Ptolemy XII Auletes

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Ptolemy XII Auletes
Ptolemy XII Auletes Louvre Ma3449.jpg
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
Predecessor Ptolemy XI (First Reign)
Berenice IV (Second Reign)
Successor Cleopatra V/VI and Berenice IV (First Reign)
Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII (Second Reign)
Born117 BC [1] or 96 BC
Diedbefore 22 March 51 BC
Spouse Cleopatra V (sister)
Issue Cleopatra VI of Egypt (possibly)
Berenice IV of Egypt
Cleopatra VII
Arsinoe IV
Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator
Ptolemy XIV
Full name
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Philopator Philadelphos
Dynasty Ptolemaic
Father Ptolemy IX
Possibly Cleopatra IV

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"; 117 or 96 BC – before 22 March 51 BC) was a pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He was commonly known as Auletes (Αὐλητής, Aulētḗs "the Flautist"), referring to the king's love of playing the flute in Dionysian festivals. He was the ostensibly illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX, possibly by Cleopatra IV. His grandmother, 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.


Following the murder of pharaoh Ptolemy XI in 80 BC, Ptolemy XII was recalled from the Kingdom of Pontus and crowned king of Egypt. He married his sister Cleopatra V and they are known to have had a daughter, Berenice IV. She was most likely also the mother of Cleopatra VII. 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.

With funding and military assistance from the Republic, which officially viewed him as one of its client rulers, Ptolemy XII was able to recapture Egypt and have his daughter and successor, Berenice IV, killed in 55 BC. He named his daughter Cleopatra VII as his co-regent in 52 BC. He died from an illness a year later. He was succeeded by his daughter, Cleopatra, and son, Ptolemy XIII, as joint rulers as stipulated in his will and testament. His two other children, Arsinoe IV and Ptolemy XIV, would later become rulers of Egypt.

Background and early life

Bust of Ptolemy IX Soter. PtolemyIX-StatueHead MuseumOfFineArtsBoston.png
Bust of Ptolemy IX Soter.
Bust of Mithridates VI of Pontus. Mithridates VI Louvre.jpg
Bust of Mithridates VI of Pontus.

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 119 BC until he was forced to divorce her in 115 BC, and secondly to another sister Cleopatra Selene from 115 BC, until he abandoned her during his flight from Alexandria in 107 BC. 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. [2] [3] . Some scholars have therefore proposed that his mother was a concubine – probably an Alexandrian Greek, [4] [5] [6] [7] but possibly a member of the Egyptian elite. [8] [9] 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. [10] This theory is endorsed by the historian Adrian Goldsworthy. [11]

The date of Ptolemy XII's birth is thus uncertain. [12] If he was the son of Cleopatra IV, he was probably born around 117 BC and followed around a year later by a brother, known as Ptolemy of Cyprus. In 117 BC, Ptolemy IX was governor of Cyprus, but in 116 BC 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 115 BC 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 114 BC. Ptolemy IX meanwhile had been remarried to Cleopatra Selene, with whom he had a daughter, Berenice III. [13] By 109 BC, 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. [14] [1] Relations between Ptolemy IX and his mother deteriorated. In 107 BC she forced him to flee Alexandria for Cyprus and replaced him as co-regent with his younger brother Ptolemy X Alexander. [13] 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. [10]

Ptolemy IX made an attempt to reclaim the Ptolemaic throne in 103 BC, 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 88 BC, at the outbreak of the First Mithridatic War. [1] [18] Ironically, their father had reclaimed the Egyptian throne around the same time. They were held by Mithridates as hostages until 80 BC. At some point during this period, probably in 81 or 80 BC, they were engaged to two of Mithridates' daughters, Mithridatis and Nyssa. [19] Meanwhile, Ptolemy IX died in December 81 BC and was succeeded by Berenice III. In April 80 BC, 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 58 BC. [8] [20] [21]

First reign (80–58 BC)

Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy XII found at the Temple of the Crocodile in Fayoum, Egypt. Flickr - archer10 (Dennis) - Egypt-14A-024.jpg
Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy XII found at the Temple of the Crocodile in Fayoum, Egypt.

On his arrival in Alexandria, in April 80 BC, Ptolemy XII was proclaimed king. His reign was officially dated as having begun on the death of his father in 81 BC, 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 76 BC, the High Priest of Ptah in Memphis died and Ptolemy XII travelled to Memphis to appoint his fourteen-year-old 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 69 BC, 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. [1]

Relations with Rome

Pompey, Ptolemy XII's key ally in Rome. Pompey the Great.jpg
Pompey, Ptolemy XII's key ally in Rome.
Relief of Ptolemy XII from the double temple at Kom Ombo. Ptolemy XII Auletes - 185.jpg
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. Edfu Temple 9609.JPG
First pylon at Edfu Temple, which Ptolemy XII decorated with figures of himself smiting the enemy.

When Ptolemy X had died in 88 BC, 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 65 BC, 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 63 BC, 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 61/60 BC 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 60 BC, 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 59 BC. [30] [31] [32]

In 58 BC, 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 48 BC. [34]

Exile in Rome (58-55 BC)

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 57 to 56 BC. [36] [34]

A denarius of Pompey minted 49-48 BC Denier a l'effigie de Pompee.jpg
A denarius of Pompey minted 49-48 BC

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 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. [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 (55–51 BC)

Roman bust of Cleopatra VII, Altes Museum, Antikensammlung Berlin Cleopatra VII, dalla via appia tra ariccia e genzano, 40-30 ac ca. 02.JPG
Roman bust of Cleopatra VII, Altes Museum, Antikensammlung Berlin

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. [42] 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. [43] On 31 May 52 BC his daughter Cleopatra VII was named as his coregent. [44]

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. [45] [46] 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. [47]

Ptolemy XII died sometime before 22 March 51 BC. [48] 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. [49] 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) [49]


Generally, descriptions of Ptolemy XII portray him as weak and self-indulgent, drunk, or a lover of music. [50] 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, [51]

Marriage and issue

Ptolemy married his sister Cleopatra V Tryphaena who was with certainty the mother of his eldest known child, Berenice IV. [52] Cleopatra V disappears from court records a few months after the birth of Ptolemy's second known child, [53] and probably hers, Cleopatra VII in 69 BC. [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] [59] 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, [53] but this is only speculation. [60]

The philosopher Porphyry (c. 234 – c. 305 AD) wrote of Ptolemy XII's daughter Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, who reigned alongside her sister Berenice. [61] 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. [62] 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. [52]

Berenice IV 79-75 BCearly 55 BCQueen of Egypt from June 58 BC until early 55 BC. [63]
Cleopatra VII Bust of Cleopatra VII - Altes Museum - Berlin - Germany 2017.jpg December 70 BC or January 69 BC12 August 30 BCQueen of Egypt from 50 - 30 BC. [64]
Arsinoe IV 63-61 BC?41 BCQueen of Cyprus in 48 BC, claimed queenship of Egypt from late 48 BC until expelled by Julius Caesar in early 47 BC. [65]
Ptolemy XIII 62-61 BC13 January 47 BCCo-regent with Cleopatra VII from 51 BC to 47 BC. [66]
Ptolemy XIV Ptolemy XIV.jpg 60-59 BCJune-September 44 BCCo-regent with Cleopatra VII from 47-44 BC. [67]

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Primary sources

Secondary sources

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