People - Ancient Egypt: Ptolemy I Soter
GRECO-ROMAN PERIOD Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-285)
This period is confusing due to all of the co-
are not always in agreement on the order of reigns
and, in some case, the reigns themselves, from
through Ptolemy XI. In any event, Egypt's
authority and wealth was intact until the death of
Cleopatra, at which
time, Egypt was overpowered by Rome.
Ptolemy I Soter in Tour Egypt
PTOLEMY I SOTER,
THE FIRST KING OF ANCIENT EGYPT'S PTOLEMAIC DYNASTY
by Jimmy Dunn --
In the ancient world, there is no surprise that military men
often became rulers. These men, most of whom rose through
ranks, usually had considerable administrative skills and
had proved themselves to be leaders. Almost certainly the
first man to unite
Egypt at the dawn of civilization was a military man who
became king, and this tradition has been followed throughout
the history of the
world, up unto our present times.
Alexander the Great built an empire during the latter part
of the first millennium BC, including Egypt which he
captured in about 332
BC. Though he ordered the building of a great city in his
name on the Egyptian Mediterranean coast, he was not
finished with his
conquests and would soon depart the country, leaving behind
a banker of Naucratis named Cleomenes as Egypt's satrap, or
governor. He was
greatly despised. Demosthenes called him "Ruler of Egypt
and dishonest manipulator of the country's lucrative grain
even spoke up, concurring and citing Cleomenes' numerous
incidents of fraudulent conduct with merchants, priests of
the temple and
government officials. The Roman historian Arrian added his
own assessment, telling us that "he was an evil man who
grievous wrongs in Egypt"
When Ptolemy I took over the post from Clemones in Egypt, he
had little option but to try, sentence and execute
Cleomenes. Ptolemy I is
thought to have been the son of Lagus, a Macedonian nobleman
of Eordaea. His mother's name was Arsinoe. He was a boyhood
Alexander the Great at Pella, and later became one of his
most trusted generals as well as a member of his royal
After Alexander's death in 323 BC, Ptolemy I, at least
nominally continued to act as satrap for a time under
Alexander's successors, but
these were apparently not strong rulers and soon the empire
created by Alexander began to break up. Hence, Alexander's
as the diadochi (followers), divided up the conquered
territories for themselves. We tend to think of Ptolemy I as
then becoming the
king of Egypt, but this was not entirely true. Nominally, he
was answerable to the Council of State that had been set up
after Alexander's death, and to Perdiccas, the regent who
held Alexander's signet ring. Matters at this point were far
from settled as
to the ultimate ruler of Egypt.
There are various legends about the burial of Alexander,
most of which culminate with his body being under the
control of Ptolemy I.
This gave Egypt's satrap both political and religious
advantage, and Perdiccas realized this. In fact, so
important was Ptolemy I's
advantage that, in the spring of 321 BC, Perdiccas marched
against him with an army of 5,000 cavalry and 20,000
infantry. However, he
was repulsed by Ptolemy I near Memphis and then Perdiccas
was murdered by his own officers.
Nevertheless, the diadochi continued to war amongst
themselves, although Antigonus Gonatus, Commander of the
Grand Army, tried to keep
them under control with a firm policy of repression,
replacement and execution when necessary. To keep him at
bay, three of the
diadochi, consisting of Ptolemy I, Lysimachus and Cassander,
entered into an uneasy partnership that would finally pay
Antigonus prepared to attack Cassander in Macedon, Ptolemy I
marched against Antigonus' son, Demetrius Poliorcetes and
defeated him at
Gaza in 312 BC. After that, there was a peace treaty signed
the following year confirming Ptolemy I as satrap in Egypt.
However, wars between the diadochi persisted, and in 306 BC,
Ptolemy I lost a sea battle at Salamis in Cyprus against
he held back Antigonus on land the same year at Gaza. It is
said that he defended the Rhodians against Demetrius in 305
BC, and for this
received from them his title Soter, meaning "Saviour". It
was actually in November of that year that some ancient
sources tell us that
he officially assumed the kingship of Egypt. (Though this is
not certain, he almost certainly assumed the kingship
between 304 and 306
BC). Then, in 301 BC at the battle of Ipsus, Antigonus was
killed, and the three allies were finally able to divide up
between themselves. Not only did Ptolemy become supreme
ruler of Egypt, but also added Palestine and lower Syria to
his empire. Under
his rule, all of these territories appear to have prospered.
Ptolemy I Soter took the Egyptian name Meryamun Setepenre,
which means "Beloved of Amun, Chosen of Re". Hence, he
attempted to take on
the guise of a Pharaoh as other foreign rulers before him,
and is even said to have married a daughter of Nectanebo II,
though this is
by no means certain. However, as early as 320 BC, he had her
set aside for Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater, who was
Macedon. By her, Ptolemy I had four children and possibly
more, and then another three by Berenice, a widowed lady-in-
Even prior to his possible marriage to the daughter of
Nectanebo II, Ptolemy is known to have married at least
once, if not twice. Some
sources provide that his first marriage was to a lady named
Thais, who was an Athenian hetera, and it is fairly well
known that he was
married to a Persian princess named Artacama (Artakama), but
there is never further mention of her after the wedding.
By Thais, some sources report that he had three children
named Lagus, Leontiscus and Eirene. By Eurydice, his
children included Ptolemy
Ceraunus, an unknown son, Ptolemais, Lysandra and possibly
Meleager and Argaeus. His union with Berenice apparently was
his heir to the Egyptian throne, Ptolemy II, as well as
Arsinoe II and Philotera.
Egypt's first ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty became a
monarch in the Hellenistic whole while at the same time
continued the line of god-
kings in Egypt, wisely paying at least lip service to the
prominent priesthood, who not only helped keep the
population in check but
also provided an excellent civil service that provided the
country with stability and allowed it to prosper.
If Ptolemy I Soter did not complete the many great works he
began, we can certainly admire his imagination and efforts.
It was he who,
in 290 BC, began the construction of the Pharos Lighthouse
in Alexandria, though it was unfinished at his death in
about 285 BC (some
sources day 283 BC, at the age of 84) and had to be
completed by his son and successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
It was he who erected
the great Mouseion, Alexandria's famous ancient university
though it would again be his son who would really establish
it by inviting
world renowned scholars to live in Egypt. However, it was
also Ptolemy I who created the famous Library of Alexandria,
obsessively filled it with the books that would allow his
son to tempt away these scholars to Egypt. It should be
noted that this king
was also responsible for having the Hebrew Bible translated
into the Greek language. Ptolemy I not only supported the
foundations of Alexandria, he was also somewhat of a scholar
himself, writing a history of Alexander the Great.
Demetrius Phalereus, the first head of the ancient
Alexandria Library and one who was also instrumental in
creating the Mouseion,
advised Ptolemy I to "collect together books on kingship and
the exercise of power, and to read them". It seems likely
that Ptolemy I at
least attempted to follow this advice, judging from his
success in governing the territories under his authority. He
consolidate the religions of the Egyptians and Greeks by
actually creating the worship of a new god named Serapis,
which was in reality
a composite deity made up of both Egyptian and Greek gods.
Ptolemy I established for this god the Sarapeion in
Alexandra, a temple
dedicated to the god which also held a daughter library to
that of the Great Library of Alexandria. He was also
responsible for many
other temples and temple additions in Egypt, which
undoubtedly proved useful with his relationship to Egypt's
This is not to say that Ptolemy I was entirely successful.
Serapis, though becoming a popular god not only with the
Greeks in Egypt but
elsewhere in the world, seems to have never really attained
that stature among the Egyptians themselves, who went about
worshipping their old gods. In addition, choosing Alexandria
as his capital segregated the Greeks of his generation and
descendents from the Egyptian people. In fact, Alexandria
came to be considered more of a Greek city in Egypt, rather
than actually an
Ptolemy I Soter was probably buried in Alexandria in the
royal necropolis, but alas, not much if any of that cemetery
has ever been
found. He was succeeded in death by his son who became known
as Ptolemy II and who may have shared a co-regency with his
father for a
period of time before Ptolemy I's death.
Ptolemy I Soter in Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter I (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, Ptolemaĩos Sōtḗr, i.e. Ptolemy (pronounced /ˈtɒləmi/) the Savior, c. 367 BC – c. 283 BC)
was a Macedonian Greek general under Alexander the Great, who became ruler of Egypt (323 BC – 283 BC) and founder of both the
Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. In 305/4 BC he took the title of pharaoh.
His mother was Arsinoe of Macedon, and, while his father is unknown, ancient sources variously describe him either as the son of
Lagus, a Macedonian nobleman, or as an illegitimate son of Philip II of Macedon (which, if true would have made Ptolemy the half-
brother of Alexander). Ptolemy was one of Alexander's most trusted generals, and was among the seven somatophylakes (bodyguards)
attached to his person. He was a few years older than Alexander, and had been his intimate friend since childhood. He may even have
been in the group of noble teenagers tutored by Aristotle.
Ptolemy served with Alexander from his first campaigns, and played a principal part in the later campaigns in Afghanistan and India.
At the Susa marriage festival in 324, Alexander had Ptolemy marry the Persian princess Artakama. Ptolemy also had a consort in Thaïs,
the Athenian hetaera and one of Alexander's companions in his conquest of the ancient world.
Successor of Alexander -
When Alexander died in 323 BC Ptolemy is said to have instigated the resettlement of the empire made at Babylon. Through the Partition
of Babylon, he was appointed satrap of Egypt, under the nominal kings Philip Arrhidaeus and the infant Alexander IV; the former
satrap, the Greek Cleomenes, stayed on as his deputy. Ptolemy quickly moved, without authorization, to subjugate Cyrenaica.
By custom, kings in Macedonia asserted their right to the throne by burying their predecessor. Probably because he wanted to pre-empt
Perdiccas, the imperial regent, from staking his claim in this way, Ptolemy took great pains in acquiring the body of Alexander the
Great, placing it temporarily in Memphis, Egypt. Ptolemy then openly joined the coalition against Perdiccas. Perdiccas appears to have
suspected Ptolemy of aiming for the throne himself, and may have decided that Ptolemy was his most dangerous rival. Ptolemy executed
Cleomenes for spying on behalf of Perdiccas — this removed the chief check on his authority, and allowed Ptolemy to obtain the huge
sum that Cleomenes had accumulated.
Rivalry and wars -
In 321, Perdiccas invaded Egypt. Ptolemy decided to defend the Nile, and Perdiccas's attempt to force it ended in fiasco, with the
loss of 2000 men. This was a fatal blow to Perdiccas' reputation, and he was murdered in his tent by two of his subordinates. Ptolemy
immediately crossed the Nile, to provide supplies to what had the day before been an enemy army. Ptolemy was offered the regency in
place of Perdiccas; but he declined. Ptolemy was consistent in his policy of securing a power base, while never succumbing to the
temptation of risking all to succeed Alexander.
In the long wars that followed between the different Diadochi, Ptolemy's first goal was to hold Egypt securely, and his second was to
secure control in the outlying areas: Cyrenaica and Cyprus, as well as Syria, including the province of Judea. His first occupation of
Syria was in 318, and he established at the same time a protectorate over the petty kings of Cyprus. When Antigonus One-Eye, master of
Asia in 315, showed dangerous ambitions, Ptolemy joined the coalition against him, and on the outbreak of war, evacuated Syria. In
Cyprus, he fought the partisans of Antigonus, and re-conquered the island (313). A revolt in Cyrene was crushed the same year.
In 312, Ptolemy and Seleucus, the fugitive satrap of Babylonia, both invaded Syria, and defeated Demetrius Poliorcetes ("besieger of
cities"), the son of Antigonus, in the Battle of Gaza. Again he occupied Syria, and again—after only a few months, when Demetrius had
won a battle over his general, and Antigonus entered Syria in force—he evacuated it. In 311, a peace was concluded between the
combatants. Soon after this, the surviving 13-year-old king, Alexander IV, was murdered in Macedonia, leaving the satrap of Egypt
absolutely his own master. The peace did not last long, and in 309 Ptolemy personally commanded a fleet that detached the coastal
towns of Lycia and Caria from Antigonus, then crossed into Greece, where he took possession of Corinth, Sicyon and Megara (308 BC). In
306, a great fleet under Demetrius attacked Cyprus, and Ptolemy's brother Menelaus was defeated and captured in another decisive
Battle of Salamis. Ptolemy's complete loss of Cyprus followed.
The satraps Antigonus and Demetrius now each assumed the title of king; Ptolemy, as well as Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus I
Nicator, responded by doing the same. In the winter of 306 BC, Antigonus tried to follow up his victory in Cyprus by invading Egypt;
but Ptolemy was strongest there, and successfully held the frontier against him. Ptolemy led no further overseas expeditions against
Antigonus. However, he did send great assistance to Rhodes when it was besieged by Demetrius (305/304). Pausanius reports that the
grateful Rhodians bestowed the name Soter ("saviour") upon him as a result of lifting the siege. This account is generally accepted by
modern scholars, although the earliest datable mention of it is from coins issued by Ptolemy II in 263 BC.
When the coalition against Antigonus was renewed in 302, Ptolemy joined it, and invaded Syria a third time, while Antigonus was
engaged with Lysimachus in Asia Minor. On hearing a report that Antigonus had won a decisive victory there, he once again evacuated
Syria. But when the news came that Antigonus had been defeated and slain by Lysimachus and Seleucus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301, he
occupied Syria a fourth time.
The other members of the coalition had assigned all Syria to Seleucus, after what they regarded as Ptolemy's desertion, and for the
next hundred years, the question of the ownership of southern Syria (i.e., Judea) produced recurring warfare between the Seleucid and
Ptolemaic dynasties. Henceforth, Ptolemy seems to have mingled as little as possible in the rivalries between Asia Minor and Greece;
he lost what he held in Greece, but reconquered Cyprus in 295/294. Cyrene, after a series of rebellions, was finally subjugated about
300 and placed under his stepson Magas.
In 289, Ptolemy made his son by Berenice -- Ptolemy II Philadelphus-- his co-regent. His eldest (legitimate) son, Ptolemy Keraunos,
whose mother, Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater, had been repudiated, fled to the court of Lysimachus. Ptolemy I Soter died in 283
at the age of 84. Shrewd and cautious, he had a compact and well-ordered realm to show at the end of forty years of war. His
reputation for bonhomie and liberality attached the floating soldier-class of Macedonians and Greeks to his service, and was not
insignificant; nor did he wholly neglect conciliation of the natives. He was a ready patron of letters, founding the Great Library of
Alexandria. He himself wrote a history of Alexander's campaigns that has not survived. This used to be considered an objective work,
distinguished by its straightforward honesty and sobriety. However, Ptolemy may have exaggerated his own role, and had propagandist
aims in writing his History. Although now lost, it was a principal source for the surviving account by Arrian of Nicomedia.
Ptolemy personally sponsored the great mathematician Euclid, but found Euclid's seminal work, the Elements, too difficult to study, so
he asked if there were an easier way to master it. Euclid famously quipped: "Sire, there is no Royal Road to Geometry."[citation
Fiction Portrayals -
Ptolemy was played by Vergilio Teixeira in the film Alexander the Great (1956) and by Robert Earley, Elliot Cowan, and Anthony Hopkins
in the Oliver Stone film Alexander (2004).
L. Sprague de Camp's novel The Bronze God of Rhodes features Ptolemy as a minor character. He also appears in Harry Turtledove's novel
The Gryphon's Skull.
Duncan Sprott's novel The Ptolemies features Ptolemy as a central character and founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
Ptolemy appears as a character in Mary Renault's novels Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games. He also appears in her
non-fictional The Nature of Alexander.
Ptolemy is one of the minor characters in the historical novel Roxana Romance by A.J. Cave with the Hellenic spelling of Ptolemaios.
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