April 25, 2012

Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt Part 2/3

Ancient Ptolemaic Dynasty 305-30 BC Part 2
The Ptolemies were monarchs in the great outside world of Hellenistic rulers whilst in Egypt they continued the line of god-kings, paying lip service to the prominent priesthood that, with an excellent civil service, kept the country stable and prosperous. The Ptolemies, and also many of their queens, appeared on the coinage portrayed in fine Hellenistic royal style; at the same time, in Egypt, they appeared on temple reliefs with full pharaonic trappings, essentially in the old styles tempered by Mediterranean artistic influences of more rounded limbs and fleshier bodies. Generally, only the cartouches make it possible to identify them individually, so bland are the representations on the reliefs. Problems arise with some reliefs where the cartouches were left empty of a name, there being uncertainty as to who would be on the throne at completion.

Ptolemaic Dynasty
During Ptolemy I's reign were laid the beginnings of the many vast building projects of temples and towns that were to follow throughout the Ptolemaic dynasty. Chief amongst them was the Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria, actually completed in Ptolemy II's reign, that became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Library that became one of the great centres of learning. The finest extant temples in Egypt are all of the Ptolemaic period - Dendera, Edfu and Philae - and many of them, like European cathedrals, were added to and embellished by several rulers over a long period. Most of these temples seem to have been built exactly over the sites of earlier structures, which makes it extremely difficult to ascertain their previous building history.

In 285 Ptolemy I took as co-ruler one of his sons by Berenice, who became sole ruler as Ptolemy II Philadelphus on his father's death in 282. His was a successful reign which saw the expansion of Ptolemaic possessions around the Mediterranean and internal stability in Egypt.

Ptolemy III Euergetes had been brought up by his stepmother, Arsinoe II (see box), and succeeded to the throne at the age of 30. He married Berenice, the daughter of his half-uncle Magus, king of Cyrenaica. Shortly after taking the throne, Ptolemy was called to the support of his sister Berenice, wife of Antiochus II, in Syria. Court intrigues there by the king's first wife, Laodice, had led to his death by poisoning and, before Ptolemy could reach Antioch, the death of his sister Berenice and her son, his young nephew.

Ptolemy sacked Antioch in revenge for their deaths and then continued campaiging into Babylonia for the next five years, leaving his wife, Berenice, as head of state with a panel of advisors. When trouble erupted in Egypt he returned rapidly to put down the dissidents. Ptolemy III began building the great temple dedicated to Horus at Edfu in the tenth year of his reign (237) but the main structure was not finished until 231 BC, in the reign of his son. The temple was formally opened in 142 under Ptolemy VIII, although the reliefs on the great pylon had to wait until Ptolemy XII to be completed.

Like his father, Ptolemy III's reign of 25 years saw Egypt prosper and expand and he was succeeded by his eldest son, Ptolemy IV Philopator in 222 BC. Unlike his ancestors, this Ptolemy led a dissolute life, aided and abetted by Sosibius, an Alexandrian Greek who had ingratiated himself into high office and made sure that he was indispensable. Acting on a wild rumour that Sosibius may well have started, Ptolemy agreed to have his mother Berenice and his brother Magus respectively poisoned and scalded to death within a year of his accession. There was one military excursion during Ptolemy IV's reign when Antiochus III of Syria, led to believe that Egypt would be easy prey under its dissolute monarch, moved through Phoenicia taking Egyptian vassal cities. Fortunately for Ptolemy, Antiochus held back from the fortress city of Pelusium, which could not have withstood him, and agreed to a four- month truce that Ptolemy, with Sosibius' aid, used to recruit foreign mercenaries and train an Egyptian levy army. At the battle of Raphia in 21Ptolemy triumphed over Antiochus, but the Egyptian recruits had realized their own strength and there were revolts in the Delta.


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