The Ptolemaic City
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Bloodaxe's Realm     The Medieval World  

The Ptolemaic City
(323 BC - 30 BC)

Then, as now, she belonged not so much to Egypt as to the Mediterranean.

E.M. Forster

Upon Alexander's death, no single successor emerged to claim his kingdom. Rather, the widespread territories were divided among several rulers. Egypt was the share of the most skilled of these: Ptolemy. He was Macedonian by birth, but witnessed the birth of Alexandria and wanted her to be the cultural and intellectual capital of the world. He ruled in 323 BC, reigned in 304 BC, and expanded his kingdom to include Cyrene (Lybia), Palestine, Cyprus, and others lands. His royal titles included King Soter (Savior), and Pharaoh. Under the reign of Soter, the golden age of Alexandria, the new capital of Egypt, started.

His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (King in 287 BC), was a less ambitious person. Unlike his father, he turned his back to military campaigns and focused on buiding Alexandria. He was more "Egyptian" than his father: he married his sister Arsinoe, a custom, then, widely accepted among Egyptians and despicable in the eyes of the Greeks.

His son, Ptolemy III Euergetes (Well-doer), was full of will and motivation. He reigned in 246 BC, and was praised as a military leader and a supporter of science. He married his cousin Berenice. Their reign, marked the peak in Alexandria's glamor and fame.

Ptolemy Euergetes was succeeded by less influential Kings. The list includes:

  • Ptolemy IV Philopator (King 221 BC)
  • Ptolemy V Epiphanes (King 205 BC)
  • Ptolemy X Alexander I (King 107 BC)
  • Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysus (King 80 BC)
  • Cleopatra VII Philopator (Queen 51 BC)


The reign of the Ptolemaic Dynasty ended in 30 BC, when Cleopatra lost the famous battle of Actium in the Adriatic. Egypt then became a Roman province, under the rule of Octavian.

Alexandria thrived during the reign of the first three Ptolemies and grew into one of the largest, if not the largest metropolis in the world and became the world's scientific and intellectual Mecca. The legacy of the Ptolemies is highlighted by major achievements. The Pharos Lighthouse was built; the Mouseion/Great Library system was founded; the Palace was constructed; the Heptastadion Dyke was completed; and the Temple of Serapis was erected.

On the other hand, one must acknowledge the pitfalls of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Under their rule, common Egyptians suffered from economical hardships. Except for the earlier period, taxes imposed were the highest in the Ancient World. The Royal Palace was frequently the site of family scandals, including Kings executing their parents and relatives, and Queens killing their step-children. In conclusion, it is fair to say that the reign of the first three Ptolemies marked Alexandria's golden age.