21. History’s Most Bizarre Dynasty
Few ruling families have been as dysfunctional, perverse, or given to more intra-familial crime, 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 interfamily marriages, mostly with brothers marrying sisters, with the occasional uncle-niece and nephew-aunt weddings. There was also at least one possible mother-son marriage, thrown into the mix. In addition to marrying their close relatives, they were also into eliminating each other. The dynasty’s history abounds with Ptolemies ending their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and even mothers.
The dynasty was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, Greek for “Ptolemy the Savior” (367 – 282 BC), a Macedonian general and close companion of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s demise, Ptolemy was one of three Diadochi, or successors, who carved up Alexander’s empire amongst themselves. Ptolemy took Egypt as his share. There, he founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt for three centuries, until Queen Cleopatra VII’s demise and the annexation of Egypt to the Roman Empire in 30 BC. Ptolemy was born out of wedlock to a concubine presented by a nobleman to King Phillip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy’s father is unknown, and some ancient sources claim that his mother was already pregnant when she was gifted to Phillip II. Others assert that it was Phillip who impregnated her – which would make Ptolemy the biological half-brother of Alexander the Great.