Berenice III of Egypt

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Berenice III
Berenice und Selene.jpg
Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt
Reignwith Ptolemy X Alexander I (first reign)
with Ptolemy IX Soter (second reign)
with Ptolemy XI Alexander II
Born115/114 BC[1]
DiedApril 80 BC (aged 34–35)[1]
Alexandria, Egypt
SpousePtolemy X
Ptolemy XI Alexander II
IssueCleopatra V of Egypt
FatherPtolemy IX Soter
MotherCleopatra Selene

Berenice III (Greek: Βερενίκη; 120–80 BC) was known as Cleopatra between 91 and 88 BC, and is sometimes called Cleopatra Berenice in modern scholarship. She was co-regent of Ptolemaic Egypt from 101–88 BC and again in 81 BC, before reigning as sole monarch of Egypt from 81 to 80 BC.

She had previously been queen consort of Egypt, or possibly queen regnant with her uncle/husband Ptolemy X Alexander I, from 101 to 88 BC.[1]

Background and early life[edit]

The Ptolemys and Benenice of the era were both Greek and Egyptian. Their heritage became a very prominate symbol in their reign taking from both of their parent cultures and intertwining it into their rule.[2] Berenice's father was Ptolemy IX Soter, who became king of Egypt in 116 BC, with his mother Cleopatra III as his co-regent and the dominant force in government. He was initially married to his sister Cleopatra IV, but his mother forced him to divorce her and marry another sister, Cleopatra Selene, probably in early 115 BC. It is not certain which of these wives was Berenice's mother. Cleopatra IV has been favored by some modern scholarship.[3] However, the historian Christopher Bennett notes that Berenice III's legitimacy was never questioned by ancient historians (unlike her brothers, Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus), and that Ptolemy IX's marriage to Cleopatra IV seems to have been considered illegitimate – making it more probable that Berenice III was the result of the legitimate marriage to Cleopatra Selene. In this case, she was probably born in late 115 or early 114 BC.[4][1] Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra III eventually came into conflict with one another. In 107 BC, Cleopatra whipped up the Alexandrian mob against Ptolemy IX, causing him to flee to Cyprus, abandoning Berenice and her brothers in Alexandria in the process. Cleopatra then installed Ptolemy IX's younger brother Ptolemy X Alexander on the throne, as a more pliant co-regent.[5][6] Ptolemy X married Berenice's probable mother Cleopatra Selene and thus became step-father to the seven-year-old Berenice. They probably had a son together, the future Ptolemy XI, but around 103 BC Cleopatra III forced them to divorce so that Cleopatra Selene could be married to the Seleucid king Antiochus VIII.[7]

Co-regency with Ptolemy X (101-88 BC)[edit]

In 101 BC, Ptolemy X had Cleopatra III murdered. Shortly after that, he married the thirteen-year-old Berenice and elevated her to the role of co-regent. The pair were joined together in the dynastic cult as the Theoi Philadelphoi (Sibling-loving Gods).[1][8]

In 91 BC, a rebellion broke out in Upper Egypt. This rebellion was the latest in a series of native Egyptian uprisings in the region, following those of Hugronaphor (205-185 BC) and Harsiesi (131-130 BC). It is unknown what the name of the rebellion's leader was or whether he claimed the title of Pharaoh, as earlier rebel leaders had. The rebels gained control of Thebes and were supported by the Theban priests. Their forces are also attested in Latopolis and Pathyris. The rebellion also meant that the Ptolemies lost contact with the Triacontaschoenus region (Lower Nubia). Meroe took control of the region and retained it until the Roman period.[9]

Around May 88 BC, the Alexandrians and the army turned against Ptolemy X and expelled him.[10] The Alexandrians then invited Ptolemy IX to return to Alexandria and retake the throne, which he did. Berenice accompanied her husband into exile. The pair gathered a naval force to recapture the kingdom, but were defeated in battle. Ptolemy X recruited a second force at Myra, invaded Cyprus, and was killed.[11][12][13]

Berenice returned to Egypt at some point after Ptolemy X's death and before 81 BC, but the exact date is not known.[1]

Reign (81-80 BC)[edit]

Basalt bust of Ptolemy X Alexander.

On 5 August 81 BC, Ptolemy IX promoted his daughter Berenice III, who had previously been the wife and co-regent of Ptolemy X, to the status of co-regent. Some sources claim that Ptolemy IX had made Berenice III his co-regent at the start of his second reign in 88 BC, but all documentary evidence shows that he reigned alone until this point. Ptolemy died shortly thereafter, probably in December of the same year, leaving Berenice alone on the throne. At this point she was reincorporated into the dynastic cult as the Thea Philopator (Father-loving God), a clear reference to her inheritance of power from her father.[14]

After a few months of sole rule, Berenice summoned her younger half-brother and former step-son, Ptolemy XI, from Rome to serve as co-regent. According to Appian, this co-regency was established at the behest of the Roman dictator Sulla, who hoped that Ptolemy XI would serve as a pliant client king.[15] Ptolemy XI was crowned king on 3 April 80 BC and murdered Berenice a few days later. Bernice III death angered the Alexandrians, and in response to her murderer the people riot on 22 April 80 BC. He was cornered in the gymnasium and killed.[16][1] The throne then passed to Ptolemy XII Auletes, who was an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX and the half-brother of Berenice.[14]


Berenice is the subject of Berenice, an opera by Handel.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bennett, Chris. "Berenice III". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  2. ^ Bennett, Chris (2002). "The Chronology of Berenice III". JStore. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  3. ^ Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (2013) [2012]. "Cleopatra V Berenike III". In Bagnall, Roger S.; Brodersen, Kai; Champion, Craige B.; Erskine, Andrew; Huebner, Sabine R. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (13 Vols.). III: Be-Co. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-405-17935-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. ^ Bennett 1997, p. 54.
  5. ^ Justin (historian), Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.4.1; Pausanias 1.9.2
  6. ^ Hölbl 2001, pp. 206–207
  7. ^ Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra Selene". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  8. ^ Hölbl 2001, pp. 207–210
  9. ^ Pausanias 1.9.3
  10. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F2.9; Strabo Geography 17.1.8
  11. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F2.8-9; Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.5; Pausanias
  12. ^ Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy X". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  13. ^ Hölbl 2001, p. 211
  14. ^ a b Hölbl 2001, pp. 213–214
  15. ^ Appian Bellum Civile 1.102
  16. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F2.10-11; Cicero, De Rege Alexandro F9; Appian Bellum Civile 1.102.
Berenice III of Egypt
Born: ca. 115 – 114 BC Died: 80 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ptolemy X and Cleopatra III
Queen of Egypt
101 BC–88 BC
with Ptolemy X
Succeeded by
Ptolemy IX
Preceded by
Ptolemy IX
Queen of Egypt
81 BC–80 BC
with Ptolemy XI
Succeeded by
Ptolemy XI