Ptolemy XII Auletes

Ptolemy XII Auletes

Ptolemy XII smashing his enemies with a royal mace. Relief from the first pylon in the temple at Edfu
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
Reign ca. 80–58 BC and 55–51 BC
Predecessor Ptolemy IX (First Reign)
Berenice IV (Second Reign)
Successor Cleopatra VI & Berenice IV (First Reign)
Ptolemy XIII & Cleopatra VII (Second Reign)
Born c. 117 BC
Died c. 51 BC
Spouse Cleopatra V of Egypt (cousin & niece)
Issue Cleopatra Tryphaena (possibly)
Berenice IV
Cleopatra VII
Arsinoe IV
Ptolemy XIII
Ptolemy XIV
Full name
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theus Philadelphos
Dynasty Ptolemaic
Father Ptolemy IX Lathyros
Mother Cleopatra IV of Egypt

Ptolemy Neos Dionysos Theos Philopator Theos Philadelphos[note 1] (117–51 BC; Ancient Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Νέος Διόνυσος Θεός Φιλοπάτωρ Θεός Φιλάδελφος, spoken Ptolemaios Néos Diónysos Theós Philopátōr Theós Philádelphos ≈ New Dionysus, God Beloved of his Father, God Beloved of his Brother), more commonly known as "Auletes" (Αὐλητής, Aulētḗs = the Flutist) or "Nothos" (Νόθος, Nóthos = the Bastard), was an Egyptian king of Macedonian descent. Auletes means pipes-player, referring to the king's love of playing the pipes.

Early life

Ptolemy reigned during the Hellenistic period. He is assumed to have been an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX Soter, perhaps by an Alexandrian woman.[1][2] But he may instead be the son of Ptolemy IX by Cleopatra IV.[3]

His reign as king was interrupted by a general rebellion that resulted in his exile from 58 to 55 BC. Thus, Ptolemy XII ruled Egypt from 80 to 58 BC and from 55 BC until his death in 51 BC. Ptolemy XII was generally described as a weak, self-indulgent man, a drunkard, and a music lover.[4]


Ptolemy may have had two wives. He married Cleopatra Tryphaena (referred to as Cleopatra V[5] or Cleopatra VI[1] in the literature), who may have been either a sister or a cousin. Cleopatra Tryphaena is not mentioned after 69 BC and it is not clear who the mother of Ptolemy's three youngest children is.[1] His children include:

  1. Possibly a daughter named Cleopatra Tryphaena. Porphyry mentions a daughter Cleopatra Tryphaena who ruled with her sister Berenice.[6] Strabo however states that Ptolemy had only three daughters of whom the eldest has been referred to Berenice IV.[7] Suggesting 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 of Egypt, Ptolemy's wife.[5]
  1. Berenice IV
  2. Cleopatra VII
  3. Arsinoe IV
  4. Ptolemy XIII
  5. Ptolemy XIV

His first reign (80–58 BC)

In 80 BC, Ptolemy XII's predecessor Ptolemy XI was removed by the Egyptian population from the throne of Egypt after the king had killed his coregent and step mother Berenice III.[8] When Ptolemy XI died without a male heir, the only available male descendents of the Ptolemy I lineage were the illegitimate sons of Ptolemy IX by an unknown Greek concubine.[9] The boys were living in exile in Sinope, at the court of Mithridates VI, King of Pontus. As the eldest of the boys Ptolemy XII was proclaimed king as Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos and married his sister, Tryphaena. Ptolemy XII was coregent with his daughter Cleopatra VI Tryphaena and his wife Cleopatra V Tryphaena.

However, Ptolemy XI had left the throne to Rome in his will, therefore 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.[8]

Ptolemy XII's personal cult name (Neos Dionysos) earned him the ridiculing sobriquet Auletes (flute player) — as we learn from Strabo's writing (Strabo XVII, 1, 11):

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.
The first pylon at Edfu Temple was decorated by Ptolemy XII in 57 BC with figures of himself smiting the enemy.

Before Ptolemy XII's reign, the geographical distance between Rome and Egypt resulted in an indifferent attitude towards each other. Nevertheless, Egyptians asked the Romans to settle dynastic conflicts[10] 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 Roman struggle, thus Ptolemy sought to form a patron-client relationship with the Roman by sending him riches and extending an invitation to Alexandria. Pompey accepted the riches but refused the invitation.[11] Nevertheless, a patron relationship with a leader in Rome did not guarantee his permanence on the throne, thus 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).[12]

Exile in Rome (58–55 BC)

In 58 BC, Ptolemy XII failed to comment on the Roman conquest of Cyprus, a territory ruled by his brother, thereby inciting the Egyptian population to start a rebellion. Egyptians were already aggravated by heavy taxes (to pay for the Roman bribes) and a substantial increase in the cost of living. Ptolemy XII fled to Rome, possibly with his daughter Cleopatra VII, in search of safety.[13] His daughter Berenice IV became his successor. She ruled as coregent with her sister (or possibly mother) Cleopatra VI Tryphaena. A year after Ptolemy XII's exile, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena died and Berenice ruled alone over Alexandria from 57 to 56BC.[14]

From Rome, Ptolemy XII prosecuted his restitution but met opposition with certain members of the Senate. Ptolemy XII's 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 Egyptian king without his restoration.[15] Thus in 57 BC, pressure from the Roman public forced the Senate's decision to restore Ptolemy.[16] 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.[17]

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, but Ptolemy had their leader (a philosopher named Dion) poisoned and most of the other protesters killed before they reached Rome to plead their desires.[18]

Restoration (55–51 BC)

Ptolemy XII finally recovered his throne by paying Aulus Gabinius 10,000 talents to invade Egypt in 55 BC. After defeating the frontier forces of the Egyptian kingdom, Aulus Gabinius's army proceeded to attack the palace guards but the guards surrendered before a battle commenced.[19]

The exact date of Ptolemy XII's restoration is unknown; the earliest possible date of restoration is January 4, 55 BC and the latest possible date was June 24 the same year. Nevertheless, upon entering the palace, 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.[20] His daughter Cleopatra VII became his coregent.

At the moment of Ptolemy XII's restoration, Roman creditors demanded the return on their investments but the Alexandrian treasury could not repay the king's debt. Learning from previous mistakes, Ptolemy XII shifted popular resentment of tax increases from the king 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 had now 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 he allowed him to escape. The Roman 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 he was probably acquitted.[21] 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 coins dropped to about fifty percent of its value at the beginning of his reign.[22]

Before his death, Ptolemy XII chose his daughter Cleopatra VII as his coregent. In his will, he declared that she 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, Pompey (as Ptolemy XII's ally) approved the will.[23]

“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.” [23]


  1. Numbering the Ptolemies is a modern invention; the Greeks distinguished them by epithet (nickname). The number given here is the present consensus, but there has been some disagreement in the nineteenth century about which of the later Ptolemies should be counted as reigning. Since older sources may give a number one higher or lower, epithets are the most reliable way of determining which Ptolemy is being referred to in any given case.


  1. 1 2 3 Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2004. ISBN 0-500-05128-3
  2. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 28.
  3. Ptolemy XII by Chris Bennett
  4. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), 34.
  5. 1 2 Tyldesley, Joyce. Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt. Thames & Hudson. 2006. p.200, ISBN 0-500-05145-3
  6. Eusebius: Chronicle p. 167, accessed online
  7. Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, accessed online
  8. 1 2 Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), 33.
  9. A. Clayton Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign by Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. ( London: Thames and Hudson, 1994) ISBN 0-500-05074-0.
  10. Sinai-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 307.
  11. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 35.
  12. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 316.
  13. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 37.
  14. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” HIstoria 46:3 (1997), p. 324.
  15. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 323.
  16. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra ' (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), 39.
  17. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 40.
  18. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 325.
  19. Ernle Bradford, Classic Biography: Cleopatra (Toronto: The Penguin Groups, 2000), p. 43.
  20. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 388.
  21. Compare Cicero, Pro C. Rabirio Postumo; Werner Huß, Ägypten in hellenistischer Zeit 332–30 v. Chr. (Egypt in Hellenistic times 332–30 BC), Munich 2001, pp. 696–7
  22. Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans” Historia 46:3 (1997), pp. 332–4.
  23. 1 2 Siani-Davies, Mary. “Ptolemy and the Romans”, Historia 46:3 (1997), p. 339.

Primary sources

External links

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
Succeeded by
Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV
Preceded by
Berenice IV
Pharaoh of Egypt
55 BC-51 BC
with Cleopatra VII
Succeeded by
Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII

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