6/11/10 - cleopatra's father

In today's excerpt - Ptolemy XII, the father of Cleopatra VII (the famed lover of both Caesar and Mark Antony). How do you lose a kingdom? Through profligate spending. Ptolemy's reckless spending and negligent administration led to unrest throughout Egypt, and meant that he had to turn to Roman bankers to rescue him, making the country of Egypt itself the collateral for the Roman loan. And when Ptolemy left the country in disgrace, the Romans had to restore him to power so he could try and make good on his loan. He never fully did, and as a result, Rome's takeover of Egypt from his daughter Cleopatra, though caught in the intrigue of a power struggle between Caesar and Mark Antony, was less a conventional military conquest and more the collection of an overdue loan:

"Ptolemy's lavishness cost him dearly, with both internal instability and Roman concern increasing. There are scattered notices of disturbances in Egypt all through the 60s B.C. The historian Diodoros, who visited Egypt about this time, witnessed a riot and lynching that occurred when someone accidentally committed the sacrilege of killing a cat, an incident that was notable for the failure of government officials sent to the scene to intervene. Taxes were increased, resulting in strikes by farmers in the villages: as was usual in times of financial excess and overseas adventures, the poor suffered the most. It was said that money to pay the king's debts was exacted by force. Even the gold sarcophagus of Alexander the Great was melted down. Civil disturbances reached such a point that in 63 B.C. Ptolemy had to issue an order that unauthorized persons could not enter temple treasuries. His expenditures soon reached a point that he went into debt, borrowing from the famous Roman banker C. Rabirius Postumus. ...

"Discontent and opposition to his rule, especially his failure to hold traditional Ptolemaic territory and to keep it from the Romans, as well as his financial policies, resulted either in his expulsion or, more likely, voluntary departure from Egypt in the summer of 58 B.C., [leaving his wife Cleopatra VI in charge.] ...

"The indebtedness of Ptolemy XII to Roman bankers meant that his political survival was more than an idle question in Rome, since the best way to ensure that the debts would be paid would be to implement his restoration and thus give him renewed access to the Egyptian treasury. ...

"In Alexandria the death of Cleopatra VI during her husband's exile created an awkward situation, as the surviving queen Berenike IV had no husband ...[so] one had to be found. ... A certain Archelaos was finally successful. His background is contradictorily described in the sources, but he claimed to have been a descendant of Mithradates the Great and happened to be a protege of [triumvirate member] Pompeius.

"The Romans were not finished with Ptolemy XII, however. Although Archelaos and Berenike seemed firmly in control in Egypt with Archelaos now accepted as king, the Roman bankers, led by Rabirius Postumus, knew that restoration of Ptolemy was their only means of salvation. Yet discussions about whether to restore the king led to rioting in Rome, less out of concern about Ptolemy's future than the machinations of those in power, whose interests included the future of Egypt. ... Pompeius persuaded Gabinius, the governor of Syria, to bring about the restoration, and his willingness to comply was eased by 10,000 talents provided by Ptolemy."


Duane W. Roller


Cleopatra: A Biography


Oxford University Press


Copyright 2010 by Oxford University Press


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