THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE
The Hellenists: Macedonian Kings
Alexander the Great occupied Syria and, after a long and successful siege of the Phoenician town Tyre, entered Egypt in 332 BCE, where he was accepted as pharaoh. He visited the famous Libyan oracle of Amen at the Siwa Oasis. The oracle declared him to be Amen’s son (two Greek oracles had confirmed him as son of Zeus, the Greek counterpart of Amen) . He may have been crowned at Memphis. Alexander reorganized Egypt, founded Alexandria in the western Delta (331), and left the country in the hands of Balacrus and Peucestas, who were well disposed and respectful towards the Egyptian religious institutions. Cleomenes was appointed satrap and headed the civil administration. In 331 Alexander crossed the Eastern Desert, the Euphrates and Tigris rivers into Persia. He died in 323 and, as son of Amen, was portrayed by the Egyptians with the god’s horns. He died in 323 BCE.
Alexander’s brother was raised to the throne by the army in 323. He was killed by Olympias in 317. Alexander’s son by the Persian Roxanne, Alexander Aegus reigned nominally from 317 to 311 BCE. He was only about thirteen years old, when he was murdered by Cassander who later became king of Macedonia.
The Ptolemaic Dynasty
Ptolemy I, (ruled 323-284 BCE), created the political and military foundations of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt (305-30 BCE). With the death of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, one of the leading Macedonian generals, became satrap of Egypt and served under Philip Arrhidaeus and the infant Alexander IV (murdered in 311 BCE). Another of Alexander’s generals, Perdiccas, challenged his rule in 321, but was defeated and fed to the crocodiles. In 318 Ptolemy conquered Coele-Syria which included Judea, but lost it in the year 314 to Antigonus who was in control of the Asian territories. In 311 Ptolemy erected the Satrap stela
I, Ptolemy the satrap, I restore to Horus, the avenger of his father, the lord of Pe and Buto, the lady of Pe and Dep, the land of Patanut, from this day and for ever, with all its villages, all its towns, all its inhabitants, all its fields.
In 305 he declared himself king and thus confirmed his independence from the Macedonian royal house. Three years later he abrogated a treaty in which he had ceded Syria to Antigonus and retook that country. The region remained in dispute and was fought over for generations to come. Ptolemy extended his own might by strengthening Egypt’s political and economic power. Much of the traditional Egyptian sphere of influence, Cyrene in Africa, Phoenicia and Palestine in Asia and Cyprus were more or less firmly in his control. Trade with the Mediterranean, East Africa, Arabia and India was developed to his great advantage.
Despite the prosperity they enjoyed, his Egyptian subjects were restless, as Ptolemy relied heavily on Hellenes in governing the country and officering the army, paying them out of a royal treasury filled through taxes and monopolies and settling them on retirement all over Egypt. Under the Ptolemies Egypt moved from an economy which was largely based on barter to a system where money – exclusively coined by the pharaonic administration – played an important role. The banks which developed were partially under government control. Ptolemy was worshipped as pharaohs had traditionally been, and he was careful to foster the worship of the ancient gods and of Graecized Egyptian gods like Serapis. He made Alexandria his capital and founded his great library and museum there. He abdicated in favour of his son Ptolemy in 284 BCE after a co-regency of three years.
Ptolemy II Ptolemy II Philadelphus, (reigned 284-246 BCE), married to his full sister, Asinoe II, and sharing power with her, continued the reorganisation of Egypt, basing his decisions on facts gathered during extensive censuses. A unified administration over the whole country was introduced, with special importance given to financial and economic matters. The bureaucracy was hierarchical down to village level, but the various branches of administration were not strictly separate. Both Greeks and Egyptians were employed, but the top posts were regularly given to Greeks or Hellenized Egyptians. Philadelphus invested great efforts in the improvement of agriculture by introducing new crops, most importantly a new kind of naked wheat, and advancing irrigation in previously marginal areas such as the Fayum around Lake Moeris. He re-excavated the canal connecting the Nile and the Red Sea, which was to enhance the status of Egypt in East Africa and Arabia and added to the country’s prosperity. He held on to most of the territories conquered by his father, though his control was tenuous at times. Nubia came under his partial domination and the Arabian peninsula was part of his sphere of influence. He sought diplomatic relations with Rome. His was succeeded by his son, Ptolemy III Euergetes.
Ptolemy III, (280-221 BCE, reigned 246-221) acquired Cyrene by marriage and campaigned successfully against the Seleucids, following the murder of his sister Berenice, who had been married to Antiochus II . Some of the territories conquered during this campaign were later lost. He captured statues of Egyptian deities taken by the Persians and returned them to Egypt. He was a strong supporter of the temples, rebuilding the Horus temple at Edfu and bestowing benefices on the temples in his Canopus decree (238 BCE). He reformed the calendar adding a leap day every fourth year. After a prosperous reign he was succeeded by his son Ptolemy IV.
Ptolemy IV Philopater, (c.244-205 BCE, reigned 221-205), fought against the Seleucids and won a major victory over them at Rafiah near Gaza. His army consisted both of Greeks and Macedonians and native Egyptian soldiers. Philopater’s reign was a period of unrest: the Egyptians revolted occasionally and the Greeks intrigued continually. Weak, corrupt and easily influenced, Ptolemy had his mother and relatives killed at the urging of his Alexandrian Greek courtiers. The events leading to his own death and his successor’s rise to power are unclear, but the courtiers seem to have played a major role.
Ptolemy V Epiphanes, c.210-180 BCE was only a child when he succeeded (205 BCE) his father, Ptolemy IV. His reign was threatened by revolts in the southern part of the kingdom, with native Egyptians becoming aware of their own power after the defeat of the Ptolemies at Rafiah. These uprisings seriously undermined his power and by 196, the year of his crowning at Memphis, most of the Ptolemaic possessions outside Egypt had been lost. The Rosetta Stone records the attempts of Epiphanes to pacify his subjects by according the temples many new privileges.
During the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 180-145) the Seleucid Antiochus IV conquered Egypt in 170, was crowned at Memphis two years later and left the country in the hands of a Syrian governor. But a Roman ambassador, Popillus Laenas, arrived at Antioch and ordered the Seleucid to withdraw from Egypt. Rome also intervened when Philometor was challenged by his brother Euergetes, who was made king of Cyrene (163 BCE), thus practically banishing him from Egypt, until his brother’s death.
Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Physcon, (c.182-116 BC reigned 145-116) had his nephew Ptolemy VII assassinated (145) and shared power with his sister Cleopatra II and her daughter Cleopatra III. He continued the traditional Ptolemaic policy towards the priesthood by showering the temples with gifts. The Greeks saw him as a tyrant and much of his reign was marked by a strife for power, against Cleopatra II from 131 to 130 BCE and against the Greek Alexandrians and others until 118 BCE. This did not prevent him from pursuing an interventionist policy in Syria and holding on to Cyprus and Cyrene with the blessing of Rome.
Rome’s influence was felt everywhere in the Mediterranean region and the dependence of the Ptolemies on Rome grew ever stronger. Ptolemy IX Apion was the son of Ptolemy VII. He sacked Thebes during the revolt of 88 to 85 BCE and bequeathed Cyrene to Rome.
Ptolemy XII Auletes, (c.112-51 BCE, r.80-51) was the illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX (r. 107-88 BC). He was recognized by Rome in 59 BCE, possibly thanks to the bribes payed to Roman politicians over the years. In 58 he fled to Rome and was restored to power three years later by an army led by Gabinius bought with further bribes.
Cleopatra VII Cleopatra VII, daughter of Ptolemy XII (r.51-30) ruled jointly with her younger brother Ptolemy XIII for three years, when they had a falling out which developed into a civil war. The Roman general Pompey, pursued by Julius Caesar, came to Egypt in 48 BCE and was murdered by Ptolemy’s courtiers. Caesar sided with Cleopatra, whose lover he became and defeated Ptolemy. He left Egypt for Rome, where Cleopatra followed him with their son Caesarion. After Caesar’s murder in 44 she returned to Egypt, had her husband Ptolemy XIV murdered and tried to keep neutral in the Roman civil war.
In the end she had to take sides. In 41 BCE she met Mark Antony at Tarsus and became his mistress. He followed her to Egypt and married her, divorcing Octavian’s sister in the process. In 34 Caesarion became co-ruler in an attempt to gain popularity, while Octavian’s propaganda described them as rowdy and decadent pleasure seekers. At the sea battle of Actium the Egyptian navy was decisively defeated and Antony and Cleopatra fled to Alexandria. Almost a year later, Octavian conquered Alexandria, Mark Antony committed suicide and Cleopatra, when she failed to come to an agreement with the Romans, did likewise (30 BCE). Her son, Caesarion (Ptolemy XV), was murdered, and Egypt became an exploited, though mostly prosperous Roman province
REFERENCE: Various Sources; Compiled
CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan