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 single exception of Ptolemy VII ... because it seemed like people would wonder where VII was if I left him 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. 


"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.





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 they had children before the coronation (from previous husbands/wives), these children were not in legitimate line of succession.

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 Tryphaena.  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", Chris 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 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 before the birth of Cleopatra VII.  Since she was no longer a 

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

         remained married to Ptolemy XII (not reigning queen meant "no path to power").

     3) When Ptolemy XII was exiled the second time, Cleopatra V returned to the throne, but wasn't able to perform her duties

         (for some reason ... maybe the reason she stepped down in the first place) and took her daughter Berenike IV as co-regent

         to do the work of ruler.  This was VERY unusual and had no precedent.

"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





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.