History's Deadliest Relatives
History’s Deadliest Relatives

History’s Deadliest Relatives

Khalid Elhassan - October 5, 2019

History’s Deadliest Relatives
Ptolemy X. Pintrest

2. Ptolemy X Was Favored by His Mother Over His Brother – So He Murdered Her

Queen Cleopatra III of Egypt made no bones about the fact that she had a favorite son, Alexander. However, when her husband died, it was Cleopatra’s less favored son who ended up succeeding him on the throne as Ptolemy IX. Thing was, Cleopatra really wanted Alexander to rule instead of his brother. So in 107 BC, she falsely accused the unfortunate Ptolemy IX of having tried to murder her, and engineered a coup that overthrew and deposed him. His place was taken by her favorite, Alexander, who mounted the throne as Ptolemy X.

Having placed her favorite son on the throne, Cleopatra set out to enjoy her twilight years, ruling as co-regent with Ptolemy X. Unfortunately for her, that enjoyment did not last long as she might have hoped, because the favorite son whom she had made king demonstrated his ingratitude in the most visceral way possible. In 101 BC, six years into their joint rule, Ptolemy X tired of his mother, and had her murdered. A popular uprising overthrew him in 88 BC, and forced him to flee to Syria. He returned with a mercenary army, which he paid by looting and melting down the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. That infuriated the Alexandrians, who deposed and chased him out of Egypt again. He was killed during his flight, and was succeeded by his brother, the previous king Ptolemy IX, who had been deposed by their mother, the murdered Cleopatra III.

History’s Deadliest Relatives
A gold solidus featuring Constantine VI and his mother, Irene. Wikimedia

1. Constantine VI Might Have Had History’s Meanest Mommy

Byzantine emperor Constantine VI (771 – died before 805) ascended the throne as a child, following the death of his father Leo IV in 780. Since Constantine was only nine years when he was crowned, his mother, the empress Irene, ruled in his place as regent. At the time, the empire was roiled by nasty conflict known as Iconoclasm, between those who viewed the veneration of religious icons as idolatry (Iconoclasts), and those who were OK with icons (Iconodules). In the preceding decades, Iconoclasts had held the upper hand, and, icons were banned throughout the Empire. Irene was an Iconodule, however, and after consolidating her power, she set about undoing the preceding decades of Iconoclasm with all the tenacity and enthusiasm of a religious zealot. In her determination to let nothing stand in the way of her religious mission, Irene rode roughshod over the Iconclasts – including her own son.

Irene began by calling a called a church council in 786, and packed it with opponents of Iconoclasm. Unsurprisingly, they council concluded that Iconoclasm had been a huge mistake. That kicked off a Byzantine counter reformation against the Iconoclasts, who resisted the return of religious imagery just as vehemently as their opponents had resisted the destruction of icons. When Constantine VI finally came of age, he declared himself an Iconoclast. Irene demonstrated the strength of her faith by overthrowing him, and in 797, she staged a coup that deposed Constantine, and put her on the throne in his place. She then ordered her son’s mutilation by gouging out his eyes. Constantine was maimed so severely, that he died of his wounds soon thereafter. Irene then proclaimed herself empress, and continued her quest to undo Iconoclasm and reintroduce religious imagery.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Attila the Hun

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Caracalla

Badass of the Week – Fredegund

Biography – Cleopatra VII

Castor, Helen – She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (2011)

Catholic Answers – It Is Better to Be Herod’s Pig Than Son

Clements, Jonathan – The First Emperor of China (2006)

Crown Chronicles – History’s Strangest Deaths: The Duke of Clarence Drowned in a Barrel of Wine

Daily Sabah, August 6th, 2015 – The History of Fratricide in the Ottoman Empire

Cassius Dio – World History Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia Britannica – Valeria Messalina

Encyclopedia Britannica – Wuhou

Gloria Romanorum – Constantine’s Execution of Crispus and Fausta

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe: From The Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

Hildinger, Erik – Warriors of the Steppe: Military History of Central Asia, 500 BC to 1700 AD (1997)

History Today – The Murder of Darnley

JSTOR – The Fall of Julia the Younger

Kinross, Lord – The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (1977)

Livius – Cleopatra III

Livius – Ptolemy VIII Physcon

Massie, Peter K. – Peter the Great: His Life and World (1980)

Spiegel, October 9th, 2009 – Murder in Hitler’s Bunker: Who Really Poisoned the Goebbels Children?

Suetonius – The Twelve Caesars (2013)

Tacitus – The Annals

Troyat, Henri – Ivan the Terrible (1988)

Wikipedia – Constantine VI

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