Ptolemy IX Soter

Ptolemy IX Soter II[note 1] (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, Ptolemaĩos Sōtḗr "Ptolemy the Saviour"), commonly nicknamed Lathyros (Λάθυρος, Láthuros "chickpea"),[3] reigned twice as king of Ptolemaic Egypt: first as Ptolemy Philometor Soter in joint rule with his Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III (116-107 BC), and then again as Ptolemy Soter (88-81 BC). He was the son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III.

Ptolemy IX Soter
Pharaoh from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt
Probable bust of Ptolemy IX
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
PredecessorPtolemy VIII and Cleopatra III of Egypt
SuccessorBerenice III of Egypt
Born143/2 BC[1] or 140/39 BC[2]
DiedDecember 81 BC (aged 60–62)
IssueBy Cleopatra Selene:
Two legitimate sons
Berenice III
By unknown consorts:
Ptolemy XII
Ptolemy of Cyprus
perhaps Cleopatra V
Full name
Ptolemy IX Soter II
FatherPtolemy VIII
MotherCleopatra III

After the murder of his elder brother in 130 BC, during a civil war between Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II, Ptolemy IX became the heir apparent. On his father's death in 116 BC, he became co-regent with Cleopatra II (until 115 BC) and with Cleopatra III. He eventually quarrelled with his mother and in 107 BC, she deposed him and replaced him with his younger brother Ptolemy X. However, Ptolemy IX succeeded in seizing control of Cyprus. From there he invaded Judaea but was prevented by Ptolemy X from invading Egypt (103-102 BC). In 88 BC, the Alexandrians expelled Ptolemy X and restored Ptolemy IX to the throne. He reigned alone until 81 BC, when he appointed his daughter Berenice III as co-regent shortly before his own death. She succeeded him as ruler.

Background and early life

When Ptolemy V Epiphanes had died in 180 BC, he had left three children: Ptolemy VI Philometor, Cleopatra II, and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes. 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.[4]

Ptolemy IX was the son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III of Egypt. The exact date of his birth is a bit unclear. As Pharaoh, his Horus name was "Distinguished through his birth together with the living Apis; twin in his birthplace with the son of Isis" which seems to indicate that he was born in the same year as an Apis bull, i.e. 143/2 BC.[1] This would put his birth two years before his parents' marriage, which took place in 141 BC.[5] Some historians, like Günther Hölbl, consider this insuperable and propose to place his birth in 140 or 139 BC instead.[2]

Initially, Ptolemy IX was not the heir to the throne – that was Ptolemy Memphites, the son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II, who was roughly the same age as him. In 134/3, Ptolemy IX served as the annual Priest of Alexander the Great, the year after Memphites had done the same.[6][1] However, during the civil war, in 130 BC, Cleopatra II attempted to have Memphites crowned as her co-ruler, so Ptolemy VIII had him murdered, leaving Ptolemy IX as the heir.

Around 117 BC, Ptolemy IX was sent to Cyprus, reportedly at his mother's request, where he served as governor of the island (strategos, nauarchos, archiereus, archikynegos).[7] Shortly before this he had married his sister, Cleopatra IV, who probably gave birth to two sons while the couple was on Cyprus: the future Ptolemy XII in 117 BC and the future Ptolemy of Cyprus around 116 BC.[8]

First reign (116–107 BC)

Will of Ptolemy VIII

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 chose either Ptolemy IX or his younger brother Ptolemy X as her co-regent. Cyrene was left to a third son, Ptolemy Apion. Justin further claims that Cleopatra III wanted to choose Ptolemy X, but the people of Alexandria rioted and forced her to choose Ptolemy IX.[9] 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.[10]

Some historians have found this account plausible.[11] However, Chris Bennett argues that it is a false story that was invented by Cleopatra III at a later date. He points out that Justin's story assumes that Cleopatra III was the only living queen at the time of Ptolemy VIII's death. Documentary evidence shows that Cleopatra II was still alive in 116 BC, which makes it unlikely that Cleopatra III would have been allowed sole power to decide who would be king.[12]

At any rate, Cleopatra II, Cleopatra III, and Ptolemy IX (in that order) are listed together as co-rulers in surviving papyrus documents from October 116 BC. Ptolemy IX received the epithet Philometor Soter (Mother-loving Saviour). This was the same epithet that Cleopatra II and taken on during her civil war with Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III, which suggests that she played a controlling role in the new regime.[11] Ptolemy X was sent to Cyprus to serve as governor of Cyprus soon after Ptolemy IX's accession.

Divorce, remarriage, and intervention in Seleucid civil war

Cleopatra II died some time before April 115 BC and at this point Cleopatra III became the dominant force in the government. Ptolemy IX was forced to divorce his sister-wife Cleopatra IV, who went off and married the Seleucid king Antiochus IX Cyzicenus (r. 115–95 BC), whose mother Cleopatra Thea[13] was Cleopatra III's sister.[14] Her new husband was waging a war against his half-brother Antiochus VIII Grypus (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.[15] Perhaps as a result of this, in 114/113 BC, Ptolemy X proclaimed himself 'King of Cyprus', openly declaring his opposition to Ptolemy IX.[16][11]

Meanwhile, Ptolemy IX married his younger sister, Cleopatra Selene, with whom he soon had a daughter, Berenice III.[1] Cleopatra Selene was not made co-regent with her new husband, as would have been normal. Instead, in documents from this period, the royal couple were Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX, who were integrated into the Ptolemaic dynastic cult as the Theoi Philometores Soteres (The Mother-loving Saviour Gods).[17]

Ptolemy IX supported Antiochus IX Cyzicenus in his conflict with Antiochus VIII Grypus. In 114 BC, Cleopatra IV had been captured and murdered by Antiochus VIII's wife Tryphaena, who was murdered in turn by Antiochus IX in 111 BC.[17] In 109 BC, Ptolemy IX sent Antiochus IX fresh troops to aid him in a campaign against the Jewish ruler Hyrcanus I of the Hasmonean dynasty.[18]

Expulsion from Alexandria

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. While this was taking place, Ptolemy X had left Cyprus and sailed to Pelusium. Cleopatra III then had him brought to Alexandria and placed on the throne as her new co-regent.[19][3][17] Ptolemy IX had left his two sons behind when he fled Alexandria. He also abandoned Cleopatra Selene, who now seems to have been married to Ptolemy X.[20]

King of Cyprus (107–88 BC)

After his expulsion from Alexandria, Ptolemy IX went to the isle of Cyprus. There forces loyal to Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X rebuffed him, forcing him to retreat to Seleucia in Pieria. From there he mounted another invasion of Cyprus in 106 BC, which succeeded in conquering the island.[21] He initially maintained control of Cyrene, but it seems to have come under the control of his half brother Ptolemy Apion some time after 105 BC. Apion protected his position by publishing a will which 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. However, he actually died without heirs in 96 BC, meaning that Rome inherited the territory.[22][18]

In 103 BC, the new Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus led an army to conquer Ptolemais Akko. The city appealed to Ptolemy IX for help and he sailed over and caused Jannaeus to lift his siege. He then invaded Galilee, defeated Jannaeus in a battle at Asophon nearthe river Jordan, and despoiled Judaea with impunity.[23] 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 see 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. We hear nothing more about his activities until 88 BC.[18]

Second reign (88–81 BC)


The army and people of Alexandria turned against Ptolemy X in spring 88 BC and expelled him from Egypt. The Alexandrians then recalled Ptolemy IX to the throne. Ptolemy IX was formally re-crowned as Pharaoh at Memphis in November. In his first reign, Ptolemy had borne the epithet Philometor Soter (Mother-loving saviour), but on his return he dropped the Philometor, since it recalled his mother. The cults and memory of Cleopatra III and Ptolemy X seem to have been officially suppressed.[24]

When Ptolemy IX returned to Egypt, the south of the country had been under the control of Egyptian rebels since 91 BC. Ptolemy sent a large force south in November 88 BC, under the command of the general Hierax. Thebes was quickly recaptured and severely sacked.[25] Ptolemaic control was restored as far south as Philae, but Lower Nubia, which had come under the control of the kingdom of Meroe during the revolt, was not reclaimed.[24]

Roman claims and First Mithridatic War

After his expulsion from Alexandria, Ptolemy X made an attempt to invade Cyprus and recapture control, but was killed in the attempt. Before his death, however, he had taken out a large loan from the Roman Republic, in return for which he produced a will which left his kingdom to the Romans. Although they chose not to take advantage of this, The possibility of Roman intervention hung over Ptolemy IX for the rest of his reign and forced him to adopt a highly deferential posture with the Romans.[24]

In 86 BC, a Roman fleet commanded by Lucullus arrived in Alexandria seeking financial and military support for against Mithridates VI of Pontus, with whom the Romans were fighting the First Mithridatic War (89-84 BC).[26] Ptolemy hosted Lucullus magnificently, but did not offer him any material support.[27] This was probably partially due to the confused political situation – the Roman war effort was being led by Sulla, but he had been declared an outlaw by the government in Rome led by Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Moreover, Mithridates VI had managed to capture Ptolemy's sons, who had been on Cos since 103 BC.[24]

Death and succession

On 5 August 81 BC, Ptolemy IX promoted his daughter Berenice III, who had previously been the wife and co-regent of Ptolemy X, to the status of co-regent. Some sources claim that Ptolemy IX had made Berenice III his co-regent at the start of his second reign in 88 BC, but all documentary evidence shows that he reigned alone until this point. Ptolemy died shortly thereafter, probably in December of the same year, leaving her alone on the throne. After a few months of sole rule, her cousin Ptolemy XI was placed on the throne as her co-regent, murdered her, was murdered himself, and was replaced by Ptolemy XII, another child of Ptolemy IX.[1][24][3]


In August 115 BC, Ptolemy IX travelled down the Nile to Elephantine in order to celebrate the festival there in honour of the Great God Nile – a traditional Pharaonic duty which was meant to give thanks for the inundation and ensure the success of the next. The fact that Ptolemy IX carried this ritual out personally, rather than letting a local priest carry it out in his stead, shows the extent to which Ptolemy embraced the Pharaonic role.[28]

It is possible that construction of certain buildings occurred during the first reign of Ptolemy IX. This would have included work on the Dendera Temple complex and on the temple in Edfu.

Relationship with Rome

A Roman embassy led by the senator Lucius Memmius, arrived in Egypt in 112 BC. As part of his visit, he was given a tour of the Fayyum region. Papyrus letters survive that instruct all local officials to treat him with the greatest respect and provide him with the most luxurious accommodation. The visit is a sign of the extent to which the Ptolemies now sought to conciliate the Roman Republic. It is also an early example of Roman tourism in Egypt, which would become a major phenomenon in the Roman imperial period. A set of four graffiti at Philae provide evidence for another set of early Roman tourists. Dated to 116 BC, they are the earliest known examples of the Latin language to be found in Egypt.[17]

Marriages and issue

Ptolemy IX is only known to have married twice, first to Cleopatra IV from around 119 BC until he was forced to divorce her in 115 BC, and secondly to Cleopatra Selene from 115 BC, until he abandoned her during his flight from Alexandria in 107 BC.

At least three children are attested for Ptolemy IX. The birth dates and parentage of his two sons Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus are disputed.[30] According to Justin, Cleopatra Selene and Ptolemy IX had two children.[31] The historian John Whitehorne noted that the existence of those two children is doubted and they might have died at a young age.[32]

Ptolemy XII is referred to by Cicero and other ancient sources as an illegitimate son; Pompeius Trogus called him a "nothos" (bastard), while Pausanias wrote that Berenice III was Ptolemy IX's only legitimate offspring.[33] This has discouraged the identification of Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus with the two sons mentioned by Justin. Michael Grant suggested that Ptolemy XII's mother was a Syrian or a partly Greek concubine while Günther Hölbl suggested that she was a member of the Egyptian elite.[34] However, John Pentland Mahaffy and Christopher Bennett argue that they were considered illegitimate simply because their mother had not been a co-regnant queen. They propose Cleopatra IV as the mother, in which case Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus would have been born in 117 and 116 BC respectively. Bennett further proposes that Ptolemy XII and Ptolemy of Cyprus are identical with the two sons mentioned by Justin.[1]

The mother of Ptolemy IX's daughter, Berenice III is not certain either. Cleopatra IV and Cleopatra Selene are candidates, with the former favoured by modern scholarship.[35] Bennett noted that Berenice III's legitimacy was never questioned by ancient historians, and the illegitimacy of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra IV's marriage makes it more probable that Berenice III was the result of a legitimate marriage, that is between her father and Cleopatra Selene.[36][37]

Ptolemy XII117 or c. 98 BCFebruary/March 51 BCKing of Egypt (80-58 & 55-51 BC)
Ptolemy of Cyprus116 or ca. 96 BC?58 BCKing of Cyprus (80-58 BC)
Berenice IIILate 115 or early 114 BCApril 80 BCCo-regent with Ptolemy X (101-88 BC), Queen of Egypt (81-80 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"). Ptolemy IX also took the same title 'Soter' as Ptolemy I. In older references and in more recent references by the German historian Huss, Ptolemy IX Soter II may be numbered VIII.


  1. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy IX". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  2. Hölbl 2001, p. 203
  3. Ptolemy Soter II and Ptolemy Alexander I at LacusCurtius (Chapter XI of E. R Bevan's House of Ptolemy, 1923)
  4. Hölbl 2001, p. 172-203
  5. Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra III". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  6. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy Memphites". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  7. Pausanias 1.9.1; OGIS 143
  8. Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra IV". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  9. Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.3.1
  10. Pausanias 1.9.1
  11. Hölbl 2001, p. 204-205
  12. Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra II". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  13. Antiochus IX at
  14. Ptolemy VI Philometor and Cleopatra II at
  15. Justin 39.3.2
  16. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy X". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  17. Hölbl 2001, p. 206-207
  18. Hölbl 2001, p. 207-210
  19. Justin (historian), Epitome of Pompeius Trogus 39.4.1; Pausanias 1.9.2
  20. Bennett, Chris. "Cleopatra Selene". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  21. Diodorus, Bibliotheca 34/35.39a; Justin 39.4.1-2
  22. Bennett, Chris. "Ptolemy Apion". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  23. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13.324-364
  24. Hölbl 2001, p. 211-213
  25. Pausanias 1.9.3
  26. Plutarch Life of Lucullus 2-3; Appian, Mithridatica 33
  27. Cicero Ac. 1.2.11
  28. Hölbl 2001, p. 205-206
  29. Ioannis Svoronos, Ta nomismata tou kratous ton Ptolemaion, Athens, 1904, vol. I-II, p. 302 (n°1838), & vol. III-IV, plate LXI, n°22, 23.
  30. Werner Huß, Ägypten in hellenistischer Zeit. C. H. Beck, Munich 2001, p. 674-675
  31. Justin Epitome of the Philippic History 39.4
  32. Whitehorne 1994, p. 176.
  33. Sullivan 1990, p. 92.
  34. Fletcher 2008, p. 353.
  35. Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (2013) [2012]. "Cleopatra V Berenike III". In Bagnall, Roger S.; Brodersen, Kai; Champion, Craige B.; Erskine, Andrew; Huebner, Sabine R. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (13 Vols.). III: Be-Co. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-405-17935-5.
  36. Bennett 1997, p. 54.
  37. Bennett, Chris. "Berenice III". Egyptian Royal Genealogy. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
Ptolemy IX Soter
Born: 143/2 BC Died: 81 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Helenus of Cyrene
Governor of Cyprus
117 BC-116 BC
Succeeded by
Ptolemy X
Preceded by
Ptolemy VIII
Pharaoh of Egypt
116 BC–107 BC
with Cleopatra III and Cleopatra IV
Succeeded by
Cleopatra III
Ptolemy X
Preceded by
Helenus of Cyrene
King of Cyprus
105-88 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ptolemy X
Berenice III
Pharaoh of Egypt
88 BC–81 BC
Succeeded by
Berenice III
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