Few ruling families have been as dysfunctional, perverse, or given to more intra-familial murders, than the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 323 to 30 BC. All fifteen kings were named Ptolemy, numbered I through XV, and of the Ptolemaic queens, there were seven Cleopatras, and four Berenices. The family had a tradition of incestuous marriages, mostly with brothers marrying sisters, with the occasional uncle-niece and nephew-aunt weddings, and at least one possible mother-son marriage, thrown into the mix. In addition to marrying their close relatives, they were also into murdering each other, and their history abounds with Ptolemies killing their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and even mothers.
Following are twenty significant facts about one of history’s most bizarre dynasties.
20. The Kingdom on the Nile
After defeating the Persians and chasing them out of Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. His stay in the Nile kingdom was brief, lasting only a few months, during which the Macedonian monarch founded a new capital city, which he named after himself. He was also told by sycophantic local priests that he was the son of a god. His confidence thus supercharged, Alexandria left Egypt to resume his conquest of the Persian Empire.
He never set eyes on Egypt again, but his corpse ended up ensconced in a magnificent sarcophagus in Alexandria – the ancient world’s equivalent of Lenin’s Tomb. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his friend Ptolemy became satrap, or governor, of Egypt, and it did not take long before he began asserting his independence. When Perdiccas, the regent of Alexander’s successor, sought to reassert Macedonian control, Ptolemy defeated him in 320 BC. By 306 BC, Ptolemy threw off all pretense, openly asserted his independence, and founded the Ptolemaic dynasty.