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The paper identifies the main aspects of Hellenistic kingship in the mid-first century BCE Ptolemaic kingdom by looking beyond generic features such as the importance of personal monarchy and the influence of the court, which are common to most premodern monarchies. In particular, Hellenistic rulers retained their association with Alexander and his imperialist policies, as well as specific naming practices and epithets, and a particular display of abundance and wealth (tryphê) intertwined with Dionysiac imageries. Drawing on Strootman’s article “Queen of Kings: Cleopatra VII and the Donations of Alexandria” (2010) and his emphasis on Cleopatra as the heir of both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the paper illuminates how the queen partly reinvented Hellenistic imperialism. Such a development was unexpected given the unstable political context of the first half of the first century BC, which could have led to the end of Ptolemaic kingship and imperialism.

The examination of literary, numismatic, epigraphic, and papyrological sources from the reign of Cleopatra VII allows us to assess the different steps towards the reconstruction of the Ptolemaic empire through a combination of traditional and innovative attitudes. Among Cleopatra VII’s innovations, one observes her frequent stays and travels outside Egypt and the advertisement of her son by Julius Caesar on Cypriot coinage, her political and personal alliance with the triumvir Mark Antony and the importance of children born to an Egyptian queen and Roman citizens, and finally the grant, from Rome, of territories across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. When one peels away the layers of Octavian propaganda in our main literary accounts (Plutarch, Cassius Dio, Josephus), one can note the advantages the Romans saw in letting Cleopatra and her son Caesarion oversee these regions on the Seleucid model of a loose king-vassal relationship since the royal pair was the closest kin to the last Seleucids, and apparently more readily accepted as rulers by some local populations. Thus, Cleopatra could reunite the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires into one empire without military success playing an essential part, in contrast to early Hellenistic royal practices. As long as the queen acted as the leader of her army at decisive moments – what her father Ptolemy XII failed to do – outsourcing the military from Rome appeared acceptable to her subjects.