Ptolemy II Philadelphus

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Ptolemy II Philadelphus (Greek : Πτολεμαίος Φιλάδελφος, Ptolemaios Philadelphos "Ptolemy, lover of his sister"; 308/9 – 28 January 246 BCE) was the pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 to 246 BCE. He was the son of Ptolemy I Soter, the Macedonian Greek general of Alexander the Great who founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom after the death of Alexander, and queen Berenice I, originally from Macedon in northern Greece.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Pharaoh Title of Ancient Egyptian rulers

Pharaoh is the common title of the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1200 BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles, the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj) name, and the Two Ladies (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus and nomen and prenomen titles were later added.

Ptolemaic Kingdom Hellenistic kingdom in ancient Egypt from 305 to 30 BC

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. It was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, which started with Ptolemy I Soter's accession after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and which ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.


During Ptolemy II's reign, the material and literary splendour of the Alexandrian court was at its height. He promoted the Museum and Library of Alexandria. The magnificent and dissolute, intellectual and artificial atmosphere of the court has been compared [ by whom? ] with the Palace of Versailles of Louis XIV of France.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Library of Alexandria one of the largest libraries in the ancient world, located in Alexandria, Egypt

The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, which was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. The idea of a universal library in Alexandria may have been proposed by Demetrius of Phalerum, an exiled Athenian statesman living in Alexandria, to Ptolemy I Soter, who may have established plans for the Library, but the Library itself was probably not built until the reign of his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The Library quickly acquired many papyrus scrolls, due largely to the Ptolemaic kings' aggressive and well-funded policies for procuring texts. It is unknown precisely how many such scrolls were housed at any given time, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height.

Palace of Versailles French palace on the outskirts of Paris

The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. It is located in the department of Yvelines, in the region of Île-de-France, about 20 kilometres southwest of the centre of Paris.

In addition to Egypt, Ptolemy's empire encompassed much of the Aegean and Levant. He pursued an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy with mixed success. From 275-271 BC, he led the Ptolemaic Kingdom against the rival Seleucid Empire in the First Syrian War and extended Ptolemaic power into Cilicia and Caria, but lost control of Cyrenaica after the defection of his half-brother Magas. In the Chremonidean War (c. 267-261 BC), Ptolemy confronted Antigonid Macedonia for control of the Aegean and suffered serious setbacks. This was followed by a Second Syrian War (260-253 BC) against the Seleucid empire, in which many of the gains from the first war were lost.

Aegean Islands Region of Greece

The Aegean Islands are the group of islands in the Aegean Sea, with mainland Greece to the west and north and Turkey to the east; the island of Crete delimits the sea to the south, those of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kasos to the southeast. The ancient Greek name of the Aegean Sea, Archipelago was later applied to the islands it contains and is now used more generally, to refer to any island group.

Levant Region in the eastern Mediterranean

The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily in Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, it is equivalent to the historical region of Syria. In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the eastern Mediterranean with its islands; that is, it included all of the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica.

Seleucid Empire Former Hellenistic state

The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty which existed from 312 BC to 63 BC; Seleucus I Nicator founded it following the division of the Macedonian Empire vastly expanded by Alexander the Great. Seleucus received Babylonia and from there expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander's near-eastern territories. At the height of its power, the Empire included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Early life

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Coins of Ptolemy II's parents Ptolemy I and Berenice I (left), and Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoe II (right)

Ptolemy II was the son of Ptolemy I Soter and his third wife Berenice I. He was born on the island of Kos in 309/308 BC, during his father's invasion of the Aegean in the Fourth Diadoch War. He had two full sisters, Arsinoe II and Philotera. [2] [3] Ptolemy was educated by a number of the most distinguished intellectuals of the age, including Philitas of Cos and Strato of Lampsacus. [4] [5]

Ptolemy I Soter Macedonian general

Ptolemy I Soter was a companion and historian of Alexander the Great of the Kingdom of Macedon in northern Greece who became ruler of Egypt, part of Alexander's former empire. Ptolemy was pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt from 305/304 BC to his death. He was the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, turning the country into a Hellenistic kingdom and Alexandria into a center of Greek culture.

Kos Place in Greece

Kos or Cos is a Greek island, part of the Dodecanese island chain in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Kos is the third largest island of the Dodecanese by area, after Rhodes and Karpathos; it has a population of 33,388, making it the second most populous of the Dodecanese, after Rhodes. The island measures 40 by 8 kilometres. Administratively, Kos constitutes a municipality within the Kos regional unit, which is part of the South Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Kos Town.

Arsinoe II Ptolemaic Greek Princess of Ancient Egypt and Queen of Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedonia

Arsinoë II was a Ptolemaic queen and co-regent of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of ancient Egypt.

Ptolemy II had numerous half-siblings. [6] Two of his father's sons by his previous marriage to Eurydice, Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager, became kings of Macedonia. [7] The children of his mother Berenice's first marriage to Philip included Magas of Cyrene and Antigone, the wife of Pyrrhus of Epirus. [8]

Eurydice was a Queen of Egypt by marriage to Ptolemy I Soter.

Ptolemy Keraunos King of macedon

Ptolemy Keraunos was the King of Macedon from 281 BC to 279 BC. His epithet Keraunos is Greek for "Thunder" or "Thunderbolt".

Meleager of Macedon was the brother of Ptolemy Keraunos and son of Ptolemy I Soter and Eurydice. Meleager ruled as King of Macedon during 279 BC for two months until he was compelled by his Macedonian troops to resign his crown.

At Ptolemy II's birth, his older half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos was the heir presumptive. As Ptolemy II grew older a struggle for the succession developed between them, which culminated in Ptolemy Keraunos' departure from Egypt around 287 BC. On 28 March 284 BC, Ptolemy I had Ptolemy II declared king, formally elevating him to the status of co-regent. [9] [10] In contemporary documents, Ptolemy is usually referred to as 'King Ptolemy son of Ptolemy' to distinguish him from his father. The co-regency between Ptolemy II and his father continued until the latter's death in April-June 282 BC. One ancient account claims that Ptolemy II murdered his father, but other sources say that he died of old age, which is more likely given that he was in his mid-eighties. [11] [10] [notes 1]


Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II depicted on the Gonzaga Cameo in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Cammeo gonzaga con doppio ritratto di tolomeo II e arsinoe II, III sec. ac. (alessandria), da hermitage.jpg
Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II depicted on the Gonzaga Cameo in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Arsinoe I and Arsinoe II

The fall-out from the succession conflict between Ptolemy II and Ptolemy Keraunos continued even after Ptolemy II's accession. The conflict was probably the reason why Ptolemy executed two of his brothers, probably full brothers of Keraunos, in 281 BC. [12] [13] [14] Keraunos himself had gone to the court of Lysimachus, who ruled Thrace and western Asia Minor following his expulsion from Egypt. Lysimachus court was divided as to whether to support Keraunos or not. On the one hand, Lysimachus himself had been married to Ptolemy II's full sister, Arsinoe II, since 300 BC. On the other hand, Lysimachus' heir, Agathocles, was married to Keraunos' full sister Philotera. Lysimachus chose to support Ptolemy II and sealed that decision at some point between 284 and 281 BC by marrying his daughter Arsinoe I to Ptolemy II. [15]

Continued conflict over the issue within his kingdom led to the execution of Agathocles and the collapse of Lysimachus' kingdom in 281 BC. Around 279 BC, Arsinoe II returned to Egypt, where she clashed with her sister-in-law Arsinoe I. Some time after 275 BC, Arsinoe I was charged with conspiracy and exiled to Coptos. Probably in 273/2 BC, Ptolemy married Arsinoe II. While sibling-marriage confirmed to the traditional practice of the Egyptian pharaohs, it was shocking to the Greeks who considered it incestuous. A poet, Sotades, who mocked the marriage was exiled and assassinated. [16] The marriage may not have been consummated, since it produced no children. [17] Another poet Theocritus defended the marriage by comparing it to the marriage of the gods Zeus and Hera, who were also siblings. [18] The marriage provided a model which was followed by most subsequent Ptolemaic monarchs. [14]

The three children of Arsinoe I, who included the future Ptolemy III, seem to have been removed from the succession after their mother's fall. [19] Ptolemy II seems to have adopted Arsinoe II's son by Lysimachus, also named Ptolemy, as his heir, eventually promoting him to co-regent in 267 BC, the year after Arsinoe II's death. He retained that position until his rebellion in 259 BC. [20] [notes 2] Around the time of the rebellion, Ptolemy II legitimised the children of Arsinoe I by having them posthumously adopted by Arsinoe II. [19]

Conflict with Seleucids and Cyrene (281-275 BC)

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Coin of Antiochus I

Ptolemy I had originally supported the establishment of his friend Seleucus I as ruler of Mesopotamia, but relations had cooled after the Battle of Ipsos in 301 BC, when both kings claimed Syria. At that time, Ptolemy I had occupied the southern portion of the region, Coele Syria, up to the Eleutherus river, while Seleucus established controlled over the territory north of that point. As long as the two kings lived, this dispute did not lead to war, but with the death of Ptolemy I in 282 and of Seleucus I in 281 BC that changed.

The son of Seleucus, Antiochus I, spent several years fighting to re-establish control over his father's empire. Ptolemy II took advantage of this to expand his realm at Seleucid expense. The acquisitions of the Ptolemaic kingdom at this time can be traced in epigraphic sources and seem to include Samos, Miletus, Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia, and perhaps Cilicia. Antiochus I acquiesced to these losses in 279 BC, but began to build up his forces for a rematch. [21]

Antiochus did this by pursuing ties with Ptolemy II's maternal half-brother, Magas who had been governor of Cyrenaica since around 300 BC had declared himself king of Cyrene sometime after Ptolemy I's death. Around 275 BC Antiochus entered into an alliance with Magas by marrying his daughter Apama to him. [22] Shortly thereafter, Magas invaded Egypt, marching on Alexandria, but he was forced to turn back when the Libyan nomads launched an attack on Cyrene. At this same moment, Ptolemy's own forces were harmstrung. He had hired 4,000 Gallic mercenaries, but soon after their arrival the Gauls mutinied and so Ptolemy marooned them on a deserted island in the Nile where “they perished at one another’s hands or by famine.” [23] This victory was celebrated on a grand scale. Several of Ptolemy's contemporary kings had fought serious wars against Gallic invasions in Greece and Asia Minor, and Ptolemy presented his own victory as equivalent to theirs. [24] [25] [26]

Invasion of Nubia (c. 275 BC)

Ptolemy clashed with the kingdom of Nubia, located to the south of Egypt, over the territory known as the Triakontaschoinos ('thirty-mile land'). This was the stretch of the Nile river between the First Cataract at Syene and the Second Cataract at Wadi Halfa (the whole area is now submerged under Lake Nasser). The region may have been used by the Nubians as a base for raids on southern Egypt. [27] Around 275 BC, Ptolemaic forces invaded Nubia and annexed the northern twelve miles of this territory, subsequently known as the Dodekaschoinos ('twelve-mile land'). [28] The conquest was publicly celebrated in the panegyric court poetry of Theocritus and by the erection of a long list of Nubian districts at the Temple of Isis at Philae, near Syene. [29] [30] The conquered territory included the rich gold mines at Wadi Allaqi, where Ptolemy founded a city called Berenice Panchrysus and instituted a large-scale mining programme. [31] The region's gold production was a key contributor to the prosperity and power of the Ptolemaic empire in the third century BC. [30]

First Syrian war (274-271 BC)

Probably in response to the alliance with Magas, Ptolemy declared war on Antiochus I in 274 BC by invading Seleucid Syria. After some initial success, Ptolemy's forces were defeated in battle by Antiochus and forced to retreat back to Egypt. Invasion was imminent and Ptolemy and Arsinoe spent the winter of 274/3 BC reinforcing the defences in the eastern Nile Delta. However, the expected Seleucid invasion never took place. The Seleucid forces were afflicted by economic problems and an outbreak of plague. In 271 BC, Antiochus abandoned the war and agreed to peace, with a return to the status quo ante bellum. This was celebrated in Egypt as a great victory, both in Greek poetry, such as Theocritus' Idyll 17 and by the Egyptian priesthood in the Pithom stele. [32]

Colonisation of the Red Sea

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Key Ptolemaic bases in the Red Sea

Ptolemy revived earlier Egyptian programmes to access the Red Sea. A canal from the Nile near Bubastis to the Gulf of Suez - via Pithom, Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes - had been dug by Darius I in the sixth century BC. However, by Ptolemy's time it had silted up. He had it cleared and restored to operation in 270/269 BC - an act which is commemorated in the Pithom Stele. The city of Arsinoe was established at the mouth of the canal on the Gulf of Suez. From there, two exploratory missions were sent down the east and west coasts of the Red Sea all the way down to the Bab-el-Mandeb. The leaders of these missions established a chain of 270 harbour bases along the coasts, some of which grew to be important commercial centres. [33]

Along the Egyptian coast, Philotera, Myos Hormos, and Berenice Troglodytica would become important termini of caravan routes running through the Egyptian desert and key ports for the Indian Ocean trade which began to develop over the next three centuries. Even further south was Ptolemais Theron (possibly located near the modern Port Sudan), which was used as a base for capturing elephants. The adults were killed for their ivory, the children were captured in order to be trained as war elephants. [34] [35]

On the east coast of the sea, the key settlements were Berenice (modern Aqaba/Eilat) [36] and Ampelone (near modern Jeddah). These settlements allowed the Ptolemies access to the western end of the caravan routes of the incense trade, run by the Nabataeans, who became close allies of the Ptolemaic empire. [33]

Chremonidean war (267-261 BC)

Coin of Antigonus II Gonatas Macedonia, dinastia degli antigonidi, tetradracma di antigono gonatas, amphipolis, 229-221 ac ca.JPG
Coin of Antigonus II Gonatas

Throughout the early period of Ptolemy II's reign, Egypt was the preeminent naval power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Ptolemaic sphere of power extended over the Cyclades to Samothrace in the northern Aegean. Ptolemaic naval forces even entered the Black Sea, waging a campaign in support of the free city of Byzantion. [37] Ptolemy was able to pursue this interventionist policy without any challenge because a long-running civil war in Macedon had left a power vacuum in the northern Aegean. This vacuum was threatened after Antigonus II Gonatas firmly established himself as king of Macedon in 272 BC. As Antigonus expanded his power through mainland Greece, Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II positioned themselves as defenders of 'Greek freedom' from Macedonian aggression. Ptolemy forged alliances with the two most powerful Greek cities, Athens and Sparta. [38]

The Athenian politician Chremonides forged a further alliance with Sparta in 269 BC. [39] In late 268 BC, Chremonides declared war on Antigonus II. The Ptolemaic admiral Patroclus sailed into the Aegean in 267 BC and established a base on the island of Keos. From there, he sailed to Attica in 266 BC. The plan seems to have been for him to rendezvous with the Spartan army and then use their combined forces to isolate and expel the Antigonid garrisons at Sounion and Piraeus which held the Athenians in check. However, the Spartan army was unable to break through to Attica and the plan failed. [40] [41] In 265/4 BC, Areus once again tried to cross the Isthmus of Corinth and aid the beleaguered Athenians, but Antigonus II concentrated his forces against him and defeated the Spartans, with Areus himself among the dead. [42] After a prolonged siege, the Athenians were forced to surrender to Antigonus in early 261 BC. Chremonides and his brother Glaucon, who were responsible for the Athenian participation in the war, fled to Alexandria, where Ptolemy welcomed them into his court. [43]

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Battle of Kos
Key Ptolemaic strongholds in the Aegean Sea

Despite the presence of Patroclus and his fleet, it appears that Ptolemy II hesitated to fully commit himself to the conflict in mainland Greece. The reasons for this reluctance are unclear, but it appears that, especially in the last years of the war, Ptolemaic involvement was limited to financial support for the Greek city-states and naval assistance. [44] [45] Gunther Hölb argues that the Ptolemaic focus was on the eastern Aegean, where naval forces under the command of the co-regent Ptolemy the Son, took control of Ephesus and perhaps Lesbos in 262 BC. [46] The end of Ptolemaic involvement may be related to the Battle of Kos, whose chronology is much disputed by modern scholars. Almost nothing is known about the events of the battle, except that Antigonus II Gonatas, although outnumbered, led his fleet to defeat Ptolemy's unnamed commanders. Some scholars, such as Hans Hauben, argue that Kos belongs to the Chremonidean War and was fought around 262/1 BC, with Patroclus in command of the Ptolemaic fleet. Others, however, place the battle around 255 BC, at the time of the Second Syrian War. [47] [48] [49]

The Chremonidean War and the Battle of Kos marked the end of absolute Ptolemaic thalassocracy in the Aegean. [48] The League of the Islanders, which had been controlled by the Ptolemies and used by them to manage the Cycladic islands seems to have dissolved on the aftermath of the war. However, the conflict did not mean the complete end of the Ptolemaic presence in the Aegean. On the contrary, the naval bases established during the war at Keos and Methana endured until the end of the third century BC, while those at Thera, and Itanos in Crete remained bulwarks of Ptolemaic sea power until 145 BC. [50]

Second Syrian war (260-253 BC)

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Coin of Antiochus II Theos

Around 260 BC, war broke out once more between Ptolemy II and the Seleucid realm, now ruled by Antiochus II Theos. The cause of this war seems to have been the two kings' competing claims to the cities of western Asia Minor, particularly Miletus and Ephesus. Its outbreak seems to be connected to the revolt of the co-regent Ptolemy 'the son' who had been leading the Ptolemaic naval forces against Antigonus II. Ptolemy "the son" and an associate took control of the Ptolemaic territories in western Asia Minor and the Aegean. Antiochus II took advantage of this upset to declare war on Ptolemy II and he was joined by the Rhodians. [51]

The course of this war is very unclear, with the chronological and causal relationship of events attested at different times and in different theatres being open to debate. [52]

In 253 BC, Ptolemy negotiated a peace treaty, in which he conceded large amounts of territory in Asia Minor to Antiochus. The peace was sealed by Antiochus' marriage to Ptolemy's daughter Berenice Phernopherus, which took place in 252 BC. Large indemnity payments to the Seleucids were presented by Ptolemy II as the dowry connected to this wedding. [53] [52]

After the war was over, in July 253 BC Ptolemy travelled to Memphis. There he rewarded his soldiers by distributing large plots of land that had been reclaimed from Lake Moeris in the Fayyum to them as estates ( kleroi ). The area was established as a new nome, named the Arsinoite nome, in honour of the long-dead Arsinoe II. [54]

Later reign and death (252-246 BC)

After the Second Syrian War, Ptolemy refocused his attention on the Aegean and mainland Greece. Some time around 250 BC, his forces defeated Antigonus in a naval battle at an uncertain location. [55] In Delos, Ptolemy established a festival, called the Ptolemaia in 249 BC, which advertised continued Ptolemaic investment and involvement in the Cyclades,even though political control seems to have been lost by this time. Around the same time, Ptolemy was convinced to pay large subsidies to the Achaean League by their envoy Aratus of Sicyon. The Achaean League was a relatively small collection of minor city-states in the northwestern Peloponnese at this date, but with the help of Ptolemy's money, over the next forty years Aratus would expand the League to encompass nearly the whole of the Peloponnese and transform it into a serous threat to Antigonid power in mainland Greece. [56]

Also in the late 250s BC, Ptolemy renewed his efforts to reach a settlement with Magas of Cyrene. It was agreed that Ptolemy's heir Ptolemy III would marry Magas' sole child, Berenice. [57] On Magas' death in 250 BC, however, Berenice's mother Apame refused to honour the agreement and invited an Antigonid prince, Demetrius the Fair to Cyrene to marry Berenice instead. With Apame's help, Demetrius seized control of the city, but he was assassinated by Berenice. [58] A republican government, led by two Cyrenaeans named Ecdelus and Demophanes controlled Cyrene until Berenice's actual wedding to Ptolemy III in 246 BC after his accession to the throne. [56]

Ptolemy died on 28 January 246 BC and was succeeded by Ptolemy III without incident. [56] [59]


This granite statue depicts Ptolemy II in the traditional canon of ancient Egyptian art. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Egyptian - Head of Ptolemy II - Walters 22109.jpg
This granite statue depicts Ptolemy II in the traditional canon of ancient Egyptian art. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.


The material and literary splendour of the Alexandrian court was at its height under Ptolemy II. Pomp and splendor flourished. He had exotic animals of far off lands sent to Alexandria, and staged a procession in Alexandria in honor of Dionysus led by 24 chariots drawn by elephants and a procession of lions, leopards, panthers, camels, antelopes, wild asses, ostriches, a bear, a giraffe and a rhinoceros. According to scholars, most of the animals were in pairs - as many as eight pairs of ostriches - and although the ordinary chariots were likely led by a single elephant, others which carried a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) golden statue may have been led by four. [60] Although an enthusiast for Hellenic culture, he also adopted Egyptian religious concepts, which helped to bolster his image as a sovereign.


Ptolemaic Egypt was administered by a complicated bureaucratic structure. It is possible that much of the structure had already been developed in the reign of Ptolemy I, but evidence for it - chiefly in the form of documentary papyri - only exists from the reign of Ptolemy II. At the top of the hierarchy, in Alexandria, there were a small group of officials, drawn from the king's philoi (friends). These included the epistolographos ('letter-writer', responsible for diplomacy), the hypomnematographos ('memo-writer' or the chief secretary), the epi ton prostagmaton ('in charge of commands', who produced the drafts of royal edicts), the key generals, and the dioiketes ('household manager', who was in charge of taxation and provincial adminstration). The dioiketes for most of Ptolemy II's reign was Apollonius (262-245 BC). The enormous archive of his personal secretary, Zenon of Kaunos, happens to have survived. As a result, it is the administration of the countryside that is best known to modern scholarship. [61] [62]

The whole of Egypt was divided into thirty-nine districts, called nomes (portions), whose names and borders had remained roughly the same since early Pharaonic times. Within each nome, there were three officials: the nomarch (nome-leader) who was in charge of agricultural production, the oikonomos (household steward) who was in charge of finances, and the basilikos grammateus (royal secretary), who was in charge of land surveying and record-keeping. All three of these officials answered to the dioiketes and held equal rank, the idea being that each would act as a check on the others and thus prevent officials from developing regional power bases that might threaten the power of the king. Each village had a komarch (village-leader) and a komogrammateus (village-secretary), who reported to the nomarch and the basilikos grammateus respectively. Through this system, a chain of command was created which ran from the king all the way down to each of the three thousand villages of Egypt. Each nome also had its own strategos (general), who was in charge of the troops settled in the nome and answered directly to the king. [61] [63]

A key goal of this administrative system was to extract as much wealth as possible from the land, so that it could be deployed for royal purposes, particularly war. It achieved this goal with greatest efficiency under Ptolemy II. Particular measures to increase efficiency and income are attested from the start of the Second Syrian War. A decree, known as the Revenue Laws Papyrus was issued in 259 BC in order to increase tax yields. It is one of our key pieces of evidence for the intended operation of the Ptolemaic tax system. The papyrus establishes a regime of tax farming (telonia) for wine, fruit, and castor oil. Private individuals paid the king a lump sum up front for the right to oversee the collection of the taxes (though the actual collection was carried out by royal officials). The tax farmers received any excess from the collected taxes as profit. [64] This decree was followed in 258 BC by a 'General Inventory' in which the whole of Egypt was surveyed in order to determine the quantity of different types of land, irrigation, canals, and forests within the kingdom and the amount of income that could be levied from it. [64] Efforts were made to increase the amount of arable land in Egypt, particularly by reclaiming large amounts of land from Lake Moeris in the Fayyum. Ptolemy distributed this land to the Ptolemaic soldiers as agricultural estates in 253 BC. [64] The Zenon papyri also record experiments by the dioiketes Apollonius to establish cash crop regimes, particularly growing castor oil, with mixed success. In addition to these measures focused on agriculture, Ptolemy II also established extensive gold mining operations, in Nubia at Wadi Allaqi and in the eastern desert at Abu Zawal.

Scholarship and culture

Ptolemy II was an eager patron of scholarship, funding the expansion of the Library of Alexandria and patronising scientific research. Poets like Callimachus, Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Posidippus were provided with stipends and produced masterpieces of Hellenistic poetry, including panegyrics in honour of the Ptolemaic family. Other scholars operating under Ptolemy's aegis included the mathematician Euclid and the astronomer Aristarchus. Ptolemy is thought to have commissioned Manetho to compose his Aegyptiaca , an account of Egyptian history, perhaps intended to make Egyptian culture intelligible to its new rulers. [65]

A tradition preserved in the pseudepigraphical Letter of Aristeas presents Ptolemy as the driving force behind the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek as the Septuagint. This account contains several anachronisms and is unlikely to be true. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is likely to have taken place among the Jews of Alexandria, but was probably a protracted process rather than a single moment of translation.

Relations with Carthage and Rome

Ptolemy II cultivated good relations with Carthage, in contrast to his father, who seems to have gone to war with them at least once. One reason for this may have been the desire to outflank Magas of Cyrene, who shared a border with the Carthaginian empire at the Altars of Philaeni. [66] Ptolemy was also the first Egyptian ruler to enter into formal relations with the Roman Republic. An embassy from Ptolemy visited the city of Rome in 273 BC and established a relationship of friendship (Latin: amicitia). [67] These two friendships were tested in 264 BC, when the First Punic War broke out between Carthage and Rome, but Ptolemy II remained studiously neutral in the conflict, refusing a direct Carthaginian request for financial assistance. [68] [66]

Relations with India

Ptolemy is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra in India, [69] probably to Emperor Ashoka:

"But [India] has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations." Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21 [70]

He is also mentioned in the Edicts of Ashoka as a recipient of the Buddhist proselytism of Ashoka:

Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-Servant-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it [conquest by Dhamma] has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni. Rock Edict Nb13 (S. Dhammika)

Marriages and issue

Ptolemy married his first wife, Arsinoe I, daughter of Lysimachus, between 284 and 281 BC. She was the mother of his legitimate children: [71] [59]

Ptolemy III Euergetes Ptolomeo III.JPG c. 285-275 BCOctober/December 222 BCSucceeded his father as king in 246 BC.
Lysimachus 221 BC
Berenice Phernopherus c. 275 BC?September/October 246 BCMarried the Seleucid king Antiochus II Theos.

After Ptolemy II repudiated Arsinoe in the 270s BC, he married his full sister Arsinoe II, widow of Lysimachus, probably in 273 BC. They had no offspring, but in the 260s BC, the children of Arsinoe I were legally declared to be her children. [72]

Ptolemy II also had several concubines. With a woman named Bilistiche he is said to have had an (illegitimate) son named Ptolemy Andromachou. [73] He had many mistresses, including Agathoclea (?), Aglais (?) daughter of Megacles, the cup-bearer Cleino, Didyme, the Chian harp player Glauce, the flautist Mnesis, the actress Myrtion, the flautist Pothine and Stratonice. [59]

See also


  1. C. Bennett established the date of Ptolemy I's death in April-June. Previously, the standard date was January 282 BC, following A.E. Samuel Ptolemaic Chronology.
  2. This identification of Ptolemy son of Lysimachus, with Ptolemy "the son" who is attested as Ptolemy II's co-regent is argued in detail by Chris Bennett. Other scholars have identified the co-regent as the future Ptolemy III or some otherwise unknown son of Ptolemy II.

Related Research Articles

280s BC decade

This article concerns the period 289 BC – 280 BC.

This article concerns the period 279 BC – 270 BC.

Ptolemy III Euergetes Egyptian pharaoh

Ptolemy III Euergetes was the third king of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt from 246 to 222 BC. He was the eldest son of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his first wife Arsinoe I.

Year 246 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Crassus and Licinus. The denomination 246 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Year 281 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Barbula and Philippus. The denomination 281 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

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Berenice II of Egypt Queen of Egypt

Berenice II was a ruling queen of Cyrene, Libya by birth, and a queen and co-regent of Ptolemaic Egypt by marriage to her cousin Ptolemy III Euergetes, the third ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Demetrius the Fair or surnamed The Handsome, also known in modern ancient historical sources as Demetrius of Cyrene, was a Hellenistic king of Cyrene.

Syrian Wars

The Syrian Wars were a series of six wars between the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, successor states to Alexander the Great's empire, during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC over the region then called Coele-Syria, one of the few avenues into Egypt. These conflicts drained the material and manpower of both parties and led to their eventual destruction and conquest by Rome and Parthia. They are briefly mentioned in the biblical Books of the Maccabees.

Apama II, sometimes known as Apame II was a Syrian Greek princess of the Seleucid Empire and through marriage was a queen of Cyrenaica.

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  1. Clayton (2006) p. 208
  2. Clayman, Dee L. (2014). Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN   9780195370881.
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  12. Pausanias 1.7.1
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  15. Hölbl 2001 , p. 35
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  27. Referenced in a papyrus: SB 5111
  28. Agatharchides FGrH 86 F20; Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca 1.37.5
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  30. 1 2 Hölbl 2001 , p. 55
  31. Diodorus, Bibliotheca 3.12; Pliny the Elder Natural History 6.170. Excavations of the city have been undertaken: Castiglioni, Alfredo; Castiglioni., Andrea; Negro, A. (1991). "A la recherche de Berenice Pancrisia dans le désert oriental nubien". Bulletin de la Sociéte française d'égyptologie. 121: 5–24.
  32. Hölbl 2001 , p. 40
  33. 1 2 Hölbl 2001 , p. 56
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  35. Hölbl 2001 , p. 57
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  44. Hauben 2013, p. 61.
  45. O'Neil 2008, pp. 83–84.
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  47. O'Neil 2008, pp. 84–85.
  48. 1 2 Hauben 2013, p. 62.
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  63. Bagnall, Roger; Derow, Peter (2004). The Hellenistic Period: Historical Sources in Translation (2 ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell. pp. 285–288.
  64. 1 2 3 Hölbl 2001 , p. 62-63
  65. Hölbl 2001 , p. 63-65
  66. 1 2 Holbl 2001 , p. 54
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  68. Appian Sicelica 1
  69. Mookerji 1988, p. 38.
  70. Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21 Archived 2013-07-28 at the Wayback Machine
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  73. Ptolemy Andromachou by Chris Bennett


Ptolemy II Philadelphus
Born: 309 BCE Died: 246 BCE
Preceded by
Ptolemy I Soter
Pharaoh of Egypt
283246 BC
Succeeded by
Ptolemy III Euergetes