Ptolemy XII Auletes

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Ptolemy XII Auletes
Drachma of Ptolemy XII
Rare drachma of Ptolemy XII minted at Paphos, Cyprus in 53 BC,[1] depicting him instead of Ptolemy I
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 Tryphaena (possibly)
Berenice IV
Cleopatra VII
Arsinoe IV
Ptolemy XIII
Ptolemy XIV
Full name
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theus Philadelphos
FatherPtolemy IX
Possibly Cleopatra IV

Ptolemy 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 ruled from 80 to 58 BC and again from 55 to 51 BC, with an interregnum of forced exile to Rome as his eldest daughter Berenice IV claimed the Ptolemaic throne. With the funding and military assistance of the Roman Republic, which officially viewed Ptolemy XII as one of its client rulers, he was able to recapture Ptolemaic Egypt and have his rival daughter Berenice IV killed. On his death he was succeeded by his daughter Cleopatra VII and son Ptolemy XIII 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 is assumed to have been an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX. His mother is unknown, speculated to have been either Cleopatra IV[2][3][4] or a Greek Alexandrian woman.[5][6][7][8] The date of his birth is uncertain.[9] 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,[2] prior to his accession.[10] 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.[11]


Ptolemy married his sister Cleopatra V Tryphaena[12] who was with certainty the mother of his eldest known child, Berenice IV. Cleopatra V disappears from court records a few months after the birth of Ptolemy's second known daughter, Cleopatra VII, in 69 BC,[13][14] who was probably the daughter of Cleopatra V.[13][15][16][17][18][19] The mother of Ptolemy's three youngest children, Arsinoe IV and her younger brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, is 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,[14] but this is only speculation.[20]

Porphyry mentions a daughter of Ptolemy XII named Cleopatra VI Tryphaena who ruled with her sister Berenice.[21] Strabo, however, states that the king had only three daughters of whom the eldest has been referred to as Berenice IV.[22] This suggests that the Cleopatra Tryphaena referred to by Porphyry may have been Ptolemy's wife, not his daughter. Many experts now identify Cleopatra VI with Cleopatra V.[12]

His first reign (80–58 BC)[edit]

Egyptian-style statue of Ptolemy XII found at the Temple of the Crocodile in Fayoum, Egypt (left); Relief of Ptolemy XII from the Temple of Kom Ombo (center); First pylon at Edfu Temple, which Ptolemy XII decorated with figures of himself smiting the enemy (right)
Hellenistic bust of Ptolemy XII from Ptolemaic Egypt, 1st century BC, now in the Louvre, Paris[23]

In 80 BC, pharaoh Ptolemy XI was removed by the Egyptian population from the throne of Egypt after he had killed his coregent and stepmother Berenice III.[24] By that time, the illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX were living in exile in Sinope at the court of Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, 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.[25]

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.[25] His brother, also named Ptolemy, gained control of Cyprus.[26] 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.[24]

Ptolemy XII was generally described as a weak, self-indulgent man, a drunkard, and a music lover.[27] 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.[28]

Before Ptolemy XII's reign, the geographical distance between Rome and Egypt resulted in mutual indifference between them. Nevertheless, Egyptians asked the Romans to settle dynastic conflicts.[29] During his reign, Ptolemy XII attempted to secure his own fate and the fate of his dynasty by means of a pro-Roman policy. 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.[30] 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 an official recognition of his kingship. After paying a bribe of six thousand talents to Julius Caesar and Pompey, a formal alliance was formed (a foedus) and his name was inscribed into the list of friends and allies of the people of Rome (amici et socii populi Romani).[31]

Exile in Rome (58–55 BC)[edit]

In 58 BC, the Romans took control of Cyprus, causing its ruler, Ptolemy XII's brother, to commit suicide.[32] Ptolemy XII failed to comment on the Roman conquest of Cyprus, thereby inciting the Egyptian population to start a rebellion. Egyptians were already aggravated by heavy taxes (to pay for the Roman tribute) and a substantial increase in the cost of living. Ptolemy XII fled to Rome, possibly with his daughter Cleopatra VII, in search of safety.[33] His daughter Berenice IV became his successor. She ruled as coregent with her mother or sister Cleopatra V/VI Tryphaena. A year after Ptolemy XII's exile, Cleopatra Tryphaena died and Berenice ruled alone over Alexandria from 57 to 56 BC.[34]

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.[35] Thus 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.[36]

Egyptians heard rumors of Rome's possible intervention and disliked the idea of their exiled king's return. Cassius Dio reported 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. However, Ptolemy had their leader (a philosopher named Dion) poisoned and most of the other protesters killed before they reached Rome to plead their desires.[37]

Restoration (55–51 BC)[edit]

Ptolemy XII finally recovered his throne by paying Aulus Gabinius 10,000 talents to invade Egypt in 55 BC. Gabinius defeated the Egyptian frontier forces, marched to Alexandria, and attacked the palace, where the palace guards surrendered without fighting.[38] 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 had Berenice and her supporters executed. From then on, he reigned until he fell ill in 51 BC. Around two thousand Roman soldiers and mercenaries, the so-called Gabiniani, were stationed in Alexandria to ensure Ptolemy XII's authority on the throne. In exchange, Rome was able to exert its power over the restored king.[39] On 31 May 52 BC his daughter Cleopatra VII was named as his coregent.[40]

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). So Rabirius was placed 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 the year 54 BC. There he was accused de repetundis, but defended by Cicero and probably acquitted.[41][42] 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 percent of its value at the beginning of his first reign.[43]

Ptolemy XII died sometime before 22 March 51 BC.[44] He declared in his will that his daughter Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII should rule the kingdom 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.[45] According to 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.[45]


  1. ^ Svoronos 1904, vol. I-II, p. 302 (n°1838), & vol. III-IV, plate LXI, n°22, 23..
  2. ^ a b Goldsworthy, pp. 69-70.
  3. ^ Bennett (1997), pp. 52, 65.
  4. ^ Mahaffy (2001), p. 225.
  5. ^ Lefkowitz (1997), pp. 44–45, 50.
  6. ^ Bradford (2000), p. 28.
  7. ^ Schiff (2010), p. 24.
  8. ^ Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
  9. ^ Stanwick (2010), p. 60.
  10. ^ Bennett (1997), pp. 84, 86.
  11. ^ Whitehorne (1994), p. 139.
  12. ^ a b Tyldesley 2006, p. 200.
  13. ^ a b Grant (2009), pp. 4.
  14. ^ a b Roller (2010), p. 16, 19, 159.
  15. ^ Preston (2009), p. 22.
  16. ^ Jones (2006), pp. xiii.
  17. ^ Schiff (2011), p. 28.
  18. ^ Kleiner (2005), p. 22.
  19. ^ Tyldesley, pp. 30, 235–236.
  20. ^ Goldsworthy (2010), pp. 127, 128.
  21. ^ Eusebius: Chronicle p. 167, accessed online
  22. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, accessed online
  23. ^ Roller, p. 18.
  24. ^ a b Bradford 2000, p. 33.
  25. ^ a b Hölbl 1994, pp. 192, 195.
  26. ^ Roller 2010, p. 17.
  27. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 34.
  28. ^ Strabo XVII, 1, 11.
  29. ^ Sinai-Davies 1997, p. 307.
  30. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 35.
  31. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 316.
  32. ^ Roller 2010, p. 22.
  33. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 37.
  34. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 324.
  35. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 323.
  36. ^ Bradford 2000, pp. 39–40.
  37. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 325.
  38. ^ Bradford 2000, p. 43.
  39. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, p. 388.
  40. ^ Roller 2010, p. 27.
  41. ^ Cicero.
  42. ^ Huß 2001, pp. 696–697.
  43. ^ Siani-Davies 1997, pp. 332–334.
  44. ^ Roller 2010, pp. 53, 56.
  45. ^ a b Siani-Davies 1997, p. 339.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Cassius Dio 39.12 – 39.14, 39.55 – 39.58
  • Cicero. Pro C. Rabirio Postumo.
  • Strabo 12.3.34 and 17.1.11

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