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. 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.