Ptolemaic Dynasty: Sources


For a visual summary of the contribution each of the main genealogical sources, select the source name from the drop down menu in the left hand frame.

The principal sources for the Ptolemaic dynasty are the classical literary sources passed into the modern European tradition by direct transmission through Byzantine and medieval manuscripts. These sources are not completely straightforward. None of them are focussed on the history of the Ptolemies, but at best give us particular episodes. Often, as in Pausanias, the references are entirely incidental. Also, most of these sources are incomplete. New discoveries, although unlikely, remain possible. Book 15 of Polybius, for example, our main source for the remarkable events surrounding the accession of Ptolemy V, was only discovered, in an incomplete MS, in the Prado in the mid 19th century. De rege Alexandrino, a lost speech by Cicero which would, if discovered, give us important insights into the accession of Ptolemy XII, was almost certainly available in an Italian monastery in the 9th century.

Only three of the literary authors can be considered as truly primary sources: Caesar and Cicero, and to some degree Polybius. Ptolemy I and Ptolemy VIII are both known to have written memoirs, but both are now lost. The remaining authors were scholars or retired officials or statesmen drawing on earlier sources or primary material now lost. Polybius is a near-contemporary source for many of the events he describes, while Dio Cassius did not write until the third century AD. Some authors -- e.g. Plutarch, Appian, Dio Cassius -- exist substantially intact, while others -- e.g. Diodorus, Polybius, Livy -- are complete in parts and almost entirely lost in others. One of the most important sources -- Justin -- is actually a fourth century epitome of the much more substantial Hellenistic history of Pompeius Trogus, which is now entirely lost except for Justin and a redaction of the prologues of the original work.

Since the Ptolemies are not the main focus of any of the sources, the material is not always entirely accurate. For example, Livy names Arsinoe III, the wife and sister of Ptolemy IV, as "Cleopatra" and Justin, less explicably, as "Eurydice", while Strabo names his mother, Berenice II, as "Agathoclea", confusing her with his mistress of that name, and Appian, confusing him with his son Ptolemy V, has him marrying the daughter of Antiochus III. In most cases, however, we can correct such errors by comparison to other authors whose treatment of the period is more reliable, and often through confirmation by contemporary material.

The literary material must therefore be reassembled into a genealogical whole. The linkages are not always transparent. It is quite common for one author to identify a member of the family without naming him, e.g. as a son of a king, while another author supplies the name but not the relationship. For example, Justin tells us that a son of Ptolemy VIII by a concubine was made king of Cyrene, while Livy tells us that Ptolemy Apion, king of Cyrene, left his kingdom to Rome. The obvious inference, that Ptolemy Apion was the son of Ptolemy VIII identified but not named by Justin, is universally accepted, but is nowhere explicitly stated.

Nevertheless, sufficient material exists for a genealogical and chronological framework to be reconstructed that is remarkably coherent, and has, to date, generally proved to be accurate. Some gaps exist around the minor children of Ptolemy I, and in the female lines amongst the descendants of Ptolemy VIII. The identities of and distinctions between the various minor sons of Ptolemy II, Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII are not very clear. However, the framework supplied by the literary sources remains the basis of Ptolemaic genealogy, and other material is generally used to illuminate or expand on this framework, rather than to overturn it. The one major attempt to do so that I am aware of, to prove that Ptolemy IX was the son of Cleopatra II rather than Cleopatra III on the basis of titulary analyses of the Cleopatras named in inscriptions at the Temple of Edfu, can be regarded as a failure.

Inscriptional, papyrological and numismatic material has been used to some extent to confirm the literary sources. However, the main value of the contemporary material has been to augment the literary sources, particularly on chronological matters. On purely genealogical issues, this material has provided us with:

It is also apparent by comparing the information taken from contemporary sources against the literary information that a "son", "daughter" or "sister" are not always what they seem, particularly in Egyptian material. According to contemporary sources, or some readings of them:

The same ambiguity occasionally appears in literary souces:

Since the ancients did not always clearly distinguish between biological children, stepchildren and adopted children, certain statements appearing in either the literary or the contemporary sources are legitimately open to doubt:

The main sources used for this genealogy are listed below, highlighting the most important contributions of each one, starting with the backbione genealogy and filling out details roughly in a chronological order. A visual summary of how the source contributes to the reconstruction given at this site can be seen by selecting the source identifier. This list is not exhaustive, but does cover all the material presented here.


Backbone line and main marriages to Ptolemy X
Maternity of Berenice II, Ptolemy V
Children of Cleopatra III
Most diplomatic marriages of Ptolemy I, Ptolemy II, Ptolemy V, Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VIII and of Ptolemy Ceraunus
Ptolemy Apion (without name) son of Ptolemy VIII

Prol. Trogus

Partial backbone line to Cleopatra VII
Ptolemy "the Son"
Ptolemy of Cyprus

Eusebius (Porphyry)

Partial backbone line to Cleopatra VII
Sons and daughter of Ptolemy I in Macedon
Daughter of Ptolemy X

St Jerome

Backbone line to Ptolemy VI
Maternity of Ptolemy VIII
Syrian marriages of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy VI


Partial backbone line to Cleopatra VII
Philotera daughter of Ptolemy I
Paternity and marriages of Berenice IV


Parentage of Ptolemy I


Children of Ptolemy I by Thais
Mistresses of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy IV
Eirene mistress of (Ptolemy Andromachou)


Artakama wife of Ptolemy I


Children and stepchildren of Ptolemy I by Eurydice and Berenice I
Parentage of Ptolemy I


Some diplomatic marriages of Ptolemy I
Magas son of Ptolemy III
Children of Cleopatra VII

pBerol 13417A

Philotera uterine sister of Arsinoe II and Ptolemy II

Schol. Theocritus

Children of Ptolemy II by Arsinoe I
Parentage of Berenice I

pCairZen 2.59289

Bilistiche daughter of Philo associated with Ptolemy Andromachou

pSorb 3.70

Ptolemy "the Son" son of Ptolemy II (earliest of many references)

iLabraunda 3

Ptolemy ("the Son"?) brother of Ptolemy III

pHaun 6

Ptolemy Andromachou
Magas son of Ptolemy III


Berenice daughter of Ptolemy III and Berenice II, "children" of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II

IG IX I2 I 56

Children of Ptolemy III


Lysimachus brother of Ptolemy III
Berenice II as mother of Ptolemy IV, Magas, Arsinoe III
Agathoclea mistress of Ptolemy IV and her possible child


Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III
First two marriages of Cleopatra Thea

BGU VI 1262

Agathocles probable brother of Agathoclea, son of Agathocles


All marriages of Cleopatra Thea
Marriages of Ptolemy V, Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII
Ithaca mistress of Ptolemy VIII

OGIS 162

Ptolemy Eupator son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II

pKöln 8.350

Ptolemy son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II, eponymous priest under Ptolemy VIII


Ptolemy Memphites son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II
Eirene mistress of Ptolemy VIII
Meleager son of Ptolemy I
Menelaus brother of Ptolemy I
Sister of Memnon wife of Artabazus, father of Artakama

Vienna 82

Berenice probable sister of Ptolemy X, wife of Psherenptah II


Syrian marriages, particularly of Cleopatra Selene

pAdler 12

Berenice III "sister" of Ptolemy X


Name of Ptolemy Apion


Ptolemy XI and Berenice III siblings
Ptolemy of Cyprus and Ptolemy XII brothers

pdem Tor Botti 34

Ptolemy XI "son" of Ptolemy X and Berenice III

OGIS 174

Berenice III daughter of Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra (Selene?)

oPr Joachim 1

Cleopatra V wife and "sister" of Ptolemy XII

Dio Cassius

Children of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra VII
Marriages of Berenice IV and Cleopatra VII

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