CODEX Entry 5114: Ptolemy


Like Alexander’s mother, Olympias, Ptolemy’s mother, Arsinoe, was from the Argead dynasty, claiming ultimate descent from Heracles. Ptolemy served with Alexander from the beginning, as companion and historian, and was one of his seven bodyguards, or senior generals. He accompanied Alexander to the Oracle in the Siwa Oasis where he was proclaimed a son of Zeus.

Ptolemy lived to the ripe old age of 85, successfully navigating the dizzying swirl of poisonings and civil wars of his fellow generals that preceded and followed Alexander’s death. He took great pains in acquiring the body of Alexander the Great as, on his deathbed, Alexander had expressed the wish to be buried at the Temple of Zeus Ammon, in the Siwa Oasis of ancient Libya, instead of the royal tombs in Macedon. However, Alexander’s other generals, and family, attempted to bury his body in Macedon instead to garner the prestige and legitimacy of their title claims. As the body was passing through Ugarit, Syria, on its way to Macedon, it was captured. Ptolemy brought Alexander’s remains back to Egypt.

In the chaos after Alexander’s poisoning, his wife Roxana was pregnant. Alexander’s generals split into rival camps, some supporting Philip III, Alexander the Great’s mentally disabled older half brother, and others Roxana’s unborn child. General Perdiccas initially ruled the Empire from Macedon, as regent, but, unwisely, attempted to enforce his rule on Ptolemy in Egypt. Ptolemy thus formed an alliance with Generals Antipater and Craterus to overthrow him. After a failed invasion against Ptolemy’s forces in Egypt, Perdiccas was assassinated by his officer’s, and the army defected to Ptolemy. Back in Macedon, General Antipater was now regent, agreeing to Egyptian autonomy. But Antipater died suspiciously the next year and General Polyperchon, with support from Alexander’s mother Olympias, now took charge. With Egypt again in their sights, Ptolemy now bankrolled Antipater’s son, Cassander. When Olympias took the field, Cassander’s army refused to fight against the mother of Alexander, and so defected. Alexander IV, just twelve years of age, was now declared king, with Olympias, his grandmother as his regent. But Ptolemy was not to be deterred, funding Cassander’s return, Cassander conquered Macedon, executed Olympias, and ordered the poisoning of Alexander IV and his mother. Ptolemy also sponsored General Lysimachus and General Seleucus’ invasion of Asia Minor. General Lysimachus later became king of Macedon, and after another slew of family killings, he was briefly replaced by Ptolemy’s son Ptolemy Ceraunus.

Throughout this period Ptolemy remained in control of Egypt, the first pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, ruling for 22 years, and making Alexandria the centre of global culture and knowledge, along with its Great Library. He even secured the Israelite kingdom of Judah and a number of other satellite states. His dynasty lasted until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC.