Ptolemy I Soter

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Ptolemy I Soter ( /ˈtɒləmi/ ; Greek : Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, Ptolemaîos Sōtḗr "Ptolemy the Savior"; c. 367 BC – January 282 BC) 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 [1] 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.

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 at least 3500 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.

Soter derives from the Greek epithet σωτήρ (sōtēr), meaning a saviour, a deliverer; initial capitalised Σωτήρ; fully capitalised ΣΩΤΗΡ; feminine Soteira (Σώτειρα) or sometimes Soteria (Σωτηρία). Soter has been used as:

<i>Diadochi</i> Political rivals in the aftermath of Alexander the Greats death

The Diadochi were the rival generals, families, and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire after his death in 323 BC. The Wars of the Diadochi mark the beginning of the Hellenistic period from the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley.


Ptolemy I was the son of Arsinoe of Macedon by either her husband Lagus or Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander. Ptolemy was one of Alexander's most trusted companions and military officers. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Ptolemy retrieved his body as it was en route to be buried in Macedon, placing it in Memphis instead, where it was later moved to Alexandria in a new tomb. Afterwards he joined a coalition against Perdiccas, the royal regent over Philip III of Macedon. The latter invaded Egypt but was assassinated by his own officers in 320 BC, allowing Ptolemy I to consolidate his control over the country. After a series of wars between Alexander's successors, Ptolemy gained a claim to Judea in southern Syria which was disputed with the Syrian king Seleucus I Nicator, his former ally. He also took control of Cyprus and Cyrenaica, the latter of which was placed under the control of Ptolemy's stepson Magas.

Arsinoe of Macedonia was the mother of Ptolemy I Soter, king of Egypt.

Lagus from Eordaea was the father, or reputed father, of Ptolemy, the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty. He married Arsinoe, a concubine of Philip II, king of Macedon, who was said to have been pregnant at the time of their marriage, on which account it is told that the Macedonians generally looked upon Ptolemy as in reality the son of Philip; but it is possible that this is a later myth fabricated to glorify the Ptolemaic dynasty. From an anecdote recorded by Plutarch, it is clear that Lagus was a man of obscure birth; hence, when Theocritus calls Ptolemy a descendant of Heracles, he probably means to represent him as the son of Philip. Lagus is believed by some to have subsequently married Antigone, niece of Antipater, by whom he became the father of Berenice, afterwards the wife of Ptolemy, but this is based on a misreading of a corrupt scholium; her father's name was almost certainly Magas.

Philip II of Macedon Basileus of Macedon

Philip II of Macedon was the king (basileus) of the kingdom of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was a member of the Argead dynasty of Macedonian kings, the third son of King Amyntas III of Macedon, and father of Alexander the Great and Philip III. The rise of Macedon, its conquest and political consolidation of most of Classical Greece during the reign of Philip II was achieved in part by his reformation of the Ancient Macedonian army, establishing the Macedonian phalanx that proved critical in securing victories on the battlefield. After defeating the Greek city-states of Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, Philip II led the effort to establish a federation of Greek states known as the League of Corinth, with him as the elected hegemon and commander-in-chief of Greece for a planned invasion of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. However, his assassination by a royal bodyguard, Pausanias of Orestis, led to the immediate succession of his son Alexander, who would go on to invade the Achaemenid Empire in his father's stead.

Ptolemy I may have married Thaïs, his mistress during the life of Alexander; he is known to have married the Persian noblewoman Artakama on Alexander's orders. He later married Eurydice, daughter of the Macedonian regent Antipater; their sons Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager ruled in turn as kings of the kingdom their maternal grandfather had governed. Ptolemy's final marriage was to Eurydice's cousin and lady-in-waiting, Berenice I. Their son Ptolemy II, Ptolemy I's successor, ruled jointly with his sister-wife Arsinoe II, who had previously been married to their father's political enemy Lysimachus and their half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos.

Thaïs Greek hetaera

Thaïs was a famous Greek hetaera who accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaigns. She is most famous for instigating the burning of Persepolis. At the time, Thaïs was the lover of Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander's generals. It has been suggested that she may also have been Alexander's lover, on the basis of Athenaeus's statement that Alexander liked to "keep Thaïs with him", but this may simply mean he enjoyed her company. She is said to have been very witty and entertaining. Athenaeus also says that after Alexander's death Ptolemy married Thaïs, who bore three of his children.

Artakama was a Persian noblewoman and the second wife of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great and the first Pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.

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

Early life and career

Ptolemaic coin showing Alexander wearing an elephant scalp, a symbol of his conquest in India Tetradrachm Ptolemaeus I obverse CdM Paris FGM2157.jpg
Ptolemaic coin showing Alexander wearing an elephant scalp, a symbol of his conquest in India

A Macedonian, [2] Ptolemy was born in 367 BC. [3] Ptolemy's mother was Arsinoe. According to Satyrus the Peripatetic, Arsinoe was a descendant of Alexander I of Macedon and thus a member of the Argead dynasty, claiming ultimate descent from Heracles. Ostensibly, Ptolemy's father was Lagus, a Macedonian nobleman from Eordaea, but many ancient sources claim that he was actually an illegitimate son of Philip II of Macedon. If true, this would have made Ptolemy the half-brother of Alexander. It is probable that this is a later myth fabricated to glorify the Ptolemaic dynasty. [4]

Ancient Macedonians Ancient ethnic group from the northeastern part of mainland Greece

The Macedonians were an ancient tribe that lived on the alluvial plain around the rivers Haliacmon and lower Axios in the northeastern part of mainland Greece. Essentially an ancient Greek people, they gradually expanded from their homeland along the Haliacmon valley on the northern edge of the Greek world, absorbing or driving out neighbouring non-Greek tribes, primarily Thracian and Illyrian. They spoke Ancient Macedonian, a language closely related to Ancient Greek or a Doric Greek dialect, although the prestige language of the region was at first Attic and then Koine Greek. Their religious beliefs mirrored those of other Greeks, following the main deities of the Greek pantheon, although the Macedonians continued Archaic burial practices that had ceased in other parts of Greece after the 6th century BC. Aside from the monarchy, the core of Macedonian society was its nobility. Similar to the aristocracy of neighboring Thessaly, their wealth was largely built on herding horses and cattle.

Satyrus of Callatis was a distinguished peripatetic philosopher and historian, whose biographies (Lives) of famous people are frequently referred to by Diogenes Laërtius and Athenaeus. He came from Callatis Pontica, as we learn from a Herculaneum papyrus. He lived earlier than the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor when his Lives were epitomized by Heraclides Lembus, probably during the 3rd century BC. Athenaeus frequently refers to him as a Peripatetic, but his connection to the Peripatetic school is otherwise unknown. His biographies dealt with many eminent people including kings, statesmen (Alcibiades), orators (Demosthenes), poets, and philosophers. He also wrote on the population of Alexandria, and a work On Characters. Fragments of his biography of the Athenian dramatist Euripides were found at the end of a papyrus scroll discovered at Oxyrhynchus in the early twentieth century.

Alexander I of Macedon Vassal of Achaemenid Persia

Alexander I of Macedon, known with the title Philhellene was the ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon from c. 498 BC until his death in 454 BC. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Alcetas II.

Ptolemy served with Alexander from his first campaigns, and was among the seven somatophylakes (bodyguards) of Alexander. He played a principal part in the later campaigns in Afghanistan and India. [5] He participated in the Battle of Issus, commanding troops on the left wing under the authority of Parmenion. Later he accompanied Alexander during his journey to the Oracle in the Siwa Oasis where he was proclaimed a son of Zeus. [6] Ptolemy had his first independent command during the campaign against the rebel Bessus whom Ptolemy captured and handed over to Alexander for execution. [7]

Afghanistan A landlocked south-central Asian country

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country in Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and in the far northeast, China. Occupying 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi), it is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. Kabul is the capital and largest city. The population is 32 million, mostly composed of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.

India Country in South Asia

India, officially the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

Battle of Issus Battle between Alexander the Great and the Achaemenids

The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, on November 5, 333 BC between the Hellenic League led by Alexander the Great and the Achaemenid Empire, led by Darius III, in the second great battle of Alexander's conquest of Asia. The invading Macedonian troops defeated Persia. After the Hellenic League soundly defeated the Persian satraps of Asia Minor at the Battle of the Granicus, Darius took personal command of his army. He gathered reinforcements and led his men in a surprise march behind the Hellenic advance to cut their line of supply. This forced Alexander to countermarch, setting the stage for the battle near the mouth of the Pinarus River and the town of Issus.

Successor of Alexander

Ptolemy I British Museum.jpg
Tetradrachm of Ptolemy I, British Museum, London
Ptolemy I gold stater with elephant quadriga, Cyrenaica
Ptolemy I as Pharaoh of Egypt.jpg
Ptolemy I as Pharaoh of Egypt, British Museum, London

When Alexander died in 323 BC, Ptolemy is said to have instigated the settlement of the empire made at Babylon. Through the Partition of Babylon, he was appointed satrap of Egypt, under the nominal kings Philip III 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. [5]

Babylon Kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC

Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The name-giving capital city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BCE.

Partition of Babylon

The Partition of Babylon was the first of the conferences and ensuing agreements that divided the territories of Alexander the Great. It was held at Babylon in June 323 BC. Alexander’s death at the age of 32 had left an empire that stretched from Greece all the way to India. The issue of succession resulted from the claims of the various supporters of Philip Arrhidaeus, and the as-of-then unborn child of Alexander and Roxana, among others. The settlement saw Arrhidaeus and Alexander’s child designated as joint kings with Perdiccas serving as regent. The territories of the empire became satrapies divided between the senior officers of the Macedonian army and some local governors and rulers. The partition was solidified at the further agreements at Triparadisus and Persepolis over the following years and began the series of conflicts that comprise the Wars of the Diadochi.

Satrap Ruler of a province in ancient Persia

Satraps were the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as in the Sasanian Empire and the Hellenistic empires. The satrap served as viceroy to the king, though with considerable autonomy; and the word also came to suggest tyranny, or ostentatious splendour.

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. On his deathbed, Alexander the Great wished to be buried at the Temple of Zeus Ammon in the Siwa Oasis of ancient Libya instead of the royal tombs of Aigai in Macedon. [8] However, his successors including Perdiccas attempted to bury his body in Macedon instead. In late 322 or early 321 BC, the body of Alexander the Great was in Syria, on its way to Macedon, when it was captured by Ptolemy I Soter. He brought Alexander's remains back to Egypt, interring them at Memphis, but they were later moved to Alexandria where a tomb of Alexander the Great was constructed for them. [9] Shortly after this event, Ptolemy 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. [10]

Rivalry and wars

Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter Kingdom of Cassander Kingdom of Lysimachus Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator Epirus
Other:   Carthage Rome Greek colonies Diadochen1.png
  Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter  Kingdom of Cassander   Kingdom of Lysimachus   Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator    Epirus
Other:    Carthage    Rome    Greek colonies
Prise de Jerusalem.jpg
The taking of Jerusalem by Ptolemy Soter c. 320 BC, by Jean Fouquet
Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek - Ptolemaus I..jpg
Ptolemy I, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

In 321 BC, Perdiccas attempted to invade Egypt, only to fall at the hands of his own men. [11] Ptolemy's decision to defend the Nile against Perdiccas ended in fiasco for Perdiccas, with the loss of 2,000 men. This failure 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. [12] Ptolemy was consistent in his policy of securing a power base, while never succumbing to the temptation of risking all to succeed Alexander. [13]

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 expansionist 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. [5]

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 on the orders of Cassander, leaving the satrap of Egypt absolutely his own master. [5]

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. [5]

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. [14] However, he did send great assistance to Rhodes when it was besieged by Demetrius (305/304). The Rhodians granted divine honors to Ptolemy as a result of the lifting of the siege. [15]

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. [14]

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 involved himself 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. Cyrenaica, after a series of rebellions, was finally subjugated in about 300 and placed under his stepson Magas. [14]

Marriages, children, and succession

Ptolemy I and Berenike I.jpg
Ptolemy I and Berenice I
Ptolemy I or II, perhaps Terenuthis, Egypt, Early Ptolemaic Period, 323-246 BC - Royal Ontario Museum - DSC09764.JPG
Depiction of Ptolemy I or II, Royal Ontario Museum
Egyptian - Applique of Ptolemy I as Dionysus - Walters 54598 - Three Quarter.jpg
Ptolemy I depicted as Dionysus

While Alexander was alive, Ptolemy had three children with his mistress Thaïs, who may also have been his wife: Lagus; Leontiscus; and Eirene, who was given in marriage to Eunostos of Soloi in Cyprus. During the Susa weddings, Ptolemy married Persian noblewoman Artakama, as ordered by Alexander the Great. [16] Around 322 BC, he married Eurydice, daughter of Antipater, regent of Macedonia. They had five children before she was repudiated: three sons–Ptolemy Keraunos, king of Macedon from 281 BC to 279 BC; his brother and successor Meleager, who ruled for two months in 279 BC; and a 'rebel in Cyprus' who was put to death by his half-brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus–as well as the daughters Ptolemais, who married Demetrius I of Macedon, and Lysandra, first married to Alexander V of Macedon and after to Lysimachus' son Agathocles. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] Ptolemy married once more to Berenice, Eurydice's cousin, who had come to Egypt as Eurydice's lady-in-waiting with the children from her first marriage to Philip. Their children were Arsinoe II, Philotera, and Ptolemy II. Their eldest child Arsinoe married Lysimachus, then her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos, and finally her full brother Ptolemy II. [17] [22]

In 285, Ptolemy made his son by Berenice, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, his co-regent. His eldest legitimate son, Ptolemy Keraunos, fled to the court of Lysimachus. Ptolemy I died in January 282 aged 84 or 85. [3] Shrewd and cautious, he had a compact and well-ordered realm to show at the end of forty years of war. His reputation for good nature and liberality attached the floating soldier-class of Macedonians and other 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. [23] The Ptolemaic dynasty which he founded ruled Egypt for nearly three hundred years. It was a Hellenistic kingdom known for its capital Alexandria, which became a center of Greek culture. Ptolemaic rule ended with the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 BC. [24]

Lost history of Alexander's campaigns

Ptolemy himself wrote an eyewitness history of Alexander's campaigns (now lost). [25] In the second century AD, Ptolemy's history was used by Arrian of Nicomedia as one of his two main primary sources (alongside the history of Aristobulus of Cassandreia) for his own extant Anabasis of Alexander, and hence large parts of Ptolemy's history can be assumed to survive in paraphrase or précis in Arrian's work. [26] Arrian cites Ptolemy by name on only a few occasions, but it is likely that large stretches of Arrian's Anabasis reflect Ptolemy's version of events. Arrian once names Ptolemy as the author "whom I chiefly follow", [27] and in his Preface writes that Ptolemy seemed to him to be a particularly trustworthy source, "not only because he was present with Alexander on campaign, but also because he was himself a king, and hence lying would be more dishonourable for him than for anyone else". [28]

Ptolemy's lost history was long considered an objective work, distinguished by its straightforward honesty and sobriety, [14] but more recent work has called this assessment into question. R. M. Errington argued that Ptolemy's history was characterised by persistent bias and self-aggrandisement, and by systematic blackening of the reputation of Perdiccas, one of Ptolemy's chief dynastic rivals after Alexander's death. [29] For example, Arrian's account of the fall of Thebes in 335 BC (Anabasis 1.8.1–1.8.8, a rare section of narrative explicitly attributed to Ptolemy by Arrian) shows several significant variations from the parallel account preserved in Diodorus Siculus (17.11–12), most notably in attributing a distinctly unheroic role in proceedings to Perdiccas. More recently, J. Roisman has argued that the case for Ptolemy's blackening of Perdiccas and others has been much exaggerated. [30]


Ptolemy personally sponsored the great mathematician Euclid. He found Euclid's seminal work, the Elements , too difficult to study, so he asked if there were an easier way to master it. According to Proclus Euclid famously quipped: "Sire, there is no Royal Road to geometry." [31]


Ptolemy was portrayed by Anglo-American actor Anthony Hopkins in the Oliver Stone biopic Alexander (2004). As the framing device, Ptolemy is seen in old age dictating his history of Alexander, which is told in a series of flashbacks from Alexander's childhood to his death.[ citation needed ]

See also

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Ptolemy I Soter
Born: 367 BC  Died: 282 BC
Preceded by
Alexander IV
Pharaoh of Egypt
305/304–282 BC
Succeeded by
Ptolemy II Philadelphus