Ptolemy I. Soter

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Ptolemy I. Soter

Ptolemy I. Soter was the son of Macedonian nobleman Lagus (so his dynasty is also called Lagides) and he belonged to closest Alexander’s companions from his early youth. It was said that his real father was Philip II., so Ptolemy was elevated to half-brother of Alexander in the eyes of the masses!

Ptolemy I. Soter accompanied Alexander as one of the seven members of his bodyguards. He fought at Granicus, performed great at the battle of Issus and later he proved his abilities especially at battles under Hindu Kush and on the banks of Indus River. Eventually Ptolemy achieved the rank that corresponds to a combination of Secretary of Defence and Chief of Staff in our terms. He also was at Alexander’s deathbed in Babylon in 323 BC.

Ptolemy I. Soter also attended a meeting of the highest dignitaries about the division of Alexander’s empire administration. Ptolemy asked for Egypt at this meeting and got it without objections. Unlike his companions he had already understood that Alexander’s empire wouldn’t last without Alexander. So instead of fighting for the whole empire, he decided for one of its parts.

Ptolemy’s reign in Egypt

The main feature of the policy of Ptolemy I. in relation to the Egyptians was his respect for tradition. Ptolemy I. preserved and respected everything that was convenient for him. He took a cautious approach to the reforms and carried them out sensitively. Ptolemy I. supported the settling of the Macedonians and the Greeks and enabled them to live according their own traditions. He established some kind of a double regime, Greek for the Greeks and Egyptian for the Egyptians, which allowed them to live side by side and with contentment. However, Ptolemy I. didn’t overlook the need of creating linkages between them.

Concerning the foreign policy Ptolemy I. avoided participation in the wars of his former companions Alexander’s heritage. Ptolemy I. was interested in Egypt and didn’t hesitate to take every opportunity to seize some of its former possessions. He gained Cyrenaica in the west, Palestine and Phoenicia in the east, south Syria and later Cyprus and Cyclades. In just twenty years Ptolemy I. gained larger territory in the Mediterranean than Ramesses II. once.

Alexandria, the seat of the Ptolemaic and new capital

Ptolemy I. SoterPtolemy I. transferred his seat from Memphis (Mennefer) in Alexandria, which was built in the meantime, and he raised it to the capital of Egypt. There were built royal palace, God’s Serapis temple and Musaeum (temple of muses) with a large library, where gradually all monuments of Greek literature were concentrated. Furthermore there were built a bibliotheca, a theatre and other buildings in Alexandria. He also founded new city of Ptolemaida Hermiu in the Upper Egypt.

Ptolemy I. reconstructed the irrigation facility in Faiyum Oasis and among other things he also restored the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea. The biggest and the most famous building was the Lighthouse of Alexandria on island of Pharos in front of the Alexandria harbour. This building was begun in last years of his reign. It had several stages with a platform for open fire, was covered with white marble and decorated with statues.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria is said to measure 180 meters, so it was higher than the highest pyramid. Unfortunately none of these buildings were preserved, not even ruins were found in Alexandria. Only several marble fragments were identified from the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the seventh wonder of the world. The fragments were found in the walls of the medieval fortress of Sultan Qaitbay that stands in its place.

Ptolemy II. Philadelphus

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Ptolemy II. Philadelphus

Ptolemy II. Philadelphus was the son of Berenice, second wife of Ptolemy I., who had accepted him as a co-ruler in 285 BC. Ptolemy II. took over a powerful and prosperous empire from his father and even improved its state during his long (nearly forty years) reign.

Ptolemy II. respected Egyptian traditions like his father, but he much more supported all Greek. He confirmed the priviledges of the Egyptian priests, but also favored the position of Greek settlers at the same time. Ptolemy II allocated land to the temples, but even to a greater extent provided it to Greek immigrants and his Greek-Macedonian veterans.

Ptolemy II. and Arsinoe II.

Ptolemy II. married his own eight years elder sister Arsinoe II in 278 BC, who was first married to Lysimachus. She let executed his son from his first marriage in favor of her three sons. After the death of Lysimachus she fled to the Macedonian Cassandreia and was a wife of her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos for a short time. Then she married Ptolemy II. and both of them let worship themselves as divine siblings. A principle of incest was established that way in this dynasty, as well as the brutal elimination of political competition.

Ptolemy strengthened the Egyptian dominion and took advantage of the weakening of the Seleucid Syria at the same time. Egypt included Phoenicia and Arabia (except a part of Syrian territory), Ethiopia, Cyrenaica, important areas in Asia Minor and some islands in the Aegean Sea. Ptolemy II. tried to gain a leading position for Egypt among Hellenistic states, so Egypt resemble a maritime empire, which depended on power and mobility of its fleet, at the time of its high boom in 3rd century BC. The main obstacle for the Ptolemaic dynasty were the Seleucids. The tension between them escalated into a series of conflicts known as the Syrian wars.

Ptolemy II. captured the international importance of the growing Roman power. The exchange of diplomatic delegations between Rome and Egypt in 273 BC formed the basis of friendly political contancts that strengthened Egypt and Rome in their relation to Macedonia and Syria.

Ptolemy II. Philadelphus

Ptolemy II. Philadelphus

Ptolemy VIII. Euergetes II.

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Ptolemy VIII. Euergetes II.

Ptolemy VIII. was a son of Cleopatra I and Ptolemy Epiphanes and brother of Ptolemy VI Philometor and Cleopatra II. He ruled in Egypt together with his siblings in 170 - 163 BC. By consensus with his brother, Ptolemy VIII remained the ruler of Cyrene (Cyrene - Kurene in Greek, city in northern Libya) since 163 BC and was supported by Rome in his attempts to take control of Cyprus.

After his brother's death Ptolemy VIII. married his sister Cleopatra II. and came to the Egyptian throne. They have a son Ptolemy Memphitis called after the place of his birth. Ptolemy VIII. married his cousin Cleopatra III. ceremonially in 142 BC. So two legitimate Queens occured, both of them wives of the rulers, which naturally caused a conflict in the royal family

Ptolemy VIII. was a merciless ruler. He ordered to kill his son Memphitis, let his body quarter and send to his mother. It caused a civil war and disintegration of the land. Ptolemy VIII. seized control over the whole land in 129 except Alexandria, which stayed loyal to Cleopatra. The city was conquered by Ptolemy VIII. in 126 and executed a set of repressions, which didn't make him more popular at all. Cleopatra came back from the banishment after the city conquest in 123 and began to rule again together with her brother-husband.

Ptolemy VIII, scornfully called Physcon (potbelly) by the inhabitants of Alexandria, died on 28th June, 116 BC in the 56th year of his reign. In his will he bequeathed Egypt to his cousin-wife Cleopatra III. and that of the sons, whom the mother establishes as a co-ruler. The second son was to rule independently on Cyprus.

Ptolemy VIII. Euergetes II.

Ptolemy VIII. Euergetes II.

Ptolemy IV. Philopator

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Ptolemy IV. Philopator

Ptolemy IV. Philopator came to the throne after his father Ptolemy III. and his government changed the internal and international situation in a way that meant the end of the previous boom. The international influence of Egypt decreased under Ptolemy IV rule, came economic difficulties and Pharaoh's power weakened.

Ptolemy IV. PhilopatorPtolemy IV. initially ruled with his mother. The chief minister Sosibius had considerable power under his rule. He was the one who was behind the assassination of leading members of the royal family King's mother Berenice, King's brother Magas and uncle Lysimachus belonged among his victims. He also "left his marks" on the death of Cleomenes III, who committed suicide after a failed uprising against Sosibius and his children, mother and women from his surroundings were eliminated without exception.

Fourth Syrian war

Like his father, Ptolemy IV led the war with the Syrian ruler, who was Antiochus III. at that time. A forceful Seleucid ruler initially reached significant achievements in this fourth Syrian war (221 - 217 BC), however his campaign ended in the battle of Raphia in 217 BC. It was just Sosibius, the commander of the infantry, who had much of the credit for the victory of Ptolemaic troops. Egypt retained southern Syria after this victory, but it could not prevent Antiochus III from re-strengthening of Syrian positions in the east.

Ptolemy IV's death ended a period of great power and economic prosperity of Egypt. According to some Egyptologists he was the worst ruler of the dynasty. Rather than the government he took care of feast and drinking bouts, which ended by orgies and he was given the nickname Tryphon ("spendthrift") by his Greek subjects.

Message from the Nile

  • History of Czech institution of egyptology

    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

  • Abusir - outstation of Czech egyptology expedition

    Abusir is an archaeological locality in Egypt named after nearby recent village Abusir. It is situated on western Nile bank on the edge of Libyan tableland approximately 20 kilometers to the south-west of Cairo. The name of this locality is derived from ancient Egypt god Osiris, from Per Usir (Busiris), "(cult) place of Osiris" (Busiris in Greek).

  • Researches in Western desert

    Czech egyptology is successful in researching not only on pyramidal fields in Abusir recently, but also in supporting and organizing smaller expeditions into egyptian Western desert. Czech expedition has been working even in slowly evanescent oasis El-Hajez since 2003, which is situated about 400 km to the south-west from Cairo.

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