Ptolemy XII derived his origin from Ptolemy I, who came to Egypt almost three centuries before Alexander the Great. He became the ruler of this territory then and came to the throne of the great Pharaohs.
Ptolemaic Pharaohs were somewhat special with Greek and Macedonian blood circulating in their bodies. Greek was spoken at their court and also ruled in army and administration. Nevertheless they were Egyptian ruler in the best sense of the word, although they became them a bit out of necessity.
Ptolemies tried to act as the legal successors of the original Egyptian rulers, so they had to adapt the traditions. Traditionally they had to keep good relations with the priests, who had an extraordinary influence on Egyptian people. They had to take care of temples and they did it better than most of their predecessors, the rulers, who came from Egypt. According to tradition Ptolemies let themselves claim to be gods as the original Pharaohs. They also received the double crown of Egypt (the Upper and Lower Egypt), which was put on their head by the head priest in Memphis (Mennefer).
Ptolemy XII. – the journey of an illegitimate child to the throne
Ptolemy XII. Neos Dionysos broke this tradition and he was the first one, who didn’t let crown himself in Memphis (Mennefer), but in Alexandria, which was the capital of the empire since the time of Ptolemy I. In addition he didn’t let crown himself immediately after taking over the reign, but four years later – in March 76 BC. He had serious reasons for it.
Ptolemy XII. was an illegitimate son of the Pharaoh (it should be noted that Egyptian rulers didn’t have figures in their names, but only epithets; the figures were given later for better distinguishing). His half-brother Ptolemy XI came to the throne in 80 BC and he should rule together with his cousin and stepmother - Berenice. He murdered his co-ruler, which was pretty common at Pharaoh’s court. But Egyptian people worshipped Berenice and Ptolemy XI spent many years in Rome and was put on the Egyptian throne from there. So people rioted and Ptolemy was brutally killed by them, which wasn’t that common.
The question of succession after Ptolemy XI’s murder
The murder of Ptolemy XI. raised a serious question: Who will come to the throne of Egypt? It had to be a ruler of the Ptolemies, because otherwise there was a threat that Rome seizes control of Egypt and makes it a Roman province. But Ptolemy XI had no child, so the family died out after the official line. On the top of that he left a strange testament and according to it Egypt should be passed to Rome in case of his (unexpected) death. But his stepson Ptolemy lived in Syria, so Alexandria asked him to take over the rule in Egypt (his younger brother got Cyprus that way).
Ptolemy Neos Dionysos, who later was marked as XII, was a big lover of art and culture. That’s why he was called Piper. But he wasn’t very good politician. The disagreements in Rome were an advantage for him, so he could come to the offered throne and rule the Egypt in peace. And because it wasn’t initially clear, how would Rome act, and on the other hand it was necessary to obtain the Egyptians on his side, he let crown himself up after four years of his reign. The peace didn’t last long.
Rome remembered Egypt in the mid-sixties and took at least Cyprus seven years later. Disorders broke out in Egypt, but they can’t be called as a rebellion. Nevertheless, Ptolemy XII fled. People chose Ptolemy’s eldest daughter Berenice (born 78 BC) as the Queen after his flight and they need a husband for her. Berenice let strangled the first husband and the second one was killed in a battle. After his death, Berenice suddenly died herself – her father let murder her. Murders were so common at the Egyptian court that nobody was outraged by it, with the exception of Ptolemy’s XI. murder. That’s why Ptolemy XII could return to Egypt. There were still his younger daughter – Cleopatra (born 69 BC), the youngest daughter Arsinoe and two young sons.
Co-reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra
As evidenced by signatures and dating of some government document Ptolemy XII ruled together with his daughter Cleopatra for the last months of his life. He gradually prepared her for becoming his successor. Cleopatra was eighteen and the elder son was ten at that time. But it wasn’t possible for a single woman to rule in Egypt – she had to have a co-ruler. So Ptolemy established in his will that his successors became both Cleopatra and her ten years old brother. They should marry, of course.
At the beginning of the co-reign with her father Cleopatra set out to a so-called inspection tour along the Nile River to the south up to Upper Egypt in March 51 BC. She was the first ruler after a long time, who undertook such a journey. So people were quite favourably disposed to her.
Nile didn’t bring floods, famine came
But then disaster had come that shook her good position. The year 50 BC didn’t bring the expected floods. Nile didn’t overflow so much to ensure adequate crop. Famine threatened, which wasn’t possible to even mitigate with stockpiles of court granaries, where certain amount of grain was retain just for such years. Ptolemy sent grain to Rome. Gnaeus Pompeius (son of Pompey senior) got another portion (along with ships and soldiers) – from Cleopatra this time.
The first Roman appeared in Egypt, who would be associated with Cleopatra in the history. But Pompey was defeated and the given Egyptian ships returned back to Alexandria in summer of 48 BC. People grumbled, they were hungry and the Queen yet supported the Roman. All this and perhaps dissatisfaction of royal advisors and trustees, who hoped for unrestricted rule over the empire (the male heir was only a child after all) after Ptolemy’s XII death, lead to the outbreak of civil war in Egypt. Ptolemy XIII opposed to his sister and banished her. Cleopatra fled to Palestine, where she began to assemble the army and wanted to go back to Egypt.