Ptolemy II

Ptolemy II (308-246 B.C.) was a king of Egypt, the second and greatest of the Lagid dynasty of Macedonian kings who ruled Egypt between 323 and 30 B.C. He was later known by the epithet Philadelphus, "Brother-loving, " which he shared with his wife Arsinoë.

Ptolemy was born in Cos, the younger son of Ptolemy I by his favorite wife, Berenice. Small and slightly built and of delicate constitution, Ptolemy II succeeded his father, who abdicated in his favor in 285 B.C.; his elder brother, Ptolemy Ceraunus, was made king of Macedonia.

Consolidation of an Empire

Ptolemy inherited Palestine and resisted the attempts of Antiochus I, the Seleucid king of Syria, to wrest it from him. Ptolemy's ships controlled the eastern Mediterranean, and he was master of Cyprus, the Phoenician coast, and part of northern Syria, while his second marriage brought him possessions in the Aegean. A further Syrian war with Antiochus II ended with the marriage of the Seleucid king to Ptolemy's daughter Berenice Syra. After the defeat of Pyrrhus in 275 B.C., Ptolemy concluded a treaty with Rome to which he remained faithful during the Punic Wars.

Ptolemy II was an able administrator and a farseeing statesman. At home he had two main problems: to integrate the Greeks into the essentially alien environment of the ancient land of Egypt and to increase the kingdom's productivity and prosperity. Like his father, he took pains to make himself acceptable to the Egyptian priesthood. His marriage to his sister, which scandalized the Greeks, was in the pharaonic tradition. He founded a ruler cult, deifying members of the dynasty and instituting priesthoods in their honor.

Ptolemy encouraged learning and built the great library at Alexandria, making the city a brilliant center of art and learning; the city's lighthouse, the Pharos, became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In order to promote commerce, Ptolemy established a network of trading posts on the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and East Africa and redug the ancient canal joining the Nile to the Red Sea.

Ptolemy also undertook great schemes of land reclamation, especially in the Fayyum, where he planted Greek colonists in new towns. New methods of agriculture were introduced and the growing of vines and olives encouraged, and livestock was improved by the introduction of new breeds. Trade in many commodities became a royal monopoly, from which the Crown gained large revenues. The luxury and profligacy of his court were unparalleled in the world of his time.


Further Reading on Ptolemy II

There is no work devoted to Ptolemy II. The best study of the age in which he lived is M. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (3 vols., 1941). For Egypt under the Ptolemies see Edwyn Bevan, The House of Ptolemy (1927). A less detailed treatment is H. I. Bell, Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest (1948).