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Ptolemy I Soter , founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty

Ptolemies ( ancient Greek Πτολεμαῖοι Ptolemaíoi ) are the members of the Macedonian - Greek dynasty , which from the early Hellenism to the conquest by the Roman Empire over Egypt for almost 300 years and for a longer time over neighboring possessions such as Cyrene , Syria , Cyprus , Sinai and im Aegean region prevailed. They got their name after the founder of the dynasty, King Ptolemy I (which is why the more precise spelling is Ptolemy). Based on his father Lagos , they are also called Lagiden ( Λαγίδαι Lagídai ). In a division of the history of Egypt they belong to the epoch of the Greco-Roman times .



The Macedonian phase of Egypt begins with the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. BC, who ended the rule of the Persians in Egypt. After his death in 323 BC The future of the Macedonian-Persian empire he had created was uncertain. Some factions spoke out for its united future under a governor as guardian for the underage heirs, others advocated a division of the empire into satrapies under the administration of his generals. "The decisive impetus for the disputes of the following years, the Diadoch Wars , was provided by the tension between the idea of ​​maintaining the centrally ruled empire and the efforts of some Diadochi to govern their own area completely independently and possibly expand territorially." The Diadoch Wars, however, can be can also be interpreted as a civil war over the succession of Alexander, in which ultimately none of the pretenders succeeded in bringing the entire empire under their control, which instead led to the establishment of the Hellenistic world of states, which also included the Ptolemaic empire.

The Hellenistic world of states as heir to the Alexander Empire after the end of the Diadoch Wars.

The aristocrat Ptolemy I , son of Lagos , one of Alexander's generals, took over Egypt in 323 BC. BC as a satrapy and skillfully exploited this power base during the ensuing turmoil. The Greek Cleomenes of Naukratis , whom Alexander had appointed as trustee, was eliminated by Ptolemy in 322. When Perdiccas attacked Egypt in 321, Ptolemy was able to defend himself successfully. In 306 BC He then, like most of his rivals, assumed the title of a basileus , which on the one hand strengthened his claim to independence and, in the opinion of some researchers, indicated a factual departure from the idea of ​​the great empire; while other scholars, on the contrary, interpret the assumption of the royal title as an expression of a claim to the successor to Alexander. Whether Ptolemy had serious ambitions to succeed Alexander is in any case unclear and controversial. At least his successful campaign for the hand of Cleopatra of Macedonia , the full sister of Alexander the great and of the surviving descendants of the Macedonian royal family, the one with the greatest legitimate claim. The wedding was prevented by Antigonos Monophthalmos , who saw his power in danger. Cleopatra was murdered on his orders.

Ptolemy did not take part in the decisive battle of Ipsos (301 BC), in which Antigonus fell; but he used the favorable opportunity to occupy strategically and economically important positions in Syria and the Aegean region, which led to decades of conflicts with the Seleucids and (to a lesser extent) Antigonids . In the period that followed, Egypt established itself as one of the most important and influential diadochin empires , which was not least due to the favorable location and the enormous wealth of the Nile . The following 14 rulers all bore the name Ptolemy, followed by a Greek epithet (which did not replace any of the well-known Pharaonic names, but served as an addition to differentiate the kings from one another). In the following years marriage alliances were made with the other diadochs and epigones ; the sibling marriage of Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II was initially a scandalous exception; only later did this become common.

High phase

The Ptolemies made Alexandria a center of culture and progress. Alexandria was the best medical school and had an extensive library . Philosophers , poets and, above all, scientists were promoted at the king's court . The first four Ptolemies pursued a very active policy throughout the eastern Mediterranean and not only tried to defend the rich possessions in the Levant , but also had important bases in the Aegean region. Egypt therefore often waged wars with the other Diadochian empires, because the kings continued to raise claims on other parts of the former Alexander empire and were by no means limited to the Nile land. The possessions in Cyrenaica , Syria, Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea were therefore an integral part of the empire. Ptolemy II tried in vain in the Chremonideic War to bring Greece under his control, and his son Ptolemy III. called himself " Great King " and led his army against the Seleucid Empire as far as Mesopotamia . However, his troops were lost by the revolt of 243 BC. BC, in which famine played a role, forced to retreat. A team of climatologists and volcanologists attributes the apparently increasing crop failures of the Ptolemaic period to the absence of the Nile flood as a result of the spread of aerosols in the atmosphere after volcanic eruptions.

The Alexandrian people rebelled against the rule several times (once for the murder of a Ptolemaic princess who had been popular with the people), something that would have been unthinkable under the Egyptian pharaohs . As far as is known, the people never rose up against a Pharaoh; this is a point where one can see differences from Egyptian rule. However, the city of Alexandria had a high Macedonian-Greek population, which was known for its belligerence, so a distinction must be made between revolts by the Greeks in the big cities and rebellions by the long-established Egyptian population in the countryside. These had the lowest level in the population dominated by Macedonians and Greeks and, according to the sources, were often treated badly, but made it into administrative offices with a command of the official languages Greek or Demotic . Later they were also served in the army. Many of them had both a Greek or Macedonian and an Egyptian name; but the lands to be awarded in return for military services became smaller and smaller over time and were z. Some of them were deserted, so that discontent also grew among the peasant soldiers who were obliged to do military service.

The Roman Empire and Egypt at the time of Cleopatra
  • Octavian's sphere of influence
  • Antony's sphere of influence
  • Provinces of Lepidus
  • Sea kingdom of Sextus Pompey
  • Vassal states
  • Kingdom of Egypt (Cleopatra)
  • Parthian Empire
  • Late phase

    In the Cleomenes War failed around 222 BC. A last attempt by the Ptolemies to establish hegemony over southern Greece. Soon afterwards the conflict with the Seleucids came to the fore again: In the victorious battle of Raphia in 217 BC. In addition to the Macedonian, Greek, Celtic and Jewish mercenaries, Egyptians were used for the first time. However, according to Polybios , the military training later proved to be a boomerang, as the Egyptians had used their knowledge to rebel against the Macedonian supremacy. This claim is doubted in recent research; What is certain, however, is that revolts broke out in Egypt, probably for economic reasons. Since Ptolemy V there have been more and more throne disputes, and in the 2nd century the empire lost most of its external possessions in Syria and the Aegean region. 168 BC BC they succumbed to the Seleucids, and only a Roman intervention prevented Antiochus IV from annexing the Ptolemaic Empire. The defeats exacerbated economic problems. Around the middle of the 2nd century BC The discontent grew. 165/64 and 132/31 BC There were serious revolts. Ptolemy VIII is said to have been under such pressure domestically that he is said to have determined in his will that in the event of his violent death his empire should fall to the Romans. Rural exodus and a reduction in cultivation areas led to a decline in tax revenue. Increasing inflation and inflation led to growing dissatisfaction. Towards the end of the 2nd century BC The system of the royal economy, as it was created by the first Ptolemies, apparently largely collapsed.

    Michael Rostovtzeff saw the main reasons for the decline of the Ptolemaic Empire since the 2nd century neither in the inability of the late rulers of the dynasty nor in the influence of the Roman Empire, but above all in the contradiction between the economic pressure on the working lower (non-Hellenized ) Classes that were used by the government mainly as a source of income and the privileges of an upper class, which consisted largely of foreigners. According to him, this antinomy found its expression in the "coexistence of two forms of economic life [...] one of which was based on a certain measure of freedom and initiative, while the other was determined from above and subjected to extensive state control" - through a rigid bureaucratic system that became increasingly repressive and led to the depopulation of the villages and the increase in the uncultivated wasteland, which in turn led to an increase in the tax burden due to the lack of money of the rulers, who were of course still incredibly rich. It should be noted, however, that current research is increasingly refraining from understanding the later Ptolemaic period as a pure period of decline .

    The number of inhabitants of Egypt from the beginning to the end of the Ptolemaic epoch is estimated at 7 to 7.5 million; the population of Alexandria of over 300,000 is not included.

    Around 80 BC Like the other Hellenistic monarchies, Egypt had largely lost its independence and was in fact under the hegemony of the Roman Empire , whose grain supply was increasingly based on Egypt. After the end of the Seleucids in 63 BC Finally only Egypt remained as a de iure independent power next to Rome as the last of the Diadochian kingdoms . Ultimately, the Ptolemaic rulers were in debt to the Romans. Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysus only succeeded in keeping his will and having his daughter Cleopatra VII crowned because the Romans undertook to enforce it. The end of the dynasty, the fighting between Cleopatra and the advisors (especially Potheinos and Achillas ) of her underage brother Ptolemy XIII. and her younger sister Arsinoë IV. , were largely determined by the Romans and decided by Julius Caesar for Cleopatra. Through her relationship with her second famous lover, the triumvir Marcus Antonius , Cleopatra once again led the Ptolemaic empire to the center of ancient world politics. With the donations of Alexandria made by Antonius, the Egyptian empire might even have risen again. But 31 BC They were both defeated by the later Emperor Augustus in the Battle of Actium and committed suicide the following year. From 30 BC BC Egypt was first ruled as a Roman protectorate ; under Augustus it was integrated into the Roman Empire and placed under a praefectus Aegypti . The epoch of Hellenism is generally allowed to end with the fall of the empire .


    Law and administration

    The first Ptolemies were excellent organizers and reorganized the administration of the war-stricken country. The port city of Alexandria became their residence , a tribute to Alexander the Great , who established the Macedonian-Greek rule over Egypt. Apart from the granting of polis rights to three cities (Alexandria, Naukratis , Ptolemais ), nothing was changed in the Egyptian federal system: the division into districts was still in place. The strategos in command of the Gau was a military commander. The centrally organized economic administration followed the model and example of the pharaonic bureaucracy, with which the entire economy was directed and controlled. This applied equally to agriculture and trade, because monopolies were created and the right to award concessions was the sole responsibility of the central management. The dioiketes stood as the chief civil servant behind the king, who was venerated as a god . Unless the king exercised criminal jurisdiction, this was also incumbent on the dioiketes . Legal research mainly assumes that the land belonged to the king.

    The official language was Greek, and the Greeks and Macedonians also got the better posts; almost everywhere they were preferred to the few Greek-speaking Egyptians. Disparity also existed in the civil justice system. According to Egyptian law, Egyptian priests judged the indigenous population in a Lao-critical manner , whereas Greeks were subject to their own jurisdiction . If locals quarreled with Greeks, the Koinodikion , the community court, was responsible. The Chrematists were the royal special courts . Originally with royal reservations, they increasingly supplanted the other types of dishes.

    In the parts of the empire outside of Egypt, the Ptolemies' policy was more similar to that of the other Diadochi and relied on local elites. However, earlier than the Seleucids , they seem to have demanded the introduction of a dynasty cult from the Greek Poleis in their sphere of influence (especially in Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands).



    The port city with its typical Hellenistic grid pattern was the first large building of the Ptolemies. The artificial harbor with the Pharos of Alexandria was the most important in the eastern Mediterranean.


    The Ptolemies built important sanctuaries, including in

    In addition, they restored and expanded existing sanctuaries and set up smaller places for their own royal cult in Alexandria.


    List of Ptolemaic rulers

    Ptolemaios is the Greek name, Ptolemy the Latinized and Ptolemy the Germanized form. All Ptolemies ruled before the turn of the ages.

    The years in brackets are government dates. The Ptolemaic kings later often ruled together with their wives, who were sometimes also their sisters. Some queens had royal powers, the most famous of which was Cleopatra VII (51 BC – 30 BC), one after the other with her two brothers and her son as co-rulers.


    Ptolemy I
    Kg. 305-283 BC Chr.
    Berenike I.
    Ptolemy Keraunus
    Arsinoë II.
    Ptolemy II.
    Kg. 283–246 BC Chr.
    Arsinoë I.
    Ptolemy III
    Kg. 246–221 BC Chr.
    Berenike II.
    Ptolemy IV.
    Kg. 221–205 BC Chr.
    Arsinoë III.
    Cleopatra I.
    Ptolemy V
    Kg. 205-180 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy VI
    Kg. 180-145 BC Chr.
    Cleopatra II.
    Kg. 170-116 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy VII
    never ruled
    Cleopatra III.
    Kg. 141-101 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy VIII.
    Kg. 170-116 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy Apion
    King of Cyrene
    Cleopatra IV.
    Ptolemy IX
    Kg. 116-107 and 88-81 BC Chr.
    Cleopatra V.
    Ptolemy X.
    Kg. 107-88 BC Chr.
    Cleopatra VI.
    Kg. 58-57 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy XII
    Kg. 80–58 and 55–51 BC Chr.
    King of Cyprus
    Berenike III.
    Kg. 81–80 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy XI.
    Kg. 80 BC Chr.
    Berenike IV.
    Kg. 58–55 BC Chr.
    Gaius Iulius Caesar
    Cleopatra VII.
    Kg. 51–30 BC Chr.
    Mark Antony
    Arsinoë IV.
    Ptolemy XIII
    Kg. 51-47 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy XIV.
    Kg. 47-44 BC Chr.
    Ptolemy XV
    Kg. 44-30 BC Chr.
    Cleopatra Selene
    Juba II.
    King of Mauritania
    Alexander Helios
    Ptolemy Philadelphus

    See also


    Overall representations


    • Edmond Van't Dack: Ptolemaica selecta. Études sur l'armée et l'administration lagides (= Studia hellenistica. Volume 29). Lion 1988.
    • Christelle Fischer-Bovet: Army and society in Ptolemaic Egypt (= Armies of the ancient world. ) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [u. a.] 2014, ISBN 978-1-139-03523-1 .
    • Jean Lesquier: Les institutions militaires de l'Egypte sous les Lagides. Paris 1911.
    • Sandra Scheuble-Reiter: The Katökenreiter in Ptolemaic Egypt (= Vestigia. Volume 64). Munich 2012.
    • Nick Seconda: Hellenistic infantry reform in the 160's BC (= Studies on the history of ancient and medieval art of warfare. Volume 5). Łódź 2001.
    • Fritz Uebel: The clergy of Egypt among the first six Ptolemies (= treatises of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin, class for languages, literature and art. Born in 1968, No. 3). Berlin 1968.

    Web links

    Commons : Ptolemies  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files

    Individual evidence

    1. Günther Hölbl : History of the Ptolemaic Empire. Darmstadt 1994, p. 14.
    2. ^ Joseph G. Manning , Francis Ludlow, Alexander R. Stine et al .: Volcanic suppression of Nile summer flooding triggers revolt and constrains interstate conflict in ancient Egypt. In: Nature Communications. Volume 8, 2017 ( online )
    3. Stefan Pfeiffer: The Ptolemies. Stuttgart 2017, p. 112 ff.
    4. According to a Greek inscription that allegedly reproduces the will of the king, Ptolemy is said to have appointed Rome as heir, at least in Cyrenaica, if he should die childless, which is otherwise not mentioned by any written source; see SEG 9.7. It has long been disputed whether this will is possibly a later forgery that was intended to justify the annexation of Cyrenaica by Rome in the 1st century. L. Criscuolo argues against authenticity: I due testamenti di Tolomeo VIII Evergete II . In: A. Jördens, JF Quack (ed.): Egypt between internal strife and external pressure. The time of Ptolemy VI. to VIII. International Symposium Heidelberg 16.-19. 9. 2007 , Wiesbaden 2011, pp. 123-150.
    5. Michael Rostovtzeff : Social and economic history of the Hellenistic world. Volume 2. Darmstadt 1998, pp. 565-580; 690 ff.
    6. Michael Rostovtzeff: Social and economic history of the Hellenistic world. Volume 2. Darmstadt 1998, p. 720.
    7. Christelle Fischer-Bovet: A challenge to the concept of decline for understanding Hellenistic Egypt. From Polybius to the twenty-first century. In: Topoi. Volume 20, 2015, pp. 209 ff.
    8. Michael Rostovtzeff: Social and economic history of the Hellenistic world. Volume 2. Darmstadt 1998, p. 908.
    9. Uwe Wesel : History of the law. From the early forms to the present . 3rd revised and expanded edition, Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-47543-4 . Paragraph 160.
    10. a b Uwe Wesel: History of the law. From the early forms to the present . 3rd revised and expanded edition, Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-47543-4 . Paragraph 161.
    11. So Uwe Wesel with reference to Wolfgang Kunkel , Ulrich Wilcken , Friedrich Preisigke , Johannes Herrmann (paragraph 163).
    12. ^ Franz Kugler : History of Architecture: First Volume. Reprint of the original from 1856, Nicosia 2017, p. 59 ff.