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Over 275 years, there were a lot of Ptolemies.  There always seemed to be plenty of children to marry off for political liasons, and enough to replace the Pharaohs and queens when they got murdered by each other.  This list only covers the direct ancestors of Cleopatra VII, with the exceptions of Ptolemies VII & XI ... because it seemed like people would wonder what happened to them if I left them out.

It all starts with Ptolemy I, of course.  Arsinoe was a concubine of Philip II of Macedonia.  Lagus married her when she was pregnant.  The baby, Ptolemy, LEGALLY was the son of Lagus and Arsinoe.  GENETICALLY, he was the son of Philip II and half-brother to Alexander the Great ... or so the story goes. 


"The Macedonians consider Ptolemy to be the son of Philip, the son of Amyntas, though putatively the son of Lagus, asserting that his mother was with child when she was married to Lagus by Philip. And among the distinguished acts of Ptolemy in Asia they mention that it was he who, of Alexander's companions, was foremost in succoring him when in danger among the Oxydracae."

--- Pausanius, Description of Greece, 1.6.2

"Ptolemy, who was wounded in the left shoulder, slightly it is true but with greater danger than that caused by the wound, had caused the king [Alexander] special anxiety.  He was a blood-relation, and some believed him to be a son of Philip; at any rate it was known for certain the he was the offspring of one of that king's concubines."

--- Quintus Curtius, History of Alexander, IX. viii. 22

Alexander certainly treated him as a brother.  Ptolemy was one of his most trusted generals and recorded all Alexander's campaigns in his histories.  He was at Alexander's deathbed in Babylon, and stole Alexander's body on the way to Macedon to bury it in Memphis, where Alexander had been crowned Pharaoh.

Even though Alexander wanted to be buried in Egypt (Siwa oasis where he was declared divine),  Ptolemy wasn't being a good brother.  It was Macedonian tradition for the new king to bury the old, but Ptolemy feared that if his rival Perdiccas buried Alexander in Macedon as was planned, his claim to power in Egypt would be undermined.  As it was, he was a king burying the preceding king, and brother of a god in Egypt.

FULL DISCLAIMER: Despite multiple references in primary sources, some historians actually doubt that Philip II was the father of Ptolemy.  It is suggested that this is a rumor that Ptolemy started and encouraged through his lifetime.  It had enough of an element of truth that the rumor just caught on.  Or it could have been true.  He rode it to be Pharaoh of Egypt either way.

--- I did this in .pdf so you can zoom-in using the "+" button. For those fascinated with ethnicity, note how the Ptolemies wind

      up horribly shuffling around exactly the same genetic material, once they defeated Lysimachus and the Seleucids and

      stopped worrying about pesky political marriages. Double lines indicate scholastic speculation. ---

"How, on the death of King Ptolemy Physcon [Ptolemy VIII]
    his son Ptolemy Lathyros [Ptolemy IX] assumed the throne 
    but was driven from Alexandria to Cyprus by his mother [Cleopatra III], and how he was later attacked by the

    same   in Syria, after she had replaced him on the throne with his brother, Alexander [Ptolemy X]
    until eventually the mother was killed by Alexander and he [Ptolemy IX] recovered the throne of Egypt. 
    Next comes the history of the reign of Alexander's son [Ptolemy XI], who followed Lamyrus, and 
    his expulsion and replacement by Ptolemy Nothus [Ptolemy XII].
--- Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, Prologi, The Book of the Philippic Histories and the Origin of the Whole World and Geography of the Whole Earth, Prologus of Book XXXIX

"Ptolemy Nothus" means "Ptolemy the Bastard"

"Shortly after this Ptolemy [Ptolemy IX] met with his appointed fate [moira], and the Athenians, who had been benefited by him in many ways, which I need not stop to relate, set up a bronze [statue] of him and of Berenikē, his only legitimate child."

--- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.9.3


This leaves Ptolemy XII and his brother as illegitimate.


"All these kings, after the third Ptolemy, were corrupted by luxury and effeminacy, and the affairs of government were very badly administered by them; but worst of all by the fourth, the seventh, and the last (Ptolemy), Auletes (or the Piper), who, besides other deeds of shamelessness, acted the piper; indeed he gloried so much in the practice, that he scrupled not to appoint trials of skill in his palace; on which occasions he presented himself as a competitor with other rivals. He was deposed by the Alexandrines; and of his three daughters, one, the eldest [Berenike IV], who was legitimate, they proclaimed queen; but his two sons, who were infants, were absolutely excluded from the succession."

--- Strabo, Geography, XVII.1


The mother of Ptolemy XII is unknown:













The mother of Cleopatra VII is unknown (and all her siblings except Berenike):







This might not mean what you think.  Could Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra VII have been the children of concubines?  In his book, A History of Egypt Under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, John Mahaffy makes the point that a "legitimate child" was born to a reigning king and queen.  If the mother had stepped down from the throne but remained married, any offspring after that time would be "illegitimate" in terms of inheriting rule. Also, Strabo says the "eldest" is legitimate, he doesn't say the other girls weren't, but implies something about the boys. Infants? Ptolemy XIII was 4, and Ptolemy XIV was 2, and neither had any legal obstacles to gaining the throne later. Perhaps what he meant was that they were excluded because they were too young.

Speaking of Ptolemy I:

"The point of interest to us is that he did not divorce his first wife, so far as we know, but openly adopted the practice of polygamy, recognised both at the Macedonian and the Egyptian courts."

--- Mahaffy, p35

What about Ptolemy XII?

"The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the lord of the two countries, the father-loving, brother-loving, the young Osiris, the son of the Sun, lord of diadems, Ptolemaius  the everliving, gave me the great dignity of chief of the attendants at the altar in [my] fourteenth year; I was placing the uraeus-crown on the head at the conduction of the king on the day when he united the Upper and Lower Countries, and performed all the ceremonies in the temples and festivals. ... The monarch went to the White Wall daily, passing a repassing at Maamat; when he arrived at the canal of the life of the North and South he went to my temple with his chiefs, his women, and royal children, and all things, ..."
--- This comes from the stela of the priest Pasherenptah (found in Memphis, now in the British Museum collection).

This establishes that at the coronation of Ptolemy XII, he already had wives and children ... prior to Berenike

IV by Cleopatra V.  Why don't we know about them?  They appeared before he was king.  If they ran out of "legitimate" Ptolemies (like they did with Ptolemy XII), then that stash of children could be drawn from, but otherwise, "royal" but not legitimate (possibly from Cleopatra V before coronation, or not ... Ptolemaic women were usually careful about that sort of thing (as far as we know).

Falling in line even more closely with Egyptian tradition, only the children of the "great wife" would have legitimate claims to the throne.

In his paper, "Cleopatra V Tryphaena and the Genealogy of the Later Ptolemies", Christopher Bennett makes the case that the simplest explanation for obscure references and known timelines is that both mothers were Ptolemies, just ones that weren't sitting on the throne at the time.

For Ptolemy XII, it goes something like this:

     There are multiple references to two brothers of Ptolemy IX: some say illegitimate, some say royal. Either there were two

     sets of brothers. roughly the same age, in the same places, at the same times ... or just one set with confused references. I

     agree with Christopher Bennet on this: the simplest answer seems the most logical.  In my diagram, I double-lined the

     speculated mother, Cleopatra IV, to indicate it is not a positive identify.

For Cleopatra VII, it goes something like this:

     1) Cleopatra V is the mother of Berenike IV, Cleopatra VII, Arsinoe IV,  Ptolemy XIII, and Ptolemy XIV.

     2) Cleopatra V stepped down from the throne shortly after the birth of Cleopatra VII.  However, since she was no longer a

         REIGNING queen, the children she birthed after that point were "illegitimate" in the Mahaffy-sense, even though she

         remained married to Ptolemy XII (not reigning queen meant "not sitting on the throne").

     3) When Ptolemy XII was exiled the second time, Cleopatra V returned to the throne, but stepped down sometime in the first

         year (for some reason ... maybe the reason she stepped down in the first place). Berenike IV is unlikely to have gained the

         throne without her and used Cleopatra V to help legitimize her own rule. This is the only case in all Egyptian history of two

         women on the throne. When Berenike IV ruled alone, she was pressured to marry to obtain a king.  Her first husband lasted

         just a few days before she had him strangled. The second (probably her last year) died fighting the return of Ptolemy XII.

     4) Ptolemy XII executed Berenike IV for seizing the throne when he got back from exile, but he appeared to happily put

         Cleopatra V back on the throne ... AGAIN, making the official regnal dates Ptolemy 26 (as though uninterrupted from 80 BC),

         and Cleopatra 4 (starting with her return to the throne with Berenike IV). IMHO, I think he liked her.

      What happened between Cleopatra V's last mention in 68 BC and her re-appearance in 58 BC? No one knows. It probably 

      wasn't anything physical since she had three more children. Why did she only last a year in 58 BC? Maybe the same reason

      she stepped down in 68 BC, or maybe, Berenike IV (not known for her diplomacy) pushed her out. Clearly, Ptolemy XII was

      glad to have her sit next to him in 54 BC. Did she step down again or die? No one knows.

So who is Cleopatra Selene (the first one, not Cleopatra VII's daughter)?

Cleopatra Selene is the mother of Ptolemy XI and Berenike III.  Why doesn't she have a number? She was never Queen of Egypt ... never sat on the throne. TECHNICALLY, even though she was a full-blooded Ptolemy (possibly married to her brothers -- one at a time), her children weren't "legitimate" because she didn't have them as a Queen. The Ptolemies didn't number themselves. This is something that was started in the 1800's AD. All the Ptolemaic men used a single name "Ptolemy". The Queens used Arsinoe, Berenike, and Cleopatra. To keep them straight, modern historians added the number scheme but only to those who actually sat on the throne.  Ptolemy XII's brother is known as "Ptolemy of Cyprus" without a number: he was king of Cyprus, but he didn't sit on the EGYPTIAN throne.

What's the deal with "Diadochi"?

The generals that fought side-by-side with Alexander the Great, then fought over how to divide his conquests after his death, are known as the Diadochi ("successors"). Cleopatra VII had three of them in her bloodline: Lysimachus, Seleucus, and, of course, Ptolemy. The main reason for this was diplomatic marriages early in the foundation of those kingdoms. Once the Ptolemies conquered their neighbors, they didn't do that any more.

Cleopatra Reading List



You may have noticed that I use "Berenike" without fail where most modern authors use "Berenice" ... why is that?

It's because "Berenice" isn't her name.

Cleopatra's name is actually Kleopatra (Κλεοπάτρα).  The Greek form appears all over Greek historians' documents, until they translated them to Latin.  Latin has a hard "C", so it's a single letter change but it still sounds the same.  I don't have a problem with this or the French Cleopatre or the German Kleopatra.

"Berenice's" name is actually Berenike (Βερενίκη).  In Latin, "Berenice" would still have a hard "C", but modern English turns a "C" between vowels "soft" (generally).  When I see "Berenice", I hear "beh-reh-nees" in my head (I know, this is my problem).  I always spell it "Berenike" because I hear "beh-reh-nee-kuh".  They're MY webpages: I can do what I want.








© 2020 by Marian Marion Kebab






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