Ptolemy I

Ptolemy I Soter (367/366-283 B.C.) was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, and biographer of Alexander.

Born in the upper Macedonian region of Eordaia to the Macedonian nobleman Lagos and Arsinoë, Ptolemy grew up in the royal court at Pella. In 343 B.C. he joined Alexander at Mieza and there studied for 3 years with Aristotle.

Ptolemy returned to Pella with Alexander by 340 B.C. and supported his younger friend's quarrel with his father, Philip, in 337 B.C. Alexander left Macedonia with his mother Olympias, Ptolemy, and his close friends for Epirus and Illyria but soon returned to Macedonia. Alexander remained estranged from Philip, who banished Ptolemy from the court because he considered him a dangerous adviser to his son.


Alexander's Adviser and General

In 336 B.C. when Philip was assassinated by a conspiracy of nobles, Ptolemy returned to the court and supported Alexander's claim to the feudal throne. Alexander, in turn, appointed him Companion, Life-guard, and Seneschal. Ptolemy accompanied Alexander on his campaigns to the Danube in 336 B.C. and to crush the Corinthian League's rebellion and to destroy perfidious Thebes in 335 B.C.

Ptolemy encouraged and aided Alexander's invasion of Asia Minor to liberate the eastern Greeks from the Persian Empire of Darius III and to invade Syria and conquer Persia. Ptolemy fought at Issos in 333 B.C. and, riding beside Alexander, pursued Darius into the hills; he accompanied Alexander through Phoenicia and in the siege of Tyre in 332 B.C. and marched through Jerusalem to Egypt.

In Egypt, Ptolemy aided Alexander's peaceful conquest of the country and the founding of Alexandria in the western delta, and probably accompanied his king to the temple of Zeus Ammon in Siwa. Ptolemy quickly realized the immense value of Egypt, its structure as a geographical entity, and he developed keen interests in the region.

From Egypt, Ptolemy accompanied Alexander to northern Mesopotamia and the third and final major conflict with Darius's armies, at Gaugamela in 331 B.C. During the next 6 years Ptolemy campaigned with Alexander through western India and along the Indus Valley. Ptolemy recognized Alexander's claim to the Persian throne and tiara without hesitation and revealed to Alexander the instigation of Callisthenes in the conspiracy of the royal pages to assassinate him. In India, Ptolemy fought beside Alexander and in one melée saved his king's life.

At Susa in 324 B.C., when Alexander bade his Companions marry Persians, Ptolemy dutifully married Artacama, the daughter of the Persian nobleman Artabazos. But after Alexander's death Ptolemy quickly divorced her.


Ruler of Egypt

With Alexander's death in Babylon on June 13, 323 B.C., Ptolemy's political and military ambitions were freed. He momentarily recognized the faulty co-rulership of Alexander's epileptic half brother Arrhidaeios and his posthumous son Alexander and immediately claimed Egypt as his satrapy. Ptolemy strongly opposed Perdikkas, to whom Alexander gave his signet ring and the regency of the empire.

Ptolemy brought Alexander's body for burial to Memphis, though Alexander had wished to be buried at Siwa. Ptolemy built an altar there for Alexander but retained the body at Memphis until a suitable mausoleum could be built in Ptolemy's new capital, Alexandria.

Perdikkas's regency rapidly fell to violent warfare among Ptolemy, Lysimachos who held Thrace, Antigonus the "One-Eyed" in Greater Phrygia, and Seleucus who desired Syria. Until 281 B.C. the "successors" fought bitterly. In 306 B.C. Antigonus assumed the title of king and claimed all of Alexander's empire. In opposition, Ptolemy declared Egypt's independence, proclaimed himself king of Egypt, and established a dynasty which lasted until Cleopatra's suicide in 30 B.C.

After Ptolemy I divorced Artacama, he married the Macedonian noblewoman Eurydice. Unhappy with this political alliance, Ptolemy put her aside and by 317 B.C. married his widowed half sister and mistress, a niece of Eurydice, the girl Berenice (I), almost 27 years his younger. Berenice gave birth to two children, Arsinoë (II) and Ptolemy (II).

In Upper Egypt, Ptolemy I founded the city Ptolemais. As satrap of Egypt, he clashed violently with Cleomenes of Naucrates, whom Alexander in 332 B.C. had appointed financial manager of Egypt and administrative chief of the eastern delta and had entrusted with the completion of Alexandria. Cleomenes, however, had assumed the satrapship, but Alexander had pardoned him. In 321 B.C. Ptolemy charged Cleomenes with embezzlement of funds and executed him, thereby removing a political rival.

Between 306 B.C. and 286 B.C. Ptolemy concentrated on the development of his empire. He gained control of Cyrene and conquered Palestine, coastal Syria, and Cyprus. In 286 B.C. he became protector of the southern Cycladic islands and their center at Delos. Throughout his empire he established the well-constructed Ptolemaic administration: he built the legal and military organizations and the military settlements, raised mercenary armies, and conscripted native levies.

Ptolemy wrote an excellent history of Alexander and his campaigns for which he utilized Alexander's daily Journal and other official materials. Arrian's Anabasis (2d century A.D.) preserves much of Ptolemy's study.

In 285 B.C. Ptolemy abdicated in favor of his 22-year-old son, Ptolemy II. Two years later Ptolemy I died and was deified by the young king in 279 B.C. and given the title Theos Soter, "God and Savior."


Further Reading on Ptolemy I

Edwyn Bevan, The House of Ptolemy (1927), remains the major study of Ptolemy I and Ptolemaic Egypt. Charles Alexander Robinson, Jr., The Ephemerides of Alexander's Expedition (1932), discusses in detail the Journal used in Ptolemy's biography of Alexander. A general view of the period is in W. W. Tarn and G. T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilisation (1927; 3d ed. 1963). See also J. P. Mahaffy, The Empire of the Ptolemies (1895).