of a Noble Father)

Son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II

Died while still crown prince.

Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator (New Father-Loving), King of Egypt 145

Son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II

Murdered in his mother’s arms by his new stepfather, his uncle Ptolemy VIII, on their wedding day.

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (Benefactor): ‘Physcon’ (Pot-Belly) or ‘Kakergetes’ (Malefactor), King of Egypt 170–163, 145–116

Son of Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I

The young Ptolemy VIII ruled Egypt alongside his brother, Ptolemy VI, and his sister, Cleopatra II. Following the Syrian invasion, Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II ruled Egypt together from Alexandria. The triumvirate was briefly resumed before Ptolemy VIII succeeded in dislodging his brother and once again ruled from Alexandria with Cleopatra II. In 163 the people of Alexandria summoned Ptolemy VI to rule alongside Cleopatra II, and the exiled Ptolemy VIII became the highly unpopular king of Cyrenaica. Ptolemy VIII persistently and unsuccessfully petitioned Rome, demanding support for his right to rule Cyprus as well as Cyrenaica. The Romans sympathised, but gave little practical help. They acknowledged Ptolemy as their friend, however, and following an attempted assassination in 156, Ptolemy repaid this friendship by making a will leaving ‘his kingdom’ to Rome should he die without a legitimate heir.

In 145 the death of Ptolemy VI allowed Ptolemy VIII to return from Cyrenaica, marry his widowed sister and murder her son and heir. A purge of the Museion and Library of Alexandria followed, with most of the scholars forced to flee. As Alexandria’s reputation as a centre of intellectual excellence plummeted, the displaced scholars gained their revenge by recording unflattering portraits of their abnormally short and grotesquely fat king.

In 144 Cleopatra II gave birth to her brother’s son, Ptolemy Memphites. A year later Ptolemy fathered a son, Ptolemy IX, by his stepdaughter-niece, Cleopatra III. A marriage followed, but there had been no divorce. Cleopatra II refused to be sidelined by her daughter, and the three found themselves locked together in an uncomfortable ménage. When, in 131, Ptolemy VIII was once again forced to flee Egypt, he took Cleopatra III with him but left Cleopatra II behind. Safely settled in Cyprus, he sent for his fourteen-year-old son, Memphites, and had him murdered. Thus he ensured that the children of Cleopatra III would inherit his throne.

In 130 Ptolemy VIII returned to Egypt, forcing Cleopatra II to flee to Syria. She returned in 124, and brother and sister were reconciled. Ptolemy VIII died in 116. He left Egypt to his sons by Cleopatra III, but stipulated that the five Greek towns of Cyrenaica should pass as a separate kingdom to Ptolemy Apion, his son by his mistress Eirene.

Cleopatra II

Daughter of Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I, wife of Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII

Cleopatra II bore Ptolemy VI four children: the short-lived Ptolemy Eupator, Ptolemy VII, Cleopatra III and Cleopatra Thea. During her first husband’s reign she became widely respected as a supporter of the Jews, whom she encouraged to settle in Egypt. Following the death of Ptolemy VI, she married her brother Ptolemy VIII and bore his son, Ptolemy Memphites. Both Ptolemy VII and Ptolemy Memphites were to be murdered by Ptolemy VIII.

Humiliated by her husband’s marriage to her daughter Cleopatra III, Cleopatra refused to accept a divorce. Mother and daughter shared the queenship – and a husband – as Cleopatra the Sister and Cleopatra the Wife. When Ptolemy VIII was exiled to Cyprus, Cleopatra II ruled Egypt alone. But, while Cleopatra II had the support of the Greeks of Alexandria, Ptolemy VIII, thanks to a policy of promoting native-born Egyptians, had the support of the people outside Alexandria. Neither could truly rule Egypt without the other.

In 130 Euergetes returned to Egypt, forcing Cleopatra II to flee to safety in Syria. She returned in 124, and Cleopatra II, Cleopatra III and Ptolemy VIII united to rule an Egypt crippled by civil unrest. Cleopatra II died a few months after her husband-brother in 116.

Ptolemy Memphites (of Memphis)

Son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II

Ptolemy Memphites was born at the time of his father’s coronation at Memphis and presented to the Egyptian priesthood. Fourteen years later he was murdered by his father. It was rumoured that his dismembered body was sent home to his mother in a chest.

Cleopatra III

Daughter of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II, wife of Ptolemy VIII

Cleopatra III bore her first son by her uncle Ptolemy VIII before she married him. She would eventually bear him two sons and three daughters, and would be rewarded for her loyalty with her own personal divinity.

In 116, following the death of Ptolemy VIII, a triumvirate of Cleopatra II, Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX briefly ruled Egypt. The death of Cleopatra II left Cleopatra III regent for her two sons, Ptolemy IX and Ptolemy X. Under the terms of her husband’s will, she was to decide which son should become her coruler. This brought the royal family to the brink of collapse. The three ruled together in complete disharmony, with first one brother and then the other being forced to take refuge in Cyprus. Finally, in 107, Ptolemy IX fled, falsely accused of plotting to murder his mother. Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X ruled Egypt together until the sixty-year-old Cleopatra III died in 101, almost certainly murdered by her younger son.

Ptolemy IX Soter II (Saviour): ‘Lathyros’ (Chickpea), King of Egypt 116–107, 88–81

Son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III

Ptolemy IX married his forceful sister Cleopatra IV and then, after a divorce forced upon him by his mother, his other sister, Cleopatra Selene. Forced to flee in 107, he established himself as ruler of Cyprus. After a thwarted attempt to retake Egypt, he lived peacefully on Cyprus until 88, when he returned to Alexandria to rule Egypt.

Ptolemy X Alexander I, King of Egypt 107–88

Son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III

In 100 Ptolemy X murdered his mother and married his niece, Berenice III. He ruled Egypt for a decade of declining prosperity until the people of Alexandria took exception to his favourable treatment of the Jews and he was forced to flee, leaving the throne vacant for his exiled brother Ptolemy IX. In revenge, he willed the Egyptian empire to the Romans. They did not take up the bequest, but they never forgot it. Ptolemy X is rumoured to have melted down the gold coffin of Alexander the Great in order to pay his troops. He died in 88, attempting to take Cyprus from his brother.

Cleopatra Berenice III Thea Philopator (Father-Loving Goddess), Queen of Egypt 81–80

Daughter of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra IV, wife of Ptolemy X and Ptolemy XI

Berenice III was initially married to her uncle, Ptolemy X. She inherited her father’s throne in 81, changed her name to Cleopatra Berenice and, encouraged by Rome, married her illegitimate stepson Ptolemy XI. Cleopatra Berenice III was popular with the people of Alexandria but not with her husband: he had her murdered soon after their marriage.

Ptolemy XI Alexander II, King of Egypt 80

Son of Ptolemy X

Ptolemy XI had the support of the Roman general Sulla but was over-ambitious. He murdered his popular wife, Berenice III, and was in turn killed by the people of Alexandria.

Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos (New Dionysos): ‘Auletes’ (Flute Player), King of Egypt 80–58, 55–51

Son of Ptolemy IX, Brother of Ptolemy of Cyprus

Following the unexpected death of Berenice III, the elder of the two illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX took the throne of Egypt as Ptolemy XII.

Ptolemy XII was faced with the unenviable task of preserving a dying dynasty. The Romans, coveting Egypt’s unfailing fertility, were deciding how best to strip the Ptolemies of their throne. Ptolemy knew that he had to remain on friendly terms with Rome, but this policy turned his people against him. In 58, when the Romans annexed Cyprus, a wave of panic swept Egypt. As the people of Alexandria took to the streets, Ptolemy fled to Rome to appeal for military aid. Berenice IV now ruled Egypt in her father’s absence. Ptolemy XII was able to bribe the governor of Syria to support him against his daughter. A Roman army took Alexandria in 55 and Ptolemy XII was restored to his throne. Heavily in debt, he levied stringent taxes, which left his people hungry and desperate. Ptolemy XII died a natural death in 51.

Ptolemy of Cyprus, King of Cyprus 80–58

Son of Ptolemy IX, brother of Ptolemy XII

The younger of the two illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX took the throne of Cyprus as King Ptolemy. In 58 the Romans annexed Cyprus, driving Ptolemy to commit suicide.

Cleopatra V Tryphaena (Opulent One)

Wife and perhaps sister or half-sister of Ptolemy XII

A woman of obscure origins, Cleopatra V Tryphaena was the mother of Berenice IV, and possibly the mother of Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, Cleopatra VII, Arsinoë IV, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. She may have acted briefly as co-regent alongside Berenice IV.

Berenice IV, Queen of Egypt 58–55

Daughter of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V Tryphaena

Berenice married an insignificant cousin, Seleucos, then had him murdered within a week of their wedding. Her second husband, Archelaos, lasted longer; the couple ruled for two years with the full support of the people of Alexandria. A Roman army took Alexandria in 55. Archelaos was killed and Ptolemy XII, returning home in triumph, had his daughter executed.

Cleopatra VI Tryphaena (Opulent One)

Daughter of Ptolemy XII and (probably) Cleopatra V Tryphaena

The obscure sister of Cleopatra VII who may be identical with Cleopatra Tryphaena V. Cleopatra VI ruled briefly alongside Berenice IV before disappearing from the historical record in 57.

Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator (Father-Loving Goddess), Queen of Egypt 51–30

Daughter of Ptolemy XII and (probably) Cleopatra V Tryphaena, probably wife of Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV

The subject of this book.

Arsinoë IV, Queen of Egypt 47

Daughter of Ptolemy XII

Proclaimed Queen of Cyprus by Julius Caesar, Arsinoë ruled Alexandria briefly during the civil war. Captured by the Romans, she was displayed in Caesar’s Egyptian triumph, then exiled to Ephesus. In 41 she was dragged from the temple and executed on the orders of Mark Antony.

Ptolemy XIII, King of Egypt 51–47

Son of Ptolemy XII, husband of Cleopatra VII

Ptolemy XIII inherited his throne alongside his sister Cleopatra VII. For the first year and a half of their joint reign Cleopatra was the effective monarch, while her brother was pushed into the background. The first decree with Ptolemy’s name preceding Cleopatra’s was issued on 27 October 50. In the summer of 49 Cleopatra’s name disappeared from all official documents as the queen and her supporters fled Egypt. Later that year Ptolemy turned a blind eye to the murder of Pompey. Ptolemy had expected to be granted sole rule of Egypt but Caesar, angered by Pompey’s murder, decided that he was to rule alongside his sister Cleopatra VII. Ptolemy XIII drowned in 47, at the end of the Alexandrian Wars.

Ptolemy XIV, King of Egypt 47–44

Son of Ptolemy XII, husband of Cleopatra VII

Proclaimed king of Cyprus by Caesar, Ptolemy became king of Egypt following the death of his elder brother, Ptolemy XIII. He had an undistinguished reign and died soon after the birth of Cleopatra’s son, Caesarion.

Ptolemy XV Caesar Theos Philopator Philometor (Father-Loving, Mother-Loving God): ‘Caesarion’ (Little Caesar), King of Egypt 44–30

Son of Cleopatra VII and (allegedly) Julius Caesar

Following the death of Ptolemy XIV, Caesarion ruled Egypt alongside his mother. Cleopatra VII died on 12 August 30 and Octavian formally annexed Egypt on 31 August 30. This left an eighteen-day period when Caesarion ruled alone. But he had no meaningful support and could have had no thought of taking up his throne. Soon after his mother’s suicide, Caesarion was betrayed and executed.

Alexander Helios

Son of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, twin of Cleopatra Selene

Following Cleopatra’s suicide, the ten-year-old twins and four-year-old Ptolemy Philadelphos were taken to Rome to be raised by their father’s wife, Octavia. The boys vanished from the historical record soon after entering Octavia’s care.

Cleopatra Selene

Daughter of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, twin of Alexander Helios, wife of Juba of Mauretania

Cleopatra Selene was raised in Rome by Octavia and married the Numidian prince Juba II. She bore a son named Ptolemy and, perhaps, a daughter who, we may guess, was named Cleopatra. She died a natural death some time between 5 BC and AD 11.

Ptolemy Philadelphos (Brother/Sister-Loving)

Son of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony

Following his mother’s suicide, Ptolemy Philadelphos was taken to Rome to be raised alongside his brother and sister. He vanished from the historical record soon after.

Ptolemy of Mauretania

Son of Cleopatra Selene and Juba II of Mauretania

Ptolemy inherited his father’s throne in AD 23. Seventeen years later he was executed by his half-cousin Caligula.

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