Egypt History – The Ptolemaic Age Part III

By | January 3, 2022

An attempted rebellion by the Alexandrians, led by the exile Cleomenes, king of Sparta, won by Antigonus and welcomed as a guest in Egypt by Ptolemy III who had promised to put him back on the throne, attempt begun while the court was on a pleasure trip to Canopus, was soon suffocated in blood (219). The almost inevitable war with Syria seemed to be turning badly, so much so that after two defeats, Ptolemy Philopator (or rather his advisers Sosibius and Agatocles) induced to create a fighting corps of Egyptian soldiers alongside the Greek-Macedonian army. about 20,000 men. He himself placed himself at the head of the army leading the left wing, seconded by his sister Arsinoe III who proved to be faithful and heroic inciting the soldiers on the battlefield in Rafia (June 22). The victory was splendid and decisive. But the Egyptian troops took the greatest credit for it and this helped to strengthen the nationalism of the indigenous people to an ever greater extent. If already under Ptolemy III a serious revolt had broken out in Upper Egypt, in 216 the rebellions began to become more and more frequent and more serious, and the more the government of Ptolemy IV showed itself weak and made concessions, the more demanding were made the Egyptians, who gradually forced the dynasty to assume an increasingly Egyptian character, to admit a growing number of indigenous people to offices and honors and to make the exploitation of the country’s wealth less exclusive, for the benefit of the foreign occupiers. The gravity of this situation for the future of the dynasty did not worry too much the crowned esthete, vain of theatrical and literary successes, worshiper of Homer, builder of pleasure boats as sumptuous as floating palaces (the famous ϑαλαμηγόν) and above all a fanatic of the Dionysian cult. This fanaticism pushed him to favor orgiastic rites, however, did not induce him to neglect the indigenous religion, since he erected many sanctuaries, striving to develop and strengthen dynastic worship. Perhaps this happened in the short period in which his sister Arsinoe, who became queen, kept him under her, albeit too ephemeral, influence. Very soon he fell under the rule of intriguing and unscrupulous courtesans. In 204-203 Philopator died leaving the throne to his son Ptolemy V Epiphanes, and the camarilla that had dominated it tried to continue to dominate, suppressing Queen Arsinoe, but it did not take long to be swept away by a rebellion of the Alexandrians (202).

According to, the new ruler Tlepolemus turned out not to be much better than those who preceded him. Around this time, relations with Rome, victorious over Hannibal, became more intimate, and an embassy led by M. Emilio Lepido arrived in Alexandria almost assuming the tutelage of the king. During the minor age of the heir son the natives aroused more and more frequent and threatening troubles, while the Hellenic element was losing consciousness of its own strength and therefore the state appeared less and less peculiarly Greek. Only in the eighth year of the reign of Ptolemy Epifane was it possible to tame the revolt of Licopoli, in the name Busirite, the main center of the rioters who had organized themselves under indigenous dynasts; nor was the nationalist movement wholly eradicated thereby. Even more decisive were the successes of the rioters in Upper Egypt, where there are traces of two pharaohs who between 207-06 and 186 would have reigned in the Thebaid. To obviate the serious dangers, a high military command was created for this part of the kingdom (epistrategy) and the concession of dignity and court titles was also extended to Greek-Macedonian officials who did not serve at the court, but at the same time the king, who came of age., made or allowed himself to be crowned in Menfi (March 27, 196) with the forms of the Egyptian rite and proclaimed a general amnesty. The famous Rosetta stone certainly documents the gratitude of the Egyptian priesthood, but above all it shows how weakened the politics of the dynasty and the already prevailing position of the Greeks were by now. Ptolemy V assumed the character of a national pharaoh. NS’ he had to fight against external enemies and had to endure a disastrous war with Syria for a long time. This ended with an alliance between the two courts; the king of Egypt married the daughter of Antiochus the Great, Cleopatra I. The Lagidi’s claim that Cleopatra brought the much disputed province, Celesiria (winter 193-92), where she undoubtedly continued the administration of the Seleucids; perhaps Antiochus had only promised to surrender part of the taxes he derived from it. Despite such serious difficulties, Ptolemy Epiphanes did not lose sight of the interests that linked Egypt to the Mediterranean and tried to forge ties with the Achaeans. This policy did not have time to bear fruit. In 181 the king suddenly died,

Egypt History - The Ptolemaic Age 3