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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. 80–58 BC and 55–51 BC
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 51 BC
SpouseCleopatra V (sister or cousin)
IssueCleopatra VI of Egypt (possibly)
Berenice IV of Egypt
Cleopatra VII
Arsinoe IV
Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator
Ptolemy XIV
Full name
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theus Philadelphos
FatherPtolemy IX
Possibly Cleopatra IV

Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theos Philadelphos (Ancient Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Νέος Διόνυσος Θεός Φιλοπάτωρ Θεός Φιλάδελφος, Ptolemaios Néos Diónysos Theós Philopátōr Theós Philádelphos "Ptolemy New Dionysus, God Beloved of his Father, God Beloved of his Brother"; uncertain–before 22 March 51 BC) was a pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He was commonly known as Auletes (Αὐλητής, Aulētḗs "the Flutist"), referring to the king's love of playing the flute in Dionysian festivals. He was the (ostensibly illegitimate) son of Ptolemy IX, whose mother Cleopatra III sent Ptolemy XII and her other grandchildren to Kos in 103 BC. Thus, he spent much of his obscure early life outside of Egypt. His mother was possibly Cleopatra IV.

Following the murder of pharaoh Ptolemy XI in 80 BC, Ptolemy XII was recalled from the Kingdom of Pontus and crowned king. Though the late Ptolemaic kings are described as ineffective rulers, Ptolemy XII was successful in establishing an alliance with the Roman Republic late into his first reign. In 58 BC he was deposed by the Egyptian people and fled to Rome while his eldest daughter Berenice IV claimed the Ptolemaic throne. With funding and military assistance from the Roman Republic, which officially viewed Ptolemy XII as one of its client rulers, he was able to recapture Egypt and have Berenice IV killed in 55 BC. He and his daughter Cleopatra VII ruled jointly from 52 BC. On his death, he was succeeded by Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII, the eldest son of the king, as joint rulers as stipulated in his will and testament.

Early life[edit]

Ptolemy XII reigned during the late Hellenistic period preceding the Roman conquest of Egypt. He may have been a bastard son of Ptolemy IX. His mother is unknown, speculated to have been either Cleopatra IV[1][2][3] or a Greek Alexandrian woman.[4][5][6][7] The date of his birth is uncertain.[8] The British historian Adrian Goldsworthy contends that the idea of Cleopatra IV as Ptolemy XII's mother "fits the evidence marginally better than any other theory". He notes that Ptolemy XII may have been considered technically a bastard due to Ptolemy IX's marriage to Cleopatra IV possibly being unapproved and "never considered legal and proper" by the wider royal family, especially by his mother Cleopatra III,[1] prior to his accession.[9] In 103 BC, Cleopatra III sent her grandchildren to the island of Kos along with her treasure in order to protect them as a preparation for her war with Ptolemy IX.[10]


Ptolemy married his sister Cleopatra V Tryphaena who was with certainty the mother of his eldest known child, Berenice IV.[11] Cleopatra V disappears from court records a few months after the birth of Ptolemy's second known child,[12] and probably hers, Cleopatra VII in 69 BC.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18] 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,[12] but this is only speculation.[19]

The philosopher Porphyry (c. 234 – c. 305 AD) wrote of Ptolemy XII's daughter Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, who reigned alongside her sister Berenice.[20] The Greek historian Strabo (c. 63 BC – c. AD 24) stated that the king had only three daughters of whom the eldest has been referred to as Berenice IV.[21] 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.[11]

First reign (80–58 BC)[edit]

(left): Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy XII found at the Temple of the Crocodile in Fayoum, Egypt

(center): Relief of Ptolemy XII from the double temple at Kom Ombo;

(right): First pylon at Edfu Temple, which Ptolemy XII decorated with figures of himself smiting the enemy.

In 80 BC, Ptolemy XI was removed by the Egyptian population from the throne of Egypt after he had killed his coregent and stepmother Berenice III.[22] By that time, the illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX were living in exile in Sinope at the invitation of the king of Pontus, Mithridates VI, and had been engaged to Mithridates' daughters. The Alexandrians recognized Ptolemy IX's sons as successors to the Ptolemaic kingdom instead of accepting Roman rule.[23]

As the eldest of Ptolemy IX's sons, Ptolemy XII was proclaimed king as Ptolemy Neos Dionysos and married his sister Cleopatra Tryphaena, with whom he was coregent.[23] His full titular name was Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theus Philadelphos.[17] His brother Ptolemy gained control of Cyprus.[24] Ptolemy XI had left the Egyptian throne to Rome in his will, so Ptolemy XII was not the legitimate successor. Nevertheless, Rome did not challenge Ptolemy XII's succession because the Senate was unwilling to acquire an Egyptian expansion.[22]

Generally, descriptions of Ptolemy XII portray him as weak and self-indulgent, drunk, or a lover of music.[25] According to Strabo, his practice of playing the flute earned him the ridiculing sobriquet Auletes ('flute player'):

Now all at kings after the third Ptolemy, being corrupted by luxurious living, have administered the affairs of government badly, but worst of all the fourth, seventh, and the last, Auletes, who, apart from his general licentiousness, practiced 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, [26]
Rare drachma of Ptolemy XII minted at Paphos, Cyprus in 53 BC,[27] depicting him instead of Ptolemy I

Before Ptolemy XII's reign, there was mutual indifference between Rome and Egypt because of their geographical distance apart. Nevertheless, Egyptians asked the Romans to settle dynastic conflicts.[28] He used a pro-Roman policy to attempt to protect himself and secure his dynasty's fate. In 63 BC, it appeared that Pompey would emerge as the leader of a power struggle in Rome, so Ptolemy sought to form a patron-client relationship with Pompey by sending him riches and extending an invitation to Alexandria. Pompey accepted the riches but refused the invitation.[29] Nevertheless, a patron relationship with a leader in Rome did not guarantee his permanence on the throne, so Ptolemy XII soon afterwards travelled to Rome to negotiate a bribe for official recognition of his kingship. After paying six thousand talents to Julius Caesar and Pompey, a formal alliance or foedus was formed and his name was inscribed into the list of friends and allies of the people of Rome (amici et socii populi Romani).[30]

Exile in Rome[edit]

In 58 BC, the Romans took control of Cyprus, causing its ruler, Ptolemy XII's brother, to commit suicide.[31] Ptolemy XII failed to comment on his brother's death, which, along with the heavy levels of taxation required for the Roman tribute and large price increases, incited the Egyptian population to rise in rebellion. Taking his daughter Cleopatra with him, Ptolemy fled for the safety of Rome.[32] He was succeeded by his daughter Berenice IV, who ruled jointly with her mother or sister Cleopatra V/VI Tryphaena. Following Cleopatra Tryphaena's death a year later, Berenice ruled alone from 57 to 56 BC.[33]

A denarius of Pompey minted 49-48 BC

From 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. During this time, Roman creditors realized that they would not get the return on their loans to the king without his restoration.[34] In 57 BC, 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.[35]

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.[36]

Restoration and Second Reign (55–51 BC)[edit]

In 55 BC, 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.[37] The exact date of Ptolemy XII's restoration is unknown; the earliest possible date of restoration was 4 January 55 BC 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 51 BC.[38] On 31 May 52 BC his daughter Cleopatra VII was named as his coregent.[39]

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 54 BC. There he was accused de repetundis, but defended by Cicero and probably acquitted.[40][41] 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.[42]

Ptolemy XII died sometime before 22 March 51 BC.[43] 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.[44] 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) [44]


  1. ^ a b Goldsworthy 2011, pp. 69–70.
  2. ^ Bennett 1997, pp. 52, 65.
  3. ^ Mahaffy 1899, p. 225.
  4. ^ Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
  5. ^ Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 28.
  6. ^ Lefkowitz (1997), pp. 44–45, 50.
  7. ^ Schiff (2011), pp. 24.
  8. ^ Stanwick 2010, p. 60.
  9. ^ Bennett 1997, p. 46.
  10. ^ Whitehorne 1994, p. 139.
  11. ^ a b Tyldesley 2006, p. 200.
  12. ^ a b c Roller 2010, pp. 16, 19, 159.
  13. ^ Grant 1972, p. 4.
  14. ^ Preston 2009, p. 22.
  15. ^ Jones 2006, p. xiii.
  16. ^ Schiff 2010, p. 28.
  17. ^ a b Kleiner 2005, p. 22.
  18. ^ Tyldesley 2006, pp. 30, 235–236.
  19. ^ Goldsworthy 2011, pp. 127, 128.
  20. ^ "Eusebius: Chronicle p. 167, accessed online". Archived from the original on 12 December 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  21. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, pp. 45–47, accessed online
  22. ^ a b Bradford 2000, p. 33.
  23. ^ a b Hölbl 1994, pp. 192, 195.
  24. ^ Roller 2010, p. 17.
  25. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 34.
  26. ^ Strabo XVII, 1, 11.
  27. ^ Svoronos 1904, vol. I-II, p. 302 (n°1838), & vol. III-IV, plate LXI, n°22, 23..
  28. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 307.
  29. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 35.
  30. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 316.
  31. ^ Roller 2010, p. 22.
  32. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 37.
  33. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 324.
  34. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 323.
  35. ^ Bradford 2000, pp. 39–40.
  36. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 325.
  37. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 43.
  38. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 338.
  39. ^ Roller 2010, p. 27.
  40. ^ Cicero.
  41. ^ Huß 2001, pp. 696–697.
  42. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, pp. 332–334.
  43. ^ Roller 2010, pp. 53, 56.
  44. ^ a b Siani-Davies 1997, p. 339.

Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Ptolemy XII Auletes
Born: ca. 117 BC Died: ca. 51 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ptolemy XI
Pharaoh of Egypt
80 BC-58 BC
with Cleopatra V/VI
Succeeded by
Cleopatra V/VI
Berenice IV
Preceded by
Berenice IV
Pharaoh of Egypt
55 BC-51 BC
with Cleopatra VII
Succeeded by
Ptolemy XIII
Cleopatra VII