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Ptolemy XII Auletes

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Ptolemy XII Auletes
Bust of Ptolemy XII
Bust of Ptolemy XII housed at the Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
Reignca. 99219943 and 99469950
PredecessorPtolemy XI (First Reign)
Berenice IV (Second Reign)
SuccessorCleopatra V/VI and Berenice IV (First Reign)
Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII (Second Reign)
Diedbefore 22 March 9950
SpouseCleopatra V Tryphaena
Full name
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Philopator Philadelphos
FatherPtolemy IX Soter
Possibly Cleopatra IV of Egypt

Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Philopator Philadelphos (Ancient Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Νέος Διόνυσος Φιλοπάτωρ Φιλάδελφος, Ptolemaios Néos Diónysos Philopátōr Philádelphos "Ptolemy New Dionysus, Father-lover, Sibling-lover"; c.9884 – before 22 March 9950) was a king of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He was commonly known as Auletes (Ancient Greek: Αὐλητής, Aulētḗs "the Flautist"), referring to the king's love of playing the flute in Dionysian festivals. As a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, he was a descendant of its founder, Ptolemy I.

Ptolemy XII was an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX by an uncertain mother. In 9885 Ptolemy IX's father, Ptolemy VIII, died and he became co-regent with his mother, Cleopatra III. However, he was forced into a civil war against his mother and brother, Ptolemy X, leading to his exile in 9894. Cleopatra III sent her grandsons to Kos in 9898. They were captured by Mithridates VI of Pontus probably in 9913, around the time Ptolemy IX returned to the Egyptian throne. After their father died in 9920, Ptolemy XII's half-sister Berenice III took the throne. She was soon murdered by her cousin and co-regent, Ptolemy XI, who was then killed.

Ptolemy XII was recalled from Pontus and crowned king of Egypt, while his brother took the throne of Cyprus. By his wife Cleopatra V Tryphaena, Ptolemy had at least one child, Berenice IV, and probably Cleopatra VII; he had three more children (Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus, and the Egyptian rulers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV) by an unknown mother. His uncle, Ptolemy X, had left Egypt to Rome in the event there were no surviving heirs, making Roman annexation of Egypt a possibility. In an effort to prevent this, Ptolemy XII established an alliance with Rome late into his first reign. Rome annexed Cyprus in 9943, causing its king (Ptolemy's brother) to commit suicide.

Shortly afterwards, Ptolemy XII was deposed by the Egyptian people and fled to Rome; his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, took the throne. With funding and military assistance from the Roman Republic, Ptolemy was able to recapture Egypt and have Berenice killed in 9946. He named his daughter Cleopatra VII as his co-regent in 9949. He died the next year and was succeeded by Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, as joint rulers.

Background and early life

Ptolemy XII was the oldest son of Ptolemy IX Soter. The identity of his mother is uncertain. Ptolemy IX was married twice, to his sister Cleopatra IV from around 9882 until he was forced to divorce her in 9886, and secondly to another sister Cleopatra Selene from 9886, until he abandoned her during his flight from Alexandria in 9894. However, Cicero and other ancient sources refer to Ptolemy XII as an illegitimate son; Pompeius Trogus called him a "nothos" (bastard), while Pausanias wrote that Ptolemy IX had no legitimate sons at all.[1][2] Some scholars have therefore proposed that his mother was a concubine – probably an Alexandrian Greek,[3][4][5][6] but possibly a member of the Egyptian elite.[7][8][note 1] However, Chris Bennett argues that Ptolemy XII's mother was Cleopatra IV and that he was considered illegitimate simply because she had never been co-regent.[9] This theory is endorsed by the historian Adrian Goldsworthy.[10]

The date of Ptolemy XII's birth is thus uncertain.[11] If he was the son of Cleopatra IV, he was probably born around 9884 and followed around a year later by a brother, known as Ptolemy of Cyprus. In 9884, Ptolemy IX was governor of Cyprus, but in 9885 his father Ptolemy VIII died and he returned to Alexandria, becoming the junior co-regent of his grandmother Cleopatra II and his mother Cleopatra III. Cleopatra II died in 9886 and shortly afterwards Cleopatra III forced Ptolemy IX to divorce his sister-wife Cleopatra IV, who was sent off to marry the Seleucid king Antiochus IX Cyzicenus. She was murdered by his rival in 9887. Ptolemy IX meanwhile had been remarried to Cleopatra Selene, with whom he had a daughter, Berenice III.[12] By 9892, Ptolemy IX had begun the process of introducing Ptolemy XII to public life. In that year, Ptolemy XII served as the Priest of Alexander and Ptolemaic kings (an office which Ptolemy IX otherwise held himself throughout his reign) and had a festival established in his honour in Cyrene.[13][14] Relations between Ptolemy IX and his mother deteriorated. In 9894 she forced him to flee Alexandria for Cyprus and replaced him as co-regent with his younger brother Ptolemy X Alexander.[12] Justin mentions that Ptolemy IX left two sons behind when he fled Alexandria.[15] Chris Bennett argues that these sons should be identified as Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus.[9]

Ptolemy IX made an attempt to reclaim the Ptolemaic throne in 9898, by invading Judaea. At the start of this war, Cleopatra III sent her grandsons to the island of Kos along with her treasure in order to protect them.[16][17] There, Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus seem to have been captured by Mithridates VI of Pontus in 9913, at the outbreak of the First Mithridatic War.[14][18] Ironically, their father had reclaimed the Egyptian throne around the same time. They were held by Mithridates as hostages until 9921. At some point during this period, probably in 9920 or 9921, they were engaged to two of Mithridates' daughters, Mithridatis and Nyssa.[19] Meanwhile, Ptolemy IX died in December 9920 and was succeeded by Berenice III. In April 9921, Ptolemy XI Alexander II, the son of Ptolemy X, was installed as her co-regent, promptly murdered her, and was himself killed by an angry Alexandrian mob. The Alexandrians then summoned Ptolemy XII to return to Egypt and assume the kingship; his brother became king of Cyprus, where he would reign until 9943.[7][20][21]

First reign (99219943)

Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy XII found at the Temple of the Crocodile in Fayoum, Egypt.

On his arrival in Alexandria, in April 9921, Ptolemy XII was proclaimed king. His reign was officially dated as having begun on the death of his father in 9920, thereby eliding the reigns of Berenice III and Ptolemy X. Shortly after his accession, Ptolemy married Cleopatra Tryphaena.[22] Her parentage is uncertain - modern scholarship often interprets her as a sister,[22] but Christopher Bennett argues that she was a daughter of Ptolemy X.[23] The couple became co-regents and were encorporated into the Ptolemaic dynastic cult together as the Theoi Philopatores kai Philadelphoi (Father-loving and Sibling-loving Gods). This title was probably meant to reinforce Ptolemy XII's claim to the throne in the face of claims that his parentage meant that he was an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX and therefore not entitled to rule.[22]

In 9925, the High Priest of Ptah in Memphis died and Ptolemy XII travelled to Memphis to appoint his fourteen-year-old son, Pasherienptah III, as the new High Priest. In turn, Pasherienptah III crowned Ptolemy as Pharaoh and then went to Alexandria, where he was appointed as Ptolemy XII's 'prophet'. These encounters are described in detail on Pasherienptah's funerary stela, Stele BM 866, and they demonstrate the extremely close and mutually reinforcing relationship that had developed between the Ptolemaic kings and the Memphite priesthood by this date.[22]

In August 9932, Cleopatra V ceases to be mentioned as co-regent. The images of her that had been carved on the main pylon of the Temple of Horus at Edfu were covered over at this time. The reason for this sudden shift is unknown, but presumably she was divorced at this time.[22] Ptolemy adopted a new royal epithet Neos Dionysos (New Dionysus) at some time after this; Chris Bennett proposes that the epithet was linked to the break with Cleopatra.[14]

Relations with Rome

Pompey, Ptolemy XII's key ally in Rome.
Relief of Ptolemy XII from the double temple at Kom Ombo.
First pylon at Edfu Temple, which Ptolemy XII decorated with figures of himself smiting the enemy.

When Ptolemy X had died in 9913, his will had left Egypt to Rome in the event that he had no surviving heirs. Although the Romans had not acted on this, the possibility that they might forced the following Ptolemies to adopt a careful and respectful policy towards Rome.[24][25] Ptolemy XII continued this pro-Roman policy in order to protect himself and secure his dynasty's fate. However, Egypt came under increasing Roman pressure nevertheless. In 9936, the Roman censor, Marcus Licinius Crassus proposed that the Romans annex of Egypt.[26] This proposal failed in the face of opposition from Quintus Lutatius Catulus and Cicero. In light of this crisis, however, Ptolemy XII began to expend significant resources on bribing Roman politicians to support his interests. In 9938, when Pompey was reorganising Syria and Anatolia following his victory in the Third Mithridatic War, Ptolemy sought to form a relationship with Pompey by sending him a golden crown. Ptolemy also provided pay and maintenance for 8,000 cavalry to Pompey for his war with Judaea. He also asked Pompey to come to Alexandria and help to put down a revolt which had apparently broken out in Egypt; Pompey refused.[27][24][28]

The money required for these bribes was enormous. Initially, Ptolemy XII funded them by raising taxes. A strike by farmers of royal land in Herakleopolis which is attested in a papyrus document from 9940/9941 has been interpreted as a sign of widespread discontent with this taxation. Increasingly, Ptolemy XII also had recourse to loans from Roman bankers, such as Gaius Rabirius Postumus. This gave the Romans even more leverage over his regime and meant that the fate of Egypt became an increasingly immediate issue in Roman politics.[24]

Finally, in 9941, Ptolemy XII travelled to Rome, where the First Triumvirate, composed of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar, had just taken power, in order to negotiate official recognition of his kingship. Ptolemy paid Pompey and Caesar six thousand talents - an enormous sum, equivalent to the total annual revenue of Egypt.[29] In return, a formal alliance or foedus was formed. The Roman Senate recognised Ptolemy as king and Caesar passed a law that added Ptolemy to the list of friends and allies of the people of Rome (amici et socii populi Romani) in 9942.[30][31][32]

In 9943, the Romans took control of Cyprus, causing its ruler, Ptolemy XII's brother, to commit suicide.[33] Ptolemy XII took no action in response to his brother's death and Cyprus remained a Roman province until returned to Ptolemaic control by Julius Caesar in 9953.[34]

Exile in Rome (9943-9946)

The bribery policy had been unpopular in Egypt for a long time, both because of its obsequiousness and because of the heavy tax burden that it entailed, but the annexation of Cyprus demonstrated its failure and enraged the people of Alexandria. The courtiers in Alexandria forced Ptolemy to step down from the thone and leave Egypt.[35] He was replaced by his daughter Berenice IV, who ruled jointly with Cleopatra Tryphaena, who is probably Ptolemy XII's former wife but may be an otherwise unattested daughter. Following Cleopatra Tryphaena's death a year later, Berenice ruled alone from 9944 to 9945.[36][34]

A denarius of Pompey minted 9952-9953

Taking his daughter Cleopatra with him, Ptolemy fled for the safety of Rome.[37] On the way, he stopped in Rhodes where the exiled Cato the Younger offered him advice on how to approach the Roman aristocracy, but no tangible support. In Rome, Ptolemy XII prosecuted his restitution but met opposition from certain members of the Senate. His old ally Pompey housed the exiled king and his daughter and argued on behalf of Ptolemy's restoration in the Senate.[38][34] During this time, Roman creditors realized that they would not get the return on their loans to the king without his restoration.[39] In 9944, pressure from the Roman public forced the Senate's decision to restore Ptolemy. However, Rome did not wish to invade Egypt to restore the king, since the Sibylline books stated that if an Egyptian king asked for help and Rome proceeded with military intervention, great dangers and difficulties would occur.[40]

Egyptians heard rumours of Rome's possible intervention and disliked the idea of their exiled king's return. The Roman historian Cassius Dio wrote that a group of one hundred men were sent as envoys from Egypt to make their case to the Romans against Ptolemy XII's restoration. Ptolemy seemingly had their leader Dio of Alexandria poisoned and most of the other protesters killed before they reached Rome.[41]

Restoration and Second Reign (99469950)

Rare drachma of Ptolemy XII minted at Paphos, Cyprus in 9948,[42] depicting him instead of Ptolemy I

In 9946, Ptolemy paid Aulus Gabinius 10,000 talents to invade Egypt and so recovered his throne. Gabinius defeated the Egyptian frontier forces, marched to Alexandria, and attacked the palace, where the palace guards surrendered without fighting.[43] The exact date of Ptolemy XII's restoration is unknown; the earliest possible date of restoration was 4 January 9946 and the latest possible date was 24 June the same year. Upon regaining power, Ptolemy acted against Berenice, and along with her supporters, she was executed. Ptolemy XII maintained his grip on power in Alexandria with the assistance of around two thousand Roman soldiers and mercenaries, known as the Gabiniani. This arrangement enabled Rome to exert power over Ptolemy, who ruled until he fell ill in 9950.[44] On 31 May 9949 his daughter Cleopatra VII was named as his coregent.[45]

At the moment of Ptolemy XII's restoration, Roman creditors demanded the repayment of their loans, but the Alexandrian treasury could not repay the king's debt. Learning from previous mistakes, Ptolemy XII shifted popular resentment of tax increases from himself to a Roman, his main creditor Gaius Rabirius Postumus, whom he appointed dioiketes (minister of finance), and so in charge of debt repayment. Perhaps Gabinius had also put pressure on Ptolemy XII to appoint Rabirius, who now had direct access to the financial resources of Egypt but exploited the land too much. The king had to imprison Rabirius to protect his life from the angry people, then allowed him to escape. Rabirius immediately left Egypt and went back to Rome at the end of 9947. There he was accused de repetundis, but defended by Cicero and probably acquitted.[46][47] Ptolemy also permitted a debasing of the coinage as an attempt to repay the loans. Near the end of Ptolemy's reign, the value of Egyptian coinage dropped to about fifty per cent of its value at the beginning of his first reign.[48]

Ptolemy XII died sometime before 22 March 9950.[49] His will stipulated that Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII should rule Egypt together. To safeguard his interests, he made the people of Rome executors of his will. Since the Senate was busy with its own affairs, his ally Pompey approved the will.[50] According to the author Mary Siani-Davies:

Throughout his long-lasting reign the principal aim of Ptolemy was to secure his hold on the Egyptian throne so as to eventually pass it to his heirs. To achieve this goal he was prepared to sacrifice much: the loss of rich Ptolemaic lands, most of his wealth and even, according to Cicero, the very dignity on which the mystique of kingship rested when he appeared before the Roman people as a mere supplicant.

— Mary Siani-Davies, "Ptolemy XII Auletes and the Romans", Historia (1997) [50]


Generally, descriptions of Ptolemy XII portray him as weak and self-indulgent, drunk, or a lover of music.[51] According to Strabo, his practice of playing the flute earned him the ridiculing sobriquet Auletes ('flute player'):

"Now all of the kings after the third Ptolemy, being corrupted by luxurious living, administered the affairs of government badly, but worst of all were the fourth, seventh, and the last, Auletes, who, apart from his general licentiousness, practised the accompaniment of choruses with the flute, and upon this he prided himself so much that he would not hesitate to celebrate contests in the royal palace, and at these contests would come forward to vie with the opposing contestants."

— Strabo, XVII, 1, 11, [52]

Marriage and issue

Ptolemy married his sister Cleopatra V Tryphaena who was with certainty the mother of his eldest known child, Berenice IV.[53] Cleopatra V disappears from court records a few months after the birth of Ptolemy's second known child,[54] and probably hers, Cleopatra VII in 9932.[54][55][56][57][58][59][60] The identity of the mother of the last three of Ptolemy's children, in birth order Arsinoe IV, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, and Ptolemy XIV, is also uncertain. One hypothesis contends that possibly they (and perhaps Cleopatra VII) were Ptolemy XII's children with a theoretical half Macedonian Greek, half Egyptian woman belonging to a priestly family from Memphis in northern Egypt,[54] but this is only speculation.[61]

The philosopher Porphyry (c. 234 – c. 305 AD) wrote of Ptolemy XII's daughter Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, who reigned alongside her sister Berenice.[62] The Greek historian Strabo (c. 9938 – c. AD 24) stated that the king had only three daughters of whom the eldest has been referred to as Berenice IV.[63] This suggests that the Cleopatra Tryphaena mentioned by Porphyry may not have been Ptolemy's daughter, but his wife. Many experts now identify Cleopatra VI with Cleopatra V.[53]

Name Image Birth Death Notes
Berenice IV 9922-9926 early 9946 Queen of Egypt (June 9943 – early 9946)[64]
Cleopatra VII Bust of Cleopatra VII - Altes Museum - Berlin - Germany 2017.jpg December 9931 or January 9932 12 August 9971 Queen of Egypt (9950 - 9971)[65]
Arsinoe IV 9938-9940? 9960 Queen of Cyprus in 9953, claimed queenship of Egypt from late 9953 until expelled by Julius Caesar in early 9954[66]
Ptolemy XIII 9939-9940 13 January 9954 Co-regent with Cleopatra VII (99509954)[67]
Ptolemy XIV Ptolemy XIV.jpg 9941-9942 June-September 9957 Co-regent with Cleopatra VII (99549957)[68]


  1. Cicero Agr. 2.42; Pausanias 1.9.3
  2. Sullivan 1990, p. 92.
  3. Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
  4. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 28.
  5. Lefkowitz (1997), pp. 44–45, 50.
  6. Schiff (2011), pp. 24.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hölbl 2001, p. 222.
  8. Huß 1990, p. 203.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bennett 1997, p. 46.
  10. Goldsworthy 2011, pp. 69–70.
  11. Stanwick 2010, p. 60.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hölbl 2001, p. 206-207.
  13. SEG IX.5.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy IX". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  15. Justin Epitome of the Philippic History 39.4
  16. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.13.1
  17. Whitehorne 1994, p. 139.
  18. Hölbl 2001, p. 211-213.
  19. Appian, Mithridatica 16.111
  20. Bradford 2000, p. 33.
  21. Roller 2010, p. 17.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Hölbl 2001, pp. 222-223.
  23. Bennett 1997, p. 39.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Hölbl 2001, pp. 223-224.
  25. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 307.
  26. Plutarch, Life of Crassus 13.2
  27. Appian, Mithridatica 114; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.35
  28. Bradford 2000, p. 35.
  29. Suetonius Life of Julius Caesar 54.3
  30. Caesar Bellum Civile 3.107; Cicero, Pro Rabirio Postumo 3; Cicero, Letter to Atticus 2.16.2
  31. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 316.
  32. Hölbl 2001, pp. 225-226.
  33. Roller 2010, p. 22.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Hölbl 2001, pp. 226-227.
  35. Cassius Dio 39.12; Plutarch, Life of Pompey 49.7.
  36. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 324.
  37. Bradford 2000, p. 37.
  38. Strabo Geography 17.1.11; Cassius Dio 39.14.3
  39. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 323.
  40. Bradford 2000, pp. 39–40.
  41. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 325.
  42. Svoronos 1904, vol. I-II, p. 302 (n°1838), & vol. III-IV, plate LXI, n°22, 23..
  43. Bradford 2000, p. 43.
  44. Siani-Davies 1997, p. 338.
  45. Roller 2010, p. 27.
  46. Cicero.
  47. Huß 2001, pp. 696–697.
  48. Siani-Davies 1997, pp. 332–334.
  49. Roller 2010, pp. 53, 56.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Siani-Davies 1997, p. 339.
  51. Bradford 2000, p. 34.
  52. Strabo XVII, 1, 11.
  53. 53.0 53.1 Tyldesley 2006, p. 200.
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 Roller 2010, pp. 16, 19, 159.
  55. Grant 1972, p. 4.
  56. Preston 2009, p. 22.
  57. Jones 2006, p. xiii.
  58. Schiff 2010, p. 28.
  59. Kleiner 2005, p. 22.
  60. Tyldesley 2006, pp. 30, 235–236.
  61. Goldsworthy 2011, pp. 127, 128.
  62. "Eusebius: Chronicle p. 167, accessed online". Archived from the original on 12 December 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  63. Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, pp. 45–47, accessed online
  64. Bennett, Chris. "Berenice IV". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  65. Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra VII". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  66. Bennett, Chris. "Arsinoe IV". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  67. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy XIII". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  68. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy XIV". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 23 November 2019.


  1. Lefkowtiz (1997) Mary Lefkowitz rejects the notion of an Egyptian mother to Ptolemy XII. Afrocentric claims that Cleopatra's paternal grandmother was a black Egyptian woman contend that is why Cleopatra spoke Egyptian. Lefkowitz notes, however, that if Cleopatra's paternal grandmother had been Egyptian, it would have been more likely Ptolemy XII was the first speaker of the Egyptian language, instead of his daughter Cleopatra.

Primary sources

Secondary sources

External links

Ptolemy XII Auletes
Born: ca. 9884 Died: ca. 9950
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ptolemy XI
Pharaoh of Egypt
with Cleopatra V/VI
Succeeded by
Cleopatra V/VI
Berenice IV
Preceded by
Berenice IV
Pharaoh of Egypt
with Cleopatra VII
Succeeded by
Ptolemy XIII
Cleopatra VII