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Ptolemy X Alexander I

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Ptolemy X Alexander I[note 1] (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Ἀλέξανδρος, Ptolemaĩos Aléxandros) was the Ptolemaic king of Cyprus from 114 BC until 107 BC and of Egypt from 107 BC until his death in 88 BC. He ruled in co-regency with his mother Cleopatra III as Ptolemy Philometor Soter[a] until 101 BC, and then with his niece and wife Berenice III as Ptolemy Philadelphus.[b] He was a son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III, and younger brother of Ptolemy IX. His birth name was probably Alexander.

Ptolemy X was the second son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III. When Ptolemy VIII died in 116 BC, Ptolemy IX became king with Cleopatra III as his co-regent and Alexander was sent to Cyprus to serve as governor. However, in 114–13 BC, he declared himself king. Cleopatra III quarrelled with Ptolemy IX and arranged for Alexander to return to Egypt in 107 BC and replace his brother as co-regent (with modern sources calling him Ptolemy X).

During his reign, Ptolemy X had to fight against his brother Ptolemy IX to maintain control over the Egyptian throne. Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X fought a war against Ptolemy IX in the Hasmonean kingdom (103–102 BC), in which Ptolemy X successfully prevented his brother from invading Egypt. In 101 BC, he had his mother murdered, married his niece Berenice III, and appointed his new wife as co-regent. An Egyptian uprising in 91 BC caused Ptolemy X to lose control of the south of the country. In 88 BC, the people expelled him from Alexandria, recalling Ptolemy IX to the throne. Ptolemy X raised an army with Roman help and invaded Cyprus, but was killed.

Background and early life

Wall relief of Cleopatra III, her mother Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VIII before Horus at Kom Ombo

Ptolemy X, born Alexander, was a member of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. When King Ptolemy V had died in 180 BC, he had left three children: Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra II, and Ptolemy VIII. All three ruled together from 169 BC until 164 BC, when Ptolemy VIII expelled his brother from power. In 163 BC, he was expelled in turn and forced to withdraw to Cyrene. However, when Ptolemy VI died in 145 BC, Ptolemy VIII was invited back to Egypt to serve as king, marrying his sister Cleopatra II (who had previously been married to Ptolemy VI). The relationship between Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II rapidly deteriorated, especially when Ptolemy VIII took Cleopatra III, the daughter of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II), as a second wife. The conflict eventually led to a civil war with Cleopatra II on one side and Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III on the other (132–126 BC). Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III were victorious, but reconciled with Cleopatra II and restored her as co-regent in 124 BC.[2]

Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III had two sons and three daughters. The eldest son was Ptolemy IX, who was born around 144–3 BC and became the heir to the throne c. 130 BC, during the civil war with Cleopatra II. Their second son, known as Ptolemy X, was born around 140 BC – it is possible that the Horus name that he later assumed indicates that he was born in 140–39 BC.[1] He is referred to as Ptolemy Alexander in a number of ancient sources, but never in documentary sources like papyri. It is likely that Alexander was his birth name.

Governor and king of Cyprus (116–107 BC)

Probable bust of Ptolemy IX

On 28 June 116, Ptolemy VIII died. According to Justin, Ptolemy VIII's will left Cleopatra III in charge of Egypt, with the right to choose either her elder son, Ptolemy, or her younger son, Alexander, as her co-regent. Justin further claims that Cleopatra III wanted to choose Alexander, but the people of Alexandria rioted and forced her to choose Ptolemy.[3] Pausanias implies that Cleopatra III's request to send Ptolemy IX to Cyprus in 117 BC had been intended to get him out of the way in order to enable Ptolemy X's succession.[4] Some historians have found this account plausible.[5] Others have argued that it is a false account that was invented by Cleopatra III at a later date.[6] At any rate, Cleopatra II, Cleopatra III, and Ptolemy IX became the co-rulers of Egypt. They are listed together (in that order) as co-rulers in surviving papyrus documents from October 116 BC.[5] Meanwhile, Alexander was sent to Cyprus to serve as governor of the island.

Cleopatra II died some time before April 115 BC and at this point Cleopatra III became the dominant force in the government of Egypt. Ptolemy IX was forced to divorce his sister-wife Cleopatra IV, who went off and married the Seleucid king Antiochus IX (r. 115–95 BC), whose mother Cleopatra Thea[7] was Cleopatra III's sister.[8] Her new husband was waging a war against his half-brother Antiochus VIII (r. 125–96 BC), who was married to Cleopatra IV's elder sister Tryphaena. On the way to meet Antiochus IX, Cleopatra IV stopped in Cyprus, where she recruited an army and seized control of the Cypriot fleet, in order to aid Antiochus IX.[9] Perhaps as a result of this, in 114–113 BC, Alexander proclaimed himself 'King of Cyprus', openly declaring his opposition to Ptolemy IX.[1][5]

In autumn 107 BC, a new conflict broke out between Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX. Pausanias claims that Cleopatra III wounded a number of her own eunuch servants and displayed them to the people as evidence that her son had attempted to have her assassinated, causing the Alexandrians to riot and expel Ptolemy IX from the city.[10][11]

King of Egypt (107–88 BC)



Head of Ptolemy X, from Egypt, Ptolemaic period, 2nd century BC. Neues Museum, Germany

While this conflict was taking place, Alexander had left Cyprus and sailed to Pelusium. Cleopatra III had him brought to Alexandria and placed on the throne as her new co-regent in September 107 BC.[12] Cleopatra III seems to have dominated the new government even more thoroughly than she had during the reign of Ptolemy IX. Because of the means by which he came to the throne, he was given the derisory nickname Pareisactus (Greek: παρείσακτος, pareísaktos, "smuggled in").[13][1] Another nickname given to him ho Cocces (the son of Cocce), seems to refer to his mother's dominance, but the exact meaning of the name thereby given to his mother, Cocce, is unclear. It may mean cuckoo, in which case this nickname too refers to the way in which his mother had brought him to the kingship. Other interpretations are 'son of the scarlet lady' or 'son of the cunt'.[1] In general, Ptolemy X was slotted into the role that his brother had previously held. He married his brother's wife, Cleopatra Selene, who was also his sister.[14] He assumed the epithet that had previously been borne by his brother, Philometor Soter (Mother-loving Saviour) and took his brother's place in the dynastic cult, in which he and his mother were worshipped as the Theoi Philometores Soteres (Mother-loving Saviour Gods).[1] Ptolemy X served as the annual Priest of Alexander and the Ptolemies for 107–106 BC and 106–105 BC – as his brother had for every year since 116 BC.[1] In 105–104 BC, Cleopatra III assumed the priesthood for herself.[12]

War with Ptolemy IX and intervention in Judaea


After his expulsion from Alexandria, Ptolemy IX had gone to Cyprus. Forces loyal to Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X expelled him, but he mounted another invasion of Cyprus in 106 BC, which succeeded in conquering the island.[15] Cyrene had initially remained under Ptolemy IX's control, but some time after 105 BC and before 100 BC, a third brother, Ptolemy Apion gained control of the region. Justin claims that the territory had originally been left to Apion in Ptolemy VIII's will, but it is not clear whether this was true or a post facto invention.[3] It is unclear whether Apion was aligned with either Ptolemy IX or Ptolemy X. One sign that he was a free agent may be the will which he published. This will left all his territories to Rome in the event that he died without heirs, a method which was often used by Hellenistic kings to prevent rivals from attempting to depose or assassinate them. He actually did die without heirs in 96 BC, meaning that Rome inherited the territory.[16][17]

In 103 BC, the new Hasmonean King of Judaea, Alexander Jannaeus, attacked Ptolemais Akko. Ptolemy IX responded by invading Judaea.[18] Fearing that Ptolemy IX was planning to use Judaea as a springboard for an invasion of Egypt, Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X invaded Judaea themselves. Ptolemy X invaded Phoenicia by sea and then marched inland to Damascus, while Cleopatra III besieged Ptolemais Akko. Ptolemy IX attempted to slip past them and into Egypt, but Ptolemy X managed to rush back and stop him. Ptolemy IX spent the winter encamped at Gaza, before deciding to sail back to Cyprus in early 102 BC.[17] During this conflict, Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X made an alliance with the Seleucid king Antiochus VIII Grypus. He was still waging his own civil war against his brother Antiochus IX Cyzicenus, who had previously received support from Ptolemy IX. To seal the alliance with Antiochus VIII, Cleopatra forced Ptolemy X to divorce his sister-wife, Cleopatra Selene, and remarried her to Antiochus.[19][14]

Reign with Berenice III


In September 101 BC, Cleopatra disappears from official documents. Justin reports that Ptolemy X had her murdered, when he realised that she was intending to kill him.[19] In October of the same year, Ptolemy married his niece Berenice III, daughter of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra Selene and appointed her co-regent.[1] Ptolemy X changed his own epithet to Philadelphos (Sibling-lover) and the couple were brought into the dynastic cult as the Theoi Philadelphoi (Sibling-loving gods).[20][17]

In 91 BC, a rebellion broke out in Upper Egypt. This rebellion was the latest in a series of native Egyptian uprisings in the region, following those of Hugronaphor (205–185 BC) and Harsiesi (131–130 BC). It is unknown what the name of the rebellion's leader was or whether he claimed the title of Pharaoh, as earlier rebel leaders had. The rebels gained control of Thebes and were supported by the Theban priests. Their forces are also attested in Latopolis and Pathyris. The rebellion also meant that the Ptolemies lost contact with the Triacontaschoenus region (Lower Nubia). Meroe took control of the region and retained it until the Roman period.[21]

Around May 88 BC, Alexandrians and the army turned against Ptolemy X and expelled him. Porphyry reports that the rebellion was a result of anger at Ptolemy's friendliness with the Jews.[22] Strabo says that Ptolemy X was expelled because he melted down the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great and replaced it with one made out of glass.[23] The Alexandrians invited Ptolemy IX to return to Alexandria and retake the throne, which he did. Ptolemy X and Berenice gathered a naval force to recapture the kingdom, but were defeated in battle. Ptolemy X recruited a second force at Myra, invaded Cyprus, and was killed.[24][1][25]

In the process of recruiting this final force, Ptolemy X had taken out a loan from the Roman Republic. It seems that providing collateral for this loan involved producing a will, which left Egypt to the Roman Republic in the event of his death without an heir.[26] The Romans chose not to take advantage of this will after Ptolemy's death, but did not outright reject it, either. The possibility of Roman intervention hung over Ptolemy XII for the rest of his reign and forced him to adopt a highly deferential posture with the Romans.[25]

Marriage and issue


Ptolemy X probably married his sister Cleopatra Selene on taking the throne in 109 BC. She had previously been married to Ptolemy IX. They probably had one son, Ptolemy XI before she was remarried to Antiochus VIII in 103/02 BC.[27][14] After he murdered Cleopatra III, Ptolemy X married Berenice III, who was probably the daughter of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra Selene (thus, Ptolemy X's step-daughter and niece), in October 101 BC.[28] They probably had one daughter, Cleopatra V.[20]

Name Image Birth Death Notes
Ptolemy XI c. 105 BC April 80 BC Co-regent with his mother Berenice III for a few days in April 80 BC.
Cleopatra V c. 100–95 BC 57 BC Married her cousin Ptolemy XII and co-regent with him from 79-69 BC, co-regent with her daughter Berenice IV 58-57 BC.




  1. ^ Numbering the Ptolemies is a modern convention. Older sources may give a number one higher or lower. The most reliable way of determining which Ptolemy is being referred to in any given case is by epithet (e.g. "Philopator").
  1. ^ lit. "Ptolemy, mother-loving savior"
  2. ^ lit. "Ptolemy, sibling-lover"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy X". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  2. ^ Hölbl 2001, pp. 172–203
  3. ^ a b Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.3.1
  4. ^ Pausanias 1.9.1
  5. ^ a b c Hölbl 2001, pp. 204–205
  6. ^ Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra II". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  7. ^ Antiochus IX at Livius.org
  8. ^ Ptolemy VI Philometor and Cleopatra II at Livius.org
  9. ^ Justin 39.3.2
  10. ^ Justin (historian), Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.4.1; Pausanias 1.9.2
  11. ^ Hölbl 2001, pp. 206–207
  12. ^ a b Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra III". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  13. ^ Strabo, Geography 17.1.8
  14. ^ a b c Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra Selene". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  15. ^ Diodorus, Bibliotheca 34/35.39a; Justin 39.4.1-2
  16. ^ Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy Apion". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  17. ^ a b c Hölbl 2001, pp. 207–210
  18. ^ Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13.324-364
  19. ^ a b Justin 39.4.1-2
  20. ^ a b Bennett, Chris. "Berenice III". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  21. ^ Pausanias 1.9.3
  22. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F2.9
  23. ^ Strabo Geography 17.1.8
  24. ^ Porphyry FGrH 260 F2.8-9; Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.5; Pausanias
  25. ^ a b Hölbl 2001, p. 211
  26. ^ Cicero, Agr. 1.1, 2.41-42
  27. ^ C. J. Bennett, Anc. Soc. 28 (1997) 39, 55
  28. ^ Porphyry 165
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Aidan Dodson, Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004


  • Hölbl, Günther (2001). A History of the Ptolemaic Empire. London & New York: Routledge. pp. 143–152 & 181–194. ISBN 0415201454.
Ptolemy X Alexander I
Born:  ? Died: ca. 88 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by Pharaoh of Egypt
110 BC–109 BC
with Cleopatra III
Succeeded by
Pharaoh of Egypt
107 BC–88 BC
with Cleopatra III and Berenice III