The Ptolemaic Dynasty


The Ptolemaic dynasty was founded by Ptolemy son of Lagus, a general of Alexander the Great. On Alexander's death in 323 he was appointed satrap of Egypt, and eventually declared himself king in 304. The dynasty lasted until the death of Cleopatra VII and the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30, an episode which is still one of the best-known chapters of ancient history.

The intervening period is one which is, by comparison to most of pharaonic Egypt, very well, if not fully coherently, documented. While Ptolemy I and Cleopatra VII are perhaps the best-known rulers, most of the Ptolemaic kings and queens emerge as distinctive and interesting (if not necessarily attractive) individuals. Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the two great powers of the Hellenistic East for most of its existence. During this period Egyptian armies ranged further east and further north than at any other time in Egyptian history. Alexandria was the center of the Hellenistic intellectual world. The period also saw the final flowering of pharaonic Egyptian art and architecture. Many of the great temples we see today, at Edfu, Esna, Kom Ombo, Dendera, Philae and elsewhere, are basically Ptolemaic monuments.

The Ptolemaic era is unjustly neglected. Both Egyptophiles and Hellenists have traditionally seen it as decadent, a judgement that in my opinion has no basis. The last major general survey written in English appeared in 1927. The number of Ptolemaic scholars is small, and very few universities have specialist departments. However, in recent years significant surveys have appeared, particularly in German, and one of these has been translated into English. Additionally, the exciting discoveries of sunken cities in the waters off Alexandria have attracted world-wide attention.

Substantive additions since 1 Jan 2008:

7 August 2012: note Cheshire's rereading of Vienna 82, disproving the reading that Berenice, wife of the HPM Psherenptah II, was a sister of Ptolemy X.
28 Mar 2009: discussion of recent announcements concerning the possible skeletal remains of Arsinoe IV
1 Feb 2009: discussion of Huss' proposal (ZPE 165) to identify the Olympic victor in Posiddippus' poem Hippika AB 78 as Berenice II not Berenice Phernophorus.
9 Nov 2008: discussion of Buttrey's numismatic arguments (LS 35) for a high chronology of Magas of Cyrene
26 July 2008: response to Kosmetatou's critique (Tyche 17) of my analysis of FD III:4:2 233 for the children of Ptolemy III
24 July 2008: note Fraser's publication (Berytus 12) of Cyrenean inscription naming Philip as the father of Magas of Cyrene
14 June 2008: note Dmitriev's proposals (GRBS 47) on the chronology of Lysimachus' marriages: long marriage for Amestris, Arsinoe II as chief wife in 285
14 June 2008: note Byrne's redating (MeditArch 19) of the decree of Chremonides from 268/7 to 269/8
7 June 2008: note Hoover's late Seleucid chronology (Historia 56) for Antiochus X, Seleucus VI, Antiochus XI, Philip I, Demetrius III, Antiochus XII, Tigranes' invasion of Syria, Philip II
16 Feb/10 Mar 2008: discussion of chronology of Tryphaina, wetnurse to Ptolemy XII (SB I 4980)

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