Ptolemy I Soter

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Ptolemy I Soter
British Museum Egypt 031.jpg
Ptolemy as Pharaoh of Egypt, British Museum, London
Born c. 367 BC
Died 282 BC (aged 84–85)
Alexandria, Egypt

With Thaïs (mistress):

  • Lagus
  • Leontiscus
  • Eirene

With Eurydice:

With Berenice I:

Relatives Menelaus (brother)

Ptolemy I Soter (/ˈtɒləmi/; Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, Ptolemaĩos Sōtḗr "Ptolemy the Savior"; c. 367 BC – 283/2 BC), also known as Ptolemy of Lagus (Πτολεμαῖος ὁ Λάγου/Λαγίδης), was a Macedonian Greek[1][2][3][4][5] general under Alexander the Great, one of the three Diadochi who succeeded to his empire. Ptolemy became ruler of Egypt (323–282 BC) and founded a dynasty which ruled it for the next three centuries, turning Egypt into a Hellenistic kingdom and Alexandria into a center of Greek culture. He assimilated some aspects of Egyptian culture, however, assuming the traditional title pharaoh in 305/4 BC. The use of the title of pharaoh was often situational: pharaoh was used for an Egyptian audience, and Basileus for a Greek audience, as exemplified by Egyptian coinage.

Ptolemy I was the son of Arsinoe of Macedon by either her husband Lagus or Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy was one of Alexander's most trusted generals, and was among the seven somatophylakes (bodyguards) attached to his person.[6] He was some years older than Alexander and had been his intimate friend since childhood.

Early life and career[edit]

Ptolemaic coin showing Alexander wearing an elephant scalp, a symbol of his conquest of India

Ptolemy I was born in 367 BC.[7] Like all Macedonian nobles, he claimed descent from Heracles, the mythical founder of the Argead dynasty that ruled Macedon. Ptolemy's mother was Arsinoe of Macedon, and, while his father is unknown, ancient sources variously describe him either as the son of Lagus, a Macedonian nobleman, or as an illegitimate son of Philip II of Macedon. The paternity of the latter, if true, would have made Ptolemy the half-brother of Alexander. It is possible that this is a later myth fabricated to glorify the Ptolemaic dynasty. However, the genealogical strands preserved in a number of accounts state Ptolemy is presented as having direct blood relationships with the Argead kings. Satyrus the Peripatetic traced the partrilinear descent of Arsinoe directly through Macedonian kings, back to Hercules.[8]

Ptolemy served with Alexander from his first campaigns, and played a principal part in the later campaigns in Afghanistan and India.[6] 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.[9] Ptolemy had his first independent command during the campaign against the rebel Bessus whom Ptolemy captured and handed over to Alexander for execution.[10]

Successor of Alexander[edit]

Tetradrachm of Ptolemy I, British Museum, London
Ptolemy I gold stater with elephant quadriga, Cyrenaica

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.[6]

  Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter
  Kingdom of Cassander
  Kingdom of Lysimachus
  Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator

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, placing it temporarily in Memphis, Egypt. Ptolemy then 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.[11]

Rivalry and wars[edit]

The taking of Jerusalem by Ptolemy Soter ca. 320 BC, by Jean Fouquet

In 321 BC, Perdiccas attempted to invade Egypt, only to fall at the hands of his own men.[12] 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.[13] Ptolemy was consistent in his policy of securing a power base, while never succumbing to the temptation of risking all to succeed Alexander.[14]

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.[6]

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.[6]

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.[6]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[15]

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. Cyrene, after a series of rebellions, was finally subjugated in about 300 and placed under his stepson Magas.[15]


In 289, Ptolemy made his son by BerenicePtolemy II Philadelphus—his co-regent. His eldest legitimate son, Ptolemy Keraunos, whose mother Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater, had been repudiated, fled to the court of Lysimachus. Ptolemy I died in 282 aged 84 or 85.[17] 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.[18]

Marriages and children[edit]

While still a general of Alexander, Ptolemy had three children with his mistress Thaïs, who may also have been his wife:[19]

  • Lagus
  • Leontiscus
  • Eirene, who was given in marriage to Eunostos of Soloi in Cyprus.[19]

During the Susa weddings, Ptolemy married Persian noblewoman Artakama, as ordered by Alexander the Great.[19] She was not mentioned in texts again.

Around 322 BC, he married Eurydice, daughter of Antipater, regent of Macedonia. They had at least four children[20] before she was repudiated:[21]

  • Ptolemy Keraunos, king of Macedon from 281 BC to 279 BC.
  • Meleager, who ruled as King of Macedon during 279 BC for two months.
  • A third son, whose name is unknown but who is referred to as 'rebel in Cyprus',[19] who was put to death by Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
  • Ptolemais, who married Demetrius I of Macedon[22]
  • Lysandra, first married to Alexander V and after to Lysimachus' son Agathocles.[21]
Ptolemy I and Berenice I

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. She had three children with Ptolemy:[20][23]

  • Arsinoe II, who married first Lysimachus, then her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos and finally her full brother Ptolemy II.
  • Philotera
  • Ptolemy II Philadelphus

Lost history of Alexander's campaigns[edit]

Ptolemy himself wrote an eyewitness history of Alexander's campaigns (now lost).[24] 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.[25] 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",[26] and in his Preface claims 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".[27]

Ptolemy's lost history was long considered an objective work, distinguished by its straightforward honesty and sobriety,[15] 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.[28] 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.[29]


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."[30]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, Prudence J. (2006). Cleopatra: A Sourcebook. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780806137414. They were members of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Macedonian Greeks, who ruled Egypt after the death of its conqueror, Alexander the Great. 
  2. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. (1990). Women in Hellenistic Egypt. Wayne State University Press. p. 16. ISBN 9780814322307. while Ptolemaic Egypt was a monarchy with a Greek ruling class. 
  3. ^ Redford, Donald B., ed. (2000). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195102345. Cleopatra VII was born to Ptolemy XII Auletes (80–57 BCE, ruled 55–51 BCE) and Cleopatra, both parents being Macedonian Greeks. 
  4. ^ Bard, Kathryn A., ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge. p. 488. ISBN 9781134665259. Ptolemaic kings were still crowned at Memphis and the city was popularly regarded as the Egyptian rival to Alexandria, founded by the Macedonian Greeks. 
  5. ^ Bard, Kathryn A., ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge. p. 687. ISBN 9781134665259. During the Ptolemaic period, when Egypt was governed by rulers of Greek descent... 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911, p. 616.
  7. ^ Ptolemy I at Livius.org
  8. ^ Carney, Elizabeth (2010). Philip II and Alexander The Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973815-1. 
  9. ^ Grimal, Nicolas (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell Books. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-631-19396-8. 
  10. ^ Arrian (1976). de Sélincourt, Aubrey, ed. Anabasis Alexandri (The Campaigns of Alexander). Penguin Books. III, 30. ISBN 0-14-044253-7. 
  11. ^ Green, Peter (1990). Alexander to Actium. University of California Press. pp 13-14. ISBN 9780520083493.
  12. ^ Anson, Edward M (Summer 1986). "Diodorus and the Date of Triparadeisus". The American Journal of Philology (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 107 (2): 208–217. doi:10.2307/294603. JSTOR 294603.
  13. ^ Peter Green p14
  14. ^ Peter Green pp 119
  15. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911, p. 617.
  16. ^ Siege of Rhodes at Livius.org
  17. ^ Ptolemy I at Livius.org
  18. ^ Phillips, Heather A., "The Great Library of Alexandria?". Library Philosophy and Practice, August 2010
  19. ^ a b c d Ogden, Daniel (1999). Polygamy Prostitutes and Death. The Hellenistic Dynasties. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. p. 150. ISBN 07156 29301. 
  20. ^ a b Clayman, Dee L. (2014). Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 9780195370881. 
  21. ^ a b Macurdy, Grace Harriet (1985). Hellenistic Queens (Reprint of 1932 ed.). Ares Publishers. ISBN 0-89005-542-4. 
  22. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, "Demetrius", 32, 46
  23. ^ Berenice I at Livius.org
  24. ^ Jacoby, Felix (1926). Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Teil 2, Zeitgeschichte. - B. Spezialgeschichten, Autobiographien und Memoiren, Zeittafeln [Nr. 106-261]. Berlin: Weidmann. pp. 752–769, no. 138, "Ptolemaios Lagu". OCLC 769308142. 
  25. ^ Bosworth, A. B. (1988). From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0198148631. 
  26. ^ Anabasis 6.2.4
  27. ^ Anabasis, Prologue
  28. ^ Errington, R. M. (1969-01-01). "Bias in Ptolemy's History of Alexander". The Classical Quarterly. 19 (2): 233–242. JSTOR 637545. 
  29. ^ Roisman, Joseph (1984-01-01). "Ptolemy and His Rivals in His History of Alexander". The Classical Quarterly. 34 (2): 373–385. JSTOR 638295. 
  30. ^ Robinson, Victor (2005). The Story of Medicine. Kessinger Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-4191-5431-7. 


  • Walter M. Ellis: Ptolemy of Egypt, London 1993.
  • Christian A. Caroli: Ptolemaios I. Soter - Herrscher zweier Kulturen, Konstanz 2007.
  • Waterfield, Robin (2011). Dividing the Spoils - The War for Alexander the Great's Empire (hardback). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 273 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-957392-9. 

External links[edit]

Ptolemy I Soter
Born: 367 BC Died: 283 BC
Preceded by
Alexander IV
Pharaoh of Egypt
305–283/2 BC
Succeeded by
Ptolemy II Philadelphus