Trivia Break: Ptolemies

>> Monday, July 13, 2009

I know, I know, I should be answering a question, but I got shanghaied into something at work, so it's another trivia break.

You know, when I was in high school world history eleventy-five years ago, I remember being informed that all the Pharoahs were inbred (marrying brother to sister) and that Akhenaton looked like a fruit because of his inbreeding but his wife (who clearly he was fond of since they had love notes carved to each other all over his city) was gorgeous (Nefertiri). What I didn’t really absorb was that this unmitigated inbreeding thing was around for a long time, up to and including Roman times. I might touch on good old Akhenaten for a different Trivia break because, hey, he’s interesting.

I was reading about the Ptolemies and was amazed, that, in addition to the serious brother-sister in-breeding was a complete and utter lack in originality in naming things that wouldn’t be duplicated until the Bourbons all but wore out the name of Louis out. Check this out.

  • Ptolemy I Soter (305 BC-282 BC) married first (probably) Thais, secondly Artakama, thirdly Eurydice and finally Berenice I
  • Ptolemy II Philadelphus (284 BC-246 BC) married Arsinoe I, then Arsinoe II Philadelphus; ruled jointly with Ptolemy the Son (267 BC-259 BC)
  • Ptolemy III Euergetes (246 BC-222 BC) married Berenice II
  • Ptolemy IV Philopator (222 BC-204 BC) married Arsinoe III
  • Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204 BC-180 BC) married Cleopatra I
  • Ptolemy VI Philometor (180 BC-164 BC, 163 BC-145 BC) married Cleopatra II, briefly ruled jointly with Ptolemy Eupator in 152 BC
  • Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator (never reigned)
  • Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (Physcon) (170 BC-163 BC, 145 BC-116 BC) married Cleopatra II then Cleopatra III; temporarily expelled from Alexandria by Cleopatra II between 131 BC and 127 BC, reconciled with her in 124 BC.
  • Cleopatra II Philometora Soteira (131 BC-127 BC), in opposition to Ptolemy VIII
  • Cleopatra III Philometor Soteira Dikaiosyne Nikephoros (Kokke) (116 BC-101 BC) ruled jointly with Ptolemy IX (116 BC-107 BC) and Ptolemy X (107 BC-101 BC)
  • Ptolemy IX Soter II (Lathyros) (116 BC-107 BC, 88 BC-81 BC as Soter II) married Cleopatra IV then Cleopatra Selene; ruled jointly with Cleopatra III in his first reign
  • Ptolemy X Alexander I (107 BC-88 BC) married Cleopatra Selene then Berenice III; ruled jointly with Cleopatra III till 101 BC
  • Berenice III Philopator (81 BC-80 BC)
  • Ptolemy XI Alexander II (80 BC) married and ruled jointly with Berenice III before murdering her; ruled alone for 19 days after that.
  • Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos (Auletes) (80 BC-58 BC, 55 BC-51 BC) married Cleopatra V Tryphaena
  • Cleopatra V Tryphaena (58 BC-57 BC) ruled jointly with Berenice IV Epiphaneia (58 BC-55 BC)
  • Cleopatra VII Philopator (51 BC-30 BC) ruled jointly with Ptolemy XIII (51 BC-47 BC), Ptolemy XIV (47 BC-44 BC) and Ptolemy XV Caesarion (44 BC-30 BC).
  • Arsinoe IV (48 BC-47 BC) in opposition to Cleopatra VII

Incest? Oh, we got incest. Ptolemies II, IV, VI VII didn’t live long enough to get married), VIII (who married both his sister and her daughter), IX (who managed to marry two DIFFERENT sisters), Ptolemy X (who married one of his sisters – also married to IX – and HER daughter), XI (who married half-sister/cousin, murdered her and then lost his throne as a result), XII (I can’t even classify this relationship – check the chart – asuming XII is not illegitimate with a different mother), XIII and XIV (who both married their sister – or half-sister – Cleopatra VII and she managed to marry to Romans as well). The Ptolemies were all descended from one of Alexander the Great’s bodyguard/general Ptolemy Sotor (generally via both sides of the line) who ended up with governorship of Egypt and managed to worm his way in with the populace as the successor as the previous native Pharoahs. No small feat. It probably didn’t hurt that the dynasty banked on Alexander’s glory for pretty much as long as they ruled.

Aside from the serious need for a baby name book, I also noted how many female rulers and corulers there were. The Cleopatra we’ve heard the most about (due to her rather intensive involvement with Rome) was not a fluke ruler. Cleopatra II threw her (second) husband out when he married her daughter from her first marriage (both marriages to full brothes) and coruled with her children until eventually reconciling with husband #2. Cleopatra III ruled with several sons and her granddaughter ruled by herself after her first husband (her uncle) died until she was forced to marry her half-brother. Who murdered her. Cleopatra V actually co-ruled with Berenice IV (her daughter?) before the fiascos of Cleopatra VII and her multiplicity of spouses.

Sometimes, reading history can give you a brand new appreciation even for today’s politics.



  • Shakespeare

    Okay, now we have to look at our own families... is there a brother we'd be willing to marry?


    I'm sorry, I need to really go barf now.

  • Stephanie B

    I hear you. I can't say that any sibling appeals to me sexually in any way.

    It's almost amazing they were able to have so many children interbreeding and still have someone reputedly gorgeous like Cleopatra at the end. I wonder how many children were born deformed and quietly disposed of?

  • The Mother

    Reputedly gorgeous, but NOT. The existing images of Cleo (from the time) show a hook nose and rather pinched features. But any woman who's powerful and rich as stink can be viewed as pretty, so why not? She was, however, the smartest of the lot, or at least that's how history paints it. Maybe she was illegitimate.

    The word "spouse," though, implies a marriage. Cleo couldn't marry either Ceasar or Anthony, since they both had wives back home. With Anthony, she had an Egyptian marriage (after the twins were born), but it wasn't legal since he didn't (couldn't) divorce Octavia.

    As with so much of history, things might have turned out a lot different if the wind was blowing from a different direction on a certain day.

  • Aron Sora

    @The mother

    That makes it worse.

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