What Really Happened To All Of Cleopatra's Siblings

The reign of ancient Egypt's final pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, is one of the most famous sagas in history. However, if you only know the parts of the story involving Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, you're missing out on some deliciously convoluted family drama that played out between Cleopatra and her siblings.

Because Egypt's dynastic line is complicated, and involves a lot of royals who married their relatives, the definition of "sibling," here, is loose. However, all of the main players had a father in common, Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes. For the record, Auletes's claim to the throne was shaky at best, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, and so for much of his first reign he was at the mercy of Rome, to whom he paid massive bribes to keep the peace. Eventually, the cost of these bribes were passed down to the citizenry, who came to view their king as a weak puppet. This reached a point where Ptolemy had to flee Egypt, leaving his queen, Cleopatra Tryphaena VI, and his oldest daughter, Berenice IV, in charge.

Family battle royal

Berenice was only 20 when she came to power with her sister/mother, but she was already clearly well versed in palace scheming. As the writer Thomas M.D. Brooke describes, for whatever reason Berenice was uninterested in sharing the throne. Both her mother/sister and her first husband were murdered, likely on Berenice's own orders, and for two years she was the sole ruler of Egypt.

Her brief reign came to an end when Auletes returned to reclaim his throne and had her executed for treason. After Auletes had a brief sequel to his first rule he finally died, leaving Egypt to his young son Theos Philopater and his daughter Cleopatra VII. Things between the two siblings were tense, so much so that Cleopatra fled Egypt, returning only after Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria on diplomatic business. In one of her most famous bits of strategic maneuvering, Cleopatra snuck back into Egypt and managed to ingratiate herself with Caesar, who agreed to help her oust her brother from the throne.

The end game

Meanwhile, Theos and Cleopatra's living sister, Arsinoe IV, had seized on the chaos caused by Caesar's arrival and took control of Egypt's armies. She joined with Theos to lead a fight against Caesar, but were no match for the skilled Roman general. Theos reportedly drowned attempting to flee, while Arsinoe was captured and taken to Rome as a political prisoner.

When the dust settled Cleopatra returned to power with her younger brother who soon became her husband, Ptolemy XIV, but neither he nor Arsinoe would last long. Cleopatra had Arsinoe assassinated in exile, and poisoned her younger brother in order to install her son with Caesar as her co-ruler and heir to Egypt's throne. Cleopatra may have ultimately lost the battle against her Roman enemies, but when it came to the battle of the Ptolemys she was the last sibling left standing.