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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Ptolemaic Kingdom and Dynasty

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his generals had to decide the fate of the Macedonian Kingdom. After extensive discussions, they decided to partition the huge empire. In the division of the empire, Egypt was given to Ptolemy, who later became known as Soter (Savior).

Ptolemy I Soter, Founder of the Dynasty

Ptolemy was a Macedonian nobleman. He was son of Lagos and Arsinoe, and childhood friend of Alexander the Great. After the death of Alexander, Ptolemy requested Egypt to be given to him. He was not trusted by Perdiccas, the self-appointed successor of Alexander, so Cleomenes of Naucratis was appointed to advise him. Ptolemy knew that he had to free himself of Cleomenes, so he accused him of abusing his position and executed him. Now he could rule alone, establishing the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt, which would rule for three centuries until 30 BC. Hostilities with Perdiccas continued. Ptolemy stole Alexander’s body from Perdiccas in Damascus, and transported it to Alexandria, where he displayed the golden sarcophagus. This act was unacceptable, and Perdiccas went to war against Ptolemy (322-321 BC). He went with his army into Egypt, but lost around 2,000 soldiers in three attempts to cross the Nile, so the army executed Perdiccas. Ptolemy I was involved in the disputes between the successors of Alexander. In 318, he occupied Cyprus, gave refuge to Seleucus, and supported Rhodes against Demetrius the Besieger, son of Antigonus. In 305 BC, he declared himself king .

Ptolemy’s successors

After the death of Ptolemy I Soter in 282 BC, his son was made pharaoh, taking the name Ptolemy II Philadelphus (308-246 BC). He married the daughter of the Thracian regent Lysimachus, who was married to Ptolemy II’s sister, Arsinoe II. After the death of Lysimachus, Ptolemy II married Arsinoe II. He fought against Antiochus I and Antiochus II in the Syrian War (260-252 BC). After his death, he was succeeded by his son Ptolemy III Euergetes (284-221 BC). He led a campaign in 246 BC with Antiochus II, against Seleucus II in the Third Syrian War. In 221 BC Ptolemy IV Philopator (244-205 BC) came to the throne. He participated in the Fourth Syrian War (219-217 BC). He and his sister/wife Arsinoe III were killed in a palace coup in 205 BC. The son of Ptolemy IV, Ptolemy V Epiphanes (210-180 BC) was still a small child when he took the throne after the death of his parents. The Macedonian and Seleucid kings used this situation to their advantage and took Egyptian lands in the Aegean and Asia Minor. After the death of Ptolemy V, his son, Ptolemy VI Philmetor, became pharaoh as a small child. His mother helped him rule until 176 BC, when she died. He continued to rule with his brother, future Ptolemy VIII and his sister/wife Cleopatra II. When Alexandria was threatened by Antioch IV, Ptolemy VI called Rome for help. Rome helped him regain control of Egypt, but there was still trouble with his brother. After his death in 145 BC, Ptolemy VII took the throne for short time. The same year Ptolemy VIII took the throne. He married Cleopatra II, and later replaced her with Cleopatra III, daughter of Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VI (his niece). He was hated by the people of Alexandria, so a civil war broke out from 132 BC to 124 BC. He died in 116 BC and was succeeded by his son, Ptolemy IX Soter II (142-80 BC). In the tradition of the Ptolemaic dynasty, he married two of his sisters Cleopatra IV and Cleopatra V. He ruled until 107 BC, when he was forced to flee Egypt by his brother Ptolemy X Alexander (140-88 BC). After Ptolemy X was expelled from Egypt in 88, Ptolemy IX retook the throne and ruled for eight more years.

Last years of the Ptolemaic dynasty

After the death of Ptolemy IX, his successors, Ptolemy XI Alexander and Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, were very close with Rome. This made them hated by the Alexandrians. Ptolemy XI was killed in 80 BC and Ptolemy XII was expelled in 58 BC. Ptolemy XIII (63-47 BC) lost a civil war against Julius Caesar and his sister Cleopatra VII, the last Egyptian Pharaoh. Ptolemy XIV (59-44 BC) married Cleopatra VII and ruled for a short time. It is suspected that he was poisoned by his wife/sister. Cleopatra continued to rule alone for the next 22 years. She was the most open pharaoh from the dynasty to the Egyptian culture. She participated in Egyptian festivals and ceremonies and was the only Ptolemy to learn the Egyptian language. She was very close to Rome and Caesar. After Caesars death, Cleopatra VII sided with Mark Antony against Octavian. She committed suicide in 30 BC, after the defeat at the Battle of Actium. Her sons from Caesar and Antony, Caesarion (Ptolemy XV) and Antyllus, were executed, but her younger children Alexander Helos, Cleopatra Serene and Ptolemy Philadelphus, were taken to Rome. This ended the 31st dynasty of Egypt.


  • Ancient world history. Volume II. The heyday of ancient societies, Science
  • Kuznetsov DV Hellenistic Egypt

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