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Dictionaries :: Ptolemy

Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


tol'-e-mi (Ptolemaios, but usually called Ptolemy-"the Warlike"): The name Ptolemy is rather common from the days of Alexander the Great, but is best known as the dynastic name of the 13 (14) Macedonian kings of Egypt (323-43 BC) (as Pharaoh in the Old Testament). Those of interest to the Biblical student are:

(1) Ptolemy I, surnamed Soter, (Soter, "Savior"), called also Ptolemy Lagi, was born circa 366 BC, the son of Lagus and Arsinoe, a concubine of Philip of Macedon. He was prominent among the officers of Alexander the Great, whom he accompanied in his eastern campaigns. On the death of Alexander, Ptolemy seized the satrapy of Egypt as his share (1 Macc 1:6 ff). Now commenced the long hostilities between Egypt and Syria, Ptolemy on more than one occasion invading Syria. In 316 he joined in a war against Antigonus during which Coele-Syria and Phoenicia were lost, but in 312 regained from Demetrius the son of Antigonus. It was most probably in this year (312) that Ptolemy captured Jerusalem on a Sabbath day (Josephus, Ant, XII, i, 1), and by force or persuasion induced many Jews to accompany him to Egypt as colonists or mercenaries. His kind treatment of them induced others to leave Syria for Egypt. In 306 Ptolemy was defeated in the great naval fight off Salamis in Cyprus by which Cyprus was lost to Egypt. About this date Ptolemy assumed the title of "king," following the example of the Syrian ruler. In 305-304 he defended the Rhodians against Demetrius Poliorcetes, forcing the latter to raise the siege-hence, the title "Savior." In 285 BC Ptolemy abdicated in favor of his youngest son Philadelphus-the son of his favorite wife Berenice-and died in 283 BC. According to the usual interpretation this Philadelphus is "the king of the south" in Da 11:5. This Ptolemy shares with his son and successor the honor of rounding the famous Alexandrian Museum and Library.

(2) Ptolemy II, surnamed Philadelphus (Philadelphos, "Brother(sister?)-loving"), the youngest son of Ptolemy I; born 309 BC in Cos; succeeded his father in 285 BC and died 247. Like his father, he was actively engaged in two Syrian wars until peace was made about 250 BC, Berenice, the daughter of Philadelphus, being given in marriage to Antiochus II. This Ptolemy planted numerous colonies in Egypt, Syria and Palestine, among which were several of the name of Arsinoe (his sister-wife), Philadelphia on the ruins of old Rabbah, Philotera south of the Sea of Galilee, and Ptolemais on the site of Acco. He devoted great attention to the internal administration of his kingdom, endowed the Museum and Alexandrian Library in which his father had taken much interest; in general he followed his father's example as a liberal patron of art, science and literature. According to one tradition it was Philadelphus who was instrumental in starting the Septuagint translation (see SEPTUAGINT). At any rate, he was favorably disposed toward his Jewish subjects, and in his reign Jewish wisdom and Greek philosophy began to blend. Philadelphus is supposed to be "the king of the south" of Da 11:6, whose daughter "shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement."

(3) Ptolemy III, surnamed Euergetes (Euergetes, "Benefactor"), son of Philadelphus, whom he succeeded in 247 BC. In 246 he was provoked to a Syrian war to avenge the murder of his sister Berenice at Antioch; in the course of this campaign he met with remarkable success, overran Syria, plundered Susa and Babylonia, penetrated to the shores of India and captured the important stronghold of Seleucia (1 Macc 11:8). Euergetes was, however, prevented from reaping the fruits of his victories by being recalled by internal troubles in Egypt. He brought back with him from the East the Egyptian gods that Cambyses had carried away 300 years before, thus earning from the Egyptians the title of "Benefactor." Two traditions obtain as to his death: the more probable is that of Polybius (ii.71), according to which he died a natural death (222 BC), or, according to another (Justin xxix.1), he was murdered by his son. Some regard this king as the Euergetes mentioned in the Prologue to Sir, but the reference must rather be to Euergetes II (Ptolemy VII). The "shoot" who "shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north" and prevail is Euergetes I (Da 11:7-9), Da 11:8 referring to the act by which he won his title.

(4) Ptolemy IV, surnamed Philopator (Philopator, "Lover of his father"), or Tryphon (Truphon), the eldest son of Euergetes whom he succeeded in 222 BC. Antiochus the Great of Syria declared war against Egypt about 219 BC, but, after conquering Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, he was defeated by Philopator at the battle of Raphia near Gaza (217 BC). On his victorious return to Alexandria, Philopator assumed a very anti-Jewish attitude, and indeed caused discontent generally among his subjects. In spite of the victory of Raphia, Egypt began to decline under his weakness. He was as dissolute as Nero, while his domestic tragedies are as dark as those of Herod the Great. He died in 205 BC. Da 11:10-12 refers to the reign of Philopator. He was most probably the oppressor of 3 Macc.

(5) Ptolemy V, surnamed Epiphanes (Epiphanes, "Illustrious"). He was only 5 years old when his father Philopator died. Taking advantage of the king's minority, Antiochus the Great leagued with Philip of Macedon against Egypt. Philip took the Cyclades and some cities in Thrace, while Antiochus defeated the Egyptian general Scopas at Paneas on the Jordan in 198 BC, and thus Palestine passed to the Seleucid dynasty. The Romans now interfered to make Antiochus surrender his conquests. Not daring to disobey Rome, Antiochus compromised by making peace with Ptolemy and betrothing to him his daughter Cleopatra, who was to receive as her dower the revenues of the conquered provinces Coele-Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia (Josephus, Ant, XII, iv, 1; Polyb. xxviii.17), but the control of these provinces seems to have been retained by Antiochus. The marriage took place in 193 BC. After the dismissal of his faithful minister, Aristomenes, Epiphanes' character and reign deteriorated. At last he bestirred himself to recover the lost provinces from Seleucus, the successor of Antiochus, but was poisoned before his plans materialized, in 182 (181) BC (Josephus, Ant, XII, iv, 11). Da 11:14-17 is to be interpreted as referring to the relations between Ptolemy V and Antiochus III, "the Great."

(6) Ptolemy VI, surnamed Philometor (Philometor, "Fond of his mother"), eider son of Ptolemy V whom he succeeded in 182 (181) BC. For the first 7 years of his reign his mother Cleopatra acted as queen-regent, and peace was maintained with Syria till 173 BC. Antiochus IV Epiphanes then invaded Egypt, defeated the Egyptians at Pelusium and secured the person of Philometor, whom he spared, hoping to employ him as a tool to gain the ascendancy over Egypt. Philometor's brother was now proclaimed king by the Alexandrians, with the title of Euergetes (II). When Antiochus retired, Philometor made peace with his brother, conceding him a share in the government (170 BC). This displeased Antiochus, who marched against Alexandria, but was stopped beneath the walls by a Roman embassy (168 BC), in obedience to which he withdrew. The brothers quarreled again, and Philometor, expelled by Euergetes, went to Rome to seek assistance (164 BC). The Romans seated him again on his throne, assigning Cyrenaica to Euergetes. The next, quarrel was about Cyprus. Philometor this time secured his brother as a prisoner, but sent him back to his province. Philometor was later drawn into Syrian politics in the conflict between Alexander Balas and Demetrius. The Egyptian king espoused the cause of the former, to whom he also betrothed his daughter Cleopatra. But on discovering Balas' treachery, he took away his daughter from him and gave her to his opponent, Demetrius Nikator, whom he now supported against Balas. Balas was defeated in a decisive battle on the Oenoparas and killed, but Ptolemy himself died in 146 BC from the effects of a fall from his horse in the battle (1 Macc 1:18; 10:51 ff; 2 Macc 1:10; 4:21). Da 11:25-30 refers to the events of this reign. Philometor seems to have taken a friendly attitude toward the Jews. In his reign the Jewish temple of Leontopolis near Hellopolis was founded in 154 BC (Josephus, Ant, XIII, iii, 1 f), and two Jewish generals, Onias and Dositheus, were at the head of his armies and had a large share in the government (Josephus, Apion II, 5). The Jewish-Alexandrine philosopher Aristobulus probably lived in this reign.

(7) (On the death of Philometor his young son was proclaimed king as Ptolemy Eupator ("of a noble father"), but after reigning but a few months was put to death by his uncle Euergetes II (Just. xxxviii.8). His reign being so brief he need hardly be numbered among the Ptolemies.)

(8) Ptolemy VII (VIII), surnamed Euergetes (II) and called also Physcon (Phuskon, "Big-paunch"), became sole ruler in succession to his brother Philometor (or to his murdered nephew) in 146 BC, and reigned till 117 BC. His reign was characterized by cruelty, tyranny and vice, so that he was hated by his subjects, especially by the people of Alexandria, who on one occasion expelled him during an insurrection. It is uncertain whether Physcon was an enemy and persecutor of the Jews or their patron. Some authorities refer the persecutions mentioned in 3 Maccabees to this reign, but most modern authorities are disposed to date them in the reign of the anti-Jewish Ptolemy IV Philopator. The statement, "in the 38th year of King Euergetes," in the Prologue to Sirach refers to Physcon Euergetes II and = 132 BC, since he dated his reign from the year of joint kingship with his brother (170 BC).

The other Ptolemies of Egypt require no mention here.

The following are the apocryphal Ptolemies:

(1) Ptolemy Macron.


(2) Ptolemy, son of Abubus, son-in-law of Simon the Maccabee. He treacherously assassinated Simon and two of his sons in the stronghold of Dok near Jericho, 135 BC (1 Macc 16:15).

(3) Ptolemy, the father of Lysimachus (Apocrypha) (Additions to Esther 11:1).

(4) Ptolemy, son of a Dositheus; he and his father were bearers of the "epistle of Phrurai" (Additions to Esther 11:1).


J. P. Mahaffy, Empire of the Ptolemies, is the best account for English readers. A long list of Ptolemies will be found, e.g. in Smith's Classical Dictionary. The ancient authorities are Josephus, Polybius, Justin, Pausanias, Plutarch (Cleom.), Livy, Diodorus, Jerome (Commentary to Da 11).

Written by S. Angus


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