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Ptolemaeus Xi.

*Ptolemai=os), king of EGYPT, assumed the surnames or titles of NEUS DIONYSUS (Νέος Διόνυσος), but is more commonly known by the appellation of AULETES (the fluteplayer). He was an illegitimate son of Ptolemy Lathyrus, and, on account of his spurious birth, his pretensions to the throne appear to have been altogether passed over at his father's death: but when the assassination of Berenice and the death of Alexander II. had completed the extinction of the legitimate race of the Lagidae (B. C. 80), Ptolemy was proclaimed king by the Alexandrians (Porphyr. apud Euseb. Arm. p. 117). So imperfect is our history of this period that we know nothing concerning the first twenty years of his reign. But of his character in general we are told that he was given up to every kind of vice and debauchery, and his name is associated with those of Philopator and Physcon, as one of the worst rulers of the whole race of the Ptolemies (Strab. xvii. p.796). He appears to have assumed the name of Dionysus as a sort of authority for his orgies, and is said to have been on the point of putting to death the Platonic philosopher Demetrius, for refusing to join in his drunken revels (Lucian, de Calumn. 16). His passion for playing on the flute, to which he owed his popular appellation, led him to institute musical contests, in which he himself condescended to appear as a competitor. (Strab. l.c.; Plut. de Adul. et Amic. 12.)

But it was not his vices alone which served to disgust and alienate the minds of his subjects. It had been a natural object of his desire to obtain the countenance and protection of the Roman senate; but, for some reason or other, it was long before he could obtain their ratification of his title to the crown, and it was not till the consulship of Caesar that he was able to purchase by vast bribes the desired privileges (Suet. Cases. 54). But he had expended immense sums in the pursuit of this object, which he was compelled to raise by the imposition of fresh taxes, and the discontent thus excited combining with the contempt entertained for his character, led to his expulsion by the Alexandrians, in B. C. 58. On this he determined to proceed in person to Rome to procure from the senate his restoration. On his way thither he had an interview at Rhodes with Cato, who endeavoured, but in vain, to dissuade him from his purpose (Plut. Cat. Mi. 35). His first reception was promising, and by a lavish distribution of bribes, combined with the influential support of Cicero, who pronounced an oration in his favour (Pro Rege Alexandrino), he procured a decree from the senate, commanding his restoration, and entrusting the charge of effecting it to P. Lentulus Spinther, then proconsul of Cilicia. Meanwhile, the Alexandrians sent an embassy of a hundred of their leading citizens to plead their cause with the Roman senate : but Ptolemy had the audacity to cause the deputies, on their arrival in Italy, to be waylaid, and the greater part of them murdered, while the rest were prevented, either by threats or bribes, from coming forward against him. The indignation excited at Rome by this proceeding, however, produced a reaction: the tribunes took up the matter against the nobility, while a party in the senate strove to get the commission transferred from Lentulus to Pompey, and an oracle was produced from the Sibylline books, forbidding the restoration of the king by an armed force. The intrigues and disputes thus raised were protracted throughout the year 56, and at length Ptolemy, despairing of a favourable result, quitted Rome in disgust, and withdrew to Ephesus. (D. C. 39.12-16; Cic. Fam. 1.1-7, ad Q. Fr. 2.2, 3, pro Rabir. 2, 3, pro Cael. 10; Porphyr. apud Euseb. Arm. pp. 117, 118 ; Plut. Pomp. 49.)

Some years afterwards, however, he obtained from private individuals what he had failed in inducing the senate to accomplish: and in B. C. 55 A. Gabinius, who was proconsul in Syria, was induced, by the influence of Pompey, aided by the enormous bribe of ten thousand talents from Ptolemy himself, to undertake his restoration. The Alexandrians had in the meantime placed on the throne of Egypt, Berenice, the eldest daughter of Ptolemy, who had married Archelaus, the son of the general of Mithridates [ARCHELAUS No. 2] ; and they opposed Gabinius with an army on the confines of the kingdom. They were, however, defeated in three successive battles, Archelaus slain, and Ptolemy once more established on the throne, B. C. 55. One of his first acts was to put to death his daughter Berenice, and many of the leading citizens of Alexandria. (D. C. 39.55-58; Liv. Epit. cv.; Plut. Ant. 3; Strab. xvii. p.796; Cic. in Pison. 21, pro Rabir. Post. 8 ; Porphyr. l.c.

He survived his restoration only three years and a half (Porphyr. ib.); of the events of which period we have no information; but as Ptolemy was now supported by a large body of Roman soldiers who had been left behind by Gabinius for his protection, he was safe from any outbreak of popular discontent. On the other hand seditions and tumults of the soldiery themselves became frequent, and the king was repeatedly compelled to give way to their demands (Caes. Civ. 3.103, 110; D. C. 42.5). The immense sum exacted from him by Gabinius had also involved him in pecuniary embarrassments, and he was compelled to surrender the whole finances of his kingdom into the hands of Rabirius Postumus. (Cic. pro Rabir. 10.)

His death took place in May B. C. 51 (see Cic. Fam. 8.4), after a reign of twenty-nine years from the date of his first accession. He left two sons, both named Ptolemy, and two daughters, Cleopatra and Arsinoe. Two other daughters, Tryphaena and Berenice, had died before him (Porphyr. l.c. p. 118). Besides the titles already mentioned, Ptolemy Auletes bears, in inscriptions, both Greek and hieroglyphic, those of Philopator and Philadelphus. None of these, however. appear on his coins.


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  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 1.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 1.7
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 8.4
    • Caesar, Civil War, 3.103
    • Caesar, Civil War, 3.110
    • Plutarch, Cato Minor, 35
    • Plutarch, Pompey, 49
    • Plutarch, Antonius, 3
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